IN the overall area of physical preparation, speed is certainly getting more and more attention. It is one of the words that springs to mind when viewing some of the action from this year’s National Leagues in football and hurling.
What has stood out from watching the top inter-county teams is the amalgamation of speed of thought plus speed of action, which makes them so effective on the field of play. Integration of excellent coaching and physical preparation, combined with raw ability and correct application by the player, is bearing fruit.
Linear speed or acceleration can be the game breaker, whether it’s a forward moving into space or a middle eight player becoming the third man and making a support run at the right time. You can relate it to other sports like soccer where research has revealed that the most defining moments revolve around linear acceleration and speed.
If the ability to accelerate is deemed important enough to include once in the program, then it needs to be practiced regularly.
Different teams will have different solutions. For example, I know of one professional AFL team who have a dedicated sprint session once a week during the pre-season while, in contrast, a professional rugby side will have the majority of their speed exposures during cleverly designed games or drills. This later example is a more challenging scenario to design but has potentially a greater transfer of speed to the actual game as the player is dealing with opponents, decision-making and the chaotic environment of match play.
In the rugby example, the coach may have decided that the players were technically good so it made more sense to ensure more integration on the training ground. In football this idea would have gained popularity with Jose Mourinho’s successful implementation of the Tactical Periodization model with many big European football clubs.
Live GPS tracking is key here for monitoring. Do the players actually get exposed to 95 per cent plus of their max speed during the coaching session? If not then some supplementary isolated running drills would be required.
There will be some players then, who despite impressive sporting ability, do not fulfil their potential on the pitch. These players prefer to play their own game, rather than becoming a better overall player and see what is happening around the pitch. That ability to see space and select the right solution is crucial.
I have experienced the opposite scenario also. A new player turns up for pre-season training, physically very impressive and the management team is getting very excited with the new addition. Unfortunately though, through a skills deficit or lack of game sense, the player struggles to make an impact on the field of play. Improving physical qualities is important yes, but the player is still a hurler or footballer and that cannot be forgotten in the planning process.
It can be very challenging in a team-setting to get sufficient time to develop the different movements required in the game, irrespective of what level you are involved in. Sometimes there can be a fear of implementing a speed stimulus with the risk of hamstring injury. Also the rest periods required for speed training are not respected and there it turns into conditioning and not speed. I highlight this as they are mistakes I would have made.
There will always be challenges with training teams, but this must be seen as part of the enjoyment, the journey, the process or whatever you might want to call it.
Plan what needs to be done and then go implement it. I am certain more players will be exposed to speed training this year. As a coach, just make sure it is planned appropriately.
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