7 lessons on team speed

Throughout October and November we posted a variety of content about team speed. With the chance to talk to so many experts on the topic, I’ve been thinking about it a lot myself as well. Below are some key lessons I’ve learned or reemphasized recently on getting athletes faster in team sports.

The basics really matter

A lot of the content this month talked about the complexities of transfer and the differences between traditional linear speed testing and game speed. On the one hand, we shouldn’t conflate traditional sprinting with game speed. There are important differences that are often overlooked. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean traditional speed training isn’t relevant. Fast individuals might not be fast players, but slow individuals are almost never fast players.

What does this mean for coaches? Invest time in the basics. Learning how to run fast and how to accelerate are keys to any speed program. You need to learn these elements, as well as invest time into transferring it onto the field. It is not an either/or proposition. It is about both.

We posted a great Vern Gambetta’s speed basics in November. I used this for my own training this summer. It is not a sexy program, but it covers the basics of acceleration and max speed. Check it out if you are looking for a good place to start.

For team sports, overload is about speed

When we try to challenge our players in team sports, we often focus on volume: longer and harder training. Coaches are impressed when skills hold up under fatigue. But there is another way: faster training. The best way to challenge skills is to see if they can be executed at higher speeds since that is what will win the games. Skills at pace are a better way to overload rather than skills under fatigue.

Find your limiting factor

I often think coaches focus too much on an athlete’s weaknesses while forgetting what makes them good. But there is a difference between a weakness and a liabilities. A weakness is something you might not be the best at. A liability is a must have that you are simply lacking. Liabilities need to be addressed in training.

Dean Benton talked about this on the GAINcast in October. As he said, you need to find you athlete’s limiting factor. If you athlete isn’t flexible and able to reach basic spring positions, it’s going to be hard for them to be fast. If they can’t catch the ball, forget about playing the game at a high speed. When it comes to speed, the limiting factor isn’t always raw speed, so take the time to analyze and determine what is really holding you back.

Data is about fastness as much as fitness

Team sports have become fascinated with GPS and the wide range of data that comes with it. However when you look at how most teams are using GPS it is about monitoring fatigue and overall workloads. Both Dean and Vern argued that GPS is better used as a tool for speed development than for fitness. As Dean said on the podcast: “Metrics such as meters/minute do not distinguish teams. It is the speed and acceleration metrics the distinguish teams.” Focus on those in your analytics and you’ll be one big step closed to helping your team get faster. If your GPS tracking isn’t improving game pace, you’re doing it wrong.

Creativity isn’t just for artists

One of the biggest challenges I’ve found with team sports is how to make sure everyone in a large group finds the right level of intensity. Last week I wrote about a good example from John Pryor of using a speed grid to improve competitiveness, intensity, and stimulus in training. But there are many solutions. Pryor’s solution helps make sure athletes find similar intensity by running different distances for the same duration of time. During training this week one of my athletes asked how you could swap the formula: modulate the duration of time rather than distance to try and reach similar effects. I don’t know all the answers, but if you are asking these questions and thinking creatively, it is bound to help your training.

Close the gap

We spoke with NHSSCA co-founder Gary Schofield on the podcast and one of his favorite parts of training is speed and agility. He talked about how he likes to test traditional speed as well as speed in different vectors and directions. It reminded me how useful it can be gather and compare multiple metrics. This is the foundation of Gareth Sandford speed reserve concept which is gaining steam. I’ve used comparisons of standing long jump and triple jump to get an idea of an athlete’s reactivity. In all these cases the goal is to close the gap. The same is true in game speed: track standard speed metrics as well as game speed metrics, then close the gap.

Set your ego aside

Lachlan Penfold of the Melbourne Storm was the keynote presenter at the November GAIN Master Class. He went in detail on session planning, but one comment he made as an aside stuck with me the most. When it comes to speed, or any part of training, coaches need a global mindset. We often focus on our role and want to show everyone we are doing that well. If we are working on strength or speed, that means designing cool and long strength and speed sessions that show the value we add to the team. But that isn’t important in the end. The most important thing you can do is turn the football players into better football players. This point is the one I ended with since it is the most important: if you take a global mindset you are making sure the sport is in the center, and that is what differentiates speed for every sport.

Faster players are normally made on the field. So we often need to put our ego aside, cut down our sessions, and take a global mindset of how we can work with the sport coaches to define on field training that can also make them faster. You can call this tactical periodization or whatever you want, but a global mindset and coaching collaboration is one thing most successful teams have in common.