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Speed Report Ė Elite Training Facilities and Apparatus: Are They the Answer for Football Speed & Movement?

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By Dale Baskett ē Football Speed Specialist

Mike Johnson ē Sports Science Consultant

We looked at sprint assisted and resisted aids in a past article. In this article Iíll discuss a few of the other popular training aids and whether or not they are a good resource for enhancing speed and movement in your program.

Since speed and movement can be enhanced through training, entrepreneurs and manufacturers are attempting to make it easier for coaches and trainers to get the job done by offering a potpourri of training aids. Each month I receive magazines and catalogs touting the latest devices that will make athletes faster and enhance movement control. While I certainly applaud ingenuity and the entrepreneurial spirit, many of the training aids are just not suited for developing football speed and movement.

There are so many speed and movement training aids on the market today that you might begin to believe that athletes need to be entertained rather than trained. Variety does have its place in training but, it should never take the place of deliberate practice. You donít need elite training facilities or a multitude of training aids to teach the highest quality football speed and movement.

Deliberate Practice vs. Products

As I have indicated in several articles in the past, technical function of human movement should be the focus for maximizing pure football speed performance. When all is said and done, nothing else will deliver the highest form of return for your effort .

Relying on equipment and aids as an equal trade-off pales drastically by comparison. I travel to high schools all over the country to install my comprehensive football speed system.  Iím never surprised when we begin to discuss the types of speed training they have been doing. I start by listing the type of things they like to do and why they use it and when they use it.  Inevitably apparatus and aids are a major part of their training activity. Directly following the coachesí workshop we go to the field or field house and we evaluate the movement and running skills for the team. Even though in some cases they may have every aid known to man, they always fall short on running skill and movement control. Itís a technical subject and not every coach is well versed, technically speaking. Football coaches arenít supposed to be. This fact creates an open door for training aids to flourish. To train specific technical movement skills requires knowledge of the subject and sound applications. That requires implementing a progressive processing system for your athletes to purify athletic motor skills from a knowledgeable reference base.  Most football coaches donít have this capability nor should they; theyíre football coaches, not physiologists.

Approximately two-three years ago I worked briefly with two NFL greats, one a 12 time all-pro and the other an eight year all-pro. Both will be headed to the Hall of Fame once they finish playing as current starters. You would assume they would be awesome on their feet with any movement drills you lay down. Wrong.  They struggled to nearly the point of tears.

They fell all over themselves. I had one of my high school students demonstrate the same drills at very high rates of speed and movement combined.  He killed it and so did the other three youngsters who had been properly trained to handle themselves bio-mechanically.  Speed and movement skills are not developed on a one-fits-all basis.

Pure human movement knowledge leads the way to heightened results. Beware of quick fix items proposing to do everything for you in the speed world with the push of a button, unless science says so. 

Agility Ladders

Agility ladders come in many sizes, shapes, colors; some can be set out in patterns such as squares or zig-zags. They are portable, easy to set up and relatively inexpensive. But, do they work and are they necessary? One thing is certain Ė ladders help you learn to put your feet down in quick, prescribed patterns. However, do they help athletes become better football players? There arenít any scientific studies suggesting that ladders increase football agility or speed. And one huge drawback to ladders (and other ground based visual training aids) is that they cause athletes to focus on the ground as they attempt to move through quick and often complex stepping patterns. Drills that cause athletes to look down at objects build skills that are not useful to football players.

Are ladders necessary? Every drill that is done with a ladder can be done just as well without a ladder;  it can be done with the eyes focused on playing football. Do you really think Ickey Woods developed the Ickey Shuffle using a ladder?

Ropes and Tires

It seems running ropes, tires and other such devices have been around since football began. They must help make better football players! But running ropes and tires are simply agility ladders raised off the ground. So all negative issues stated about ladders are multiplied with running ropes and, not to mention, your knee lift is over-pronounced on the upcycle action of the leg. This creates a poor motor pattern activity that is less than specific to speed on the field.

An argument can be made that running ropes and tires help athletes learn how to run with high knees. Thatís a false argument however. Running with high knees in a football game is a result of  putting large forces into the ground and not artificially lifting the knees using hip and knee flexors.

 What Does Work?

One helpful training aid for football coaches and trainers is cones. Cones, when used as general reference items, can be useful. Cones can be used to delineate actual football running and movement patterns. The athlete can see them using their peripheral vision. Collapsible cones can be stepped on without injuring the athlete and cones can easily be moved or removed as necessary.

There are many, many more devices that purport to help develop speed and agility: ankle and wrist weights, dozens of different types of position chutes (to help athletes learn how to Ďstay lowí), reaction balls and on and on. As you can tell from the information presented, I think most training aids designed to enhance speed and agility arenít very useful for developing football speed and movement. The vast majority constrain athletes to movements that are not sport specific and, in some cases, help lead to movements that are bio-mechanically unsound.

Football speed and movement are unique skills that are not easily developed. The most important training aid for developing football speed and movement is a coach or trainer that understands the meaning of deliberate practice and has a certain familiarization with correct aspects of human movement. Deliberate practice is a type of practice that enables athletes to acquire expertise in their sport and then maintain that expertise. Itís practice based on scientific fundamentals and techniques. It is explained well in the book Expert Performances In Sports Ė Advances in Research on Sport Expertise. The book is edited by Janet Starkes and K. Anders Ericsson.

There is no substitute for movement specific, technically sound training. Therefore coaches must decide to think through the values that are derived by using aids. If you do not evaluate and apply good, sound bio-mechanical applications then youíre rolling the dice or throwing darts at balloons. If you need to acquire knowledge for your teamís success, contact me. I would be glad to help you with the many available training packages designed for team development, movement control development and many more.


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