Wednesday, February 17, 2010

You can't teach speed?

"What gets measured, gets managed." -Peter Drucker

How often has one heard that speed is genetic, or that you can't coach speed. It's probably the most dogma related human skill; something that either you have or don't. Sure we can make someone stronger, more mobile, better conditioned... but speed? Not a chance...

Is it the one untrainable human quality or does it lack the proper attention? Why do track athletes even train if one can not get faster?

In the weightroom, the athlete has immediate feedback, did I, or am I completing the task? i.e. squatting 405 for 1 rep. For the athlete there is always a “gauge”; the weight. Strength training becomes a skill for which there is constant and immediate feedback, for quality 'learning' to take place… increasing one’s myelin production.
With speed work/sprinting, how often does one have an immediate feedback mechanism or “gauge”? Is the athlete always sprinting against or after a measurable indicator that is immediately available to the athlete’s sensory systems for adjustments and corrections, or in the case of something as fast as a sprint, “I need to be moving faster”; like a lure or rabbit in greyhound racing. Or racing an individual who is slightly faster, which gives the athlete the IMMEDIATE FEEDBACK; is success being attained or not. This would allow for the skill development or ‘learning’ of speed, using greater intention to accomplish a specific task.

Without an immediate, obvious, and available indicator, the athlete has not much direction to channel intention. With the available feedback, i.e. racing an individual slightly faster or going after a lure, may also shift attentional focus from an internal focus, to an external focus, which has been shown in motor learning to enhance performance.

How often do athletes work on speed, and when they do, are they just guessing that they are going their fastest? Or is it 'hoped' upon that the work in the weightroom will magically create the speed. An example in collegiate sports is the first year freshmen's first practice in college. It's completely evident by the speed of movement who the freshmen athletes are. But over time this distinction becomes more and more blurred. As a strength coach I would like to think it's the training they are doing, but my guess is it's the fact that every day in practice they are competing against faster competition... FEEDBACK. Day 1 they know they are getting their ass kicked in every way possible, and that if they don't bring the proper intent with each move, play, shot they will be 'exposed'. It's the feedback and the subsequent adjustments (increasing one's standard and volitional output) that lead to the improvement in speed.

Then, ultimately the question comes, "faster in what?" A 40 yard dash, fast to a 50/50 ball, faster reaction to a line drive?

It's about training to a different standard. It's the athlete who is always looking for the best opponent(s) to challenge... to 'grow' one's self requires the proper environment and mindset to have and seek these challenges out. Playing with/against faster opponents, racing the clock, basically anyway that can be compared or measured. The weightroom is easy; the poundages are there, loaded up on the bar, with feedback readily available. The key for speed is finding the challenges which provide the feedback and having and taking advantage of the opportunity to develop this skill.

As I think it was Dan John who said, "I said it was simple, not easy."



Mark Young said...

Very interesting thoughts Aaron!

I would love to see what kind of achievements could be accomplished of we had some sort of "pacing mechanism" that people training for speed could utilize.

I'm thinking along the lines of a moving marker on a track that would be set at a speed slightly above their previous best time.

jleeger said...

Great comments!

Aaron Schwenzfeier said...

Thanks Mark.

Back in my lazy athlete days, the 'ghost' kart on Mario Kart for Nintendo 64, was a huge help for me to set numerous "time trial" records on the different tracks.

It's paramount to find faster, better athletes to train with. But probably even more important is athletes getting past the belief that this is a non-improvable skill.