Teaching Technical Acceleration 8-18…How Young Do You Start?

We’ve heard it over and over again, “speed kills.” This was evident once again at my daughters U11 State Soccer Championship game.  I was intrigued to see what was going to be the biggest difference maker between the #1 and #2 teams.  All I knew was that the #1 team had 48 goals in 10 games!

It was evident from the first touch.  The offensive push combined with the defensive suffocation from end to end was non-stop.  The overall team speed was the difference maker and the #1 team went on to win 4-0.

It was back in the late 80’s and early 90’s that the University of Nebraska changed the face of athletic performance and paved the way to what we know today as strength & conditioning.  They set the standard to what’s currently being done at the collegiate and pro level.  Within the last 20 years the concepts have been working their way into youth athletics.

Back then Nebraska was able to recruit the best athletes in the country, and make them stronger and faster.  Performance testing and evaluations were part of their program. There was one test in particular that had the highest correlation to on-field ability.

The 10 yard sprint.   Not the 40 yard dash, not the vertical jump or the squat.  The athletes with the best 10 yard sprint times were the most successful on the field.

It’s pretty simple.  Irregardless of the sport, to have success, it will usually be dependent on the player’s ability to accelerate and decelerate effectively, over and over again.

The ability to cover ground faster then their opponent will put an player in a position to make plays throughout the game.  Having just one step on the opponent can make all the difference in the world, as this was evident in my daughter’s game.

Genetics play a big role in speed, however, with the right approach you can maximize the efficiency of the human body.

Yes, you can teach an athlete how to get faster. But how young can you begin the process is question with a good deal of controversy wrapped into it, and rightly so.  There are many misconceptions when dealing with young athletes.   We’re not going to argue the controversies in this post.   What we are going to cover is how the young brain and nervous system develop, which can lead to improved physical ability, confidence and more enjoyment in sports.

It’s well documented that when a young brain is exposed to various learning environments and new movement patterns the plasticity of the brain adapts to accept this new information.  Learning to read and play music, speak another language or exposure to new gross motor skills, will allow the brain and nervous system to develop more efficiently.

One of the most rewarding elements of coaching is teaching young kids how to move better. The amount of learning and impact you can create with a young person will be more then they could have ever expected.

As you can see in the first video, my 8 year-old daughter, a soccer player and ball-room dancer, has developed the neurological coordination and mental awareness to begin to understand how to apply force into the ground.  We combined that with landing on an elevated box to help with hip and knee stability while minimizing joint trauma. This would be considered a level 1 intro plyometric exercise where there’s very little impact. She’s getting enough impact and running with soccer.

The next step, we rehearse pushing and applying force on a more horizontal plane, as we can begin to teach the acceleration position with a wall drill.  This can be followed with a lean fall fun drill to ensure the feet stay behind the hips.

After technical work a simple strength component is put into place to solidify efficient movement patterns, challenge core stability and enhance coordination.

We use an unweighted sled to reinforce the horizontal pushing so she can still keep great form while applying force over 10 yards.

We can then hang around, have fun and climb on some stuff!  They have to love it and it has to be FUN!

Fast forward 9 years to a 17 year old sprinter.  We’re not going to go through the entire program, however, what we are going to do is emphasize that some fundamentals are almost identical from age 8-17.  For instance, some basic skipping, A marches and arm drives for core stability and rhythmic coordination, is all geared towards making the nervous system operate as efficiently as possible.   This was taken in September of 2016.  Nicole continued to refine her technique and got incredibly strong over the winter.  In the Spring of 2017, she was the 100m CT State Champion and ranked #9 in New England going into the final regional meet of the year.

The take home.  Teaching youngsters how to accelerate and start early in their pre-adolescent years can be  appropriate…if

…the dynamics of the program follow proper age  / developmental guidelines

…it’s fun for the athlete and they have a sincere desire to listen, retain and learn new information

…they are not overloaded with team sports and are still able to free – play and explore on their non sports / training days

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