Besides staying healthy and having a high self-esteem, what does every parent, coach and athlete want? Of course it is speed. No matter the age, no matter the sport, no matter how fast or slow you may be, every athlete I have ever trained desired to be faster. Let’s be honest, speed is a gamechanger and will always be the most valued athletic attribute coaches want on their team. With that said speed development is a process that can be extremely fruitful or quite frustrating depending on how it is approached and keeping the big picture in mind. As for an 8-11 year old population we use a 3 step approach to developing speed.

1) Let them discover- It is so important to let young athletes continue to discover movement on their own. We can be quick to jump the gun and be overaggressive trying to coach them up on all the small details of how to run. The best approach is to create an environment for them to explore their movements without any coaching cues. From a motor learning standpoint kids at this age are not hard wired with their movement patterns yet. This means their bodies are still trying to figure out more efficient ways to complete tasks, whether they are sport related or just general movements of living.

The reality is many athletes at this age group do not yet have the body awareness to respond to coaching cues. If a coach continues to yell at their athletes to pick their knees up when they run but the athlete either doesn’t understand what the coach means, or more common, the athlete perceives they are picking their knees up, then you can bet on the coach getting frustrated and the athlete confused. Bottom line, don’t over coach this age group with technical feedback, instead give them occasional suggestions and let them consider if that is a better strategy to use during a specific movement or exercise.

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2) Skill and Drills- There is also a time put your coaching hat on and provide specific feedback. The first step in this process is to develop skill sets. Skill sets are specific movement abilities to perform a certain task. For example when it comes to speed we have a specific skill set that we work on for improving the mechanics for linear speed. We have a skill set for lateral change of direction, crossover steps and the list goes on. The skill set is kind of the blue print of how you are going to get the athlete to move like you want them to. It’s the breakdown of the moving parts or in some cases stationary parts that make up the whole.

As I mentioned when it comes to linear speed mechanics here is the breakdown of that specific skill set and what we are looking for:

• Start position
• Split stance
• Most of weight on front foot
• Big arm split w/ elbows at sides
• Leading with the knee (front shin is angled toward direction of acceleration)
• Back flat w/ head down
• Lower body loaded (ankle, knee and hip)
• Shoulders in front of front foot
• Forward lean
• Does back remain flat and eyes down?
• Do hips stay back and shoulder forward (hips chasing the shoulders)?
• Arm action
• Are the hands relaxed?
• Are elbows close to body?
• Is arm drive a full range of motion (cheek to cheek)?
• Leg drive
• Is the back leg aggressively pushing into the ground?
• Does foot strike underneath athlete?
• Knee drive
• Does the knee quickly recover after each push?
• Does the athlete lead with their knee or foot?

And this is just one skill set, so of course we would pick and choose on the focus of the day or for a specific drill. Once again the coach should ask, what speed skill am I working on? What drills could I use to emphasize that skill?

3) Gameplay- Besides being a blast gameplay is where you will see the young athlete’s true authentic movement. Instead of thinking about arm position, leg drive or anything else they will be immersed in the game and that is where it is great for a coach to see if the skills they are working on are actually transferring to a reactionary non-predictive environment.

As coaches, parents and athletes we need to stop looking at specific drills a solution for speed development. As mentioned, drills are great but they must be used appropriately within context and with purpose. Like always remember the end goal. No single drill will ever be the golden ticket to speed development.

EXAMPLE: Teaching knee drive mechanics

1) Have your athletes do some basic forward skipping with some coaching emphasizing leading with the knee and driving the knee to the ceiling.

2) Play a game of skip tag, where athletes must skip everywhere. Don’t coach them, just observe and let them have fun.

3) Line them up for some 10-yard sprints and see what happens. See if they are utilizing that knee drive. If they are, just let them move like athletes, let their bodies solidify the movement. If they are not carrying it over reinforce what you were previously working on and see if they can transfer that skill to a max effort sprint.

TAKEAWAY: By themselves random drills will have little to know long-term benefit or carryover to their sports. The goal is long-term skill acquisition. Although the process changes a bit based on maturity the end goal remains the same. A better skilled athlete will possess all of the ability to do any drill that is asked of them not the other way around. So think skill development first and then build your workouts around that.

If you are interested in learning more about building long-term athleticism for your child, sign-up for our QUICK KIDS update list. This brand new program, which kicks off next month is specifically developed for 8-11 year old kids and will be the absolute best opportunity around to help your kids have fun while learning how to train the right way!