Speed and Agility Drills for Youth Athletes
By Wil Fleming
How do you go about selecting speed and agility drills for your athletes’ daily use and instruction?
If you were like me, you would choose the ones that you like, make sure you had equal parts lateral and linear, and write them in the program. You would then probably add some progressions from simple to complex.
Well, that is what I used to do.
Recently, our speed and agility programming has become systemized in a similar way as our strength training. This has helped our athletes to become much better at the skill of speed and agility. We are able to determine where each athlete is struggling and design the program to improve in that area.
- Is the athlete struggling in recognition?
- Is their technique lacking?
- Are they not powerful enough to explode out cuts?
To actually break up speed and agility programming into the parts we need to focus on, it is important to understand what it is that can improve through speed and agility drills for youth athletes.
In terms of linear speed, there are 2 primary areas in which we can see improvement.
- We want to improve the technique of the movement. By improving technique, we are truly working to improve the athlete’s ability to achieve biomechanically advantageous positions. We look to improve the athlete’s overall body position in the acceleration phase of linear sprinting, the position of foot contact, and the use of the arms during acceleration.
- We look to improve power production or maximal explosive strength in the early phases of acceleration. Training for power in speed events can affect maximum strength, as well as bring about neuromuscular changes.
When it comes to lateral speed, there are again 2 primary areas in which we can look to cause improvement:
- Again, we look to see improvement in the athlete’s technique of movement. Of greatest concern to us is the athlete’s overall and specific foot position and the hip height during the change of direction maneuver.
- An often-overlooked area of change of direction that we seek to improve is mental cognition. The speed of change of direction movements is often determined by the athlete’s ability to recognize and process the information being presented to them and their ability to react to the given stimulus.
Using these 4 categories where we can affect the most change, we have devised a “4-puzzle piece” speed and agility training program for athletes.
Puzzle Piece 1: Linear Speed Training Technique
Piece 1 focuses on creating the foundations upon which we can build power and speed. All the power in the world will be for nothing if the athlete cannot get in and maintain the correct positions.
The foot strike, arm swing, and general body positions are the areas in which we focus the most of our time training athletes.
A variety of drills can be used for training linear speed, but being that it is the “skill of speed” we are trying to improve, each needs to be coaching-intensive. Simple 10-yard sprints from a split stance can allow you to get athletes in the correct starting position with hands and weight distribution just as you would like to see them.
Puzzle Piece 2: Linear Power
Improving linear power is greatly dependent upon an athlete’s strength and explosive strength training; that being said, the cyclic nature of sprinting requires that time be devoted in the training process to cyclic power development.
The most appropriate training method for improving cyclic power is resisted sprints of a short distance with long rest periods. Prowler push sprints, sled drag sprints, and band-resisted sprints all fit this mode. While the actual technique of sprinting may be altered slightly, the focus is on the rapid and repeated development of power.
Puzzle Piece 3: Lateral Speed Training Technique
The third piece of the puzzle when it comes to speed and agility drills for youth athletes gets us to the basics of lateral change of direction. Many athletes lack the necessary tools to cut and change direction effectively to start with, which includes developing the proper foot position in relation to the body, the proper foot position in relation to the ground, and the proper hip height.
Short-distance single-plane movements start this progression (e.g., 1 shuffle step to a cut). We progress our athletes to greater distances and then add new directions of movement out of the cut or new types of movement into the cut (e.g., crossover 10 yards to sprint).
Puzzle Piece 4: Complex, Recognition Lateral Speed Training
The last piece of the puzzle is using cognitive skills to more closely replicate the conditions of gameplay. The speed of lateral movement is determined by an athlete’s ability to recognize and react to the stimulus on the field.
A great drill for this is our “5 Cone Drill.” With 5 different colored cones spaced evenly in a line, the coach should use verbal or visual cues to let the athlete know what cone they must move towards. The type of movement (shuffle, crossover, sprint) should be determined beforehand, and the athlete will move to the cone using that movement pattern.
Using these 4 pieces to design your speed and agility drills for youth athletes will allow you to see where your athletes are lacking ability and improve in just that area. Your athletes and your program will benefit from taking a new approach to speed and agility.