Competitive Team Speed Training

Developing a competitive environment within training can be an important piece to continued development.  Competition pushes an athlete to perform, whether it’s in the weight room, or on the field for playing time.  Coaches fully understand the importance the role speed plays, but also realize that it may be the most difficult motor quality to develop.  It requires patience, consistency, and genetics to be honest.  When it comes to developing speed, athletes can often get complacent during training.  It’s difficult to see gains like one does in the weight room with strength.  It’s also difficult to measure in a large team setting, even with the assistance of technology.  Athletes begin to train at their given pace, always knowing where they should finish according to the others around them.  Eastern Bloc sport cultures talked often about the speed barrier that is created by training around the same intensity continually.  Fostering a more competitive environment amongst team athletes can help break through those barriers and continue to raise the bar of development. 

1 Up 1 Down Format

Begin by grouping a team into smaller groups of 5-7 athletes.  A team with 30 athletes might break into 5 lines of 6 players deep.  Don’t emphasize faster athletes up front, even though this is normal during sessions focused on speed.  Athletes naturally gravitate to the head of a line when it’s something they’re good at.  Break lines up according to class level or some other random method.  Line each group up to race.  Start them on a whistle, clap or some regular stimulus.  The winner of each group moves up into the next group.  The loser of each group must move down a group.  The winner of the first group obviously stays in what is considered the fastest group. It helps to have coaches stand at the desired run distance and announce the results after each group.  Typically, one coach picks winners, another announces last place for each group.

This format fosters a competitive environment within every grouping.  Everybody wants the reward of moving up a group.  Nobody wants to be the one that moves down.  Throughout the course of the session, the fastest athletes will migrate into the top one or two groups.  Each group becomes positioned accordingly by their speed characteristics.  Instead of having several guys who know they don’t stand a chance continually running against the fastest athletes, we now have athletes of somewhat the same capabilities competing against each other. 

One important point is to vary the starting position often when using this format.  Forcing the athletes to react to a stimulus from unfamiliar body positions develops coordination, and body control.  It forces athletes to self-organize into the most efficient accelerative position as well.  Team sport athletes rarely start on the field from a standard sprint stance while playing.  Teaching them to react to a stimulus from any number of body positions replicates more closely the demands they will face I their sport.  Imposing multiple starting positions can also help to level the playing field.  One athlete who may not be the fastest, but has great body control may find himself winning races out of certain positions feeding him confidence.   Whereas a normal sprint start usually finds the fastest athlete dominating. 

Rabbit Races

Group athletes into 3’s.  The middle athlete of the group is the rabbit.  The rabbit will start on his own after the group is ready in their designated position.   The two outside athletes must react to the start themselves and try to catch the rabbit for the desired distance.   This drill is great because it requires reactivity based on another athlete as the stimulus.  Most races start with an auditory stimulus but this requires reacting to a visual stimulus.  Teach athletes to react to movement out of the corner of the eye instead of turning their head to note the rabbits start.  The majority of team sports requires moving to visual stimuli anyway, so it’s never a bad thing to use the eyes to train the body. 

Leader of the Pack

One final method we use can involve both a visual, or an auditory stimulus for the start.  There are several ways to format this drill.  In the team setting with groups of athletes with 5-7 athletes up, pick one of the slower athletes in the group and give him a lead.  If the starting point is the goal line of a football field, the leader will start in front of the line up to a yard or two in distance.  Place him in the middle of the group so all athletes have a view of the leader.  The group can be started on an auditory command, or by having the leader start on his own and the group reacting to it.  The goal for the group is to run down the lead dog.  The goal for the leader is not be passed before the line. 

React and Chase

Another variation on this drill is having athletes partner up and chase each other individually.  The difference is the athletes don’t know which direction they are sprinting.  Have them line up in the middle of the field a yard apart.  Start them out of varying positions.  The coach will start them by pointing which direction they are sprinting.  For this drill we only sprint forward or in the opposite direction.  However, a coach could make this multi-directional if they wanted.  Neither athlete knows who is actually the leader until the coach verbally gives the direction.  Now the hunt is on.  The athlete in the back is obviously trying to chase down the leader.  The leader, again is trying not to be caught.  Again, use multiple starting positions for this drill such as laying on the ground, athletes facing each other, lateral starts, facing away from each other, etc.  The multiple starting positions are great for teaching body coordination. 

Regardless of what method a coach uses, creating a competitive atmosphere can’t be understated.  Competition pushes athletes at all times to go further, faster, and be stronger.  Foster an environment that will breed success and watch your program grow.