Do you remember Bob Hayes? I sure do. He was an Olympic Gold Medal sprinter turned football wide receiver in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys. They drafted him in the 7th round of the 1964 draft with the 88th pick. Hayes’ speed forced other teams to go to a zone since no single player could keep up with him. Spreading the defense out in hopes of containing Hayes allowed the Cowboys’ talented running game to flourish. Hayes had a great career for the Cowboys and was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2009. Pretty good 7th round pick, huh? The Dallas Cowboys had the vision to see how blazing speed could be an advantage in football.
We all love big, fast, strong football players. But for most of us in a public high school, we take what walks in the door. We can’t just go out and get a Bob Hayes. It’s up to us coaches to develop these qualities as much as possible. Let’s focus on speed in this article. The question is, “Can you develop and improve speed – and if so, how much?
Speed is the product of stride length and stride frequency. Stride length is the distance covered with each step. Stride frequency is the number of steps per second. While I believe that speed is inherited, yes, I do believe that speed can be improved to a certain extent. Can a young man who runs a 5.5 forty train himself to run a 4.4 forty? Most likely not. But it is possible to knock .2 to even .5 seconds off a players forty time through technique work, strength training, speed drills, and flexibility exercises. This can be accomplished while putting on pounds of muscle weight resulting in a more powerful player. Improving speed doesn’t happen in a few months. It takes a dedicated effort over a long course of time. I’m not talking about the kind of improvement a high school athlete makes as he matures. We all know that a 5’6” 125 pound freshman is going to get faster as he matures into a 6’0’’ 180 pound senior. I’m talking about improvement made when a player’s maturation rate begins to level off. There are basically four ways that I know of to improve speed: by improving running mechanics and technique, by strengthening the legs, speed drills, and by improving flexibility.
- Mechanics and Technique – Some kids are smooth as silk in their running technique. They’re born with a natural gait. Others, look like they’re flailing at air. Arms and legs are all over the place. They can be helped by the football coach or a good track coach. You have to get their arms, legs, and head in a straight line. Proper technique can be improved.
- Strength Training – This is where the weight room comes in. By making the legs more powerful through leg exercises, stride frequency can be helped. Powerful legs can turn over faster for more “RPM’s”, if you will. Squats, lunges, plyometrics, leg curls and cleans all help develop power.
- Flexibility Training – I think this is the step we tend to neglect the most. I don’t know about you, but I think flexibility training is boring and tedious. It’s easy to skip flex work and go do some curls, especially if you’re a teenager. But if stride length is a key factor in speed, then increased flexibility is a must. In most sports, stretching is just seen as a way to quickly loosen up and prepare muscles for a workout or competition. As a result, increasing range of motion is not included as part of most training regimens. But getting your legs up and down through a full range of motion, as fast as possible is important when it comes to increasing your stride length, and will help you increase your speed. I like stretching when the muscles are warm – the end of a workout can be a great time to stretch. By improving flexibility, one can get an an inch or more out of every stride. Multiply that by the number of strides in the forty and that adds up!
- Speed Drills – Basically, practice running fast. Yeah, sounds too simple doesn’t it? Fast twitch muscle fibers are stimulated by sprinting activities. We have three types of muscle fibers; slow twitch, intermediate, and fast twitch. If we want to be faster runners, we need to ask our bodies to recruit those fast-twitch fibers more often. While the body is always recruiting all three types of fibers during running, the reality is that when you’re running a mile pace you’re not recruiting nearly as many fast-twitch and intermediate fibers. That’s what we want to change with a speed-development workout – we want to go fast enough to recruit those fast-twitch fibers, and the only way to do that is to run fast enough that the body is forced to ask the big motor units to power the activity. Your nervous system is like an eighth-grade boy. It knows exactly how little work it can do to get by, and the only way to get it to work more is to kick it in the butt. Asking nicely won’t work. Short bursts of speed, all out, will train the fast twitch fibers.
Imagine now, if you will, all eleven of your players on the field being just one tenth of a second faster in the 40 yard dash. On defense, that’s eleven players getting to the ball a step quicker! That’s my formula for speed improvement, but as mentioned previously, it takes time and work. Maybe you have your own thoughts and formula. I’d love to hear what you do for speed improvement.
On The Road To Indy
Yep, we at Chiefpigskin continue to hit the road and have shot presentations of more outstanding coaches. On Saturday, Jan. 26, we visited New Palestine HS just outside Indianapolis and Roncalli HS of Indianapolis, two perennial powers from Indiana. New Palestine was 14-0 and the 5A state champs in 2018.
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Coach L. Albaugh DBLITY
Coach Albaugh coached high school football in Illinois for 28 years. During that time he coached at every level and on both sides of the ball. He was the offensive and defensive line coach for four undefeated teams and was a defensive coordinator in his last 11 years, twice reaching the semi finals of the Illinois state playoffs.