31 Dec Speed & Agility Training
In 2001, I was training the Tipperary Senior Hurling team. About a month into the training, Dr. Liam Hennessy asked me how training was going. I explained that I was using SAQ ladders, working on core and power, as well as building on the number of multi-sprint stamina runs each week. I felt things were going great.
He asked me one question….What was I doing to make the players faster by developing their speed? I explained that I was waiting until they were fitter. He said something very simple and very profound. Hurling is a game of skill and speed, and that Nicky English would soon need the guys to be hurling at training and it would be wise if I had some speed work done so that the speed of leg, hand, and eye movement would match the skill needed in the hurling for training, challenge and league games.
This is an aspect of speed training that a lot of trainers overlook. It is more than just developing the ability of the players to move from A to B quickly. It innervates the nervous system and enhances the movement of the hands, feet and even activates how quickly the brain and body reacts in sporting situations. If players practice their sport specific skills in training and they are not doing speed work, the skill work will be executed at a slower pace than what is needed. The players will become good at kicking, striking or catching the ball at slow deliberate speeds. But when it comes to games, the pressure from opponents will demand taking control of the ball quicker and delivering it faster to a team mate. Without speed work, the speed of the skill training will suffer.
Speed in hurling and Gaelic football
Gaelic games are characterised by frequent high-speed and sudden changes in speed and direction. Players perform short-bursts of acceleration, rapid deceleration, and multiple changes in direction. The efforts vary in intensity and duration but rarely exceed 20 to 30 meters (Douge, 1988). All Gaelic games have been termed as multi-sprint and multi-directional sport. Speed is essential in Gaelic games.
Many coaches in the past have adopted track and field methods in the pursuit of speed, copying the training methods of the 100m sprinters and worse still, the training methods of the middle-distance runner. The speed training required in Gaelic games, however, varies from that of the sprinter and varies very much from that of the 800m runner. For example, elite male sprinters do not achieve maximum speed until after approximately 40 to 50 meters; elite female sprinters do not reach it until after approximately 25 to 40 meters. In Gaelic games, players use acceleration speed much more frequently than top speed, as they reach where they want to get to on the field inside 20m, 75% of the time (Young on hurling 2006, Tobin on football, 2008).
Training focuses should be on acceleration and should aim to improve speed as applied to all elements of the game. This is known as game speed. The multidirectional, stop-start nature of the game results in different mechanical demands compared to those required in events on the running track. There is no point in a footballer practicing sprinting only in a straight line when they are constantly required to start and stop, move sideways and backwards and turn and pivot while at the same time reading the play, executing ball skills and making decisions.
While hurling and football are not games of endurance, there is a specific endurance component needed in the training. This endurance should concentrate on developing the ability of the player to repeat efforts of skill, speed, tackling, changing direction, stopping and starting. There is no need for continuous endurance development. The endurance training needs to be intermittent, and short-term intermittent at that, because players are involved in the play for up to 5 seconds and even shorter at a time.
- Many managers and coaches may not truly appreciate the practicality of this type of training, but they probably have never examined a time-motion analysis carried out on hurling or football. Damien Young has produced some excellent work examining the breakdown of what really happens in a hurling match. In 2010 All-Ireland hurling final, for example Lar Corbett touched or played the ball 6 times. He scored 3 goals, a point, gave a pass and sent one ball astray and he was awarded man of the match. In a study of an All-Ireland club semi-final, Young discovered that players mostly covered distances of less than 20m in accelerations and decelerations with an average over 300 changes of direction made by each player during a game.
- This type of activity is going to make great demands on the ankle, knee and hip joints and consequently coaches must condition these joints and the supporting muscles to withstand this range of twists and turns in a game. Running in a straight line will not achieve that result. In fact it is going to take more than running alone to achieve the strengthening and preparation of the joints and muscles for the Gaelic game situation. Various forms of functional competency development will be necessary as well as a solid grounding in various forms of strength training and core development. This type of development and conditioning work is needed in both the pre-season and in the main season.
Approach to speed training
Speed is the product of the force generated against the ground with each stride, and the time it takes to generate that force. The greater the force with which a player pushes against the ground, the more they propel them self forward. As a player becomes faster he or she spends less time in contact with the ground. In order to run fast the player must maximise the rate of contraction of the leg muscles. The rate at which the muscles contract is determined by the type of the nervous system each individual player has. Therefore, to decrease the time spent in contact with the ground, a player must improve his or her rate of contraction, which is achieved by training the nervous system.
Coaches should use information to guide their development of a training programme to improve speed. The formula opens up a whole new world for the sports coach because he or she now is faced with two distinct aspects of training to enhance the player’s speed;
- Improving force
- Improving the rate of developing force
To improve force we need to look at strength training in general and at power training in particular. The end aim of this type of training is to ensure that the player is more powerful and can exert more force on the ground when he wants to sprint, turn, tackle or jump to catch the ball.
Improving the rate of force development is about improving how quickly one can exert that newly found force on the ground to produce fast actions like accelerations, jumps, turns, tackles or decelerations.
“The fastest team is the team that can slow down the quickest!!!”
THE PRINCIPLES OF SPEED
Most coaches have studied the Principles of Training and how they are used to develop fitness in general. However speed training has its own special values and guidelines and we call these the Principles of Speed. They are as follows;
- Use short distances
- Use maximum effort in terms of pace
- Keep the number of efforts low
- Ensure good recoveries between runs
- Sprint work is completed early in a training session
- Be well warmed up
- Be well hydrated
- Be well rested before speed training
- Ensure a good sleep as part of recovery from speed training session
To introduce agility speed training it is important for the coach to have the players perform movement mechanics or movement pattern drills at slow speeds and eventually increase the speed of movement as the mechanics are developed. At this stage no speed recruitment will take place. That is why these types of drills are to be added at the end of the warm-up and prior to the straight line sprinting in each session. When players become efficient at changing direction, speed can be introduced and actual agility speed runs introduced.
The Biggest Probelms to Performance in Gaelic Games
One of the main reasons players don’t become fast is the fact that many teams train too hard. In fact participating in sprints, speed activities and practicing the basic skills of the games as well as practice matches are very useful. However many coaches overdo the prescription of countless speed endurance runs which leads to killing the speed of the players and their ability to execute the wonderful skills of all our Gaelic games.
Here are a few items that you should all consider carefully to help you make the players on the team faster and more skillful.
- Twice-a-day training is not conducive to players becoming faster if it is not planned and balanced correctly.
- Early morning training should never involve speed training or skill work especially for hurlers. In fact my own belief is that morning training has as much effect on team fitness, discipline and morale as watching TV in the pub for the day – not drinking of course
- Training camps tend to flog players by over-training with little or no recovery and this erodes the nervous system adaptation process.
- It is important to allow a few days rest after all serious competitive games – some experts suggest a full 48 hours before having the next training session while other experts suggest as much as 72 hours break. All I will add here is that those players who are gifted from a speed perspective should be allowed more time to recover from tough championship games. Fast twitch individuals need rest.
- Speed endurance running is of little importance of the Gaelic pitch. The stamina required to play our games is the ability to repeat efforts of skill, speed, movement and tackling inconsistently and irregularly for the duration of the game.
- Many team trains very hard and some too hard. Players are asked to run 10 (and more) x 100m with short recovery. Everyone feels they are fit. In a game you will find that they are slow to start as a consequence. If players do not do speed work, the opposition could be home and dry before half time.
- Some teams finish poorly in a game. They are with the winners until the final 10 or 15 minutes and then appear to die a death on the field. Unfortunately the management will immediately feel that the players are not fit. So the training becomes harder for the qualifiers. What rubbish! The actual explanation can be completely the opposite. The team may have done loads of training at 90% or 95% effort all year. But as games are placed at full pace and in the first 20 minutes they are running about at a pace above which they are accustomed and naturally enough they tire in the second half because all the training at 90% is of little value when a player is asked to make 20 to 40 short sprints at full pace in the first half alone. It happens all the time. And coaches just revert to flogging the players once again.
After skill, speed must be seen as the most vital component of fitness needed by Gaelic players. There is only one way to make players run fast and that is to train at full speed using short distances, allowing good recoveries between the runs and ensuring a controlled number of efforts are used.
The endurance component can be catered for by having players run 60 to 90 30m sprints at 90 to 95% in groups of 5 or 6 sprints with 10 to 20 second recovery between runs and 60 seconds between sets. This type of endurance training is called multi-sprint stamina and best reflects the movement demands of Gaelic games. However close to championship time training must be mainly skill work with the ball. The stamina required should in fact be called speed repeatability training which involves perhaps 4 sets of 4 runs over 25m at full pace with 20 seconds rest between runs and 2 minutes between the sets. This reflects the fast stamina required in Gaelic games.