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Speed & Movement Aptitude for the Young Athlete

By: Brian Grasso

The ability to ‘move’ has long been considered an innate skill that athletes either posses or don’t. The notion that movement aptitude or ability can in fact be taught, progressed and even perfected over time remains a constant source of debate for many strength coaches.

More over, several sport coaches often design drills and maneuvers within the context of a given practice that are intended to enhance the specific speed or movement proficiency of an athlete as it relates to a particular pattern of motion found within the respective sport. More often than not, the drill or sequence is demonstrated once, discussed briefly and then executed by the individual athletes on the team.

Phrases such as ‘Get there!’ and ‘FASTER!’ are yelled by the coach as he or she laments at the lack of speed or proficiency with which the athletes are performing the drill in question.

The issue however, resides not in the fact that the athletes are lacking anything in particular as the reason why they can’t seem to perfect the drill to the level that the coach demands, rather it is the coach/trainer who is lacking… Specifically, a well thought out and progressive system intended to
gradually increase the level of ability in each athlete allowing for adequate if not perfect execution.

This remains one of several issues I feel are lost and missing on so many coaches and trainers working with young athletes today – Strength, speed, mobility, agility and even flexibility exercises are skills that must be taught, reinforced and perfected through a progressive and systematic means.

I feel strongly that this is at least partially attributable to the notion that many of the best athletes in a given sport seldom become quality coaches. It is the ability to understand the individual elements that comprise a specific technique, how to break them down to their finer parts and incorporate them into a methodical instructive process that accounts for one’s ability as a coach. Very often, naturally talented athletes lack this ability, as their skills were typically ‘unconscious’.

Coaches and trainers who don’t adopt an instructional system within their training sessions are not allowing for optimal development of the skills associated with the exercises they are prescribing and therefore not reinforcing a lifetime adherence of ability to that drill.

For example, Coach ‘A’ takes his soccer players out on to the field for a training session and creates a cone drill intended to improve agility. Five to ten minutes are spent explaining the drill and he demonstrates the movement sequence once. He then instructs the athletes to go through the
drill as shown/discussed.

After everyone has gone through the drill, he bemoans that his team did not execute the drill to the level that he had expected. But what ‘level’ is he talking about? He only showed the drill once and discussed the complexities of it for a few minutes. Is the level he was hoping to see one that he ‘saw’ in his head? Very often coaches and trainers will know what a drill or exercise should look like, but struggle with why their athletes aren’t performing it as such. In this example, Coach ‘A’ did not take the time to make his athletes understand the finite characteristics of each motion within the movement sequence, so adherence or demonstration of the drill is not going to look like
the image he created.

Same coach. Same team – two weeks later.

This time Coach ‘A’ asks his team to perform the exact same drill but is shocked to see that, although still not at the level he wanted it to be, it is being executed poorly for different reasons now.

Two weeks ago when he first prescribed the drill, the kids were going through the exercise reasonably well, but the speed and tempo were far too slow. This time, the speed and tempo are much better, but the actual exeuction of each ‘cut’ and ‘change of direction’ looks very sloppy.

In the absence of a quality and orderly instructional method, young athletes simply cannot adhere to a level of competency in performing a drill or exercise because they do not have a grasp of the finite and fundamental components of how to perform it.

Physical elements such as ‘cutting’, ‘changing direction’, ‘decelerating’ and ‘accelerating’ are items that many coaches and trainers want their athletes to be good at, but don’t realize that they are not inborn skills we simply posses. They can however be taught and systematically perfected if the coach in question develops and executes a well thought out and progressive teaching model.

Having said all that, there are three fundamental reasons coaches and trainers should teach movement skills as part of their curriculum:

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