When Coach Keith Ferrara got his first university strength and conditioning job, he literally had to build his program—and facility—out of a storage closet. Read on to discover the six essential steps he took to successfully build a collegiate sports performance program from scratch.
Why another speed training article, you ask? With so many articles on the internet on ways to get faster, why would you read another one?
How do you know an athlete is improving on the field or on the court? Parents and coaches tell us all the time they can “see the difference,” but can they? Can the athlete tell they’re moving faster? Through many years of experience, you do gain an “eye” for determining when someone is moving better and covering more ground, but when numbers matter, and they do, we use electronic timing to measure it properly.There are no shortcuts to getting faster—improving speed takes time, says @ShaneDavs. Click To Tweet
Game speed, sport speed, and track speed are all attempts at labeling the ability to be fast when it counts. Look at speed from a strength and conditioning perspective. There are no shortcuts to getting faster—improving speed takes time, and isn’t just about a great exercise or block of training. It may not be popular or fancy, but the best programs produce results and can show them.
Building a Culture for Speed Development
Before I get into the Dashr system, I want to talk about the value of creating a vibe of speed that athletes appreciate. Although most of our athletes have different lifting programs, all of them warm up together and we do our movement work first, similar to a track team. Everything we do feeds into our speed development, but you don’t need to train fast with everything you do. We lift heavy, do hypertrophy work, add in isometrics, condition, and challenge the core, but it all supports our speed.
Even our photo gallery screams that we care about action, as a good action shot is a better representation of an athlete then their uniform is. There are plenty of D1 college athletes and pros who have gone through Exceed in the past, and displaying them in action in a game is more important than a wall full of random numbers or schools. Building a culture of speed means you develop it and celebrate it.
We are well aware that training like a sprinter isn’t going to replace the needs of decelerating and moving in different directions, but working on straight-ahead speed works. If you are fast and prepared the right way, the myth of all speed and no brakes does not apply. We do a lot of plyometrics and eccentric work, teach deceleration more than a little, and even test the ability to brake throughout the year. But you have to run fast eventually, and you can’t be scared to sprint linearly because it’s not sport-specific.
I don’t mean to rant, but it seems that running in a straight line fast is a crime. If you are on social media, we are thrilled that our friend Jeremy Frisch is helping the world see the value of physical education with his games and obstacle courses. He is the king of youth training, but also has some strong, fast, older dudes coming out of Achieve.
Age-appropriate training works both ways. You don’t train kids like miniature adults, and you don’t train high school and college athletes like children. Training for the sport means knowing the demands and going beyond what’s needed to thrive. Our culture is about all types of speed using true reaction drills that require large eccentric forces, not just a few drills that resemble reaction.
If you are choreographing training and placating your novelty-seeking followers, you are not doing reaction training. It is hard to find the perfect recipe of how much linear speed work and how much deceleration and change of direction training to do, and it is highly dependent on your situation. We attack both qualities, but also realize that good training usually covers the bases with speed.
Why We Time Electronically
At Exceed, we use multiple timing systems to evaluate athletes, but that’s not all we do. I think a misconception exists that if a coach tests linear speed or change of direction ability, they don’t understand complex movement in games. For the record, we spend a considerable amount of time breaking down the skills involved with acceleration, deceleration, and change of direction, but we allow position and sport coaches to teach their athletes the sport skills they want them doing. During Combine prep, we outsource and hire coaches to bring the skills together into better sport movement.
We often tune up some lags that may be borderline sport skill coaching, but mainly because of a faulty pattern that is easily corrected. What we see too often, and is concerning to a degree, is the lack of general ability and overload of specific skill work labeled as “speed.” If you don’t have raw speed as an athlete, specific technique won’t get you where you want to go.If you don’t have raw speed as an athlete, specific technique won’t get you where you want to go, says @ShaneDavs. Click To Tweet
No offensive coach in the world will be able to take a 200-pound athlete and upskill them to stop JJ Watt, so don’t expect a slow athlete to separate from an NFL corner either, regardless of their “footwork.” Maximize an athlete’s general abilities, and let the team coaches do their job. If a gap still exists, maybe tutoring them can help.
Electronic timing is an honest way to see how fast an athlete can run from point A to point B. It’s simple and effective, and a great starting point for most coaches. One of the best ways to build trust with an athlete is through transparency, and that can only happen by giving them the power to see the same information you are collecting. Electronic timing of speed is brutal and unforgiving, but necessary, especially with the absurd numbers people believe they have run. We don’t electronically time every repetition, but not testing your own training program is an act of denial.
Too much testing, however, is also a problem. It’s easy to hide behind a piece of technology and mask inexperience and inability, and testing every sprint, jump, and exercise shows just that. We strive for an ideal balance of training with measurement and good old-fashioned training. None of our equipment collects dust, but if the power goes out, we’ll be fine. (Side note: We’ve had three power-outage sessions in our old facility.)
Speed is the universal language that nearly every sport and country understands, but we are miles away from being on the same page. Without electronic timing and simple speed testing, it’s hard to make progress with long-term development or keep a team coach happy. Education matters, but a team report of different speed and power tests beats a PowerPoint stack every time. Numbers don’t explain everything, but they do start the conversation!
Assessing Speed: What and How to Test
We test short sprints more often than anything else, but are comfortable just letting athletes run and not overthink things with too much feedback. My business partner and I test as much as necessary to get the information we want. A track athlete can use times more often because they are desensitized, but for some team sport athletes, numbers become a distraction. Our advanced athletes who are finished with college are better at handling the information without overreacting, but under most circumstances, getting the work done is a priority.
The philosophy we have is that a watched pot never boils, so sometimes we only check on speed at training intervals where an actual improvement is likely to show up. We always prefer teaching and training over testing, but without a consistent audit of the training program, it’s hard to know what is and isn’t working.Without a consistent audit of a training program, it’s hard to know what is and isn’t working, says @ShaneDavs. Click To Tweet
Most of our testing is for acceleration, top speed, and change of direction (5-10-5). We know that more extensive testing can be done, and that true “agility” is more complicated than going back and forth for 20 yards, but practicing with a great team coach and doing a great job in the weight room are best for the athletes. Complicated footwork drills and tag games are increasingly popular, and reaction timing drills that aren’t universally accepted or done at game speed make up the majority of the videos we see nowadays. But when did a slow and weak athlete get a scholarship for his ladder work or colored light reaction drill time?
If you spend too much time in training on extra movement work and gimmicky fun with an athlete who is not adequately strong or fast, who will be entrusted to do the strength and speed training? We don’t claim to be the world’s leading authority in speed development, but we have the confidence to say local athletes are excelling at high-level college and professional sports in our backyard, and their movement skills are not holding them back.
Coaches, parents, and even athletes will want to test what they believe is important, so we listen. We have our list and they have theirs. If the 40-yard dash is what you test, it’s far from a perfect test, but when appropriate, there’s no harm in collecting the metric splits or velocities while giving them what they want. Having a short sprint test such as a 20 may not be ideal, but focusing on a simple measurement communicates to everyone that speed matters.
Your facility is the first thing that let’s an athlete know “this is what we believe.” If you have 10 squat racks and a 10- by 5-yard strip of turf, you clearly prioritize strength over speed. The same goes for your testing and training protocols. When speed matters, you better have a facility (or access to one) and testing protocol that shows your clients what exactly you deem most important to their development. For us, philosophically, the purpose of the weight room is to gain mass, reduce injuries, and improve an athlete’s ground force, and then we sprint, jump, and stop to improve their speed on the field.
What the Dashr System Includes
The Dashr is an infrared timing system. If you want to understand beam-based timing, this Buyer’s Guide explains how the technology works. A coach who is familiar with the old Brower timing system will understand its similarities to Dashr, but instead of the dread of replacing batteries and trying to record times, the process is far more efficient.
The Dashr system includes a case, tripods and reflectors, and individual lasers. Since the system connects wirelessly, all you need is a smart device to get started. The manufacturer recommends you use an Android phone because its antenna is excellent, but the system works on Apple products as well. We use both iPads and Android products with the technology in our facility, so we follow the recommendations of the founder.
Coaches who work with very large groups and anyone who uses the system for combines will need to consider the more advanced system. When you invest in the higher-end system, you will be able to get multiple timing splits and the option to use the RFID feature to keep the process organized efficiently. The wrist bands are similar to the radio collars that environmental scientists use to track animals, but instead the technology tracks athletes.
When working with groups, RFID improves workflow and ensures the sprint performance matches up with the correct athlete. You still need to oversee the process, but having RFID is great if you are unfamiliar with new kids’ names or have too many athletes for easy organization. We have only experimented with the roster software, but it’s a benefit for anyone who needs to be organized.
We haven’t used Drillstack, a program that connects to Dashr, but we are going to look at an athlete management system down the road. We get a lot of data with all of our equipment, and now we need something to keep things running smoothly. The Dashr web app and export options to Excel are enough for now, but if you are a college team that needs to be organized and connected, we suggest connecting with the providers of an AMS software.
Combine Testing, Training, or Team Timing
If you test an athlete, you are most likely either in the talent identification world or developmental category. We do a little bit of both. Combine testing is everywhere, and not just for elite levels. Head coaches are increasingly looking for someone to test their athletes, but many have been tricked into forgetting what’s most important. The improvement!We test continuously so a parent, agent, or athlete knows you can start getting better at any time, says @ShaneDavs. Click To Tweet
I think a lot of combine hype and fancy marketing has distracted these coaches from the result-based approach. We love the idea of testing their team, but we also want the time and energy allocated to get athletes faster and produce results. The best time to get faster is in the off-season, so if you are going to run a testing program or combine, schedule it appropriately. We continuously test so a parent, agent, or athlete knows that you can start getting better at any time, but we do recognize that the off-season is when the planning for next year begins.
Video 1. Dashr streamlines workflow, as everything is connected, including options for RFID and third-party software integration. Coaches can use either Android or iOS devices to display data.
For event-based timing or large group timing, Dashr has some cool features that make it an effective tool for the job. For “ready up,” get-on-the-line-and-go testing, Dashr has a “quick run” feature that doesn’t need buttons or resets to use. Just put the hand down, wait for the beep, and rip. A coach pressed for time can get an entire team tested in under 20 minutes, with multiple attempts during that period.Dashr’s ‘quick run’ feature can get an entire team tested in under 20 minutes, says @ShaneDavs. Click To Tweet
Who Should Use Dashr
We don’t want to label the Dashr an entry-level product because it has proven to be a great product, but its price point and simple-to-use design are great for coaches who just want the basics covered. For advanced athletes, we are exploring more expensive and super precise options, such as the Swift or MUSCLELAB Laser, but to get a job done with the majority of athletes, Dashr will more than suffice.
A lot of private facilities don’t like the idea of high school and youth teams testing speed, as that may disrupt their leverage in acquiring clients. I don’t fear independent timing or even training with teams. Athletes want to train with the best option available, and we are more than just a timing service—we are a complete training facility with years of high-level experience. You don’t hire a carpenter because they can measure their cuts; you hire them because they can build something the right way.
Our facility uses multiple devices for timing and jump testing in the same way we use different training tools for strength work. The use of different systems doesn’t add complexity and confusion; we just know that it’s perfectly acceptable to use the right tool at the right time. Dashr will continue to be our workhorse, as we get a lot of value from it, but at times we will use Ergotest and even video systems when appropriate.
Just Time and See the Difference
Wrapping this review up, my goal was to make sure every coach knew of an affordable option with group timing. At Exceed, we use multiple timing systems to get the job done, but we love the fact that, within a couple minutes, we could set up the Dashr system and start timing athletes immediately without worrying about batteries and a way to record the times.If you’ve had a bad experience with electronic timing in the past, know that @DashrMPS is worth trying, says @ShaneDavs. Click To Tweet
Dashr is most easily summed up as an upgrade from the old Brower timing system, as it connects to a tablet or smart device instead of an obsolete handheld and wirelessly gets the job done. If you had a bad experience with electronic timing in the past (as we all have), we know that Dashr is a piece of equipment worth trying. We are happy with our experience and it makes a great addition to our facility.