Here’s the scenario: You take over a new job or your coach greenlights your “innovative, new speed program.” Your excitement can’t be contained…until you then realize that you now must organize a workout for 100 players in a time-limited session of an hour.
Welcome to the world of football strength and conditioning!When planning for these dynamic big group trainings, coaches need to take the sniper’s approach of aim small, miss small, says @CoachJoeyG. Click To Tweet
From the pre-warm-up to the final session debrief, everything must be planned and rehearsed in advance to ensure the success of this type of session. Efficiency and urgency must play a major role in the outline and design—coaches do not have time for wasted reps or wasted time. When planning for these dynamic big group trainings, coaches need to take the sniper’s approach of aim small, miss small; meaning, you need to have specific goals for the workout and an exact prescription of modalities to address those goals, so that if any element is slightly off you can still hit the day’s main target.
Why Training Speed Is Important
Speed training is highly technical and requires adequate periods of recovery for athletes to perform reps with maximal effort and intent. Intent is king! Without the appropriate rest times, coaches are putting lipstick on a pig—meaning, they aren’t training speed. Learning requires max focus and attention; this cannot be achieved in an exhausted state. Teaching technical skills to large groups is not any easy task—add in the dilemma of time constraints, and it makes it almost impossible.
Many factors impact the effectiveness of speed workouts in large groups—for football, the workout must have a certain feel and flow to it that football coaches are familiar with. Football coaches don’t want to see kids standing around, but properly organizing the flow of a workout can build in rest and still give the feel of “grinding” without an excessive amount of unspecific work.
Factors to Consider When Planning
There are many things to think about when planning and executing a speed workout with more than 30 people. A coach never wants to look unprepared or overwhelmed in the administration of training. To prevent this, you must consider all potential issues and include contingency plans. You must conduct a thorough evaluation of the session’s organization—the term coaches in football often use to describe this process is “self-scout.” Auditing resources in your organization will paint a clearer picture about realistic training plans.
Factors to consider are:
- Number of coaches.
- Number of athletes.
- Equipment available.
- Weather patterns.
- Time in the training year.
These factors will guide and direct all decisions made on training. You can’t outkick your coverage; meaning, don’t set yourself up for failure by overshooting what you can realistically execute in your speed workouts. Don’t get into a session and plan five exercises, then get to the third exercise and run out of time.You can’t outkick your coverage; meaning, don’t set yourself up for failure by overshooting what you can realistically execute in your speed workouts, says @CoachJoeyG. Click To Tweet
Understand the limitations of your current situation and plan around them. You can’t plan hill sprints if there are no hills! Know the exact time demands of each station and the warm-up. Have all tech issues dialed in before the athletes start the session. Mitigate as many problems beforehand as possible.
The purpose of the warm-up is to prepare the muscle tissues for the intensity of the upcoming exercises, express ranges of motion that are exhibited in the exercises, and add context for future drills that will be prescribed. When the entire duration of a workout can only be one hour in total, minimalist is the best practice in the design of warm-ups. We want to spend a maximum of 15 minutes on the warm-up. The workout itself will build in intensity, so there’s no need to spend extreme amounts of energy on the warm-up.
Some points of the warm-up will carry more of a sense of urgency than others, as we want to initially increase heart rate and body temperature. General, dynamic movements need fewer rest times, but building rest time into the specific warm-up drills is key so that athletes perform them with great intent and focus. One way to incorporate rest into the warm-up and increase coaching coverage is to separate the team into subgroups. We separate our team into four subgroups:
This allows extra rest between reps, because we wait for each group to complete the rep fully before sending on the next group, which will perform the given exercise completed by the previous group. Yardages and exercises may be altered to fit different groups—for example, for the skill group a straight leg bound may be prescribed as a 40-yard drill, while for the bigs group it is only a 20-yard drill.
Video 1. A minimalist approach to the warm-up is a must when time restraints are present.
Appearance of the Workout
As previously stated, the look and feel of the workout is extremely important. Coaches don’t like standing around, which is an issue as speed training requires large amounts of recovery to perform the reps in an explosive and fresh state. Coaches emphasize and demand that every rep is performed with maximal intent and effort. The players can’t perform that way under fatigued conditions, but if you like your job, players can’t just be lounging around.
The question becomes: How can the performance coach make 20-30 quality reps over 45 minutes look like a lot of work when it’s not? Optimal rest for speed work is one minute for every 10 yards of sprinting, so to get that recovery time while appearing to be in continual motion we utilize stations, waterfall starts, purposeful drill selection, and races.
Like the warm-up, having subgroups is an easy way to gain extra recovery in any drill. Essentially, one rep becomes four reps when dividing the team up, allowing for rest. Subgroups also provide more opportunities to coach because they give that coach fewer athletes to watch on a given rep, allowing more instruction on technique in each movement, proper mechanics, and visual examples of athletes performing it right within the subgroup. Having a staff of more than three coaches will give you the ability to run stations, and these allow more individualization because groups can be mailboxed together by either position or deficiency.
Multiple stations operating simultaneously also creates the illusion that a lot of work is being performed, even with the adequate rest periods being employed: football coaches are now watching three things happening instead of one. Stations can build off one another as the workout progresses, and this setup can also benefit organizations that might be short on specific equipment. If sled work or hurdle hops are prescribed, an organization may not have 40 sleds and 50 hurdles but having stations can make the equipment needs more manageable and efficient.Stations can build off one another as the workout progresses, and this setup can also benefit organizations that might be short on specific equipment, says @CoachJoeyG. Click To Tweet
The system in place for execution of reps will aid rest and recovery if properly planned. I love to utilize waterfall starts, meaning when one player goes that sets off the next player in line to start. This method gives football coaches more eye candy.
Waterfall starts give coaches the ability to home in on one athlete at a time, providing more coaching opportunities and individual interactions. This setup allows coaches to stop the drill for technical interventions—if one athlete is making a technical mistake, chances are several other athletes are. You can catch issues and correct them with the proper cue before the next athlete makes that same mistake.
Another bonus of waterfall starts is that the athletes can watch successful reps and hear the coaches pointing out examples of great technical proficiency or effort. Coaches aren’t going to be able to correct 500 different mistakes, but they can give cues that attack the “big rocks.”
Video 2. Waterfall starts increase rest times significantly, because the next rep does not start until the last player has completed the rep.
Success leaves clues, and some of the best performance coaches in the industry—such as Boo Schexnayder and Lee Taft—reiterate that the purpose of drills is to give context for skill development. One of my all-time favorite quotes for coaching is from Coach Boo: “If you are looking for drills, go to Ace Hardware—we teach skills.”
Drills should have precise reasons for being prescribed. There should be a why behind all exercises and a progression that feeds the skills being trained. Thought-out progressions lead to less coaching. Some coaches look at this as a negative, but more competent skill expression will lead to higher retention and far less coaching intervention. I know that we are grasping technical proficiency when my team makes workouts boring for me because I have less to coach.Thought-out progressions lead to less coaching. Some coaches look at this as a negative, but more competent skill expression will lead to higher retention and far less coaching intervention. Click To Tweet
Self-organization is a hot topic in the profession right now, and I believe in what coach Dan Pfaff has spoken about several times: that once an acceptable movement bandwidth is established, coaches can step back and let athletes feel and self-correct. To get to that point, drills need to start at the foundational level, then increase in technical demand followed by an increase in velocity demands. The most successful drills are ones that correct with minimal coaching cues. This is extremely valuable in the large group setting, because you will not catch all mistakes—there is not enough time to correct everyone in the session, and you will miss five kids while correcting one with a long, drawn-out explanation.
Progression of the workout should build according to the difficulty of the skills. I want to add context and clean up movement leading into the most technically demanding exercises of the workout. If we have fly-10s included on that day, we will do some variation of wickets followed by the flys. Progressions aren’t just working out to work out; they can be applied in the workout themselves.
Increasing speed has everything to do with intent. In my experience, coaches can inspire increased intent by timing reps and by placing players in competitive environments. We employ races throughout the off-season in several different ways and in different drills. The moment you ask who the fastest kid on the team is, you better be ready for supra-maximal effort.
We have used distances from 10 yards to full field relays; we have had the entire team lined up to race, and we have paired two players against each other. Bottom line: Races are a great tool that produces results. We use races for most of our acceleration work, and we like to use heats like track meets, where the fastest guys are paired against each other, and the heats are evenly matched for competition purposes.
Getting the sport coaches involved will also increase the competitive atmosphere of any race. Our head coach will come out and call out winners—we want a fun, competitive environment that prepares the players for the stress of competition. Guys can’t hide in the heats: If they don’t give a good effort, they get exposed. We encourage side-betting and trash talk, which provides the workout with excitement and bragging rights for the day.
Video 3. Setting up races adds max effort to any sprint.
Another critical piece of our training is recording sprint times. Just like racing, being timed has been shown to increase intent. Timing also provides feedback, which reinforces that the training process is doing what is intended: getting the athletes faster. Tony Holler’s Record, Rank, and Publish mantra does wonders for effort and motivation. Timing gives the coaches the ability to self-audit the training program and make adjustments if there is no progress being seen.Timing gives the coaches the ability to self-audit the training program and make adjustments if there is no progress being seen, says @CoachJoeyG. Click To Tweet
How do the athletes know they are getting better if you can’t prove it? And an even better question, how do you know that your program works if you don’t test?
Having stations where timing gates are utilized helps coaches get everyone timed efficiently. Dashr can make recording efficient using their app, and Freelap is another timing system that gives coaches the ability to time a lot of athletes at one time. An inexpensive way to time a team is to use a tripod and slow-motion video, with apps such as Coach’s Eye and Dartfish Express giving the coach the ability to generate times. This method is time-intensive, but very effective in certain situations. Additionally, GPS systems like Catapult have allowed us to track mph and acceleration metrics.
Organizing a large group speed session can seem daunting, but as with anything, the preparation work that gets done beforehand makes all the difference. Have a clear vision on what you want to accomplish in the session. Progressions should build within the work as the intensity of the drills increases.
Give football coaches some eye candy by using subgroups and circuits, so that your speed workout has the feel of “grinding” even while providing the adequate amount of rest time. Incorporate races and timing into the workouts to drive intent and competitiveness. Speed can be the difference in games, so find ways to train it in any circumstances.
By programming our speed workouts this way, we were able to improve our power, acceleration, and max velocity—we dropped our average 20-yard dash times by .12 and increased our top speed by almost an entire mph over the course of a summer. Our position coaches have recognized their athletes are playing faster, and we have been more resilient to soft tissue injuries due to the exposure throughout the above-mentioned workouts.
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