There is no question that coaches understand how important speed is to the success of team sport athletes. However, when most people think of speed and its effects on performance, field sports are usually the first that come to mind (football being the most popular of all). They don’t always understand that speed and the development of speed also play critical roles in success for court-based sports such as basketball and volleyball.
In this article, I will shatter four myths that minimize the value of training speed in court-based athletes and cover why training speed is so necessary to the success of players and their overall athletic development.
1. Because of the Size of the Court, Speed Doesn’t Matter
Due to the more compact size of the court, people think that speed doesn’t matter that much for volleyball and basketball. Speed, however, becomes an even more significant factor in the success of court-based sports. The margin of error becomes even smaller when the space gets tighter, so speed is a huge factor in the success of the athlete.The margin of error becomes even smaller when the space gets tighter, so speed is a huge factor in the success of court sport athletes, says @bigk28. Click To Tweet
It is easy to see why acceleration is the biggest contributor to athletic success in court sports. In a sport like volleyball, players rarely take more than a few steps when completing one of the following movements:
All are force- and power-based movements that happen very quickly, never allowing the athlete to come close to reaching their top speed. Basketball is a little different, as players may travel anywhere from 25-30 meters full court in a transition from defense to offense or vice versa, and they may hit top speed—but these situations are highly unlikely. If athletes can’t produce both force and acceleration in either sport, they will struggle to compete at an elite level.
2. Court Sport Athletes Already Sprint Enough in Practice, So You Don’t Need to Dedicate Time to Speed Development
When I talk to others about court-based sports, there is a common misconception that players accelerate enough in practice, and it is unnecessary to train speed in designated sports performance sessions. From what I have seen training speed over the years, this couldn’t be any further than the truth.
First, it is important to define what qualities of speed matter for athletic performance. For me, it boils down to three qualities in court-based sports:
- Peak force
- Peak power
- Peak velocity
Peak force is the initial amount of force put into the ground, breaking inertia to propel the athlete’s body forward. Peak force happens instantaneously and is paramount for athletic success and strong acceleration abilities. Peak power is the highest amount of power that happens in the sprint; this usually occurs within the first second of a horizontal movement. Once again, because of how quickly it happens, powerful athletes have a distinct advantage over their opponents. That is why there should be dedicated parts in your training to develop each quality.Athletes may sprint a lot in practice, but it may not have the same intent or address the same stimulus as it would in a designated speed training session, says @bigk28. Click To Tweet
Now, coaches will ask why do I have to train sprinting if they are sprinting in practice? While some people may find it to be overkill, I do not. Sure, athletes may sprint a lot in practice, but it may not have the same intent or address the same stimulus as it would in a designated speed training session. Resisted sprints are one of the best stimuli for creating change in both force and power production. My favorite tools to use are:
- Sled sprints
- Chained sprints
- Banded marches
All of these will teach athletes how to put force into the ground, resulting in higher outputs. I believe that getting in a particular volume of sprints (200-300 meters) is necessary to create change, and a combination of resisted and unresisted sprints will make that change even more significant than using unresisted sprints alone. Sprinting in practice alone will not help you accomplish that.
Video 1. Resisted sprints are an effective stimulus for eliciting improvements in acceleration. Whether for force or power development, resisted sprints are a staple in our acceleration training.
Another big factor in why I believe athletes should train sprints in a designated sports performance session is the ability to time them. Timing sprints plays a major role in speed development—there is no question that timing sprints improves effort levels. Not only are outputs better, but athletes are held accountable for every rep and receive immediate feedback when going through a speed session.
It is important to recognize that athletes will not set a personal record every time they sprint. You should reiterate this to your athletes, as expecting to hit a personal best every time they sprint sets your athletes up for failure. We are looking for trends in progression or regression, not speeds based on singular workouts. This is the biggest reason for me why training speed throughout the entire season isn’t just a good idea; it is necessary.
We all know there is a reduction in training velocity and volume once in-season. In this situation, athletes may never truly accelerate with 100% intensity; therefore, they won’t hit the necessary velocities to create change. The residual training effect for speed is five days, plus or minus three days. Knowing this fact, it is easy for there to be a decline in sprinting abilities. I have seen it firsthand in-season with our volleyball program, with the following changes from the first week compared to the last week of our regular season:
Peak Force (N/kg): 7.05 → 7.31 (3.64% improvement)
Peak Power (W/kg): 13.09 → 13.83 (5.62% improvement)
Peak Velocity (m/s): 7.26 → 7.41 (1.99% improvement)
3. Since Players Don’t Reach Peak Velocity, Max Velocity Training Has No Place in the Development of Court-Based Athletes
This is probably the biggest misconception of them all. Training velocity is paramount for all court-based athletes, but not for the reasons you may think.
In sports like basketball and volleyball, athletes rarely hit top speed; therefore, many coaches think there is no need to train athletes at peak velocity. This, however, couldn’t be any further from the truth. Peak velocity is a stimulus like any other and must be treated as a crucial tool in your exercise database instead of an exercise that is “sports specific.”Peak velocity is a stimulus like any other and must be treated as a crucial tool in your exercises database instead an exercise that is ‘sports specific’, says @bigk28. Click To Tweet
Peak velocity is the top speed an athlete hits during a sprint. Dr. Ken Clark has done research on this topic, and I have seen with my own athletes that team sports athletes hit peak velocity at the 25- to 30-meter mark, on average. I love peak velocity training for the following reasons:
- Has force output unlike anything you could ever do in the weight room (anywhere from 3-5x force output on ground strike).
- Bulletproofs the hamstrings from injury.
- Requires rapid contraction and relaxation.
- Involves coordination, rhythm, and balance.
- Raises the ceiling on other sprinting outputs.
The fact that you produce that much force at high speed is the main reason why you should be training the stimulus. You will not find another exercise that can match those types of outputs.
On top of that, we see hamstring injuries happen all the time in sport, so why not use a stimulus that you know will help reduce the incidence of injury with your athletes? The last two reasons are big for me: all sports require rapid acceleration then deceleration in a coordinated manner to perform at a high level. It is tough to mimic this movement in the weight room, but having your athletes perform movements at top speed makes their bodies have no choice but to coordinate themselves to move swiftly and efficiently.
Speed reserve is another big factor regarding the benefits of training peak velocity. If I raise my athletes’ top speeds at, say, 25 meters, I will be improving their speeds at shorter distances as well. I don’t think this necessarily means they will instantly become better accelerators by training top speed, but there should be higher speeds happening as distances get closer to their top speed.
Different types of exercises to use to train the peak velocity stimulus:
- In and Outs
- Drive Floats
- Curved Sprints
- Max Effort Sprints up to 40 meters
These are all variations I love for my court-based athletes. Flys with various run-ins are probably my favorite because they don’t stress the athlete to hit top speed at a moment’s notice. The athlete can build progressively until they feel comfortable enough to turn it up another notch to hit top speed.
Video 2. Flying sprints are a great way to address the peak velocity stimulus among court-based athletes. Most athletes hit top speed anywhere around 25 meters, so a run-in zone of 20 meters with a 10-meter fly zone is a safe and effective way to train the stimulus.
4. Speed Training Could Put Players at Risk of Injury
I would argue that the lack of speed training could increase the risk of injury for athletes.
Both basketball and volleyball athletes are in a constant state of acceleration and deceleration. They must learn how to produce force in an instant and be able to decelerate to react to make a play.I would argue that the LACK of speed training could increase the risk of injury for athletes, says @bigk28. Click To Tweet
Not training those stimuli is dangerous for the athletes and could lead to increased injuries. Injuries happen when there is a lack of exposure to a stimulus; if the only time athletes sprint at maximal effort levels is during competition, you are putting your athletes at an increased risk of injury.
Training Speed Matters for Court Sports
I have seen firsthand the benefits of training all types of speed in my court-based athletes. What is done in practice isn’t necessarily what I would define as high-effort speed work. There are qualities that we must focus on to develop speed, including both acceleration-based and peak velocity type training. By training both ends of the spectrum, you develop your athletes across many different stimuli and build an overall resilient athlete.
For both volleyball and basketball, I start each one of my workouts with some type of speed work: one acceleration day, one peak velocity day, and one combo day. Not only have we seen increases in speed across all our athletes, but we have seen development in multiple areas that contribute to athletic performance in their particular sport.
The goal is longer-term athletic development with our athletes, and if you wish to make the best, most resilient athlete by the time they leave your program, then speed must be at the center of your sports performance training. As long as you constantly assess your athletes, you will find out what type of speed work is best for them and what changes you need to make for each athlete. Speed wins in all sports, so don’t leave it up to chance that your athletes will improve. Take speed development into your own hands.
Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask. More people are reading SimpliFaster than ever, and each week we bring you compelling content from coaches, sport scientists, and physiotherapists who are devoted to building better athletes. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — SF