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.
By Graham Eaton
When it comes to speed drills, the jury is still out on their transfer to actual speed. Due to the limited time at high school practices each day, coaches should carefully consider the reason behind each drill. Too often, drills are looked at as a warm-up to get athletes loose and sweaty.
I don’t believe they make you faster by themselves. To get faster, you have to get stronger and/or more neurally efficient. I think they are corrective measures so that the athlete gets more out of their speed workouts. Looking for answers in the form of “cool drills” is not the way to go.Drills are corrective measures so that the athlete gets more out of their #speed workouts, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
Sometimes, similarly themed shallower drills can serve as reinforcement or potentiation for developing athletes. Drill selection at the high school level should cut out the fluff and aim to be as specific and basic as possible. Maximize the time and space that you have. Too much teaching of one specific drill is not a good use of time, but there is always a place and room for the fundamentals. Here are six simple drills that I think go a long way without complicating things needlessly.
Skip for Distance
These are easy to do and easy to cue. However, it doesn’t mean that athletes will do them correctly right away.
Look for maximal projection here, with purposeful foot contacts and pushes. This makes the concept of acceleration just a bit more understandable for high school athletes. Another cue is to use big, open, violent arms. Couple this with a nice, stacked vertical posture and they will work on max velocity concepts as well. Look for athletes to not “sit” into the skip or round their backs. These athletes get no height and are lazily pushing horizontally—almost falling, rather than projecting fully. The general strength acquired through these skips is also a nice bonus.
These can be used as a drill in warm-ups or in an acceleration complex. They work really well paired at the end with an event-specific start at the athlete’s level of development. This keeps the body ready and the CNS primed to be explosive on the next successive start. Large groups can also do these, and they can be done anywhere. Given the reality and constraints that most high school coaches face, this also makes skips an attractive option.
Video 1. Skips for distance make the concept of acceleration a bit more understandable for high school athletes. Look for maximal projection here, with purposeful foot contacts and pushes.
Dynamic Wall Post-Up
Block starts are really hard for most high school athletes. So are two- and three-point starts. Every athlete may have a different point of entry when it comes to their menu of acceleration items. The dynamic wall post-up drill teaches the concept of projection in isolation.
Video 2. The dynamic wall post-up drill teaches the concept of projection in isolation. The entry-level drill looks like this, without a med ball.
Start with 6- to 12-inch spacing between the feet and roll the knees, hips, and trunk together over the toes. Athletes should end up with pretty good shin angles that are parallel. The shin of the leg driven up should be parallel to the other shin, without casting out (toe should stay behind knee).
I like doing these on acceleration themed days.
These are also quite fun, and we have begun experimenting with some variations. The variety keeps the drills from becoming stale without straying too far from the basics. Fun can and absolutely should be a goal.
- Kneeling (more strength needed to overcome inertia).
- Post-up to boom-boom wall drill (watch for athletes butt-kicking or cheating the full thigh punch).
Look for athletes who display too much hip flexion or extension on the wall. You should see a nice straight line from the foot up through the shoulder and head, creating a powerful line ready to strike down and back behind the center of mass.
Video 3. We use variations of drills to inject both variety and fun. With this post-up to boom-boom wall drill, watch for athletes butt-kicking or cheating the full thigh punch.
I came across these years ago when watching Loren Seagrave on YouTube, and I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on. After completing two ALTIS modules (which I highly recommend), I realized there is huge value in, and a place for, dribbling at the high school level.
The overhead variation takes the arms out of it and lets the athlete focus on the cycling of the legs. Like wickets, you can use these as a maximum velocity teaching tool or as a support, depending on the athlete.
Younger athletes could use marching and lower amplitude dribbling as a full session to train good movement early in their training. Before throwing them into a race car, make sure they take a minivan for a spin first. For older varsity athletes, it is a nice way to bring the muscles and nervous system slowly to life after sitting in chairs and at desks for the six hours before practice.
Starting with ankle marches, cue athletes to step over their ankle, calf, or knee. (We haven’t used ankle dribbles). They should stay tall and “bounce” while rolling through the entire foot, heel to ball of foot (keep the toe up and don’t let it touch). Upon foot contact, vertical force should be applied to limit the ground contact.
It also helps to correct athletes who overstride or cast their foot out. Athletes should display some proficiency in regular marching drills before progressing to dribbles. Keep an eye out for athletes overly plantar flexing and striking with the ball of the foot first.
Once they get better at the overhead dribbles, they can progress to full arm and speed dribbles. These have bigger concentric circles, as opposed to the overhead variations, which focus on rhythm. When space or time is an issue, these can be a nice substitute for wicket runs if done correctly.
Video 4. The overhead dribble variation takes the arms out of it and lets the athlete focus on the cycling of the legs. Like wickets, you can use these as a maximum velocity teaching tool or as a support, depending on the athlete.
Stair Marches with Hands on Hips
Acceleration is commonly referred to as “running up the stairs,” so it makes sense that stairs can be a nice teaching tool to remediate postures. Use hands on hips as an external cue to keep the hips hiked and pelvis neutral to maintain good posture. The value of the most basic drills cannot be overstated. Early in the season, especially indoors, these are a staple at our practices.The value of the most basic drills cannot be overstated, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
Latif Thomas uses the cue of tracing the shin with the opposite foot. The leg tracing should have the knee and toe up while stepping over the opposite knee to limit backside mechanics. This is what max velocity sprinting looks like.
Doing this in conjunction with some wicket flys on max velocity days is a good way to program stair marches. I have also programmed these on regeneration days, seeking to restore movement and reinforce proper mechanics. An athlete returning from injury may also work on these as they scale the ladder back to maximal work before taking the next step.
This is a great foundational drill and a chance for the coach to see things at a slower speed. You can do these with a large group at the base of a set of stairs with four athletes in line. After each rep, give and reinforce feedback before the next wave begins.
Video 5. Acceleration is commonly referred to as “running up the stairs,” so it makes sense that stairs can be a nice teaching tool to remediate postures. The hands on hip stair march is a great foundational drill and a chance for the coach to see things at a slower speed.
Single Leg Skip Variations
These are great for basic coordination and posture. They highlight the kids that move well and reveal the athletes that are still developing. Cue athletes with “Knee up, toe up.” The stance leg knee should have minimal flexion during the transitional hop and the leg that is punching should always land under the hip with a stiff ankle.
Athletes can start on the wall for an introduction to the rhythm and timing.
You can add overhead variations to challenge trunk stability. Athletes that have an issue with normal trunk movement will often display a lateral hitch with this drill. Rhythm and timing, rather than speed, is the goal with this. Emphasizing speed creates a herky-jerky movement, and a breaking at the hips is often present.
Video 6. Single leg skips are great for basic coordination and posture. They highlight the kids that move well and reveal the athletes that are still developing.
Athletes can progress to full arms once they do the other variations. Being able to work on the contralateral movement of the arms and legs is a challenge with this drill, in the same way that sprinting is often a challenge for high school athletes.
This is also a drill that can help hurdlers with leading with the knee and you can blend it into a “rain dance.”
Improving overall coordination and athleticism will help multi-sport athletes as well.
Single Leg Drives/Alternating Drives
This is a more advanced drill. You can use it as a plyometric activity in a max velocity or multi-jumps complex. It emphasizes a violent splitting of the arms and minimizing the amortization phase. I like to see athletes getting electric here. It is not a drill that can be done while half asleep.
First, both feet always land simultaneously together under the hips. Cue athletes to stay “strong as steel, head to heel” to limit ankle, knee, and hip collapse. Done with alternating legs, it is basically a dynamic march.
Video 7. The single leg drive is more advanced. It emphasizes a violent splitting of the arms and minimizing the amortization phase.
Video 8. Nothing has as little ground contact timeas sprinting, but single leg drives also serve as a great way to work on ankle stiffness and getting athletes ready to bounce when doing fly work.
Upon contact with the ball of the foot, the opposite knee is driven upwards, while the contralateral arm punches up, slightly flexing at the elbow. I like this drill because it almost forces athletes to use their arms correctly and open the elbow on the downswing as the arm clears the hip pocket.
Nothing has as little ground contact time as sprinting, but these also serve as a great way to work on ankle stiffness and getting athletes ready to bounce when doing fly work.
As stated before, consider the drills that you use and how they fit into your own circumstances. No two coaches encounter the same ability levels or have access to the same equipment. How one coach uses a drill may be vastly different from the way another coach implements it. All of these drills are modeled by me or the captains. In addition to the correct way to do the drills, we demonstrate incorrect ways to discourage faulty movement patterns.Athletes should perform these drills with high intent and appropriate volume for the task, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
Clear cues with a variety of language can also help to get the desired outcome. This is a good way to apply the John Wooden Correct-incorrect-correct model. “When Wooden saw something he didn’t like, and stopped practice to correct the incorrectly executed technique, he would immediately demonstrate the correct way to do the technique, then show everyone the incorrect way the athlete just did it, then model the correct way again. This correct-incorrect-correct demonstration was usually very brief and succinct, rarely lasting longer than 5 seconds, but making it very clear what his expectations were, and how to meet these expectations.”
Purpose should be the main focus. Athletes should perform all of these drills with high intent and appropriate volume with regard to the task. Drills are a support or prep for acceleration and max velocity work, not just a “warm-up.”