I recently heard Dan Pfaff talk about acceleration being a ‘complicated neuromuscular equation’ in speed training.
I recently heard Boo Schexnayder say acceleration is about finding the ‘resonant frequency of oscillary patterns’ in terms of developing and improving the efficiency of locomotive mechanics.
I recently heard Gary Winckler say, “90% of speed development is technique.”
I once heard Will Smith talk about understanding how the universe works by ‘studying the patterns.’
Well, I’ve been studying the patterns, and, in doing so, one fact has become overwhelmingly clear:
Our athletes will be faster when they develop this quality.
Our athletes will be more explosive and powerful when they develop this quality.
Our athletes will be on the board (instead of over and behind) and won’t trip over hurdles (or themselves) when they develop this quality.
Our athletes will consistently hit their times during tempo runs and race modeling sessions once they develop more of this quality.
So, if all I’ve said here is true, then what is the most important word in all of speed training?
Everything we do in practice is designed to improve the ability to express technique in order to positively influence performance. An athlete’s inability to express said technique simply boils down to lack of specific coordination.
Of course, I didn’t invent this concept. I heard Gary Winckler talk about it. Then I thought about it. Then I stole it. Now here we are.
Here’s an example. Last week I ran the exact same workout with two different athletes.
One was a 16 year old high schooler with a 200m PR of 26.1. The other was a 22 year old post collegiate with a 200m PR of 24.7.
The high schooler has been doing consistent technical work all summer and fall, going back and forth between me and another great sprints coach, Marc Mangiacotti.
In our last session, she looked incredible. Her bad runs are now vastly superior to what good runs looked like in June. She can break down her own technique before I say anything which, to me, is a sign of wildly improved kinesthetic awareness and skill acquisition. Her confidence is light years ahead of where it was 6 months ago. I’m very proud of her and can’t wait to see her reap the rewards of her hard work.
The post collegiate, on the other hand, comes from a (Division I) college program here in New England (whose name I will not mention) that did absolutely no technical work, no speed work and sent 200m specialists out for 30 minute runs on a routine basis even in the middle of the competitive phase. She came from a good high school program (cough, cough), so that’s roughly the last time this athlete had good technical instruction (a 25.02 HS PR vs 24.71 collegiate PR is not a comforting improvement over the course of 4 years at the D-1 level).
Needless to say, this athlete was some sort of Hot Mess. She could feel it wasn’t right.
It wasn’t lack of effort or focus. And it sure wasn’t lack of ability. It was pure lack of coordination.
She lacked (’lost’ might be a better word) the strength (coordination training under resistance), endurance (coordination training under event specific time constraints), speed (coordination training to express highest force in the least amount of time and resulting in optimal displacement) and mobility (coordination training to dynamically express forces through desired/required ranges of motion) to accelerate to top speed and maintain that velocity with any semblance of efficiency or consistency of execution.
Once she acquires the coordination that the high schooler currently possesses, I know one thing for sure, she won’t be grinding to dip under the times she ran when she was 16.
My point is pretty simple. If you want to run a 21st Century program, it’s not enough to just run fast in practice. As coaches we have to have our own process for solving the acceleration equation. And, just as importantly, we have to be able to help our athletes solve it themselves. Because we can’t cue them or engage in technical feedback once the gun goes off. Their success fundamentally depends on the ability to feel what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ and make corrections in real time, under the stress of competition and with 6-7 other athletes trying to beat them. Or with a crowd of people staring at them while they barrell down the runway.
It’s not enough to send kids into the weight room if you don’t have the same technical standards for a squat or clean as you do for coming out of blocks or doing phase work in the triple jump.
But if you reframe your training perspective with coordination being the ultimate goal and strength, speed, endurance and mobility being interdependent qualities, it will be easier to connect the dots between movements, event groups and specific skill development.
At your next practice, watch your athletes perform all the drills and exercises that make up their practice with this concept of ‘coordination as the ultimate goal’ in mind. It will be both liberating and overwhelming at the same time.
If you want more success, you must solve the coordination equation. If you haven’t already, this is a good place to start.
Updated on March 25, 2023 by Latif Thomas