The Truth on Speed and Skill Performance

The Proper Viewpoint of Training Athletes

cheetah-111024_640It is often said that the best coaches of any sport know precisely when to push their athletes and when to take their foot off the throttle. Exceptions aside, high-level coaches do not simply grind their athletes into the ground each and every practice session, creating a practice culture that overemphasizes sacrifice and grunt labor to the detriment of skill acquisition and the enhancement of speed. Due to the influence of Hollywood movies featuring caricatures of nearly-sadistic football coaches, or the annual idle chat among aging alumni under Friday night lights remembering when “coach ran them till’ they bled or puked,” the vast majority of the public have formed the opinion that hard work, and hard work alone, is the key to sporting success. If the kids do not win, they simply didn’t work hard enough. They’re too soft. They’re too coddled. They’re not committed to doing what it takes to win.

In reality, high-level sport coaching is a delicate balance of art and science. The human body has finite parameters within which coaches and trainers must work. It only responds and adapts to certain forms and quantities of stress which must be carefully prescribed, monitored, and periodically reassessed. A coach who simply seeks to make his athletes exhausted during each and every practice is a coach lacking all understanding of human physiology and of the nature of sport itself. For sport is not merely a matter of strategy and tactical decision making, but also a matter of skill acquisition and performance. In our experience, many coaches generally understand the former, but almost entirely lack knowledge of the latter. They simply do not understand that all sports and sporting activities are skills, and that in order to elicit optimal performance in their athletes, coaches need to refocus their efforts on effectively improving sport skill performance. Furthermore, speed development is largely lost on many coaches as well, and the ideal means of improving speed is actually linked directly to the enhancement of skill performance. There is a small window of time during practice where improvements in both qualities can realistically be made. Outside of this window, gains in speed and skill performance are all but non-existent. The purpose of this essay is to explain how to take advantage of this limited period of practice time where important sport skills can be taught and improved upon, and speed can be developed to levels previously unattained.

By Cal Dietz and Jonathon Janz, For additional information, visit

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