Driven by Business
Speed, Agility, Quickness (SAQ) training has a unique ability to draw larger amounts of young athletes with promises of becoming a faster, more agile version of themselves. These facilities or individual coaches commonly use methods such as high speed treadmills and ladder drills. The SAQ system is terrific for business because they appear to provide athletes with what they need. However, these systems often fail to produce sustainable, long-term adaptations to improve speed.
When you consider what true speed development is all about, you begin to see why these methods do not work. And even why they may carry a high injury risk with them. Sure these methods will work for some athletes, but they are typically athletes that are already slow. Does this justify using less efficient means? Let's take a look.
# 1 - High Speed Treadmills
The mechanics needed for ground based speed are entirely different from the mechanics utilized on a treadmill. On a treadmill, the surface moves underneath you whereas on land, you must move over the surface. Training on a treadmill does nothing to develop an athlete's acceleration or drive phase, arguably the most important element of speed in sports. High speed treadmill training becomes about who can pick up their feet and put them down the fastest instead of how much force is being applied to the ground. Furthermore, at high speeds it becomes easy for form to breakdown and ingrain poor mechanics.
#2 - Ladder Drills for Foot Quickness
Ladder drills simply make you good at ladder drills. There is no correlation to actual speed development and developing one's ability to have 'quick feet'. Any benefit to speed can be negated by teaching athletes to chop or shorten their strides. These drills are best suited for a dynamic warmup, but if you think you are going to develop Robert Griffin III agility you are only fooling yourself. Agility is developed from improving relative strength and the practice of sport skills.
How True Speed is Developed
The science behind the world's fastest man, Usian Bolt, gives insight into what true speed development is all about. More important than how fast an athlete moves their legs is the power in their stride. An average runner's stride applies about 250kg (550 lbs) of force to the ground in roughly 0.12 seconds of contact. Bolt's stride applies over 1000 lbs of force to the ground in roughly 0.08 seconds of contact. That's a significant difference. High speed treadmills and ladder drills will not develop high level speed because they ultimately fail to train the physical abilities that enable an athlete to realize their true speed potential.
Speed and acceleration should be train through proper technique instruction and developing power-speed qualities such as limit/maximal strength, explosive strength, ground reactive forces, and rate of force production. These abilities train athletes to develop high amounts of force in a brief amount of time, developing the power that enables them to accelerate quickly and achieve top end speed faster.
The process of speed development must also take into consideration the concepts of Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD). Young athletes, both male and female, have unique time periods during which their speed development is very sensitive. These "windows of optimal trainability" must be capitalized on or else the athlete's true speed potential will never be realized. For the vast majority of youth athletes, they miss these windows of opportunity because of over-competition and under-training that is often seen during the ages of 8-13.
As with any physical quality, the critical periods for speed development will vary between each child due to his or her genetic makeup. Each critical period respects the stages of human growth and maturation as scientific evidence demonstrates that children vary considerably in their rate of response to different training stimuli. Some children may show potential for speed at age 10, while others may not display the same potential until years later. Consequently, a long-term approach to speed development is needed to ensure that athletes who respond slowly to training stimuli are not ‘shortchanged’ in their development.
This is why a knowledgable coach who understands LTAD models and is skilled in recognizing "windows of optimal trainability" for speed, strength, stamina, suppleness (flexibility), and skill development should be sought out. If the the trainer or coach who is responsible for training your child does not understand LTAD models, I would think critically about the services you are paying for.