Scott Klasen, MS, CSCS, Co-Owner, Peak Performance Training
If you are like most parents, the answer to this question is YES. One of the biggest complaints I get from parents is that their kids are slow and lack agility when it comes to their athletic pursuits. The question then becomes, what to do about it? Most will want to send their child to one of the many high-performance training centers that offers speed, agility, and quickness camps, where they will practice moving their feet “faster” and, in turn, get faster on the court or field. While this sounds good, the only problem is, all too often, it does not result in faster kids.
What you need to realize is that fast or quick feet does not automatically equal a fast athlete. Quick feet are good when going barefoot on the beach on a 100 degree day, but not necessarily on the athletic field. When it comes to increasing speed, it is not about how fast the feet move, but rather, how much force goes into the ground. Think about an Olympic sprinter in the starting blocks. When the gun goes off, if they are not ready to push back (apply force) against the blocks at precisely the right time, they will be left behind, regardless of how fast their feet can move. The bottom line is, the more force an athlete can apply, the faster he or she will be.
So the real key to developing speed and agility actually turns out to be working on lower body strength and power – specifically, single-leg strength and single-leg stability. Lunges, single-leg squats, and step-ups are prime examples we use to get athletes stronger and faster. For example, take the game of football. In order for an NFL running back to elude a defender, he must be able to accelerate, decelerate and then accelerate again, often times over and over in succession. This does not happen because of “quick” feet gained by using an agility ladder. It happens because this individual has taken the time to develop the leg strength required to apply the force to the ground needed to accelerate, then decelerate their body using high levels of eccentric strength, and then apply force again to accelerate, all in split-fire rapid succession. This is what true speed, agility, and quickness is all about!
Now it is not my intention to imply that “speed” camps are bad or a waste of time for kids, but rather, point out the fact that they are just one piece of the speed puzzle. After all, we offer these camps too and not only are they fun for the kids, they are a ton of fun for us to run as well! Besides the fun, camaraderie, and the chance to compete, a well-run speed camp will focus on improving your child’s sprint mechanics and the brain-to-muscle connection or neuromuscular coordination that are vital components to the overall speed, agility, and quickness picture.
However, realize that your kids can use agility ladders, power chutes, and speed harnesses all day long, but it is like the equivalent of putting high-performance racing tires on a Toyota Corolla. You can do it, but until you address the real issues of horsepower, brakes, and the accelerator, you will not see much improvement in performance. In the end, to become a faster, quicker, and more agile athlete, it all begins with lower body strength training.