Speed Training for Field Sports – Tom Comyns

Speed and acceleration are important qualities in field sports (Duthie et al., 2006) and play a decisive role in successful outcomes in various team sport competitions. It is a specific quality that needs to be trained to improve and many players and coaches from field sports, such as GAA, hockey, rugby and soccer, strive to increase their ability to sprint and change direction. There are a number of training methods used to develop these qualities, such as sprinting, resisted sprinting, assisted sprinting, strength training and plyometric training. In addition, there exist guidelines on how to implement an effective speed and agility-training programme for field sport players and these will be outlined in this article.

Being an Irish Olympic sprinter many people over the years have asked me what is the secret to getting quick. The answer is there is no secret. You get quick by sprinting and running quick. Essentially, it is as simple as that. Research by Rumpf et al. (2016) concluded that to improve sprint performance, distance-specific sprint training was found to be the most beneficial in decreasing sprint times. This training would include the completion of sprints over distances that match the needs of the player and the sport. For example, this would involve a front row in rugby completing sprints over 10 m approximately while an outside back would need to sprint over distances in excess of 30 m. The issue with this type of training is how it is implemented in field sport training sessions. Too often players complete this work at the end of a session when they are fatigued, don’t sprint at maximum intensity and don’t take enough rest between each sprint. The implementation of effective speed session guidelines allow these issues to be overcome.

Effective sprint training involves the completion of sprints at maximum 100% intensity. Players from field sports need to do each sprint, change of direction and agility drill at 100% intensity. Players need to sprint flat out and not slow down before the end line. If this intensity is not evident coaches should encourage players to run with maximum effort and/ or devise competitive drills where they will run flat out. Speed sessions need to take place at the start of a session when players are fresh. A thorough warm-up should be conducted before the commencement of this speed work. In addition, players need full recovery between each sprint and/ or agility drill. As a rule of thumb for every 10 m that a player sprints, he/ she should get 1-minute recovery. If these guidelines are not adhered to, it is unlikely that speed gains will be evident with field sport players.

Coaches should also look to design some drills that mimic the demands of the field sport. To develop change of direction and agility drills coaches need to assess the movement demands from the sport and include these movements in any drills that are designed. For example, for a centre in rugby the ability to side step is essential and for that reason speed, change of direction and agility drills should be designed that include a side step movement. At times these drills should involve the use of the ball but note that players from field sports often sprint without the ball so it does not always need to be included.

In addition to sprint training, players from field sports can improve their speed performance through the completion of resistance training. This type of training includes gym based strength and power training and plyometric (jump) training. Research has indicated that strength training is important for speed development, in particular acceleration enhancement. Suchomel et al. (2016) in a review paper titled ‘The Importance of Muscular Strength in Athletic Performance’ noted that greater muscular strength is associated with enhanced power development, general sport skill performance (such as jumping and sprinting) and specific sport skill performance. These authors also indicated that strength can play a role in reducing an athlete’s injury risk.

In conclusion, the most effective method of improving players’ speed capabilities is for them to participate in well-designed speed training sessions. These sessions should involve sprint distances and movements that match the demands of the sport. For these sessions to be effective they should take place when the players are fresh, involve the players running at 100% intensity and allow for full recovery between each effort. Without these guidelines being followed, the training will not result in positive adaptations.

  • Duthie, GM, Pyne, DB, Marsh, DJ, and Hooper, SL. Sprint patterns in rugby union players during competition. J Strength Cond Res 20:208–214, 2006.
  • Rumpf, MC, Lockie, RG, Cronin JB, and Jalilavand, F. Effect of different sprint training methods on sprint performance over various distances: A brief review. J Strength Cond Res 30(6):1767-1785, 2016.
  • Suchomel, T.J., Nimphius, S., and Stone, M.H. 2016. The importance of muscular strength in athletic performance, Sports Medicine, 42(10) DOI 10.1007/s40279-016-0486-0

Dr Tom Comyns is a Lecturer in Human Movement Sciences and Course Director for the BSc in Sport and Exercise Sciences programme in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick.  Tom’s research interests are in the area of Strength and Conditioning primarily.  He is currently undertaking research in the area of rugby injury surveillance, monitoring of training, strength and power diagnostics.  Contact Dr Comyns via email at tom.comyns@ul.ie or follow him on Twitter

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