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Sprinting in Field and Court Sports

by Developing Speed
Kinetic Select May 2017

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Athletes in field and court sports require reactive agility—they must accelerate, decelerate, and change direction in a constantly changing environment. These requirements result in technical differences between sprinting in a field or court sport and sprinting the 100-m.

The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book Developing Speedpart of the NSCA’s Science of Strength and Conditioning Series with Human Kinetics. All text and images provided by Human Kinetics.

While track sprinting is a closed skill, athletes in field and court sports require reactive agility. Athletes must accelerate, decelerate, and change direction in a constantly changing environment, performing skills within the context of the game. Furthermore, athletes in field and court sports need to scan a broader area and use different postures to aid in collisions, allow for deception against an opponent, or to prepare for likely direction changes (Sayers 2000). These requirements result in technical differences between sprinting in a field or court sport and sprinting the 100 meters (Sayers 2000, Gambetta 1996, Gambetta 2007).

Some coaches believe that because the technique between track sprinting and sprinting in field and court sports is different, field and court sport athletes should not be coached on sprinting technique and should just play their sport. This neglects the obvious fact that field and court sports are running sports and that speed is a major component of superior performance in a large number of these. To enhance their athletes’ performance, coaches should aim to improve their ability to run at speed, or to sprint, and to develop this ability within the context of their sport.

Although certain technical variations may exist because of the different demands of track versus field and court sports, several of the fundamental principles of sprinting are common between them. Considering that field and court athletes sprint as part of their sport and that better performers in most field and court sports are faster sprinters (Baker 1999), improving the technical and physical components of sprinting is important within the context of their sport and can give the athletes an advantage over their opponents. Consequently, although many track drills are not suitable for field sport athletes, some common drills and techniques are useful to both the track sprint coach and the strength and conditioning coach working with field and court athletes.

Noted performance enhancement coach Vern Gambetta suggests that the primary coaching points to consider in sprinting are posture, arm action, and leg action (2007). These three considerations are the foundation of effective technique and are discussed in reference to the distinct characteristics of the athlete’s posture and arm and leg action in the phases of acceleration, maximal speed running, and deceleration. In coaching terms, the action of sprinting can also be discussed in terms of back-side and front-side mechanics. Back-side mechanics are the actions occurring behind the body, and front-side mechanics occur in front of the body. Each has different aims, and coaches should focus on the key aims of each.

With Developing Speed, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) has created the definitive resource for developing speed training programs that optimize athletic performance. Including assessments and the application of speed training to eight specific sports, this authoritative guide provides all the tools needed for maximizing speed. The book is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at the NSCA Store.

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