Typical Starting Patterns

by Developing Speed
Kinetic Select September 2020


This excerpt from Developing Speed discusses the various start patterns that exist and how to include them in a speed development program.

The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book Developing Speed, published by Human Kinetics. All text and images provided by Human Kinetics.

Another key element of movement to ascertain is the initial starting position and especially whether starts are predominantly static (a batter at first base in baseball) or rolling (a tennis player coming forward into the net after a serve). Field sports differ greatly from track sprinting, where the sprinters start uniformly in blocks.

In reality, few team and field sports use a universal start pattern. Even where starts are static, these can vary in their set-up positions (standing square, standing staggered, or three point) and the initial direction of movement, which could be forward, lateral, to the rear, or a combination of these. Given these variations, athletes should master all of the typical starting scenarios they will face in a game.  This can be achieved by varying the runs conducted in a training session.

While most traditional sprint training programs predominantly practice static starts, this may not allow full transfer to a game situation because in many sports speed does not usually initiate from a static start. Far more common are starts where an athlete is already in motion, what can be termed rolling starts. Here athletes already in motion need to accelerate in response to the requirements of the game unfolding around them. In sports where these actions are common, speed training needs to include these actions to develop an athlete’s capacity to accelerate from a rolling start.

Rolling starts can vary in terms of their direction, their distance, and the preceding movement pattern. For example, soccer players accelerate while they are already in motion. However, while this movement could be linear, it could just as easily be in a multitude of directions, and the players could be shuffling or backpedaling before they accelerate. Subsequent acceleration, therefore, could be initiated from a range of preceding movement patterns. These initial patterns can vary in type and distance. To further complicate matters, the subsequent motion may require acceleration in a linear direction but could just as easily include acceleration laterally or to the rear. Clearly these variables add a sport-specific aspect to speed that needs to be practiced. Coaches and athletes should look at the typical patterns they need to produce in a game and integrate these into their speed training program.

Additionally, the purpose of the rolling start needs to be evaluated. In many instances, rolling starts are transition-based movements, which are movements that prepare the athlete for the main action. The athletes move while waiting to react to key aspects of the game. In this way they must be in a position that allows them to react quickly and effectively in response to a perceptual trigger from the game. Because the quality of the subsequent movement often depends on the quality of the transition movement, this movement should be practiced and mastered. Similarly, the associated movement combinations need to be practiced so the athlete can effectively carry out the movements required by the game.

Sport-specific speed training requires an analysis of the typical starting patterns. To facilitate this analysis, the following areas need to be looked at:

  • Static starts. The essential components of static starts include the following:
    • Stance. In general, a staggered stance in which one foot is placed ahead of the other is preferred because it places the athlete in a more effective acceleration position. This is the preferred stance if the athlete has a choice. However, in some instances, the sport dictates a square stance in which the feet are even with each other. If this is the case, the athlete should practice from this stance.
    • Subsequent movement direction. Although subsequent movement is often linear, this is not always the case. For example, a baseball player at first base assumes a square stance to be able to see the pitcher and then accelerates laterally toward second base before turning to sprint.
  • Key variables of rolling starts. Three key variables need to be ascertained.
    • Distance. The distance of the rolling start affects the speed the athlete will achieve. If the rolling start is relatively long, the athlete will be able to attain a higher speed. In many sports a range of distances will be used, so rolling starts of different lengths should be practiced.
    • Direction. The direction of the rolling start must be determined.
    • Typical movement patterns. Once the typical patterns used in a rolling start (e.g., shuffling laterally) are identified, the athlete can practice the specific movement combinations to be able to accelerate rapidly from rolling the start.
    • Direction of subsequent motion. Rolling starts may be predominantly linear, but they may also be multidirectional. Tennis, for example, requires rapid accelerations laterally from a split step or shuffle.
  • Rolling start as a transition. Rolling starts may be used while an athlete is waiting to react to a stimulus. In this case, the focus of the rolling start should be on control and the quality of the movement after the stimulus, rather than speed.

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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