Jun 12, 2024
The evolution of the football speed coach
Adam Rolf, Physical Therapist, 1080 Motion

The game of football continues to evolve. Twenty-first-century players are bigger, faster, and stronger. But of these three physical traits, speed remains the most coveted.

In 1975, the Dallas Cowboys hired Bob Ward as the strength & conditioning (S&C) coach. Ward was not only a football guy having played collegiately and coached high school but he was also a track coach; thus, there was a focus on sprinting speed in his program (see Sports Speed by Dintiman and Ward, first published in 1988).

speedDuring this same era, Cowboys president and GM Tex Schramm pushed for a more comprehensive scouting combine. Today, the 40-yard dash is the highlight and key event of the NFL Combine.

Along with this need to make speed happen, several college football programs began designating one of the S&C coaches as the “speed guy” instead of inviting the track coach to the facility for one or a few training sessions every off-season.

In turn, this has become a dedicated position for many programs with the likes of Cam Josse of Auburn, Kyle Bolton of Oregon, and others. This evolution over the past 5-10 years has also been highly influenced by Dr. Matt Rhea, particularly during his time alongside S&C coach Dave Ballou at Indiana and Alabama. In their first year at Indiana, they helped guide the squad from six players capable of sprinting 21 mph, all the way up to 34 with an average increase in maximal velocity of 2.5 mph!

Furthermore, university researchers Dr. Ken Clark of West Chester University and Dr. JB Morin of the Université Jean Monnet (France) have also impacted this trend. Clark has been influential in the application of sprint mechanics and in creating and analyzing sprint velocity profiles. Morin has demonstrated effective training methods for acceleration and maximal sprinting velocity via the sprint force-velocity profile.

speedNot only has there been an evolution in the speed coach but also in the equipment. To enhance the sprint force-velocity profiling and training of speed, many of these practitioners and researchers are turning to unique motorized or digital equipment such as the 1080 Sprint. These devices can provide individualized resistance to the athlete, often based on the sprint load-velocity profile, and can be used for resisted or assisted sprinting.

Quantifying the training process has also revolutionized sports in this era of Big Data. Similar to how velocity-based technology (VBT) has impacted strength training, many of these speed training devices can also provide easy access to actionable data for power, force, speed, and acceleration that drives individualized speed training. In essence, every training session is also a testing session. As stated by Dr. Matt Rhea, “The data that the 1080 gives me is just phenomenal. The ability to see the force output, the power production, the different stages and right-to-left comparisons of a sprint, all that stuff is just gold.”

» ALSO SEE: Practical programming for young strength coaches

Besides the college ranks, the Director of Speed Development position is also being seen in the NFL. The Houston Texans have hired Ryan Grubbs in this role and the Tennessee Titans just recently hired John Shaw. Shaw was previously the Director of Speed Development at the University of Arizona and Washington.

The next iteration of the speed coach is applying linear sprinting speed to the actual game of football, or game speed. Shaw says “We want to create better athletes and football players, not just guys that can run fast. We need our players to play fast not just run fast linearly.” He continues, “(at the end of the summer) we are focusing more on maximal velocity, but it’s not only linear speed development. We really start to focus on game speed, which is really the most important because what the athlete can do between the white lines during the game is ultimately what matters.”

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