Finals footy is played at 4-6% increased speed compared with regular season games. Other sports follow a similar pattern, with both player and ball movement increased.
This increased speed may be explained by the general increased skill level of the finals participants compared with those teams that were unable to perform to the level that would allow them to play finals. The finals participants are able to move the ball at greater speed and accuracy.
In the modern “run and carry” style of football, players with genuine speed are a vital commodity. The explosive speed required with netball also means that this type of player is vital to team performance, particularly in the high intensity finals campaign. Teams and individual players with a lack of speed will often be found wanting in the finals environment with an inability to keep up. Just because your team has managed to sail through the home and away season does not mean it will be a certainty for success. How often do we see teams that have dominated through the season only to struggle come finals time? On the flipside, some teams scrape in to the finals, only to find their feet in the higher intensity finals. Of course, there are other factors involved, but speed of foot is a vital component.
So, how do we improve speed leading in to the business end of the season, without compromising performance at this latter stage of the season? There are a few key changes you can make to your training week that may make all the difference come finals time.
- Introduce a power weights programme
Keep it simple. Squats are the key here, performed at speed and with good technique, to develop power about the hips. Lift at around 60% 1RM (1 Repetition Max-the maximum weight you could lift once) for around 10 seconds or 8-14 reps and perform 3 to 10 sets depending on your experience. Body weight squats at speed or squat-jumps are also beneficial. Good technique will include keeping your head up, looking straight ahead; chest out-shoulders back and initiating all movement with your hips, pushing back with your hips to squat down and pushing forwards with your hips to stand up. Don’t allow your knees to push forwards of your toes. The legendary American Football coach Vince Lombardi once said that “a stronger athlete is a better athlete” which pretty much sums it up.
- Enlist the knowledge of an experienced sprint coach
We are lucky here in Geelong in that there are some very good sprint coaches around and it would be wise to have some contact with one of them at some stage in the development of your team. They can advise on drills and technique to improve individual speed and power. Many a ball-sport athlete has improved speed through the advice of a sprint coach. Campbell Brown and Matthew Lloyd come straight to mind, with Brown improving from one of the slowest to fastest in his time at Hawthorn.
- Start training sessions with speed training
Between the warm-up and main drills, introduce a couple of sets of short sprints, building to top speed. Two sets of eight 40m sprints for football or 5m sprints for netball can be enough to create some speed and explosiveness.
- Ensure training drills are at finals speed
This is crucial. Ball and player movement at training should be at maximum speed, with no room for “going through the motions”. Create a fast environment at training and lift the team to that level. A perfect example of this was in the 2007 BFL football finals series. Newcomb had been playing well below its ability for weeks leading into the finals, scraping through games and came up against Drysdale in the Second Semi. There was real lethargy about the team. That week the team made a conscious decision to just get some positivity and speed of movement into training. They threw everything else out the window and just ran the ball up and down the ground at top speed all night on the Tuesday. If the ball spilled to ground there were ten blokes hitting the pack at top speed and the ball moved on accordingly. The whole attitude changed and by quarter time on the Saturday the game was over, as the boys demolished Drysdale. They went on to win the flag two weeks later.