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Friday, October 14, 2022

US Sports Strength and Conditioning: Developing Speed, Quickness, and Agility in Youth Athletes


  • Author Neal Putt
Children when placed in the appropriate environment love to play, so it would be advisable to structure any speed, quickness, and agility methods and drills in an entertaining format. Young potential athletes will perform admirably to the liking of the instructor if the majority of the training is game-like and competitive. Also, some basic strength training can be included inconspicuously by having the young athletes learn squatting and lunging techniques during dynamic warm up drills.

To make the process of learning speed, quickness, and agility drills productive, it would certainly make sense to instruct all young athletes on the proper techniques used in running, jumping, and landing mechanics. You would think that these movements would come natural to children and not be an issue worth considering, but the genetic makeup and varying growth rates among children would suggest otherwise. We can't expect a tall and lanky potential basketball or volleyball player to have the coordination of a potential football running back at a young age.

The instructor should initially focus on correcting running mechanics abnormalities and inefficiencies. The athletes must be instructed to stride consistently with knees tracking the feet while pumping the arms in coordination with the opposing leg. Several useful drills can be utilized at this point to accomplish the goal: 1) Marching with knee drive and arm drive 2) Pushing against a wall while alternately driving legs 3) Synchronized marching with a partner using a resistance band in opposing directions (marching speed can be increased until a slow run is generated). Once a consistent gait is in place, then the concept of increasing speed can be addressed by using short bursts of speed with an emphasis placed on knee and foot alignment.

It is crucial that young athletes learn the proper mechanics behind jumping and landing before addressing the complexities of quickness and agility. A common weakness exists among youth with regards to an increased valgus position of the knees upon take-off and landing, especially among the taller athletes. This weakness stresses the importance of basic strength training as addressed earlier in the article and is often the result of weak hip abductors. A key abduction exercise using resistance bands to strengthen the hip abductors would be an excellent addition to the proper teaching of the squat and lunge.

Introductory jumping exercises involving quick ankle flexion and a slight knee bend should be taught along with jumps beginning with a quarter squat initial drop. Focus should center around proper knee and foot alignment and arm swing involvement. The instructor should begin with single jumps and then progress toward multiple jumps in place. Once multiple jumps are mastered with excellent form, teams can be assigned and competitive contests between teams can be put into place.

As far as safety is concerned, landing from a jump ranks high on the list. Many injuries are known to develop from chronic abuse based on incorrect landing technique. Young athletes must be instructed to land softly on the balls of their feet with the knees aligning with the feet and in line with the shoulders. Throughout the jumping drills performed, an emphasis should be placed on this proper alignment. Additional drills could involve 1) jumping softly onto a plyometric box and 2) jumping off of a low plyometric box in an attempt to make a perfectly aligned soft landing. Reinforcing proper technique can take place using many repetitions of a near perfect nature. Again, fun drills can be incorporated into the routine to promote interest and to stimulate the competitive spirit.

Once safe jumping and landing practices are in place, the athletes should be ready for quickness and agility work. Acceleration and deceleration training involves considerable work, so why not make it fun? Placing fun, competitive drills into practice eliminates the focus on the hard work output. Partner resistance band training is an outstanding application toward accomplishing the desired outcome of the drill. Acceleration, deceleration, and changes in direction can all be improved upon in both the frontal and sagittal planes of movement. Here is a list of movement patterns that can be practiced using partner resistance band training: 1) Running 2) backpedaling 3) lateral slides 4) turn and run 5) lateral stop and sprint 6) lateral stop and backpedal 7) run, stop and lateral slide. All that is required are bands, cones, and the instructor's imagination.

In addition to partner-based training, the use of the agility ladder provides many useful footwork patterns and creates neuromuscular memory like no other piece of equipment. Best of all, young athletes love to work on the agility ladder. It would be practical to start with 4-5 fairly simple drills and to perform them consistently.

It is essential to practice and learn these skills at an early age in order to provide a safe training environment for future athletes. I strongly believe that creating the necessary fundamental strength and technique as applied to the development of speed, quickness, and agility will prevent future injuries and provide the foundation for superior athletic performance.

Neal Putt is a certified strength and conditioning specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association who also possesses degrees in Biology and Nutrition. Specific strength training exercises and workout routines for beginning youth athletes may be found at

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