The terms velocity and acceleration are two very different things. In the video below, Jim Kielbaso – President/CEO of the International Youth Conditioning Association – explains why understanding the difference between the two is of the utmost importance when developing speed in athletes. By definition, the term velocity refers to a fixed pace, unchanging for the full duration of whatever time is given. Acceleration is a change in that given velocity, whether increasing or decresasing. Jim tells us here that those looking for a high speed take off when beginning a run are mistaken; and that attempting such a thing, or trying to coach such a thing, will be ineffective. Coach Kielbaso uses the example of trying to push a stationary car. To get the car moving, a low angle is required, almost horizontal in fact, and long, slow strides as well. Getting behind a car and pushing with short choppy steps will result in the car not moving. Similarly, it is impossible to be running at full speed right from take off – hence the term accelaration. Coaches must understand this if they are to help athletes improve their speed.

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Once this concept is understood, the issue for coaches becomes coaching form and mechanics to achieve the desired result. It is not enough to just have a kid not take short, quick steps, but rather teach them how to start the run, and how to get from being stationary to max velocity efficeintly. In order to accelerate quickly, body position needs to start low to the ground. As Coach Jim explains, the closer the body angle is to being parallel to the ground, the better. The reason for this is simple – force applied down into the ground will result in the body moving up (i.e. jumping) but force applied backward and horizontally (or as close to horizontally as possible) will propel the body forward. Starting at a low angle with the chest close to the ground and taking long, powerful first few strides is a great way to begin a sprint that will reach maximal velocity efficiently. Once that is achieved, the body will naturally start to stand more upright and steps will become closer together, which is ok. The key to get to a full stride sprint is to not allow the feet to reach too far out in front of the body, but rather have them strike right beneath where the torso is, in order to maximize the power in each step.

Perhaps the biggest take away from Coach Jim’s demonstration is the power of an anology. Running mechanics can be a hard thing to grasp but creating a picture in an athlete’s (especially a young athlete) head is a great way to help them understand what they are trying to accomplish. Rather than explaining velocity, acceleration, vector mechanics, angles, etc. to a young athete… asking them how they would attempt to get a heavy car to move may be a great way to help them grasp the concepts you are trying to teach.

Learn about acceleration mechanics with Jim Kielbaso here:

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