Pick-up Acceleration Sprint Research: Laying the Groundwork

January 13, 2022

By: Mark Pryer, Senior Applied Performance Coach



Sprint research has to this point been limited to a non-moving start, and how field sport athletes are trained is often similar to a track and field sprinter. Our upcoming applied research seeks to fill this gap in the literature by proposing a new model for sprint performance training more applicable to team sports athletes.


Interested athletes are encouraged to join this unique study and get in on the ground floor of this burgeoning research topic. Click here to get started.


The Importance of Acceleration to Team Sports Athletes


Speed kills! Have you ever heard that expression? In a team sports setting acceleration is one of the most sought-after qualities by coaches around the world. Being able to outrun an opponent for a loose ball or exhibiting that famous ‘breakaway speed’ is a quality that has survived the test of time and is of greater importance to most coaches than many other athletic traits. 


Furthermore, it has been shown in numerous publications that sprinting speed is one of the easiest ways to separate athletes from their less-skilled peers, and can result in being selected at a higher position in their respective sport as compared to their slower competitors (Burgess et al., 2012). 


Finally, if we think about how much of sport is played within close confines of the opponent and put a number value to the acceleration we can start to understand why it’s beneficial to be able to accelerate fast.


Research has shown that within the first 5 yards it is common for athletes to have hit approximately 75% of their maximum speed, within 10 yards approximately 88%, and finally within 20 yards 97% (Clark et al., 2019) – So being that there are typically significant moments in a game that typically start in close quarters, if I am able to reach a higher speed faster, my chances of success are higher!


Sprinting Research as it Lies Now


In the field of sports performance, sprinting has been researched quite extensively and in numerous forms – however, holes in the literature still persist. If we are to take a look at what has been studied we see that the vast majority of the research has focused on what happens during acceleration from a non-moving starting position. How many athletes, outside of football players, have to start running from a stopped position?


In soccer, for example, it has been shown that most scoring plays start with a player moving through various speeds into a sprint and are typically less than 20 meters in distance or encompass a duration of less than 5 seconds (Wdowski & Gittoes, 2019). Because the breadth of the research has been filled by researchers looking at the kinetics (forces) and kinematics (mechanics) of acceleration, performance parameters are well defined, however not all-encompassing. 


Furthermore, team sport athletes are typically compared to track and field sprinters, which presents its own set of limitations. This is problematic because track and field athletes are trained to maximize the technical capabilities that underlie their individual event and that always involves straight line running.


Within the confines of acceleration, it has been shown that team sport athletes typically do not accelerate for the same duration of time or distance, simply because that’s not what is required for their sporting performance.


In track and field, the fastest athletes run the 100-meter dash, and the best in the world accelerate for 50-60 meters before they hit top speed or max velocity (Slawinski et al., 2010). In a team sport, athletes typically accelerate for anywhere between 1-20 yards before the play is either over or they have to make a move in a different direction, with approximately 23-30% covering 0-10 meters in distance (Wdowski & Gittoes, 2019). 


Current and Future Research Directions


Therefore to truly impact performance a more robust technical model needs to be created and implemented that encompasses the unique demands of an athlete who needs to be able to perform at a higher level and accelerate faster from a moving position, heretofore titled ‘Pick-up acceleration’.


The goal is not necessarily to replace the existing models that have been molded and honed over years of practice in the field by coaches but to find a way to enhance and evolve sports performance training as a whole. That is where this groundbreaking new research comes into play, and you have the opportunity to be involved

This research on pick-up acceleration will look under the hood of what makes a team sports athlete fast and how we can change through training the qualities that enable us to make every athlete faster. Seeing as pick-up acceleration is a new concept, the determinants that make it work are as of now unknown. Our goal will begin to define the key performance indicators that quantify the mechanical variables of interest in reaching maximal acceleration from a position that is variable in speed.


Interested in joining our Pick-up Acceleration sprint research study? Click here to get started.

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