Football Speed

by Dale Baskett

Dale Baskett specializes in speed. Football speed. Having worked with college powerhouses like Ohio State and Texas A & M and a number of NFL franchises, he’s been making teams faster for 27 years. A former football coach, Baskett made the transition more than a quarter century ago and, in the process, has trained over 100 NFL players including 21 All-Pro’s.

Baskett was interviewed on the subject of football speed and asked very specific questions about; football speed, how the industry has changed related to it, why it’s different than just ‘speed’, what are the foundations of developing football speed and how do you improve football speed for specific positions on the field.

Q. You were the first football speed coach starting 27 years ago. How have you seen the industry change over the years?

When I first began coaching the only football speed training was conducted by track and field coaches. Football coaches had little knowledge of speed and to compound this problem, they were skeptical that speed could be developed. That’s no longer an issue today. With the progression in the scientific world of training development it’s pretty well accepted that speed can be improved. But when I started out, football coaches had no idea what to do and they really had to rely on their track coach to get information on the subject.

When I became a speed coach I had a lot of football background and it was natural for me to realize that the 100, 200 and 400 meters were not the same game as was played on the football field. I set out to establish a training plan that would service the football community specifically. As time went along, football coaches have gravitated towards getting more speed development information. Unfortunately, track fundamentals are still being applied from a technique standpoint.

Today, football programs throughout the country put more emphasis on speed training. Coaches realize you can win with speed. Technical movement applications for football speed vary greatly from sprinting speed for track.

Q. You use the term ‘football speed’ rather than just ‘speed.’ What is the difference between these terms?

Football speed is controlling acceleration and velocity displacement directionally. Sprinting is a linear movement. It’s a matter of accelerating on a straight line. The 40’s have brought about a lot of training in the sprinting world simply because the testing is pretty deep these days. The credence of the numbers that produce the 40’s times have measurable value to coaches across the country at all levels. Therefore, it breeds itself and coaches will work a lot on speed and speed development in a linear manner. But the problem with that is that football is a game played in short distances and in short spaces with multiple acceleration changes. The difference between football speed and sprint speed is that football speed is continuous acceleration. It is always accelerating. Sprint speed, quite frankly, is maintaining velocity at maximum levels and that’s a totally different thing than what’s called for on the football field.

Therefore, if we are training for only linear speed, we’re really missing the boat. To specifically develop the athletes for what they have to be very good at – accelerating in many different directions and many different angles – we have to realize that acceleration is a skill we are trying to perfect. That is the important skill. To boil it down, the difference between football and sprinting is quite simple: it’s displacing momentum into various different angles and dealing with acceleration while changing directions and altering stride patterns. Sprinting is just straight forward accelerating and maintaining velocity. The difference is that one doesn’t help the other. Sprinting speed alone is not servicing the football world and that’s a problem for movement skills.

Q. You talk about football speed being short bursts with multi-directional changes as opposed to straight line linear speed. What are the foundations of developing that football speed?

One has to realize that football speed requires acceleration changes for all velocity factors athletically. Therefore, the coach must set up a system to develop those particular characteristics properly. I say properly because in order to do that one has to understand what makes a human being move mechanically in the most efficient way possible when all of these velocities and momentums are changing dynamically. If we understand the premise of human movement mechanically, then it takes a system in place to develop it. Any time we take forces and velocities of running and moving and start transferring them we’ll have a lot of mechanical breakdown issues. When we talk foundational development for football speed we need to have a mechanical premise and a drill system to properly process acceleration and movement control. They should be designed for every position on the field.

Each position has its own variations but when the ball is snapped it’s only six seconds until the whistle blows in most cases. That’s not very much time but on the field there are 22 people moving extremely rapidly and aggressively. They are not always in the best position of control. The only way you can develop that control is to understand the technical, foundational applications and work with them on a daily, weekly basis. It’s the same thing you would do in the weight room where there’s technical teaching and a periodization system. In the weight room there’s a system of development to build the athlete to be stronger in all of the areas needed for football play. That takes a design and the same is true for a foundation for football speed. We should have a systematic learning and teaching progression and then we can begin to maximize skills and have a solid speed result on the field of play. That’s the difference between football speed and sprint speed that we need. Coaches have players do a lot of running as well as a lot of sprinting and football speed is not being addressed equally.

Q. How do you maximize football speed potential for the positions of O-Line, D-Line, linebackers, tight ends, quarterbacks, running backs, defensive backs and wide receivers?

Let’s start by answering the questions about the O-Line and D-Line. Both are big guys and as coaches you have to realize that when you’re dealing with big people they have a tremendous amount of weight to transfer whenever they move. We’re talking about power, control and quickness. Power is what they get out of the weight room. They need movement skills, quickness processing and a belief system that they can be fast. For the lineman, quickness is probably the more important aspect to have as opposed to any other position on the field simply because they play in shorter areas and have to move quickly in short space. That being said, the way you do it is to break it down. Develop good mechanical skills in a good series of movement training that teaches you how to get better at those specific aspects that are required when the ball is snapped. Big kids don’t understand quickness necessarily because they have never been quick. Coaches have to deal with that from a focus standpoint and what we call kinesics; that is, feeling your body go through motion and movement and feeling the movements. They’ve always felt slow. They’ve never felt fast. With designed drill work that can actually enhance their understanding mentally of how to move quickly, they will improve significantly.

Linebackers: For movement and speed and quickness, they are required to go through all kinds of different movements. They almost have to be a defensive lineman, running back, DB and everything else because athletically you need a guy that can move around. So for that particular position you train him to be a better athlete. Then again, you need the right drill system in place where it allows him to be successful and confident on his feet.

Tight ends: They are like the O-Linemen and a big wide receiver. A few years ago I had the opportunity to work with Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Tice. When he was playing in the league he was a very large man at about 6-8 and 275 pounds. He was a great blocker as a tight end but not a great receiver. For him, as with other tight ends, those are the two things you have to be. You have to be a good blocker as a tight end and you have to be skillful as a receiver. Receiving is the toughest part for those guys. Alluding to Mike Tice, he used to always indicate he was the best blocker in the league and no doubt he was. His weakness was that he was not well-rounded in doing both – blocking and receiving – and that’s really the complete picture for a tight end. Again, you need quickness and speed enhancement for this position.

Defensive backs: The key for D-Backs is to have the ability to plant well and accelerate to new angles. The athlete must utilize good arm rotation and stay centered in relation to foot strike placement on all angle breaks.

Running backs: They must visualize ahead and control the pace of movement depending on the direction of the play. Two major characteristics needed are burst skills and change of pace control. They must work on drills that bring these skills to maximum levels. This is again why football speed is unique compared to sprint speed.

Quarterbacks: This is a position where we should definitely insert quickness drills and short space movement. The position doesn’t require sprinting every play. However, there are moments in every game where the quarterback must move quickly and accelerate out of trouble.

Wide Receivers: This position calls for both linear sprint work and body control skill development. Working with drills that teach proper planting techniques will help minimize velocity loss. The result will help maximize separation speed. Quickness out of breaks due to planting skills and pure acceleration and sprint speed are the keys for the wide receiver.

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