Speed ​​and linear acceleration training for basketball – the what, the why & the how.

The what?

Speed ​​is defined as the relationship established between the distance or space traveled by a body or object, and the time invested in said movement. The term speed is synonymous with velocity, and when we talk about linear speed, we are typically talking about sprinting in a straight line. Moreover, an athlete reaches his maximum velocity when the speed of his sprint stops increasing.

Acceleration on the other hand is defined as the magnitude of the change in the speed of the body or object in relation to a unit of time. In other words, we can summarize that acceleration is a change in velocity over a given time interval. An athlete is accelerating during the time interval between the onset of movement (or the start of the sprint) and the point of maximum speed. If the change in speed is negative, this is known as a deceleration.

The why?

Basketball includes a variety of accelerations, decelerations, and directional changes. These, for example, include transitions, counterattacks and lateral movements. It is very rare for a basketball player to reach his maximum speed in a sprint during a game, due to limitations such as the defensive actions of players from the opposing team and the small physical space on the court (relative to other sports that do allow space for maximum velocity runs , like rugby). With this in mind, it is advisable when working with basketball athletes to invest most of the time and efforts spent on speed training in maximum accelerations over predetermined distances and over time, progress technically (i.e., changing distances, adding directional changes, or decelerations).

However, maximum velocity sprinting does provide neuromuscular, metabolic, and structural-anatomical adaptations that are beneficial to every athlete and are not easily replicated. Because of this, and to ensure that players are prepared in the worst-case-scenario event that they are forced to exert these speeds in competition, we must not completely omit sprinting at maximum velocities. They are simply not the priority.

The how?

To work on linear acceleration, we use maximum sprints from a static position (note: starting position can be varied) and over predetermined distances on a basketball court. An example is the half court sprint or the three-quarter court (ie. free throw point to free throw point) sprint.

To train maximum velocity, we use fly sprints. Fly sprints include a predetermined acceleration distance followed by a (also predetermined) maximum speed distance. The acceleration distance allows the athlete to develop speed and momentum and reach his maximum velocity which is then sustained at the second portion of the total distance. For example, a fly sprint may involve 10 meters of acceleration, followed by 20 meters of maximum speed and finally a space of 20 meters to decelerate. Because athletes reach high speeds in these sprints, it is important to have a minimum of 20 meters of excess space that allows the athlete to decelerate and come to a brake safely. Therefore, these are conducted in larger spaces like a running track, not on a basketball court.


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