Highlights of the episode:

  • Why speed, agility and quickness important for AFLW players
  • Favorite ways to improve efficiency with running
  • Should you do any agility exercises before a game?
  • Tips for quickness

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Interview Transcript

Jack: Next we have Mitch Greaves, the co-owner of the Melbourne Fitness & Performance. His topic will be placing a premium on speed, agility and quickness training for AFLW players. Welcome, Mitch. Thanks for jumping on mate. 

Mitch: Thanks for having me. It’s been a great night so far. 

Jack: It has. Fully entrenched in our conversations. It’s been really good. So happy to be in the audience seat and hosting this great show with all you guys and sharing your experiences and knowledge. We’ll dive straight into your topic. Why is speed agility and quickness important for AFLW players? 

Mitch: In terms of that question, mate, there’s probably two layers to it. I think if we look at speed, agility, quickness training globally, it’s important for all athletes, but it’s particularly important for AFLW athletes. We look at it kind of having two sides of the coin. It has got both performance benefits, as well as injury preventative benefits.

And then, if we dive into the performance side of things, AFLW as a game, they are shorter games with less players on the ground, so there’s more space. So, the quickest and most dynamic teams, they can do the most damage in the shortest amount of time. They’re the ones that win. You look at sites like Adelaide, you look at Brisbane this year.

Brisbane had rapid outside players that. You know, if you’ve got good inside midfielders, they can get ball outside and then into space and get it to those electric players. You can do some really good damage in a really short amount of time. And I think we saw that in Assad, like Brisbane kicking the most amount of points in an AFLW game ever.

I think the game in general is moving more and more towards an aggressive and quicker game. And compared to the men’s game, I think, speed, agility, quickness has a little bit higher emphasis than something like conditioning. Although conditioning is still super important.

And then, if we look at KPIs that we traditionally associate with speed, such as a 10–20 minute split or 20 minute sprint time. I think those are really nice metrics. And I think testing and recording athletes from a competitive standpoint is really important to drive standard and competition for those athletes to want to improve.

I think it’s probably too focused on and what we kind of neglect from this training is things like driving down injury rates. Which leads to increased player availability and improving things, like running efficiency and in turn running economy, which goes hand-in-hand with being a well-conditioned site. Running efficiency and running economy are two massive markers that we place a great emphasis on at Carlton, having good movers and developing good movers.

And therefore from agility point of view, if you can have a site that is full of better decision-makers, which is a key component of agility, as we know. Things like how to attack defense space, ignoring irrelevant information and choosing right decisions, focusing on task at hand, along with things like teamwork.

Those are the things that I think we traditionally neglect when it comes to speed, agility, quickness training. And we get bogged down in improving your first five meters or things like that, even though those things are important.

And then, if we’re looking at the second layer, which for these individual athletes it’s kind of like diving in what it means to them. We can look at things like, what’s their position? How do I buy into their story? As a key forward, what does speed look like to me? That means that once I actually create space off my defender, can I maximize and really capitalize on the space that I’ve just created from my offender, by bursting away from them and hitting a bullet speed, versus a midfielder that might look like being able to re-position yourself quicker than you’re opposing midfielder to get the ball quicker or exit stoppage quicker?

You can also look at things like the career time point. So, you’ve got the older players. If you talk to them about improving their first five meters of speed, they switch off, or they laugh at you. For them it’s more about maintaining or holding onto not what little speed they have, but to what speed they have. Because as we know, like aging players, it’s one of the first things to go.

Whereas you’ve got also personal strengths and weaknesses as well. So, rapid athletes, are we looking to improve your speed, or your agility, or quickness? Or are we taking on more of an injury prevention role, where we want you to break the rules that we’re teaching you, but we also want to teach you really safe positions to hit as well as expose your tissues and joints to a variety of positions that you might find yourself in on game day?

Jack: And on that point, from the biomechanical point of view, as a coach, when working with a group of athletes. And you work with individual athletes as well in your facility. Let’s start with a group dynamic. What’s some of your favorite ways to improve efficiency of running technique? 

Mitch: I think it comes back to, in terms of having a group versus an individual. An individual, to be honest, at the private level even, we don’t have access to individuals in one-on-one environment that often, because we don’t really believe in that model. We want to be able to service a lot of athletes. And we can’t do that in a one-on-one model. So, a lot of the time, it is in a smaller group setting.

So, having said that, even in a smaller group thing, there is an ability to individualize it a little bit more than there is in a big group environment at AFLW level. In terms of sessions design, it gives you a little bit more flexibility around what you’re programming for your athletes that come to you in a private or a semi-private setting versus an AFLW group.

Where AFLW group is really relying on the staffing that you have available. Whether you’re running a session by yourself or whether you’re lucky to have someone like Stevie Mordava to help you out and take half a group. It really comes down to context, but in terms of developing efficient movers in AFLW players and in a group environment, partnering up is a really great tool to allow an athlete to model off another really good mover.

And then as a group as well, I think this is where it comes down to, as a coach, if you can demonstrate really well. Then that’s going to give your athletes, who are most likely visual learners, a really good platform to attempt the movement that you’re trying to teach them or improve. And allow them to then go and have more confidence in expressing or trying what you’re trying to get across, if that makes sense.

Jack: Mitch Shafter* has just written in from YouTube. Should you do any agility exercises before a game? 

Mitch: Great question, Mitchie.

Jack: You know Mitch?

Mitch: Yeah. He’s actually from my local football club, Knox Footy Club. He’s a youngster, or not anymore.

Yes, Michie, you can include some agility exercises in your warmup. Warmup is one of the coach’s most effective tools in terms of it’s the most frequent time that you have available with your athletes. So, implementing agility exercises within your warmup usually gives you a good bang for your buck.

And then some athletes really enjoy incorporating some more dynamic preparation work prior to a game. So, depends on your athlete. If it’s something that you like to do, absolutely go for it. Just get plenty of rest in between, and don’t cook yourself before you get out on the field, mate. 

Jack: And you mentioned the decision-making element, which I think is a good one to dive into a little bit more detail. Like you said, warmups are a great opportunity for strength & conditioning coaches to work on these athlete development areas. How often would you change the stimulus when it comes to decision-making in your agility drills? Do you do like a fortnightly block or change it every week to drill heaps of variation? Talk us through that. 

Mitch: I think it depends on the skill that you’re trying to develop. And, obviously, the phase that you’re in. So, you might be trying to develop a particular skill that might be attacking space as a team. And so, within the drill that you are doing with the team, you might vary that quite frequently. But then the rest of the speed session that you’re building around that to support that might stay really similar. Because we can’t underestimate the cognitive load that comes with attempting decision-making drills and decision-making agility drills.

So, to answer your question, it really depends on what you’re trying to do. I really like Jamie Smith’s and Frans Bosch’s rep-by-rep approach in certain contexts. So, when you’re trying to develop a skill, particularly with more intermediate or advanced athletes, once you’ve built a really good understanding of how we want you to execute a movement, then we want to get to the stage where we’re challenging you rep to rep or set to set with different decision-making stimuluses or different constraints, that, hopefully, lead you to better decision-making outcomes and better movement in general.

Jack: And what about from the quickness point of view, what are some of your top tips for, let’s start with strength & conditioning coaches, to focus on to help athletes become quicker? 

Mitch: Quickness as a term, I think, is a little bit of a gray area. And I think it comes back to your philosophy as a coach. So, if we just zoom back out for a second, in terms of developing speed, agility, quickness, and in particular quickness, as a coach, we really want to have a mindset that speed grows like a tree. It’s not a short-term quality that you’re looking to build in an 8-week or 12-week timeframe.

If you ask someone like Knowles or someone like Benny Frith, who has a group for three to five years, hopefully, you want to adopt a mindset where if you are placing speed, agility, quickness as an important quality or emphasis that you want the group to improve on, well, then it’s something that you’ve got to consistently prep up week to week, month to month, year to year, in order to actually get the benefits long-term. I think that’s a really important concept: that it needs time, it needs consistency and it needs nurturing.

And then it’s not just about what you’re actually doing from a speed, agility, quickness point of view, but everything that goes around it as well. So, it comes back to your strength and power program, comes down to your warmup, your mobility prep, all that sort of things. As well as how good your decision-making is from a medical and performance staffing point of view, as well as to when to pull certain players out of that training and when to put them back in and then modifying sessions as well.

And then dialing back in or zooming back in terms of quickness, you really look in a drive-up, I suppose, neural output in some players. So, the ones that are kind of like middle of the run, you’re trying to get them to be able to be a little bit more alert to scenarios and react quicker and reposition themselves quicker. And then you’ve got the clumsy or awkward players. You’re trying to get them a little bit more coordinated, trying to get them to be able to dance. They’re usually pretty horrible on the dance floor.

This is where things like agility ladders, which get such a bad rep, are actually fantastic tools, freshly getting athletes more generally coordinated. Of course, they’re not specific. You’re an idiot if you think they’re specific. But that’s fine, no one’s arguing that. But the tools like that, small box drills, a lot of Lee Taft series around quick hips and being able to reposition yourself really quickly, are useful tools in order to get back to acceleration or sprinting quicker. And, hopefully, the scenario that you want to quicker.

And then in terms of the wired or more elastic athletes, that you’ve already got on your group or on your team, the quickness training is actually allowing them to express an ability that they’re really good at. And they’re usually the athletes that don’t like the gym. So, when it comes to these athletes, they’re actually able to enjoy an element of their training that they’re doing week to week, month to month, year to year. Just like the strong athletes were able to enjoy the gym.

So, I don’t think we can take away the enjoyment factor that comes from speed, agility, quickness training, and allowing athletes to be athletes away from things like small-sided games and the seriousness of football development. Again, it comes back to placing a premium on developing these qualities and finding space and time to put them into your session plans.

Jack: Awesome, mate. Thank you so much for sharing. And for those that want to get in contact with you, give us a quick intro of Team MFP and how to get in contact with yourself.

Mitch: So, the gym Melbourne Fitness and Performance is in West Footscray. So, you can just type in ‘Team MFP’ on Instagram.

In terms of myself, I’m just @mitchgreaves8 on Instagram. That’s where my personal content will be. So, if you want examples of kinds of methods that I do utilize, there’s plenty on there.

And then in terms of Twitter or content that I just reshare, jump on Twitter. I’m just literally @MitchGreaves. I reshare a lot of other coaches’ good work and not much of my own, because there’s way more smart people on there than there is on Instagram.

Jack: I’m with you on that. I’m still trying to work out the Twitter. 

Mitch: I think the fact that it’s called ‘the Twitter’, probably says it all.

Jack: Thanks, Mitch.

Mitch: Thanks, guys.

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