Why Competition Breeds Speed

We pull out the laser timers and stopwatches a lot here Parisi. We pull out the jump mat, tape measure, grip strength tester, and sometimes the velocity trackers as well. While we like to see progress and do regular evaluations of our athletes, it's not just about getting high evaluation scores. It has to do with maximal intent.

Athletes, by nature, have a competitive drive. A will to express competence and ability in a chosen skill set. This often seeps into other areas in life such as academics or business. It is also undeniable that athletes really like doing: winning. And as coaches, we leverage that drive to win to create faster humans.


If you walk into the facility these days, you'll see sheets of paper posted everywhere. On it, are the times and distances of several different markers that we test weekly, and are different from our normal evaluation. And they are ranked in order of fastest to slowest, with names included. It is a motivator, because athletes get to see themselves climb or fall in the ranks each week. And when the timers or stopwatches get pulled out, you'll see who wants to move up or not.

Bar speed is another way to increase competition

Part of increasing speed or strength is the effort or intent that is put behind each drill or exercise. If you give sub-maximal intent, you'll achieve sub-maximal results. In order to get that maximal effort in speed or in the weight room, having some sort of competition leverages an athlete's desire to win. They want to be the one with the fastest time, the farthest distance, or the highest height.


This can be seen on the field as well, when the lineman runs down a running back to stop him from scoring a touchdown. The defender on the soccer field coming in from afar to save the day. Or the deal hungry shopper when the doors open on Black Friday (I had to throw that one in there for fun). Athletes, both on the field and in the training room, do not like to lose. So when the timer comes out, or the toes are on the line, they'll put more effort in.

It's not just a mental thing, either. When you compete your brain sends out higher and faster signals to muscles, which causes them to contract and move in faster or more powerful ways. The more often muscles are exposed to that max effort the more they adapt to moving fast, which causes an increase in speed.


Research and the experience of coaches over the years also points to the role of max effort, with many noting that to get faster one must sprint at 95% of maximum speed ability in order to get faster. Anything below that has little to no impact on improvement. (This is not to say that teaching technique should be ignored, because learned technique can help keep those speeds even higher)


With this in mind, the timers get pulled out, the data is recorded, and the efforts rise. In the end, everyone who wants to win does, because the goal of improving speed is achieved.

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