– Words by Adam Larcom, Essendon Physiotherapist, Strength and Conditioning Coach and Athletics Coach at MCAP

A team sport context

While many see running as a simple task without a lot of thought, both the individual and team sport athlete can benefit from simple running gait technical changes. In a sporting context, an AFL game, for example, has a 2 hour duration. However if a player has 30 possessions, they may only have the ball in their hands only for 50 seconds to 1 minute. Therefore if they play the full game, that’s 1 hour and 59, minutes that they don’t have a ball in their hands. This time includes jogging, striding, sprinting and changing direction.

All of these factors include maintaining running mechanics to allow the athlete to sprint faster, conserve energy and reduce the risk of injury through poor mechanics. Other team sports require only explosive intermittent bursts of maximal acceleration and velocity.


The influence of fatigue, competition, surfaces and footwear lead to a variety of influences each playing an important role in running mechanics on the sporting field. While physical performance factors are the basis for many strength and conditioning programs, continuing thought must be given to ensuring athletes durability. Careful consideration towards footwear, surface, training volume, frequency and duration all contribute towards an effective and if poorly planned, an ineffective program.

Effective Running mechanics development is vitally important in the sporting context both allowing the athlete to develop maximal speeds both in a linear and lateral direction but also to prevent for example soft tissue injury. Consequently, team sport sprint mechanics must commence in the preparatory period of the training cycle and continue throughout the sporting year. This allows for the athlete to practice in a controlled manner rather than during the stress of competition. As a result, running mechanics becomes an integral part of all aspects of running and is practised all a year round.

Speed Mechanics/ Programming

The elite team and individual sport athlete often requires speed as an aspect of their performance within competition. Therefore correct strength training and tendon isometric conditioning ensure the athlete can sprint in the correct model and equally reduce muscle/tendon injury risk and also allow the athlete to be able to maintain correct gait patterns.

Often, team sport athletes don’t place a great emphasis on continual speed mechanics development throughout the training year—  mostly due to time limitations but rather on the programming of particular sessions to develop speed. Identifying and respecting specific speed requirements and game skill stimulus is vital. However, it must be noted, that team sports — unlike individual track athletes in the 100m — typically don’t have the perfect time weekly to train speed and mechanics due to skill programming for that particular team sport. Therefore optimising opportunities during the team training session provides opportunities for speed programming/mechanics. Often for example learning how to limit over-striding during sprinting under fatigue, it’s important to practice at varying levels of fatigue. Often fatigue leads to the inability to maintain mechanically efficient positions leading to over-striding and potential soft tissue injury. Neural fatigue, muscle stiffness regulation, muscle damage and other factors such as the surface, footwear and or even motor skill coordination all impact on the ability to efficiently complete skill mechanics in the team sport context.

Therefore durability factors and pure speed development are both inextricably linked in a considered speed mechanics program.

Both linear and lateral mechanics need to equally addressed and constantly reinforced providing the athlete with a point of reference. Allocating time during team training sessions can be difficult so either pre or post skills training can be useful and or where appropriate during team sessions.

Speed mechanics (Coach/athlete communication)

Often there is a variation in how two individuals are able to decipher information and transfer their learning practical into altered gait mechanics. Reviewing the medium for the greatest interpretation in this process is vitally important. Varied methods such as verbally explaining technical changes, Demonstrating, watching video footage or using cones or small hurdles as a reminder can be used to achieve athlete/coach transference of information. Often a fast method is to show footage during the event but if time permits or a skill session is on showing the athlete post session can be beneficial and practical.


Adam has worked as a strength and conditioning specialist in the AFL and ARU and continues working with various elite AFL athletes. Adam also coaches athletics (100m and 200m) which includes the Australian Relay Teams. 

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