Acceleration vs Max Velocity in Team Sports

Jul 25, 2022


Recently there has been lots of online back and forth between what I'll call the “max velocity”crowd and the “acceleration crowd”.

In general the max velocity folks tend to be track coaches ( generalizing a bit here) and the acceleration people tend to be working in team sport. (my friend Tony Holler says the “acceleration people” are weightroom people) 


In the last couple of years Tony's work has sparked a big interest in timing. This is good. However, as we tend to do in the S+C world, we've figured out how to argue about a topic that most of us might actually agree on.

Lets start with the idea that “timing is good”. Tony's basic premise is that you can't get faster unless you know how fast you are. This is basically un-refutable. It's just logic. If I want to be faster than X, I need to know X. Tony goes on to say that we should also record the times and, even rank the athletes fastest to slowest? I'm definitely into recording but, not sure ranking works in a non-team setting like MBSC. (link to Record, Rank, Publish)


I think we can also agree on the idea that the best way to get fast is to run fast. If we accept the opinions of some of the experts, this means that we need to run over 90% of our best time. ( x divided by .9)

However, in true “coach arguing” style we have found something to argue about. The disagreement now seems to be not “should we time” but, “what segment should we time”? And then, “how far should we run before we time it”?

In Tony Holler's system the Flying 10 time is taken from the 30-40 segment of a 40 yard dash. This means that Tony's track athletes run lots of 40's. This also means that Tony's “Fly-In” distance is 30 yards. This also means that at least in Tony's view they get a measure of maximum velocity.

Many in the sports performance world are timing Flying 10's but, with shorter “fly-ins”. MBSC would fall into this category.



There are a couple of pretty good reasons:

  • Facility logistics. Especially in colder months we have about 40 yds of total distance. This means we are limited to a Flying 10 with a 15 yard fly in. No science here, just straight facility limits.
  • There is some research indicating that injuries increase as we move past twenty yards. Initially that limited us but, we have progressed outdoors to a 20 yard Fly-In with no issues. Our lack of injury may just be due to proper progression. Tony has had experienced very few injuries with his 40 method. Just to contrast though, this means our longest sprint in 30 yards to Tony's 40.
  • Some coaches still subscribe to the idea that team sport athletes will not run more than X number of yards and that sport is all about acceleration. Some coaches will even argue that top speed or “max velocity” doesn't matter. More about this below.

Strangely, it seems if we do not select the 30-40 segment of the 40 then we are labelled as “acceleration guys” and, not “speed guys”. Because our “fly-in” is only 20 yards, we are seen to be “neglecting max velocity”and in effect totally missing the boat.


Ken Clark's work has demonstrated to me that max velocity does matter. In my mind the goal is still the fastest flying 10 possible. We can look at this as time for a Flying 10 or, as miles per hour.

However, acceleration (lets think of that as the 0-60 from the auto world) is the most important quality in team sport. What we have to consider what is the 0-60 capability of a car that only goes 55?

Based on the above example, top speed matters, even in acceleration. Ninety percent of 20 MPH is 18 MPH. Ninety percent of 18 miles per hour is 16.2 MPH. Math always wins.

The crux of the argument seems to be more about how far we need to run to hit max velocity. The argument that the track people use is that world class sprinters hit max velocity somewhere around 50-60 meters in a 100 meter race. In other words they are accelerating for at least 50 meters.



Lets be clear. This argument really has nothing to do with non-world class sprinters and, is not nearly as clear as some coaches would like to make it. 

If we look at world class sprinters all have achieved 94-96% of max velocity by 40 meters.

If we look at “average” team sport athletes. Most appear to be 97% by 25 meters?


We have timed 100's of team sport athletes ( probably approaching 1000's) and the acceleration profile is very clear.

If the athlete moves from a five yard fly-in to a 10 yard fly-in the Fly 10 time drops by .1 sec

If the athlete moves from a 10 yd fly-in to a 15 yd fly-in the Fly 10 time drops by an additional .05 sec.

If the athlete moves to a 20 yd fly in, things get interesting. Some athletes run the identical time as the 15 yd fly-in. In other words, they appear to achieve max velocity by 25 yds.

Most athletes will drop an additional .02 sec when they move to the 20 yd fly-in. This still shows that most team sport athletes are at 98% of max velocity by 25 yds.


Does 2% matter? In track and field it does.

In team sport, if we are balancing risk/ reward, maybe not.


All the talk about “max velocity work” seems to be much ado over nothing when we do the math.

Combine this with:

  • Potential higher risk of injury (as per Gabbet's work)
  • Lack of specific application. (runs of greater than 25-30 yards are extremely rare)
  • Facility constraints (most strength and conditioning facilities don't have a field or a track)

And you get a pretty good case for shorter fly-ins.

In our case (at MBSC) we are very happy with finishing our progression with a 20 yard fly-in distance and, a total distance of 30 yards. Our best athletes are sub 1.0 ( .97 is the record I think) and about 21 MPH, not Usain Bolt territory but, 4.5 forty territory.




If You Arent Timing, You Arent Doing Speed Training