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TNL Speed Pillars Part 3: Lateral Acceleration & Change of Direction

Welcome to part three of TNL’s Speed Series! In this blog we will be discussing the target points of lateral acceleration and change of direction (COD), why these skills are important to train as well as several specific lateral acceleration and COD movements that athletes use in while playing their sport.

What is Lateral Acceleration? Lateral Acceleration is the rate of change of velocity while moving either to the left or right. The simplest movement to describe lateral acceleration is the lateral shuffle. The lateral shuffle is used in almost every team sport. Examples of the use of the lateral shuffle include, a shortstop moving to his/her right or left to field a ground ball, a basketball player covering an offensive player or a tennis player shuffling laterally to return the ball. While all these sports are completely different, they still all utilize the lateral shuffle.

Now, what is change of direction (COD)? COD can be defined as the ability to accelerate, decelerate or re-accelerate in any given direction. An example of COD could be a shortstop moving to his/her right to field a ground ball in the hole, planting on their right leg, gaining ground towards first base and throwing the batter runner out. Another example could be a safety in football backing up and surveying the field and then breaking forward to make a tackle. Overall, having good COD skills is extremely important in sports because it could make or break whether or not a play is made successfully.

Let's discuss why these skills are important to train. Many athlete's naturally perform lateral acceleration and COD skills in sports but are unaware of what their bodies are doing. Our job as coaches is to get athletes more aware of how their bodies move, so that they can become more efficient movers and understand how to correctly perform these skills. When an athlete understands a movement, they will become more confident and eventually won’t have to think of the movement at all while they are performing. This is the goal. Additionally, learning how to move laterally and how to change direction can help extremely gifted athlete's become even quicker on field as well as athlete's who may not be as gifted but now can optimize how they move and make up for the lack of athleticism.

At TNL, there are several skills that we put emphasis on at TNL including, the lateral shuffle, base-stealing start and hip-turn. Being a training facility that is home to many baseball players, these are the skills that we find the most important to train. With that being said, many lateral movements can be related back to the target points used in the lateral shuffle. When moving laterally, the direction will dictate a power leg. The power leg is the leg that will be applying the force through to the floor to propel us in the direction we want to move. So, if I want to move to my right, my power leg is my left leg. To move right, I would need to push down and away with my left leg to propel myself right. Another target point of the lateral shuffle, is for our power leg to be outside of our center of mass (COM) aka our upper body. This gives our power leg an angle to push us in the direction we want to go. If our power leg was directly under our COM then our direction would be more vertical than lateral. All of these target points for the lateral shuffle also apply to the base-stealing start. Here is a video to help visualize these points.

Finally, the hip-turn is another important skill used in many team sports. Whether it’s a soccer player hip-turning to change direction and run down a defender or an outfielder going back on a fly ball, a hip-turn is a universal COD direction skill that all team sport athletes should learn. When thinking about a hip-turn there are 2 parts of the movement. A pop and a push. The pop refers to the actual hip turn and the push allows the athlete to gain ground immediately following the hip turn. During the pop, there needs to be a dissociation between the upper and lower body. The upper body stays oriented towards the play or ball and the lower turns ready to move backward. The push is similar to the lateral shuffle. The power leg is outside the COM and pushes down and away to propel the athlete in the desired direction.

Overall, it is extremely important for athletes to learn how to move laterally and change direction. Learning these movements allows the athletes to be aware of how their body moves and ultimately allows them to become more efficient when playing their sport.

Interested in learning more? Sign up for TNL’s Free Speed Clinic this Saturday, March 13th! Click to REGISTER

  • Coach Shawn

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