Mental Toughness in Teaching Speed: Learn how to Float

 Learn how to float

There is an important word in sprinting and running mechanics.  The word is “Float.”  Sounds like a very strangword to use when describing sprinting and running hard, doesn’t it? 

Float?  When you’re supposed to be running as hard as you can?  What are you talking about?  You’re kidding me, right?  Are you sure you’re not talking about ice cream in a glass with root beer … a root beer float?   THAT I understand … but not in running.

No way!!!

Yes … way.  Here is why.  Have you as a competitor in any team sport; football, soccer, baseball, basketball, rugby, field hockey, lacrosse; even ice hockey …  been barreling along FLAT OUT …  perhaps down the sidelines on your way to a score … when suddenly you hit an “imaginary” wall?  Perhaps you have witnessed it as a player or coach?  A player is in the open on the sidelines but seems to slow down and is caught from BEHIND just short of a score.

Frustrating.  Painful.  Embarassing!!! Ouch!!!

The touchdown; the goal is right in front of you.  You can “taste” it.  Your head is thrown back.  Your arms pump.  You grunt and strain and then suddenly; as if from out of nowhere … you slow down and … a defender catches you or … the reverse; an offensive player is out in front of you.  You’re chasing and catching up but … unhhh … ugh … a split second before you are up his/her back … you #%$^&* SLOW DOWN!!!

There are a few very strange things about all this; in ADDITION to the embarrassment that is.   In a split second you were transformed from “Break Away Speed Guy” into “Got Caught From Behind Guy” or “Can’t Catch the OTHER GUY guy.”  Double ouch!!!

Number one; it’s VERY STRANGE because it is not a HUGE imaginary “wall”.   It’s a little wall; a “baby” wall;  barely perceptible.  You feel it … but not much; just a tiny bit.

Secondarily, when the feeling came upon you; you beat the LIVING DAYLIGHTS out of it.  You TRIED to get faster.  You tried REALLY hard!!!  You pumped your arms and legs harder than ever.  HARD!!!  No.  No.  You reacted HARD against that little tiny “slooooow” feeling.  Oh no, you son of a gun.  You’re not taking that touchdown; that score away from me.  Nossir!!!

Faster arms.  Faster hands.  Beat the air with your FISTS.  Pump!!! Pump!!!

But it did.  It DID beat you, didn’t it!  Stole it like a thief!!!

Third, you got up off the ground or walked to the sideline and looked over at the player that beat you and your mouth popped open.

“I KNOW that guy.  I’m faster than that guy/gal … I’m a LOT faster.”

What happened?

You need to learn how to “float”.

Much of what happens when you run fast, happens in the START; the drive/acceleration phase of the race.  This doesn’t have to be in starting blocks on a track either.  This can be from a “set” position in the backfield on the line.  It can be a “straight steal” position leading off a base in baseball.  It can be on an “in bounds” play in basketball or soccer, lacrosse, or rugby.

Most importantly, it can be a drive off a “cut”; a change of direction; a“lateral” move.  And most often is.

The next part of the race is to “get taaaaaaallll.”

Tall.  Pause for effect because yes, it is THAT important.  Tall.  Tall.  Tall.


For most youth athletes this is where they make mistakes.  They STAY in the “drive” phase of their race.  They stay (for lack of a better word): diagonally bent over; the old “head down” and arms flying.

No good.

Running fast is all about applying force to the ground and that is accomplished by driving as much force as possible STRAIGHT DOWN.

Tall.  Vertical!!!

Now the next phase is where the specific problem sets in and the problem is NOT that tiny imaginary wall.  It is how the athlete REACTS to it.  He FIGHTS it.  Wrong!!!

When an athlete hits that tiny level of fatigue, he must teach himself to REEEEEELLAAAAX … MENTALLY!!!

 When an athlete; a sprinter …  tightens up; literally tightens up ANY part of his/her body; even  just his/her jaw by clenching his/her teeth; his/her shoulders, arms, hands (Making fists is bad.  No fists) … all slow him/her down.

Relax.  Keep everything relaxed.  Relaxed face, shoulders, hands.

Pretend  you’re holding a potato chip with your hands.

Everything in your head is screaming for you to FIGHT the race.  Don’t.  It will slow you down.  If you have trouble with the word and concept of “float” then think of MAINTAINING speed which is what you are doing.  The wall is going to slow you down.  When you fight it slows you down faster.

Recently I taught a speed clinic for a high school football team.  We ran about an hour and a half twice a week for five weeks.  We did “form” work and drills for an hour and then conditioning; high intensity interval work for about twenty minutes.

The young men were great.  They learned a lot but … it was not until the very last two sessions that they did NOT throw away all the form work and revert to running like cave men during the conditioning work. (The “cave men” description was the coach’s words by the way).  Very funny.

This is not easy to teach or learn and it is in the athletes’ MINDS.  It is counter intuitive; counter to an athlete’s INSTINCTS.  They have to LEARN how to do this.  They have to LEARN how to relax.

Again:  Reeeeeeeelllaaaaaxxx!!!


An especially good drill is to run what I have learned to call “Build ups” and “Build downs”.

Set a distance; let’s say 60 yards as an example.   For a “build up” have the players start (ALWAYS start aggressively) and then hit their “tall” position at about a 40% effort level and slowly “build up” through to about 80% for in the beginning. 

You can bump the top level up as the players begin to grasp the idea.

Now alternate with a “build down” where the athletes simply REVERSE the procedure; start hard (aways), hit an 80% effort level and then gradually ease down to 40%.

Alternate the two for a comfortable set of four to six repetitions.  Rest in between.

Remember that this exercise is PRIMARILY MENTAL.   Keep admonishing yourself or your players to relax.

A second effective drill is called SPRINT/FLOAT/SPRINT.  Again; sixty yards is sufficient.  Players build up to 70 – 80% effort level then “RELAX/FLOAT” for about ten to twenty yards and then sprint again.

Both exercises teach good sprinting phases and will get you and/or your players faster.  They will FINISH their races.  They WILL score … catch the other player.

The process works when you work the process.

The process works when we work the process so here is the process …

KAIZEN:  Constant Improvement. 

LEARN and GROW.  Break it down!!!  Slow it down!!!  Do it Correctly!!!

HABITUATE:  Correct habits. Do it correctly over and over and over again.

“If you are a player or parent or coach struggling with a performance issue or a coaching/teaching or even a “relationship” issue between players and coaches and parents that just isn’t responding to instruction and hard work, then call me now and let’s fix it.   The tip I gave you in this article is just the start.  If you’re sick and tired of competing with EITHER a MECHANICAL ISSUE that is impacting performance OR the twin gorillas; FEAR and DOUBT on your back and ready to be done with it, I’ve got a systematic process that takes care of any interference you have to the ultimate performance potential that you have seen short bursts of…and want to see it show up consistently!  I can help make you feel great about who you are.  Call me or email me right now while you’re thinking of it!”  I work with clients all over the country by using video and  ZOOM over the internet!!!

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