LA CRESCENTA — As the old saying goes, you can't teach speed.
Mark Evans would humbly beg to differ.
The veteran Crescenta Valley High cross-country and track and field coach and his son, Chris, who coaches varsity cross-country track at Golden Valley, are currently showing a group of youth athletes that through learning and perfecting proper technique and maximizing their economy of movement, one can indeed become faster in ways that can be applied toward success in not only running, but virtually any other sport.
"In every sport, speed is a major component, but in a lot of sports they don't necessarily practice just speed, so that's what we're working on here," Chris Evans said during a break at the first La Crescenta Speed and Agility Camp at Crescenta Valley High on Tuesday. "The biggest thing is technique, getting them to be coordinated and getting them to have their body in the proper alignment so that then they can go faster."
When the camp began on Monday, each of the attendants, who range in age from 9-12, performed such timed skills as a 40-yard dash, a standing long jump, throwing a medicine ball and running an obstacle course. In the final session of the camp on Thursday, they will do it all again and have their progress measured.
In the interim, they will learn the proper arm, leg and head positioning for running effectively through drills, tutorials and demonstrations provided by some of Mark Evans' top high school runners, then apply through repetition those new skills in games, relay races and other activities throughout the week.
"We just started kind of where they are [with] some simple running drills and moving drills," Mark Evans said. "We've got to work some coordination things in and some strength because a lot of them they're young and they need to develop strength and flexibility. All of that goes into running mechanics and running form."
Perhaps one of the most helpful aspects of the camp is the video sessions, which not only provide the campers with a chance to escape the heat in an air-conditioned classroom for a few minutes, but also illustrate exactly what they're doing right and wrong on the track.
"You tell a kid, 'Your arm's coming across your chest,' and they don't understand what that means and they don't understand how that affects the rest of their body," Chris Evans said. "So when we can put that on video and pause it in those moments to show them an arm crossing your chest means a knee is coming across you body too and is going to throw them out of alignment, they're going to see it better and it's going to make it easier for them to fix it."
It's been a big help for the campers in seeing immediate changes in their efficiency.
"[I came here] just to get faster in all the sports that I play and get more agility," said Chris Reik, 12 of La Crescenta, who counts basketball, baseball, soccer and volleyball among his pastimes. "I've learned better form for my running. I used just to be sprinting, but not in good form, and I wasn't going as fast and I was tiring out more easily."
Chris Evans said working with athletes in the camp's age range can be an ideal point in their physical development at which to introduce these concepts.
"It's important to get the basics down, so then as they grow older, they grow older running with the proper technique and form," Chris Evans said. "Also we're getting them as they're hitting they're growth spurts, so if we can maintain coordination through that time it's a big benefit."
But Mark Evans added that the camp's curriculum can be adapted for anyone who wants to take a more serious approach to speed training.
"If there's the interest there, we'll continue to do it and expand it," Evans said. "We can go with some high school kids. …It's never too late to do this. Any age can do it because you can always improve your efficiency and mechanics.
"It's something that you need in all sports and a lot of these kids are softball or baseball players, a couple have played soccer, so it goes across the spectrum. Anything you do, you need to have speed and agility and coordination and this just forms the basis of it."
And, as the campers seemed to be learning two days into the camp, even their favorite sports can become more rewarding simply by improving their skills in one of the basic foundations of athletics — speed.
"I'm enjoying it, I've been learning how to run better," said Taylor Schaffer, 12, of La Crescenta, who plays basketball, soccer and softball. "I wasn't really good at running, but now I know to keep your arms straight and when you run, your arms move the opposite of your legs when they go up."