I was asked the question, “What is more important in football: strength, or speed?” I could give you the simple answer and say both, but that is the easy way out. Football is predominately an alactic power sport, meaning that short bursts of strength, speed, and power are needed and then they are followed by a rest. Think about it, a football play lasts approximately 5-7 seconds and is then followed by a 35 second rest; therefore, football players do not need to be running 5 miles to get conditioned for the sport. To get back to the question, both strength and speed are needed, but one is needed more depending on your proximity to the ball before it is snapped, and then your proximity to the ball after the snap.
The huddle breaks and everyone get set in their positions, the Center lines up and everyone else lines up off of him. Before the ball is even snapped, let’s think about this: the guys closest to the ball at this point need to be the strongest because they are the protectors, and I know when I think of protection, I think of strength. Therefore, for these guys (Center, Guards, Tackles), strength is the most important characteristic. The further away we get from the ball from a position aspect, the less strength becomes a factor and now speed takes over. This goes for both sides of the ball, Offense and Defense. The guys lined up outside of the Ends, need speed, the guys lined up in the backfield, need speed. The greatest attribute of the these Skilled guys is speed more so than strength. Once the ball is snapped the paradigm shifts.
When the ball is snapped, now the guys closest to the ball must need speed as their major characteristic. The Quarterback, Running Backs, and Wide Receivers, are better served to be more speed dominant than strength dominant. You can see that both strength and speed are both important in the game of football; however, each needs to be stressed differently according to position and proximity of the ball. Everyone wants to train speed, be fast, etc, however everyone has a job to do on the field and each job is going to require either more strength or more speed.
My answer to this question is still both however. I am not just going to train a linemen for pure strength, like a powerlifter, and I’m not going to train a skilled player by just running sprints. Linemen need strength yes, but they also need to work on speed techniques and remember by working speed, this will help increase our rate of force and power. The same goes for the skilled positions as well; yes, they need to be fast, but by increasing their strength you will also increase their speed. Think about it this way, Powerlifters and Olympic Sprinters do not make the best football players. There needs to be a medium point when it comes to training for football.
This is why it is important that programming for football guys needs to be individualized by position. I see too many programs that just focus on one or the other. You have the powerlifting type of programs that is just lifting heavy weights all of the time, or the speed programs that just works on speed and agility. There needs to be a balance of both, but with a focus on one or the other depending on how close you are to the football before it is snapped and after it is snapped.