"You can’t coach speed” and “You can’t coach height” are popular sayings in football and basketball, respectively. A football coach can’t make his running back run any faster (although conditioning can help) and a basketball coach can’t make a player can’t taller. Natural physical skills are needed.
“You can’t coach speed” has been cited in college football since at least 1958. “You can’t coach height” has been cited in professional basketball since at least 1983.
14 October 1958, Chicago (IL) Daily Tribune, “Notre Dame’s coach praises 2 Army Stars” by Charles Bartlett, pt. 4, pg. C2:
As Terry Brennan said earlier, “you can’t coach speed, but you can coach the talent.”
28 November 1961, Baltimore (MD) Sun, “Navy and Army Look For Breakaway Back” by Alan Goldstein, pg. S21:
“Von can’t coach speed into anybody,” the Cadet mentor said. “You can only improve their techniques.”
6 April 1973, Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, UT), “Aggies Emphasize Speed—Another Arizona State?” by John Mooney, pg. F1, col. 1:
LOGAN—While some experts will argue “you can’t coach speed,” Coach Phil Krueger credits a physical conditioning class at Utah State with improving the speed of one-third of the athletes enrolled.
Google News Archive
9 March 1983, Deseret News (Salt Lake City, UT), “Mark Eaton: premier play messer-upper” by Lee Benson, pg. D1, col. 3:
“I liked the fact he was a giant. You can’t coach height.”
(Utah Jazz coach Frank Layden on 7’4” center Mark Eaton—ed.)
White Men Can’t Hump As Good As Black Men:
Sex & Race in America
By Todd Wooten
Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse
It’s like the saying you always hear from NFL scouts, GM’s, and coaches: “You can’t coach Speed, either you got it or you don’t, and Speed changes the dimensions of the game.”
Making the Big Red Machine:
Bob Howsam and the Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s
By Daryl Raymond Smith
Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co.
There is an old adage: “there are two things you can’t coach, height and speed.”