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Coach JT Ayers has been coaching track and field for 13 years and is a two-time Orange County Track Coach of the Year. Since taking over as head coach at Trabuco Hills in 2014, his athletes have broken 31 grade-level, seven school, and two All-Time Orange County records, and his teams have ranked No. 1 in Orange County for three different years (2015, 2016, and 2018). Ayers is currently the Executive Director of CoachAyers.com, and he teaches full-time at Trabuco. He has written for SimpliFaster on how his team lifts for speed with mass specific force and is a contributor to coaches’ education locally.
Freelap USA: California is huge, fast, and a massive track and field powerhouse. Can you share the mindset that you get your athletes in so they can be fearless and confident?
JT Ayers: One of the biggest aspects of athletics in any sport is the fact that athletes must focus on competing with themselves before they can worry about competing against anyone else. We spend a lot of time reinforcing this at every practice. I strive to cast the vision of our team values daily.
We use phrases to remind them of this, such as “win the workout,” “be 1% better,” making smart choices outside of practice by “building your house,” and “discipline equals freedom.” We focus on positive attitudes toward the uncontrollable elements that arise, such as the other team/athlete(s) or even the weather. I ask the entire team, “How’s the weather outside?” and they reply loudly and together, “Perfect!” This teaches our team not to worry about the things we can’t control.One of the biggest aspects of athletics in any sport is that athletes must focus on competing with themselves before they can worry about competing against anyone else, says @trabucotrack. Click To Tweet
We go to great lengths to ensure that our athletes are able to see their individual improvement practice to practice, not just meet to meet, by keeping detailed logs of their times and marks from practice. All of this results in a strong level of confidence: The athletes are more interested in the process of becoming great than the outcome.
I love coaching track and sincerely believe we have a program full of young men who desire to be led well and are eager to help one another to be their best selves. We work hard and we work smart. There is a purpose in everything we do, and the athletes know this.
Freelap USA: Obviously, timing peak velocity is everything with your program. Can you share how you instruct running mechanics to complement electronic timing with Freelap?
JT Ayers: Freelap has been my favorite new tool that we purchased this past season. No offense to my assistant coaches, but it is probably our best assistant coach. All joking aside, gathering real-time data that is fully automatically timed allows me to keep detailed records of progress. This is crucial for any coach to maintain a high level of peak velocity training.
The times will not lie, and they will hold you accountable in your effort. Discipline and motivation become much easier to obtain with this in mind. While my athletes are running their speed Vmax or flys workout, I like to film them. I use my phone or iPad in the slow-motion setting. I like using one of the many apps out there where I can pause and draw lines for proper foot strike, posture while running, looking at the toe and ensuring it is up in a “neutral flexion.”
My athletes appreciate being able to see themselves running in between reps to receive encouragement and correction. Their running form is important, but the speed of the rep is always of the utmost importance. It’s impossible to film everything all the time; however, I can Freelap the athletes and have them share chips (we currently have eight) each rep. We have coaching cues that all my assistant coaches share like “run tall,” “good hands,” and “push-recover” while using this new technology.
Freelap USA: Three jump events are known for plyometrics, but high school athletes enjoy them with sprint events. What’s a smart way to incorporate explosive training outside the weight room besides medicine balls and hurdle hops (jumps)?
JT Ayers: At the end of our warm-up, we apply drills with an emphasis on force application and speed. This can include rocket jumps, A-skips, A-jumps, bounds, and wickets, to name a few. Hurdlers will then do more drills that are specific to hurdling, and these too can be considered plyometrics. For more on that, you can watch our video on these specific drills here.I do believe there can be a negative return to doing too many plyometrics… Work smart with a focus on quality over quantity, says @trabucotrack. Click To Tweet
Sprinting is applying force into the ground. We teach that and reinforce this idea in all that we do. I do believe there can be a negative return to doing too many plyometrics. Every plyometric in the weight room or outside on the track needs to have purpose and functionality for it to make sense in the athlete’s individual training. I do not like doing things just for the sake of doing them. I also monitor how often the athletes do these types of drills. Work smart with a focus on quality over quantity.
Freelap USA: With blocks, how do you train groups, as it’s a lot of work mastering the setup and first few steps? Any ideas for those with large teams and few resources?
JT Ayers: This has always been a perceived weakness of mine as a coach. I am deeply interested in teaching this efficiently, but it has proven difficult. These past few years, through an exhaustive search and countless questions to other coaches, I was steered toward some incredible resources.
Another difficulty I encounter is that I have 55 boy sprinters and hurdlers, and I need to be creative in the way I teach each individual athlete how to properly accelerate to top speed. One way of being creative is by making the warm-up more than just a warm-up. Let me explain—I like to stand at different distances (15m, 20m) while the athletes do their final “get-offs” and we practice a proper drive phase. At the early stages of the season, we do acceleration drills and focus on specific drills incorporated into the athletes’ warm-up, like pushing with both feet. My goal is to make these skills intrinsic, and the athletes are also aware of what to execute to be successful.
Coach Vince Anderson has a brilliant acceleration chart that breaks down specific steps for different 100m marks. Our track has 20 small pieces of tape lined down the track in six different lanes based on ability level. This way I can push athletes in a challenging way based on their individual progress. I film the first 4–5 steps in slow motion to catch the athlete’s triple extension, shin angle, and force, as well the entire first 25m to gauge the length of their drive phase while looking at their ability to get to Vince Anderson’s tape marks. Regardless of what anyone does, it is important to have a written-out plan with benchmarks within a time frame that makes sense.
Freelap USA: The 4x400m is a special event. How do you cultivate a culture of interest in this event when many athletes fear it? How does your speed endurance connect as well?
JT Ayers: The 4×400 is my favorite event in track and field. I take great pride when I have no trouble finding athletes to run this event at the end of the meet. At most dual meets, if the other coach is okay with it, we will run multiple 4x4s, and it is common to see 5–6 Trabuco coaches out there getting splits at the finish line. My team loves finishing the meet with this event. I say this humbly as I can; my athletes do not fear this event. They are excited about it.
It is not uncommon to see a Trabuco Hills Dual meet have 300+ athletes on both the boys and girls teams run from one side of the infield to the other as each runner makes the trip around the track. It is electric! I think this lack of fear comes from practicing courage every day. I like putting athletes into different circumstances in their training. You can do so much with a rep in any type of distance.
I will literally count out loud for 4–6 seconds for the athletes to get out at the beginning with purpose. They learn to “carry their speed” and build up at the right time to come off the turn with speed and with proper mechanics. Sometimes they will be chased and sometimes they will do the chasing—we call this “Sheep and Wolves.” The varsity athletes will even stand still, close their eyes, and visualize the race while I give them verbal cues or different circumstances with a stopwatch next to their ear.Every one of our athletes understands how to run the 4x400, when the proper time to pass another runner is, and how to use their speed wisely in this event because we train for it. Click To Tweet
Every athlete, no matter what their ability level, understands how to run the event, when the proper time to pass another runner is, and how to use their speed wisely in this event because we train for it. An athlete of mine once said that I played “mind games” when it came to training. Of course, I do! Using your speed wisely is crucial in the 400, but you must have speed first.
We train hard and we train fast. We also train smart. The 4×4 is a fistfight and giving athletes an opportunity to see what they are made of builds grit and wisdom. There is always something to learn in and from the 4×4.