Paul Pearce is a sprints coach aligned with the Queensland Academy of Sport in Brisbane, Australia, while also working as Athlete Development Manager at Brisbane Girls Grammar School. He represented Australia in 100m, 200m, 400m, and relays from World Juniors to World Championship events. Paul has previously held the Australian National Junior Coaching Coordinator role, working with the country’s best emerging athletes and their coaches. He has also had national coaching roles as the Australian WU20 Head Coach, Commonwealth Games Team Sprints coach, and Australian 4x100m and 4x400m coach at World Relays.
Paul is very passionate about collaborative coaching and sharing ideas. Training philosophies include coaching the athlete you have in front of you, not over-complicating it, and getting the basics right consistently.
Freelap USA: Australian sprinting seems to have become a lot more competitive over the past few years on both the men’s and women’s sides. Do you have any theories as to why that might be the case?
Paul Pearce: I think over the last three or four years, Australian 100m and 200m sprinting has had somewhat of a renaissance, with some hungry young sprinters coming through. The reasons for this are multifactorial.
First, there are some great young coaches in Australia, and the approach toward developing our athletes has been very collaborative. During the pandemic, a lot of the coaches came together in a Zoom group, and we connected regularly and discussed a variety of topics. Sometimes it was hugely analytical and trying to find solutions to challenges we were having with our athletes; other times, it was simply a case of checking in with each other and seeing how everyone was doing.
In 2012, Sally Pearson won the 100m hurdles at the London Olympics—many of the athletes who are having success now were in the 12–16 age range when that happened, and I think would likely have drawn inspiration from seeing this and the buzz it created in Australia. Added to that, we had a home Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in 2018, which also generated a lot of media attention and popularized athletics. That year, Riley Day won the national 100m and 200m titles as an 18-year-old, and Rohan Browning made the Commonwealth team. I think that because these athletes were so young at the time, it made their performances very relatable to their peers (more so than would have been the case if Riley and Rohan were 30 years old, for example).
This fostered a very competitive environment in Australia, where a lot of young sprinters were pushing each other regularly in domestic competitions and challenging each other to make teams to represent Australia. We have another Commonwealth Games coming up in Victoria in 2026, followed by the Olympics in Brisbane in 2032, so I think it’s an exciting prospect that the recent momentum we have will continue over the next few years.
Finally, having Fred Kerley out in Australia recently has been very exciting and, again, built a lot of interest from the media. As an athlete myself, I remember Linford Christie and Colin Jackson being out in Australia, the inspiration I drew from that, and the way it helped bridge the gap between the top Australian athletes and the world scene. I hope and believe that having the likes of Fred here this season can do the same thing for this generation of Australian sprinters.
Freelap USA: Riley had a sensational 2021 season and started 2022 in a promising fashion before, unfortunately, encountering an injury issue. Were there any qualities/indicators that improved significantly heading into that season compared with previous years? Was this due to anything that you and Riley did differently in training, or was it more due to an accumulation of training and being cognizant of her natural development, with her having turned 21 only a few months before Tokyo?
Paul Pearce: One of the most important factors in training is consistency. Generally, when I have had athletes perform well, they have been able to train consistently for months at a time without injury niggles and time away from the track, both of which I think are probably the biggest killers to athletes running fast and reaching their goals.
I think my training reflects the extent to which I value consistency, as what I have athletes do on the track doesn’t change too much from year to year; for that to be the case, I try to keep my training very simple. A personal motto of mine is: keep it simple. It’s very important to have it clear in your own mind as a coach what you believe the fundamentals to successful performance are and make sure you never get too far away from that with your athletes.
This being the case, I think social media can be a double-edged sword because, while it allows you to connect with other great coaches and learn about what other athletes and coaches are doing, it also means there’s a lot of “noise” that can be challenging to filter through—and too many external influences can muddle the message that you receive as a coach, which then gets passed on to the athlete.
It’s worth noting that the athlete can also become confused by what they see on social media, so it really is important that, as coaches, we provide them with clarity. A clear, concise coaching message is essential.An athlete can become confused by what they see on social media, so it’s really important that we provide them with clarity. A clear, concise coaching message is essential, says @paulcoachpearce. Click To Tweet
I think the majority of athletes can only think about one or two things at a time while they’re sprinting—and at times, I can be guilty of giving too many verbal cues—but luckily, I have an athlete, Georgia Harris, who will tell me when I’m speaking too much! I try to consider, therefore, what training interventions will provide the athletes with the biggest bang for their buck and focus my time on really hammering home those messages.
Social media may be able to enhance the message you’re sending to your athletes, but I think it’s really important to consider where this information fits. If it allows you to make subtle adjustments to the training you provide your athletes with—because once large overhauls start taking place, the consistency I just mentioned becomes jeopardized.
This all being said, I think our consistency was displayed when Riley ran 22.56 in Tokyo, and various factors fed into her being able to be as consistent as she was. Up here in Brisbane, the weather is rarely a constraint to what we want to do. It’s pretty warm all year round, so we can train as we would like without much concern for the cold, etc.
While some parts of Australia were hit pretty hard by the pandemic, and the associated restrictions caused lots of limitations, Brisbane was not as badly affected. We had a couple of two-week or so periods when we had to train at home, but outside of that, we could get to the track and train pretty much as usual.
This meant that by the time we got to Cairns prior to departing for Tokyo, Riley’s speed was the best I’d ever seen from her. Her power and strength were at all-time highs, as were her plyometrics and her range and flexibility. So, everything came together, and all the major boxes were ticked, culminating in her being in great shape and performing as she did. One of the last sessions I witnessed in the Olympic holding camp had her running so fast that I genuinely thought she’d have broken the national 100m record if she had raced that day.
Freelap USA: Do you do much in the way of testing in your training program?
Paul Pearce: It’s really important to have a good understanding of why a test is being implemented, and I like the athletes to be clear on this as well. If I had to guess, I would say I probably incorporate fewer tests into my training plan than many other coaches because I need to be very clear about the benefit of the testing before I’m willing to implement it.
We do things like flying runs as a part of the training process. These are often timed, so they provide me with data and insight on whether training is progressing in the right direction. In that sense, testing is largely woven into the training process and used to guide my decision-making. That being said, out of season, we may do standalone “testing” sessions that are geared toward replicating a racing environment. They also provide me with data and information to assess how training is going and allow me to decide if any interventions are required and, if so, what they may be.
We are also lucky enough to have access to a biomechanist and a laser to give us data regarding instantaneous velocities, which has provided some great quality feedback. This tracking highlighted that a decathlete of mine, Dan Golubovic, has a little “flat patch” at the same point in an acceleration where the first hurdle would be in the 110m hurdles. We have therefore been able to identify an area to target development that may benefit his flat events, such as the 100m and 400m, and his long jump.
Freelap USA: What are some of the key technical positions you look for with your sprinters? What are some of the strategies you use to encourage athletes to hit these positions?
Paul Pearce: Positions are a big focus of mine, but it’s important to recognize that some degree of mobility and/or strength may be required to hit some positions, so cueing may only work to a certain extent.It’s important to recognize that some degree of mobility and/or strength may be required to hit some positions, so cueing may only work to a certain extent, says @paulcoachpearce. Click To Tweet
One of the positions and concepts I look for with my athletes is having the swing leg knee at least level with the stance knee at ground contact. I also want to see a broad chest during acceleration, as opposed to a rounded back.
Sprinting is about lines of posture; related to this, I’m always looking for a straight line from the feet through the hips, shoulders, and head. The posture remains the same in maximum velocity; it’s merely the angle at which that posture is oriented with respect to the ground that changes.
When transitioning from an acceleration position to maximum velocity, the adjustments should be so subtle and gradual that I barely notice them taking place—and there’s often the analogy used that it’s like a plane taking off and gradually going up, as opposed to a helicopter or a rocket, which takes off vertically. Should there be any breaking of this position or anything that impacts this long posture—such as bending at the waist—then the force applied will be suboptimal, meaning that a lot of the strength training and plyometric training that we’ve done will be far less effective than it otherwise could have been.
Finally, I look for ground contacts to be as close to underneath the center of mass as possible and behind it during early acceleration to avoid unnecessarily large braking forces. It is important to recognize that not all athletes will hit a conceptual, technical model. Therefore, I cannot be too rigid regarding what I want or expect to see, and I need to cater to the nuances and idiosyncrasies of the athletes. Without this flexibility, a lot of time and energy may be wasted trying to get them to meet positions that, realistically, they will never be able to find.
To teach these positions to my athletes, I typically start by getting them to watch good and bad examples and asking them what they notice. This achieves two things:
- It gives them a visual reference.
- It empowers them and involves them in the learning process.
From there, I try to give them the opportunity to connect a feeling with that visual reference, and I actually believe there’s value here in performing a skill badly, so they know what a poor execution feels like and are, therefore, better able to independently assess whether or not they’ve performed that skill well. After this point, it’s obviously a good idea to guide them away from what they’ve just felt to a more successful execution.While I see value in visual feedback, it’s possible to be too reliant on it when it can be immediate, thanks to smartphones. Athletes must be able to feel what a good rep is, says @paulcoachpearce. Click To Tweet
While I’ve mentioned that I see value in visual feedback, I think it’s possible to be too reliant on this, especially today, when the feedback can be immediate, thanks to smartphones. It’s very important for the athletes to be able to feel what a good rep is, as again, they can better assess whether or not they have executed a skill well, and this gives them some further ownership of the learning process.
Freelap USA: What does a typical training week look like for Riley?
Paul Pearce: My training doesn’t change a great deal throughout the year, and all training elements are present each fortnight: such as acceleration, maximum velocity, speed endurance, and the related technical components. I use a lot of contrast work, like resisted sprinting with unresisted accelerations and mini hurdle work or weighted vest work with maximum speed runs.
My 100m and 200m runners do the majority of their work at intensities above 90% or 95% and rarely run beyond 150 meters in a repetition. I don’t tend to prescribe longer runs to avoid mechanical breakdown and the stress this may place on their hamstrings and other tissues, which may increase the injury risk.
I’m also an advocate of quality over quantity. So, for example, I’d much rather have my athletes complete three near-perfect sets instead of a fourth set where the quality of execution is subpar, and I see their hips dragging along the ground and their contact times going through the roof in a bad way.
Sunday – Off
Monday – Rhythm/tempo runs. 8x80m on the grass at around 75% intensity, with about 4–5 minutes of recovery, but I give the athletes a good degree of autonomy during these recovery periods.
The intent of this session is to get the body ready and prepped for the week ahead. How has the body pulled up after a big session on Saturday? What possible physio work needs to be done prior to a fast session on Tuesday? I don’t want to turn up Tuesday and not be prepared.
Tuesday – Maximum velocity day. I often contrast 4–5 sets of a technical component, such as mini hurdle runs, progressive ankling, banded runs to promote toe-off and quicker heel recovery (video below), or runs with a weighted vest to help emphasize vertical projection, with something like a 40-meter build-up plus a 30-meter fly at above 95% intensity. The athletes rest 8–10 minutes between sets and 3–4 minutes between the technical element and the flys.
Wednesday – Gym.
Thursday – Acceleration day. Similar to Tuesday, this may be a complex. For example, using the 1080 Sprint, 3–4 sets of high resistance pull to 20m, medium resistance pull to 30m, and unresisted acceleration to 40m.
Friday – Gym.
Saturday – Speed endurance. Four to five sets of 120m, 30 seconds, 80m, or 4–5 sets of 80m, turn around, 80m, turn around, 80m. The athletes take 8–10 minutes of recovery between each set.
As with all planning, you need to adapt sessions and stimulus to what you saw in the previous training days, as well as how each athlete moves in their warm-ups.
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