Gabriel Mvumvure, assistant coach for sprints and hurdles at Brown University, presents the home workouts and exercise diagrams that he provides his athletes to maintain mobility, speed, and power while they are on breaks away from the school’s program.
By Ryan Banta
Electronic data is very valuable when it’s easily acquired, consistently used, predictive, and cataloged. The beauty of new technology designed by such companies as Freelap is that they’re created with the sprint coach in mind. As the systems upgrade, coaches become more informed about their athletes’ progress.
A coach who commits to the process over several seasons will create an environment where everything that was done at the track is accounted for during training and life outside of practice. This culture of accountability will lessen the number of injuries, subpar performances, and the gap between potential and actual personal bests.
Increased expectations improve performance. With electronic timing, a savvy coach can point to practice run times and show an athlete how specific race performances are tied directly to individual training paces. If the athlete cannot consistently hit the necessary intensities in practice, they will not be able to hit certain goals later in the competitive or championship phases of the season.
When all athletes on a team are measured, everyone is held accountable for what they are, or are not, doing. Accurate timing of every repetition combined with realistic expectations helps athletes stay on task. Accountability can prevent sprinters in a training group from hiding in a slower pack or sandbagging until the last few repetitions.
No matter the percentage of effort, it’s critical sprinters hit the expected times in practice. As proven by research, if an athlete throws off an entire workout by running the incorrect effort, far-reaching negative ramifications can occur. It can mess up the training day, the next day, and even the next meet.
If runners are training under a bi-polar system that calls for a 70% effort on a recovery run day, and they go out and blast 90% effort, they won’t be able to regenerate properly. Most likely, the eve of the recovery runs will be too tough, and the body will be so exhausted, it will take more days than planned to recuperate from multiple high-intensity sessions.
On the other hand, if the sprint group is supposed to run a maximum velocity workout by hitting intensities that are at least 93% effort to create adaptations for speed, a coach can use less than optimal times to encourage athletes to move faster.
Intervene During Sessions
Coaches sometimes have athletes who are workout warriors. These sprinters have a “never say die” attitude and will run through a brick wall for their coach or team.
Many coaches were raised under the old school mentality of toughness, never complaining, and having a “do or die” leadership style. Combining a coach and athlete who are both super tough can lead to what can be called a “harmonious disaster.” It becomes a harmonious disaster because neither side sees the potential pitfalls when training. Both are willing to sacrifice future great performances at the altar of toughness.
Using a timing system helps coaches relinquish their grip on completing a workout no matter how ugly the intervals look on the stopwatch. It can be difficult for a coach to stop a session once it’s begun. However, if the coach is trying to target performance in practice, and an athlete fails to hit the expected effort, the coach needs to decide how to proceed.
Does the coach increase the rest, reduce the number of intervals, or stop the workout entirely? These questions can be answered based on a myriad of factors. The coach needs to have a conversation with the athlete who’s not hitting their times to figure out why. Could there be a hidden illness or injury?
If these questions are not answered, both the coach and the athlete risk making matters worse. If the coach uses a timing system, the decision about whether to adjust the training session becomes a moot point.
Typically, if a hardworking consistent performer fails to hit an appropriate pace for three intervals in a row, it’s wise to drastically reduce or wholly shut down the workout for the day.
When training many sprinters, catching the times of all athletes as they cross the finish line of a training interval is one of the biggest challenges of coaching. Even the most experienced stopwatch operator will struggle to capture all of the splits for each interval.
Freelap’s new device, the Freelap Relay Coach BLE & Tripod, captures many performances simultaneously, uploads the times directly to a cloud or database, and sends the data directly to an iPhone, Android, iPad, etc.
Before this innovation, electronically timing large groups was difficult at best. Now coaches no longer need to furiously scribble down times between repetitions. The Relay allows a coach to spend more time talking with their athletes throughout the workout and significantly cuts the time it takes to set up the next flight of sprinters.
If a coach has a limited number of staff members and no electronic timing, their only option is to hold the stopwatch. Electronic timing ensures that everyone’s results are tabulated. With longer intervals, it’s not a huge issue to be off by a tenth or two. With short intervals like 10, 20, and 30 meters, accuracy becomes much more important.
When sprinters bury themselves in a pod of athletes, it’s difficult to catch a dramatic fall off during practice. Coaches who review the data in real time during recovery periods between intervals can make individual and correct choices about what to do when a practice seems to go off the rails.
In my experience, Freelap Relay grabs all the times almost instantly and removes as a factor the speed of a coach’s trigger finger. A coach can accurately evaluate significant figure deviations among athletes in a training group. Some coaches could argue that they’d just have the athletes run individually. But even with short intervals, this is time consuming and reduces the competitive boost athletes get from pushing one another down the track as they run side by side.
Train Individually and Coach Remotely
Athletes occasionally have to train away from their coach. Some are even self-trained. Electronic timing may be most valuable when an athlete trains remotely due to an international schedule or family vacation.
Electronic timing may be most valuable when an athlete trains remotely.
Electronic timing works as a second set of digital eyes to help a sprinter keep tabs on their efforts. Feedback is imperative to assure the intended quality is met so the sprinter doesn’t go too fast or too slow.
Professional camps like ALTIS, MVP, and HSI have to contend with athletes training a great distance away from their coaches. It’s difficult for an athlete to get accurate data when trying to start and stop a watch on their wrist at exactly the right moment.
Electronic timing allows the coach to remotely access results in real time during long distance training or competition. Coaches can track an athlete’s training, make suggestions for upcoming practice sessions, and talk to the athlete about concrete aspects of their training.
Assess Technique and Event Drills
The best coaches in the world have the ability to use their naked eyes as if they were high definition slow motion cameras. These coaches are also excellent communicators.
Some coaches have become videographers or stopwatch heroes. Using a watch or camera erects an imaginary wall that detracts from the visceral experience. When a coach has their eyes up, they can take in every step. A coach can often immediately tell if an interval was run at the right speed just by looking at the sprinter’s biomechanics and hearing their cadence off the ground.
If a coach is race modeling or doing technical drill runs, watching becomes even more important. Race modeling and technical runs are very taxing on a sprinter’s central nervous system. It matters for the coach to focus on the athlete, making sure they’re executing the drills to perfection and offering feedback. Electronic timing frees up the coach’s eyes to make the most of every moment they’re on the track with their athletes.
Measure Progress and Collect Data
Coaches will quickly see trends in training when they create databases of all athlete times from daily training sessions. Coach Holler has used Record, Rank, and Publish as program staple for decades. Every day his athletes see, within their own program, where they rank next to their peers. Coach Holler believes this helps motivate his athletes during what can be a very long indoor/outdoor season for Illinois high school kids.
The trends help show what athletes typically produce on a given day or week in training and help predict the end of season outcomes. The data gives a glimpse of what to expect from future workouts and performances. Narrowing down what can be expected in the near term helps guide the coach in what should happen in future training or event selection.
Data collection helps the coach and athlete know whether they’re on, ahead, or behind schedule from previous seasons. A coach can also use this information to help sell rookies on how they compare in training to successful athletes who have come before them.
Having a date base to monitor progress gives an athlete a statistical roadmap for what’s required to run an All State, All American, or Olympic standard performance. The digital road map gives some insight on what it will take to achieve greatness, and this knowledge can be empowering. The information also helps set up daily goals. A sprinter, for example, can apply the data to set paces for future longer sprints like the 400-dash or 800-meter run.
All of the acquired data should be cross-referenced with data and charts developed by other coaches who have done the intellectual heavy lifting. The charts of Daniels, Mann, McMillian, Purdy, and Winckler are mentioned throughout the Sprinter’s Compendium.
Eventually, a coach will have a database to guide informed decisions instead of a gut feeling. Date becomes predictive, and the coach becomes a statistical soothsayer.