Waiting until the final few weeks of the season to finally focus on speed is a thing of the past. The old-school long-to-short approach of training sprinters, which has been a staple of track and field coaches for decades, has steadily been phased out and replaced with a more modern “speed first” approach.
In my first few years of coaching, I struggled to get the best athletes—specifically those that had never experienced the sport, to come out for Spring track at the high school level. They thought track was “just conditioning,” and they believed that sprinters trained by jogging lap after lap around the track. I knew that I would have to change that perception in order for us to become an elite program. I wanted our sprinters to get faster, learn that the focus is always on “speed first,” and maybe most importantly, enjoy the training.
Out With the Old and in With the New
Remember the old go-to workout, a 10x100m at 70 percent with one minute of rest? A few years back, this was one of the first workouts that popped up if you typed “track and field training for sprinters” into Google. One day of the week could have been 10x100m, and another day might have been 8x200m with short recovery. Don’t get me wrong: Extensive tempo workouts have their place in the training program. However, they are much more relevant in the off-season or possibly on recovery days.
If you want fast athletes, you have to train them fast. Speed, speed, and more speed. When determining how you are going to set up your training plan, you first have to know the demands of the events your athletes will be running. For short sprinters, the focus should be heavily on the alactic anaerobic energy system and training at max speed in the five-second range (give or take a little).
As a high school coach, you may only get two to three actual training days per week after you take into consideration your meet schedule (meets have to be considered training sessions, and hard ones at that) and the recovery or easy days in between training days. Each mesocycle of your training plan should have at least two themes (maybe three): a primary and a secondary. The goal is to train your primary theme twice a week and your secondary theme once per week. But this is in an ideal world, and high school coaches don’t live in that world.Maximize opportunities to train by incorporating a primary and secondary theme into each mesocycle. Click To Tweet
Most weeks don’t have four or five optimal days of training, so we really have to prioritize and train what is most important when we have the opportunity to do so. Extensive tempo isn’t going to be very high on my priority list, so after I plug in the acceleration, max velocity, and speed endurance work, there probably won’t be any room for those 10x100m workouts. Trust me, that’s OK. When you find yourself able to incorporate the themes that are most important to your athletes, everything else just seems to fall into place.
Recruiting the Modern-Day Sprinter
Just about every town has that person who watches all of the fancy training drills on Instagram and YouTube and then magically transforms themselves into a self-proclaimed “speed trainer.” They go out and buy fancy equipment in an attempt to look like they mean business. There’s no rhyme or reason to what they are doing, as it’s usually just based on the latest training video that popped up on their social media feed. Yet, athletes still gravitate to them.
This has to change. The speed trainer in every town should undoubtedly be the sprint coach for the track and field team. That would only make sense, right? To make that the case, we as coaches have to do our part to run a proven, effective, and appealing sprint program and recruit—yes, recruit—these athletes from the hallways of our schools.
First and foremost, we need to take the “speed first” approach to training our sprinters. This is not only an effective way to make our athletes faster, it is also appealing to those that haven’t been exposed to the sport of track and field. If you aren’t building your sprint program with this approach, and instead continue to put your sprinters through long/slow reps with short recoveries on the track to get them “tougher,” and laid-back jogs around the neighborhood to “get them in better shape,” then this could be the reason why that speedy wide receiver scoring a bunch of touchdowns on Friday nights won’t come out for your track team.
Athletes love to compete (well, most of them anyway), right? Just like the old saying, “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,” the more competitive your practices are, the more your athletes will improve. This is where the Freelap Timing System comes into play. The Freelap electronic system was a recent purchase of mine, and I’ll start using it when we begin training for our indoor season in November.
I’m the head middle school coach in my district, which is a huge advantage for me when developing relationships with our football players and getting them out for the track team in high school, but that’s a story for another day. I’m currently in the heart of football season, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t already been brainstorming ways that I’m going to implement the Freelap system into my track and field training program. It’s a game changer, bottom line.
What better way to make your practices more competitive than to time and rank EVERYTHING? With Freelap, that’s possible with minimal effort. We will time our athletes during all of their training sessions throughout the week. (I’ve always timed them, but there’s something about electronic timing that makes it more official than the trusty old stopwatch … not to mention how difficult it is to accurately time multiple sprinters at one time with a stopwatch). They’ll be timed and ranked in their block work, fly runs, and exchange zone run-throughs for spots on our relay team.When athletes enjoy training, they tell their peers—thereby helping you recruit naturally. Click To Tweet
The more my athletes enjoy the training, the more positively they talk about it with their peers. What better way to get more athletes to join your team then to have your current members do the recruiting for you?
Record, Rank and Publish (aka ‘The Tony Holler Approach’)
I’ve always been the type of coach to keep detailed and organized records. Recording, ranking, and publishing the results from meets, workouts, lifting sessions, etc. is a great way to add legitimacy and excitement to your program. Athletes love to see where they rank against their teammates, where they rank in the state, and how much they’ve improved over the course of a season and throughout their career. They’ll talk about this during the school day, and before and after practice. This is another great way to get the word out about your program.
I created a website for our program and post all necessary information to it, including schedules, meet results, records, etc. (see image above). I try to post as many photos and videos as possible throughout the season. The kids love to watch race videos and flip through photos of themselves competing.
If creating or even purchasing a website for your team isn’t an option, don’t fret—Google Docs is here to save the day. Google Docs allows you to create spreadsheets, text documents, and slideshow presentations. Most importantly, it allows you to share those documents with anyone on the internet. If you have a social media account such as Twitter or Facebook, you can post links to the Google docs you create that include your training results, photos, and videos for everyone to view.
A Blended Approach to Training the ‘All-Around’ Sprinter
In 2014, I had a special group. Maybe it was my “once in a lifetime group.” My top four sprinters all had the potential to run sub 11.00 100-meters, sub 50.00 400-meters, and a legitimate 200-meter in between. The toughest decision was how I should train them. Should their training be focused on speed and speed endurance, just letting the 400m take a backseat? Or should it be Special Endurance 1 and 2 to ensure they were primed to make a run for the 4x400m state title? How about a blended approach that just might give them the opportunity to make a run for state titles in anything from the 100m up to the 400m? I chose to experiment and go with the blended approach. This was against my better judgment, and initially I was hesitant to steer away from the “speed first” approach, but I convinced myself it was best for this group in order to give them a chance to go for the gold in everything.
Early in the season, the mesocycles focused on acceleration, max velocity, and speed endurance; later, it was Special Endurance 1 and 2. That doesn’t sound too far off base, right? But the issue was that absolute speed development wasn’t present in the later mesos. Don’t get me wrong—there were positive results from this approach. But I feel that I sacrificed speed, and that proved a costly mistake.
Our top four guys in the 100m that year had season PRs of 10.69, 10.83, 11.14, and 11.20. The 200m season bests were 21.88, 22.01, 22.06, and 22.82, and our best 4x400m splits were 48.5, 48.8, 49.2, and 49.9. (Unfortunately, those splits were not all run during the same race.) This group stood atop the state rankings and was one of the elite teams in Ohio that season in all three relays. The 4x100m team ran a season PR of 41.75 and was third at the state championships. Our 4x200m group ran 1:26.75, finishing second at state with a time that ranks them in the past decade’s Top 10 in Ohio. The 4x400m guys had a season PR of 3:18.47, but ran 3:22.89 at state and finished eighth.
What if I had stuck with my initial plan and kept their training focused on developing them as short sprinters? Would each of my four runners have been able to run at least a tenth of a second faster in the 100m, running 41.3 and some change as opposed to 41.7, putting them on top of the podium as state champions instead of in a respectable third-place finish? Their 1:26.75 state runner-up finish in the 4x200m was impressive, but this group was capable of running in the 1:25s. Was too much time spent blending their training and attempting to make them dominant in both the short and long sprints? Did this approach prevent them from reaching their full potential? The goal was a state title and we fell just shy of that.
The Road to Redemption
The only option was to regroup and shift the focus to the New Balance Nationals. The All-State foursome went on to run at nationals two weeks later. In the two weeks between the Ohio state championships and the New Balance National Championships, we took more days off from training, to rest, relax, and focus on some fine-tuning before we packed up and headed to North Carolina.
This group went on to feature three-time All-Americans, with a third place in the Swedish relay (100m-200m-300m-400m), fourth place in the 4x100m relay, and sixth place in the sprint medley relay (100m-100m-200m-400m). This was just what they needed after falling just short of their goals at State. I couldn’t have imagined a better way for them to end their high school careers together than to become All-Americans.
The school records and All-State and All-American performances from this group etched their names in the history books of our school and community. They hold nearly every one of our school records in the sprints and sprint relays. All four athletes were also very successful in other sports for our school. Yes—successful multi-sport athletes do still exist.
Set Your Athletes Up for the Future
My intentions for this article were not to talk about individual success stories of the athletes I coach, but since I mentioned so much about this group, I figured it was only right to give a little background information on where they are now. Two of the mentioned athletes are currently running track in college at the Division 1 level, while another is a running back who gets meaningful carries for a well-respected football program in the ACC.
Establishing relationships with college coaches and consistently sending athletes to the next level, regardless of division, is a great way to build your program while helping your community develop well-rounded and educated student-athletes.
Gary Gibson had high school PRs of 7.04 in the 60m, 11.02 in the 100m, 22.06 in the 200m, and a 4x400m split of 48.5. Gary was All-Ohio six times and a three-time All-American in track and field. He is a walk-on member of the track and field team and a biology pre-med major at Ohio State University.
Darrin was an athlete that I was extremely proud to have for four years of high school track and field. Darrin was a three-year starter at running back on our football team and started getting offers after his sophomore season. He could have easily chosen the popular “I’m just going to focus on football” route, but he didn’t. This was huge for our track and field program. He enjoyed the sport and knew it helped him on the football field. Darrin’s high school PRs include 11.14 in the 100m, 22.30 in the 200m, and a 49.8 4x400m split. He was a five-time All-Ohio and a three-time All-American in track and field. Darrin attends Pitt University, where he is obtaining his undergrad degree in natural science and then heading to PT school.
Joe Harrington was another football standout that ended up falling in love with track and field. Joe’s high school PRs are 6.87 in the 60m, 10.69 in the 100m, 21.54 in the 200m, and a 4x400m split of 49.2. He is an eleven-time state qualifier, nine-time All-State, and three-time All-American, and holds six school records. Joe is attending the University of Akron on a track and field scholarship and majoring in criminal justice.
Not every elite athlete has the aspiration to compete in college athletics. Everyone chooses their own path. Nathan’s high school PRs are 10.76 in the 100m and 22.01 in the 200m, and a 4x400m split of 48.8. He had one of the most decorated high school careers in our school’s history, as he was an eight-time state qualifier, seven-time All-State and three-time All-American. He certainly ended his athletic career on a high note.
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