Training a bunch of high school athletes (asking for feedback)

Hi CF forums,

Currently coaching a large group of high school athletes. More personally accountable for the hurdlers, but I also coach sprinters (when I can) with a fellow high school teacher.

May 10th is the meet that matters.

Spoke to ESTI and here are some lessons I’ve found extremely valuable:

  1. “realize that you only have XX practices left.”
  2. put them in groups, let them run fast with competitive juices.
  3. tip hurdles to get athlete to run over with aggression
  4. Telling them that what’s going on is max velocity work won’t be max velocity. Making them try their hardest will get them closer to Max V.
  5. Don’t get too cute with drills. Especially with the time I have left. Just let them run.
  6. time them in runs to get them to try harder and run faster

The biggest preoccupation I’m dealing with is teaching them how to push.

I want to make sure every session, we are getting better at acceleration.

When I get a lot of them hold a fence to do wall posture drills, they are all inclined to kick back (ankle to butt), instead of stepping down. This very simple thing is hard to coach given the number of the entire squad. I believe there are 60+ people coming out for sprints/hurdles on a sunny day.

I realized from day 1 that I talked too much. I loved worshipping my philosophy, my knowledge, my plan. But on careful reflection, I understood that decorating their minds with my knowledge would never make them run fast, even if they understood what I was saying. The athletes need only feel, not know. Some of the fastest people don’t care a fig about how to run fast… but if they know how to run fast… well done coach! Every session, I try to say less and less.

Put the athlete in a position where they can run fast… do that repeatedly… and they will succeed.

I’ve been trying to demonstrate that way of coaching a lot more.

Does anyone have successful methods/strategies to teach acceleration to a big group of people with minimal cueing?

I remembered Charlie’s push up starts just this morning, but it was raining today and I rather they skip that. Need to give that a go next week. I have them Tuesday and Thursday.

Today I had 2 strategies I wanted to try out.

10 standing jumps holding onto a fence. Tell them for the first jump, get AS HIGH as possible. And gradually quickening it up by lowering height. At the end it should be very quick. Would sound like this: BOOOOM BOOOM BOOM Boomboomboombombom. You’re still pushing down with prejudice, but you travel less high because you quickened ground contact, not because you tried less hard. I paired it with some audio feedback where I would make noise that corresponds to the quickening of the rhythm.

I wanted to do the same with standing horizontal jumps. Jump as far as you can the gradually make it more dynamic, reactive, and quick.

I then made them do 4x20m submax (because of the rain) and I think it kind of helped. Created a situation where they did what I want and I challenged them to mimic it in the acceleration runs. Push up starts definitely might have been thousand times easier to execute tho!

Always learning.

In the beginning, I tried teaching deliberation. I told them that stepping down, and posture were the only things needing work. I told them when they run, it should feel like a march.

I went home… .realized I didn’t even have them march in warmup!! NEVER, ever tell someone to do something that you didn’t give time and attention for. Analogical learning requires that they be familiar with the task at hand in some former context. I vowed to never do that again.

Right now I’m trying to see if I can improve their strength levels through multi-jumps to get them in full ranges of motion. A lot of them cannot hit the hard ‘post’.

Unless you have a decent hill near by, given 60 athletes, put them in 12 groups of 5 or 15 groups of 4 and see to it that each group has a strong belt, a 3m rope or strap, a couple carabiners, and something to serve as a sled. This can be some heavy chains, small tires, any weighted object secured on top of a piece of canvas or gortex…

Find a way to make that happen. If need be, make each group accountable for pitching in an getting what they need (between 12 and 15 athletes per group it wouldn’t take more than a few dollars per athlete to buy everything needed). If you go to a local tire store they will probably have a pile of tires you can select from for free and if they don’t have any small enough go to an atv, motorcycle, or bicycle store and ask them if they have any used tires to get rid of.

It’s not just teaching technique. It’s not just “power speed drills”. You have to DEVELOP power>

Standing Long Jumps
Short bounds, long bounds
hurdle hops
Stadium Steps
Box jumps onto high jump pit if you don’t have boxes available

This is one of John Smith’s workouts for drive phase (do it from 3-pt, 3-4 min rest, so this is a little tedious):


Find creative ways to make things happen and do what you can without trying so hard and making things difficult.
If the coaching becomes unsustainable then it ends and then where are you?
Let’s not forget John Smith had / has volumes that not all people will respond to. According to what little I have learned about John is you need to fit into his ideas and it’s not the other way around.
And… high volumes or lots and lots of work are designed for certain programs which have zero to do with development.
I like standing long jumps, short bounds, utilizing stadiums in moderation and one small box will do for a first phase for sure.

ESTI is a real scientist who takes info, puts it to work and evaluates and does a very good job getting results. He has experience with exactly what you are doing and has great advice.

James I love the idea but it’s definitely a riot in application. I figured anything requiring equipment is a no-go because of the sheer size of the group. Would be a good option on days where less people show up (early championship season) for sure tho.

Say I do do it, I’d like to do it in a circuit where only some athletes are using the sleds while others are doing other work (because we have a limited number of sleds).
Something like:

Group A: Skips for distances, straight leg bounds, sled runs
Group B: straight leg bounds, sled runs, skips for distances…

Love the recommendation tho.

Good stuff lkh. Always forget how good stadium runs can be in teaching big ranges. Think I never loved them because I myself could push long and hard without ever stepped in the stadium!

For most of my athletes who don’t have big ranges yet… I might complex accel runs with something that requires great pushing.

i.e. 2x pushup starts, 1x20m run

ESTI’s philosophy definitely prioritizes optimizing over maximizing… do as little as possible to get as much out. He knows how to keep the ship moving so well. True coach that recognizes the constraints of the situation instead of coaching in a vacuum.

Keep in mind the challenges in managing logistics are only as significant as you allow them to be. When I first started coaching I was an advisor to a high school Physical Education department. I had classes of over 100 students at a time (over 300 in total). I, with the aid of two other coaches, ran all +300 through a physical test battery (sprints, jumps, throws, 800m, 1mile, calisthenics) and I then created performance curves and generated three training groups based on alactic locomotive, aerobic locomotive, and calisthenics performance. In this way, during every class, there were three classes occurring simultaneously (I supervised one group and the two other coaches supervised the other two).

In addition, both at the high school and collegiate level, when working with American football, there were times when I would single handedly manage +60 players.

Point, I know what it is like to manage large groups and if accountability is instilled, and demanded, from day one, the challenge of orchestrating the large group is mitigated.

I was going to suggest sleds.

Love the perspective James. Tenacity should always be upheld. Will seriously take your considerations.


How the season went…

Perhaps it was not ideal for the athletes who wanted to qualify further into championships and eventually OFSSA (=Olympics to anyone in Ontario)… but with my heart I’d say it was a good season! I wished that they found it the same way.

Some things I enjoyed fully:

[li]the relationship I had with some of the athletes. I never truly got to know the athletes because of the very little time we had (2 sessions a week x 4). So I made the hurdlers fill out a form that would explicitly list their hobbies, what kind of training they thought they needed, what their goals were. One girl who was only half into practices handed me the form and under the box of “What do I need to do” she had this: “listen to jccc110m more”. It was a wonderful feeling. I understood that beyond coaching technically, you are just an interacting person. I love that she found whatever I was saying to be worthwhile to pay attention to.[/li][li]Some people really do care and you have to help them to your best. One girl found me after our first practice together and told me about a sore ankle. I got her email and sent her some information (ELDOA, no sugar, contrast showers). She was bought in from the very first session. Both of us always went overtime. Positioning her in the blocks, teaching her med ball throws. She was so willing to learn. One time she got frustrated and sad because she could never take off with the correct foot into the hurdle. That moment I knew I needed to comfort her, tell her that it will come, just try that again please… It’s these moments that really inspire leadership… friendship… compassion in a coaching relationship. She truly made me a better, caring person. To move forward I needed to consider how to not only preserve technical quality but also give her the coaching she thinks she needs… to address and account for her emotions as well. And to athletes like this girl, I hope that what I’m saying is always the best way. My previous coach, commenting on her athlete’s injury said this wonderfully generous goal of hers: “When he got hurt I felt that it was on me. So I vowed to become a better coach, to learn more… to almost make it up to him.” People that care inspire me to become a better person, better coach so to respect the trust they’ve placed in me. [/li][/ul]
Some things I need to work on:

[li]One thing I learned too late was that when you coach, don’t just give them your lens on what needs to be improved, be accountable for their lens also. Most of the hurdlers hated me as I didn’t bother talking about hurdle technique. My reasoning was that I didn’t have to. If you couldn’t make it to H1 at a good enough and fast enough rhythm, I’m wasting my time and yours. Learn how to get to the first hurdle and then we can talk. If I appreciated their side of the relationship and given them hurdle instruction earlier on, I might’ve made a good enough case to get them investing in the acceleration into one. Sometimes you need to travel out of the ‘need to do’ zone and get into the ‘want to do’ and ‘nice to do[/li][li]Get them GI Joe looking to maximize the short amount of time you have. The motley amount of drills I used was nice if I had athletes for the full preparation periods but I only had one month. If I improved body composition with medball/bodyweight circuits I would’ve maximized the training effect. Also lower coordination level power exercises would’ve helped a bunch. Skips for distance/height, med ball throws, long sprint drills. I liked putting them in proper acceleration positions with walls and partner resisted drills but it’s all moot when they don’t have the strength to hold them.[/li][li]Run more. Challenge reactivity levels, increase neuromuscular fitness, facilitate technique. Most athletes needed just to get out and challenge their nervous system. I got too cute and caught up in the Technique Trap.[/li][/ul]

This experience was education for a lifetime.