How to Use Mini Hurdles When Coaching Young Athletes
“Mini Hurdling” is a great way to get young athletes started with the hurdles.
Mini hurdling involves running fast over low objects. I use 30cm high “mini hurdles”, sometimes known as “wickets”, for this activity.
The aim of mini hurdling is to teach a smooth, uninterrupted running action over low obstacles. Such objects are far less intimidating to beginners than the regular hurdles used in competition. This results in the athletes running more aggressively at, over and between the hurdles, which gives them the feel for fast hurdling. The mini hurdles also encourage a fast stepping action over the hurdles, which is a desirable hurdling skill.
I use mini hurdling in two ways:
- Placed at random distances on the track.
- Placed at correct competition distances on the track.
Mini Hurdling Using Random Distances
For this activity, I mark a start line and finish line with cones, creating a distance of about twenty metres. I place five or so mini hurdles (other low objects can be used) at random distances in this space, some closer together and some further apart.
The athletes are asked to run fast from the start line, over the obstacles and past the finish line.
The coaching cues I use are:
- Run fast with a smooth action. Avoid ‘slowing down’ or hesitating before or after the hurdles.
- Clear the hurdles with an uninterrupted running action.
- No ‘jumping’ the hurdles. “Step” over the hurdles. I teach the athletes that good hurdlers get back down on the ground quickly so that they can keep running fast.
- Run fast until well past the finish line.
During this drill, I introduce the athletes to the basic ‘straight up and down’ lead leg action, and the fact that the lead knee always points to the front. This is easy for a beginner to achieve over a low obstacle. There is no need to use a proper trail leg action – the hurdles are low enough not to require it.
I often set up several lanes of hurdles with each lane featuring hurdles placed in a different pattern. The athletes rotate from lane to lane having to negotiate a different challenge each time. I even allow the athletes to place the hurdles out for me, inventing a new pattern each time, which they love doing.
This activity is fantastic for teaching athletes to switch lead legs without hesitation, thus developing both sides of the body.
Mini Hurdling Using Correct Competition Distances
For this activity I mark a start line with cones and set up two flights of mini hurdles placed at the correct competition distance for the age group. I also place cones on the ground where the third hurdle would be. This is the “finish line”.
This activity is performed in a similar way to the first, using the same coaching cues.
I tell the athletes that it is okay for them to change lead legs over the hurdles. A three-stride rhythm leading with the same leg is ideal but at their age and stage of development they do not need to lead with the same leg over each hurdle; they just need to run fast without slowing down.
I am aware that some coaches work on the philosophy that young athletes should always be taught a three stride rhythm between the hurdles right from the start. They do this by moving the hurdles closer together and then progressively move them further apart over time as the three strides can be completed over the greater distance. I have no problem with this, apart from the fact that teaching exclusively this way doesn’t help the young athlete who in the short term has no hope of making the distance in three strides but at the same time is expected to compete at the regular competition distance.
Mini hurdling is a fun and easy introduction to hurdles for young athletes. A number of important hurdling skills can be learnt in a safe and enjoyable environment.
Let me know if these activities work for you!
I would love to hear if you have success using the above activities. Let me know by leaving a reply/comment.
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Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes, and founder of the blog coachingyoungathletes.com. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, or via email. Check out Coaching Young Athletes on YouTube, the Coaching Young Athletes podcast, and the Coaching Young Athletes E-Book Series.