10 of the Biggest Mistakes Young Athletes Make When Using a Sprint Standing Start

Look Out for These Common Standing Start Errors When Coaching Young Athletes

A standing start for sprints is used by many young athletes who are too young to attempt, or have not yet been taught, a crouch or block start.

Below are 10 of the most common skill errors that I see kids make when they are performing a standing start. I’d love for you to continue the list in the comments section of this blog:

1. Same Arm and Leg Forward

Youngsters will often stand with the same arm and leg forward in the “On Your Marks” and “Set” positions, when in fact it is better to stand with opposite arm and leg forward. Running involves an opposite arm to leg action, therefore starting with opposite arm and leg forward allows an athlete to quickly run away from the line without wasting valuable time by having to first “swap” arms.

Picture of individual standing in a standing set position with their same arm and leg forward

Mistake: Same Arm & Leg Forward

2. One or Both Feet Pointed to the Side

It is very common for a youngster to stand with one or both feet pointed off to the side (“like a speed-skater”), where in fact they should be both pointed down the track in order to propel the body forward off the starting line.

Individual standing in set position with both feet pointed to the side.

Mistake: Both Feet Pointed to the Side

Individual in an "Set" standing position with their back foot pointed to the side

Mistake: Back Foot Pointed Out to the Side

3. One Foot Directly Behind the Other

When asked to stand with both feet pointing to the front, it is not uncommon for young athletes to stand with their back foot directly behind, and in line, with their front foot, like they are “balancing on a tightrope”. This is a very unstable position. Tell the athletes to stand with the feet shoulder-width apart.

4. Feet Too Wide Apart

When taking up a standing start position, it is extremely common for young athletes to take up something that resembles a “lunge” position, with the feet way too far apart. I am yet to really understand where this tendency comes from, but always instruct the youngsters that their feet should be about one foot-length apart.

5. “On Your Marks” & “Set” Positions Are The Same

Many youngsters will move straight into the “set” position when called into “On Your Marks” and hold this position until the start of the race. Teach athletes that the positions are different.  I tell them that “On your marks” means to get a “little bit ready”; set means to get “very ready”. I have also had success in relating the starting positions a car race.

6. Looking Forward During the “Set” Position

Many young athletes believe that it is correct to “look towards the finish line” when in the set position. Whilst this is good advice during the race, when in the set position this can cause tension in the back of the neck and compromise a good acceleration posture. The athletes should look at the ground about a metre ahead of them so that when they accelerate, all of their power is directed through the top of their head.

Picture of an individual with their head up and looking forward when in a standing start "set" position

Mistake: Looking Forward When in “Set”

7. Looking at the Starter

Lots of kids cannot resist the temptation to look at the starter, rather than down at the track. I tell the athletes that even though it is usually polite to look at someone when they are speaking with you, the starter won’t be offended if you look away in this instance!

Picture on an individual Turing their head to look off to the side whilst in a standing start "set" position

Mistake: Looking Off to the Side

8. A Straight Back Leg

It is common to see young athletes standing ready to race with their back leg straight. If their back leg is already straight, how will they push with it? Both legs need to be somewhat flexed at the knees so that when the starting gun sounds, the athlete can propel themselves forward by powerfully extending both legs.

Picture of an individual standing in the "set" position with a straight back leg

Mistake: A Straight Back Leg

9. Stepping Back on “Go”

Even the most inexperienced athlete knows that they must move forward when the race starts; but many take a step back first. This wastes precious time and places the athlete into a poor acceleration position. This movement may be caused by the athlete standing with too much weight on the front foot, leading them to search for some propulsion from the back foot by re-positioning when the race starts. Teach the athlete to distribute their weight a bit more evenly over both feet when in the set position.

Picture showing an individual stepping back with their rear foot as they begin to runr

Mistake: Stepping Back on “Go”

10. Lifting Front Foot on “Go”

Another common fault is for a young athlete’s first movement to be a lifting of the front foot. This can often be caused by the athlete standing with too much weight on the back foot. Again, make sure that the athlete distributes their weight evenly over both feet when in the “set” position and pushes off with both feet on “go”.

Picture showing an individual lifting heir front foot as they try to run forwad

Mistake: Lifting the Front Foot on “Go”

What mistakes do you see young athletes making?

You can add to this list by clicking on “Leave a Comment” located on the left sidebar or by scrolling down to the “Leave a Reply” box below.

20150614_154020-1Darren 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 TwitterFacebookLinkedin , Anchor or via email.

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