Look Out for These Common Hurdling Errors When Coaching Young Athletes
Below are 10 of the most common skill errors that I see kids make when they are hurdling. I’d love for you to continue the list in the comments section of this blog.
1. Slowing to the first hurdle
Young athletes need to be able to run fast, aggressively and unhesitatingly to and over the first hurdle in a race. However, many young athletes slow down, hesitate and stutter, trying to avoid being “wrong-footed” over the hurdle.
This problem can often be solved by asking an athlete to switch the foot that they have forward at the starting line.
2. “Jumping” hurdles
If you ask young athletes what they are supposed to do with a hurdle, most will answer “jump it” – and many do, taking a huge vertical leap over the barrier, losing forward momentum and wasting a lot of time while in the air.
Good hurdlers get back down on the ground quickly so that they can continue to sprint to the next hurdle. Rather than “jumping”, I prefer to use the words “stepping” or “running” over hurdles. 30 cm mini hurdles are great for encouraging a quick stepping action over an obstacle.
3. Only able to lead with one side
Many young athletes are very “one-sided” with their hurdling, only able to lead with either their left or right leg. This can cause terrible stuttering and hesitation between the hurdles as the athlete continuously slows down before each hurdle in order to use their preferred lead leg.
Athletes need to be taught to lead with either leg. This can be introduced right from the start over low hurdles and drilling each side of the body.
4. Lead leg not vertical
When the lead knee is lifted to begin clearance of a hurdle, the lower leg should be vertical, with toes pointing forward. It is very common for young athletes to swing their leg out to the side and away from their body. Less common, but also seen, is the athlete who turns their lower leg inwards, as if tucking it under their body.
Encourage athletes to use a straight forward lead leg action.
5. Tucking trail leg under the body
This is very much one of the main causes of athletes “jumping” hurdles, as described in Point 2. With their trail leg tucked under them, athletes need to leap higher over the hurdle to avoid hitting the barrier.
Teach young athletes to trail their leg up and around the body, rather than under it.
6. Trail leg foot higher than knee
One feature of a good trail leg action is that the knee should be brought right around to the front – with the thigh held high and parallel to the ground – before the foot is planted back onto the track. Lots of young athletes tend to use a low knee action as they tuck their leg up, sometimes even pointing their knee towards the ground.
Teach young athletes that the trailing foot should never get higher higher than the trailing knee.
7. Rushing trailing foot back to ground
Following on from Point 6, it is common for young athletes to rush their trailing foot back onto the track before their knee is pointing forward. This “chopping” or “kicking” down of the foot can lead to a loss of balance when running off and away from the hurdle.
To solve both of the problems described above, the athlete needs to learn to keep their trailing knee high, and bring it fully around to the front before before planting their foot down on the track.
8. Helicopter arms
When they are clearing a hurdle, many young athletes throw both arms out to side in what is often referred to as “helicopter arms”. This can lead to balance issues over the hurdle and also a jarring interruption to effective sprint/hurdling mechanics.
To combat this problem, I initially encourage athletes to maintain a normal sprinting arm arm over the hurdle.
9. Throwing arm over shoulder
Many youngsters exaggerate their hurdling arm action by throwing their lead arm across the mid-line of their body. This action is sometimes so pronounced that when viewed from behind you can see the the hurdler’s hand appearing over their opposite shoulder. This causes the whole body to twist, which leads to a misdirecting of forces, as well as balance issues upon landing.
Athletes should be taught that their hand does not cross the mid-line of the body. Arm action rehearsal drills can go some way to beginning to solve this problem.
10. Stuttering between hurdles
Athletes should run to, over and between hurdles in a fast, flowing, uninterrupted motion. There should be no slowing down to negotiate the hurdles. Many things can cause a young athlete to hesitate or slow including:
- Fear of the barriers
- A lack of knowledge about how to effectively clear the hurdle
- Only being capable of leading with one side of the body.
I use 30cm high mini hurdles to assist with this problem. 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.
What common technical mistakes do you see young athletes make when they are hurdling?
You can add to the above list by clicking on “Leave a Comment” located on the left sidebar or by scrolling down to the “Leave a Reply” box below. I would also love to hear if you have any solutions other than those noted to any of the common mistakes identified.
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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, Anchor or via email.