Should we coach young sprint hurdlers to lead with one side only?
I find a lot of young athletes are being told to lead with the same leg over every hurdle in a sprint hurdles race. I presume that this is what people see advanced sprint hurdlers do.
Very good sprint hurdlers will lead with the same leg over every hurdle. This is because these athletes take three strides between the hurdles.
In other words, once the athlete puts the foot of their lead leg down on the track after clearing a hurdle, they will then take three running strides before leading over the next hurdle with the same leg. This will occur over every hurdle.
People see good hurdlers doing this and assume this is what beginners should be taught. But trying to emulate elite athletes is not always suitable for beginners and may even be detrimental to them.
For example, in the 60m hurdles, the Little Athletics Australia standards see the hurdles seven metres apart. For an Under 9 athlete, the hurdles are 45cm high.
It is very rare that an Under 9 athlete can take three strides between hurdles that are seven metres apart. Most youngsters at this age are able to take five strides which will see them lead with the same leg; but some can take four strides, which means that they will have to alternate lead legs.
If an athlete who has the ability to take four strides is being told that they should lead with the same leg, they will most likely add an extra stride in between the hurdles to achieve this. i.e. Take five strides.
Adding the additional stride will probably result in the athlete slowing down, hesitating or taking stutter steps between the hurdles.
My opinion is that coaches of young athletes should not insist that young athletes lead with the same leg. Simply teach them to run without hesitating or slowing down and to lead with whichever leg happens be in the position to do so when they reach the hurdle.
Therefore, we need to teach young athletes to hurdle with both sides of the body. Not only will this teach them the very important concept of running without slowing, it will promote a balanced physical development and is vital for any circular hurdling that they may later participate in – which often requires a switching of lead legs.
I would love to hear what you think!
Do you agree? What is your experience with this issue? Do you have another viewpoint or anything to add? Let me know by leaving a reply/comment or by contacting me using the details below.
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.