How I Coach Young Athletes to Run
I am regularly asked what type of training kids should do for a particular sprint or running event.
My approach to coaching is that I like to teach the fundamentals first. Coaches often forget or “fly past” the fundamentals.
Therefore, when I’m asked about how a kid should train for a specific event like the 100m, 200m, 400m or 800m, I tell people that kids should first learn the basics of running and accelerating, and take part in broad, age-appropriate speed, power and speed endurance activities, before they practice for a specific event. With my coaching, I try to give kids the ability to run any event.
Build a broad base – a solid framework – prior to getting too specific.
My Coaching Curriculum for Running
Below I broadly outline the “curriculum” that forms the running part of my coaching program for kids.
Obviously, appropriate adjustments are made according to the age and experience of the athlete.
1. Running Technique
- Run “tall” with high hips.
- Lead the action with the “belt buckle”.
- No leaning back.
A “tall” posture allows a full range of leg movement and a lighter, faster action. It is common for kids to run in a “sitting” position with their hips back and low. “Low” hips restrict the leg action and lead to heavy, slow movements.
- Steady shoulders.
- Lightly closed hands.
- Downwards and backwards driving arms (rather than driving forwards and upwards).
- No crossing of the hands over the body’s mid-line.
- A slight opening and closing of the elbow angle on the backwards and forwards swing.
- A high knee, high stepping action.
- Feet dorsi-flexed (pulled back towards the shins).
- Feet pointing forward.
I ask the kids to imagine that they are running through shallow water. They need to step over the water rather than drag their feet through it.
A smooth, balanced, efficient technique is my first priority.
2. Acceleration and starts
- A forward lean from ankle to ears.
- Eyes down for first few steps.
- All the power coming out of the top of the head during first few steps.
- A big arm action.
- Slowly rise to a tall sprinting position.
The use of various activities that help kids become more explosive. E.g.
- Standing long jumps.
- Medicine ball throws.
- Starts from various positions.
- Fun races/running games over short distances.
As required, according to the age and developmental stage of the athlete:
- Standing starts
- Crouch starts
- Block starts
3. Maximum Speed
Opportunities to run at maximum speed over short distances with good recoveries.
I like to use flying starts with a jog or skip build up over 10-20m, then a maximum sprint over 15-30m.
4. Speed endurance (11 years of age and older)
Speed endurance is the ability to maintain speed over a distance.
To develop this capability in kids 11 years of age and older, I use repetition runs over a moderate distance with good technique, rhythm and balance. E.g. 3 x 150m with 3 minutes recovery between each.
NOTE: My approach to speed endurance may seem mild compared to what some coaches program. Firstly I don’t program any speed endurance for kids under the age of 11. When I do conduct speed endurance training, the focus is more on helping the athletes learn to maintain speed with a smooth, efficient technique rather than on “running the legs off” the kids. I don’t push the kids. Anybody can make kids tired. Distances, speeds and repetitions are very gradually increased in very small increments. This is only done once I am convinced that the kids can hold their speed and technique comfortably with the current load.
I don’t program any speed endurance activities for kids under the age of 11.
My focus with kids running coaching is to teach reliable technique, acceleration and starting skills, and develop power, maximum speed and speed endurance qualities. Technique is my first priority with speed endurance being my lowest priority. This is all underpinned by the philosophy that the fundamentals must come first.
Do you agree? Is there anything that you think should be added?
These are my ideas but I am happy to hear yours. Let me know by leaving a reply/comment or by using the below contact details.
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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.