How Can Mini Hurdles Be Used To Improve a Young Athlete’s Running Technique?
I believe that mini hurdles – called “wickets” in some parts of the world – can help young athletes improve their running technique and therefore their sprinting effectiveness.
It is, however, a combination of equipment and knowledgeable coaching that will get the results, rather than than use of equipment alone. A coach should never rely on the equipment to do all of the work.
Simply running over the hurdles without knocking them down is not enough. It needs to be done well, accompanied by effective coaching cues, observation and feedback.
How to Use Mini Hurdles
My favourite mini hurdle sprinting drill simply involves athletes running over a series of the mini hurdles at at a sub-maximal sprinting pace.
The athletes use a 4-8 step run-in before reaching the first hurdle.
The distance between the hurdles is a matter of trial and error for an athlete, but as an example, for a female athlete in her later teenage years, I am currently using 12 mini hurdles with the first two gaps at 1.45 metres, the next two gaps at 1.52 metres, the next three gaps at 1.59 metres and the remaining gaps at 1.66 metres.
Why Mini Hurdles
Many young athletes run with a low knee lift, and/or too high a heel recovery, with too much of the leg cycle occurring behind the hips.
Mini hurdles are a wonderful way to constrain the sprinting task and guide an athlete into a desired sprinting position with a higher knee lift and more effective, quicker heel recovery.
Mini hurdles will assist with influencing a desired leg cycle – they will certainly encourage the athletes to pick their feet up and improve an athlete’s front side mechanics – but they will not solve (and may even worsen) an athlete who “sits” with their hips low and back.
Really important in improving their posture is to to cue the athletes to lead the movement with their “belt buckle” or a piece of coloured tape placed on their shirt at belly button level. It can be effective to cue them to push the “belt buckle” or tape out towards an external landmark or target. This will help the athletes keep their hips high and assist them to avoid the dreaded (but common) “sitting” position.
Also watch for the young athletes who flick their feet around the hurdles rather than over them. This can be a sign that the mini hurdles are set too high. Try lower mini hurdles. Also, simply cueing an athlete to “step over the middle of the hurdle” and/or to point their knees and toes to the front as they step over the hurdles can solve the problem.
I am a big fan of the adjustable mini hurdles as they provide more scope for progressing and regressing the task by increasing and decreasing the hurdle height.
I will always start an athlete at the lowest height and gradually increase the complexity of the skill by adjusting the hurdle height – not during a session, but over a few weeks once an athlete has stabilised their technique.
Transfer of Skill
Of course, the next challenge is whether the skill remains once the constraint (i.e. the mini hurdles) are removed.
Try videoing the athlete running over the mini hurdles and then running without the hurdles. Use a video app such as “Coaches Eye” to compare the videos side-by-side to determine whether a skill transfer has occurred.
Now You Try It
If you are a coach, or a parent who is assisting your child in the absence of accessible coaching, I recommend borrowing or investing in some mini hurdles.
Try the activity suggested in this article, accompanied by the suggested cues. I would love to hear how it goes. Let me know by leaving a comment/reply or by using the below contact details.
The following YouTube videos don’t feature kids but they will provide you with some more valuable information about the use of mini hurdles.
“Explanation of Wicket Runs” by Altis World
“How to Run Faster With Wicket Sprints – How to Set Up Wickets” by Athlete.X
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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.