How To Creatively Cue And Constrain When Coaching Hurdles
The hurdles trail leg is one of the more difficult skills for a young athlete to perform and for the coach to teach.
Good cueing is important, but sometimes cueing is not enough; there is the need to provide constraints to the task that will contain and restrain an athlete’s movements to within the basic required patterns.
Constraints are features of a task or the environment that can be manipulated by the coach to change the degree of movement challenge and influence an athlete’s movements. A coach can design constraints to help shape an athlete’s technique.
Hurdle Clearance Technique
The Hurdles Lead Leg
The lead leg is the leg that clears the hurdle first. It “leads” the action and is the first to touch down on the other side of a hurdle.
To effectively perform a basic lead leg action:
- The lead knee is lifted straight up towards the hurdle. The knee, shin and foot should be in vertical alignment. The toes point forward.
- The leg is extended out (but not locked) over the hurdle, with the toe of the lead foot pointed upwards.
- The foot of the lead leg lands pointing straight forward.
The Hurdles Trail Leg
The trail leg is the second leg to clear the hurdles. It initially “trails” the body over the hurdle.
To effectively perform a basic trail leg action:
- The trail leg is lifted up to the side, heel close to your buttocks, with toes
- The knee is pulled through towards the chest until it points forward.
- The foot of the trail leg lands pointing straight ahead.
Hurdle Walk Over Drill
Below you will see an image that shows how I set up one of my hurdling “drills” to constrain the movement pattern to what I am seeking from the kids.
In this particular drill, the kids simply step over the hurdles, placing their feet on the dots (left foot on yellow, right foot on red) and avoid touching the hurdles and the pool noodles, which I have pegged into the ground. In this particular instance they lead with the right leg over both hurdles.
The dots on the ground guide the athletes’ feet, working as external cues, and in doing so, also influence the path of the lead and trail legs.
The pool noodles “squeeze” the athletes’ lead and trail leg action into a narrower corridor, making it less likely either foot will divert off course. The noodles ensure that neither leg is is swung too wide.
A combination of the dots and the pool noodles combine effectively to result in a basic lead and trail leg action, often with minimal verbal technical cueing from the coach.
Hurdle Spider Drill
In the image below, the athletes begin by stepping on the red dot with their right foot, then leading over the first hurdle with their left foot. The right leg is then pulled over the hurdle as the trail leg and becomes the lead leg for the second hurdle. This activity is often called a “spider” drill.
The narrowed opening between the pool noodles and the first dot on the far side of each hurdle guides the lead leg through the desired action. (i.e. Knee forward; knee, shin foot in vertical alignment).
As the trail leg is pulled over the hurdle, it is tucked close to the body to avoid touching the noodle. To then clear the second hurdle and touch down on the third dot, the obstacles force the leg to be pulled through towards the chest until the knee points forward. This completes a good trail leg action and transforms it into an effective lead leg action to step over the second hurdle.
Rather than tell the kids that they are about to perform a “walk over” drill or a “spider” drill, I announce that they are about to take part in a “secret mission” during which they have to avoid traps, dangers and alarms. The hurdles and pool noodles are “electrified” and “alarmed” and the dots are narrow platforms high above “hot flowing lava”. In other words they have to stay on the dots and avoid the obstacles.
The skilful use of story telling to set the stage for an activity is a form of “creative cueing”. A story can become a coaching cue. Simply telling the kids they need to use the “platforms” to avoid falling into the lava and have to avoid touching the obstacles or they will “set off the alarms” can be enough to result in a reasonable lead and trail leg performance. In this instance, the story disguises the drill with drama and fun. It also ups the challenge and tightens the screws on the constraints – no one wants to fail the mission!
Follow Up Tasks
Consider how you can creatively constrain an activity that you coach in an attempt to guide an athlete towards an intended movement pattern. I would love to hear what you come up with. If you coach hurdles, try the above activity suggestions. Let me know how you go. You can do so 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.