How Stories Can Disguise Your Sprint Drills
I love designing novel ways to teach kids athletics skills.
I’m no longer interested in doing dreary drills with them.
Here is one of my most recent ideas about how to teach kids to sprint – and make it fun.
Purpose of Activity
Many kids run with predominantly back-side mechanics. This means that a lot of their leg action is happening behind them. An effective running action will see the leg cycle occurring mainly in front of the body.
Mini hurdles are a wonderful item that can be used to constrain the leg cycle to encourage front-side mechanics.
Below is a sprint drill sequence, containing four consecutive activities. It can be used to emphasise and develop front-side running mechanics.
The sequence is first outlined in a more “traditional” way. I then outline the same activity in the way I might present it to kids. Which one do you think the kids would enjoy the most?
Activity as a “Drill”
The athletes are instructed to:
- Quick step over 6 mini hurdles placed about two foot-lengths apart;
Maintain this running pattern (front side mechanics) to a marker at 10 metres;
Increase speed, maintaining front side mechanics from 10 metres to 20 metres;
Increase speed again, maintaining running form from 20 metres to 30 metres.
OR . . .
Activity as a “Secret Mission”
- Run over booby traps then;
- Run over invisible laser beams then;
- Run across a shallow river then;
- Run to safety through long grass.
Same activity; same equipment; very different settings. The drills have been disguised. Again, which one do you think the kids would enjoy the most?
Setting the Scene
When I introduce this activity, my “secret agents” are told that they have been selected for a “secret mission”. The final part of the mission will involve an escape. The escape requires the agents to negotiate some challenges. In order to successfully complete the mission, they will need to practise the final escape.
My “agents” start by training for just the first of the escape (i.e. the “booby traps”). When I am satisfied that they will “survive” that part of the mission, the next section (i.e. invisible beams) is added. Further sections are added until they are rehearsing the whole “escape”.
1. Booby Traps
Running over the “booby traps” is of course an effort to add some drama to the kids simply running over mini hurdles.
2. Invisible Laser Beams
Challenging them to run over “invisible laser beams” is a cue to encourage them to continue the movement pattern established by running over the mini hurdles, but with the physical constraint (hurdles) removed. I tell the kids that I have “seen secret plans” that the beams are at the same height and distance as the booby traps.
3. Shallow Water
Have you ever run through shallow water? If you drag your feet you will slow down or even fall. Picking your feet up out over the water is the most effective way to run. The cue of “run through shallow water” is an excellent cue for encouraging front-side mechanics. This section of the escape does not limit the length of the stride as the booby traps and invisible beams do, allowing the athletes to stride out and run at a greater speed.
4. Tall Grass
The “run through tall grass”cue is very similar to the “run through shallow water” cue. Different cue, same effect. It also has the purpose of signalling a transition to a new challenge. The “run to safety” statement encourages the kids to stride out that little bit more.
As you can see, each of the activities in the sequence has a clear purpose.
Coaching & Feedback
Kids will often forget to use their arms when running over mini hurdles and concentrating on their stride. If I see this, I will prompt and cue them to get them active again.
Young athletes will often “sit back” when running over mini hurdles and trying to pick their feet up at the front. Alternatively, they will start to lean forward if back-side leg mechanics start to creep in again. To combat this, get the kids to stick a small square of coloured tape on their shirt, just below their belly button. Tell them to push the tape out towards an object in the distance, such as a fence or building. It is an amazingly effective external cue to help the kids maintain an effective running posture.
Ideas For Action
Try creating stories and scenarios to disguise your drills. I would love to here what you come up with. Let me know by leaving a reply/comment or by using the contact details below.
A Fun Sprints Lesson Plan For Kids E-Book (plus bonus cheat sheet) by Coaching Young Athletes
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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, or via email. Check out Coaching Young Athletes on YouTube, the Coaching Young Athletes podcast, and the Coaching Young Athletes E-Book Series.