Check Out This Fun Hurdles Challenge For Young Athletes
Challenges NOT drills for kids.
Obstacle courses are one answer.
Below is an example of a short hurdles-based obstacle course that I have used with great success. Lots of variations are possible.
Mini Hurdles & Noodles
From a start line the kids run over six mini hurdles. They then run to step quickly over the pool noodles.
Another 10 metres or so from the pool noodles, the kids hurdle two soft-top hurdles that are spaced at their regulation distance (7 metres for the age group that I was working with here). After clearing the second hurdle they run to the finish line.
The intent of this obstacle course is to allow kids to practise hurdling skills in a fun environment. You will notice that in the image above I have set up two lanes of obstacles. This was to lessen waiting time and allow the option of some fun races.
Good hurdling requires getting the lead foot quickly back onto the ground whilst ensuring the lead knee is always facing forwards. I like using mini hurdles to help develop this skill.
Good hurdling requires an athlete to run without hesitation at the hurdle. The pool noodle is a novel, safe, non-intimidating object over which the kids can rehearse this skill.
This part of the course allows the kids to rehearse the full hurdling action, as well as running between hurdles placed at the regulation distance. On its own, this activity would quickly bore the kids. As part of an obstacle course, the kids are more likely to be engaged for longer.
Introducing the Activity
As outlined in How To Make Sprint Drills Really Fun For Kids I like to build a scenario around obstacle courses. My favourite scenario is that the kids will be secret agents training for a secret mission. I encourage other coaches to come up with their own fun ideas.
For this particular course:
- The kids were training for an “escape”.
- All obstacles in the course were “booby traps”.
- The finish line was “safety”.
With the particular course outlined above, my approach was:
- Engage the kids by introducing the “secret mission” scenario.
- Let the kids run through (explore) the entire course several times.
- Observe any deficiencies in the kids’ performances over the obstacles.
- Spend time on each specific activity within the course to allow the kids to practise just that particular challenge or a skill related to that challenge.
- Return to running through the full course in a full rehearsal of the “mission”.
I often find that kids dangle their arms by their sides when running over mini hurdles. A simple reminder to the kids to use their arms can often fix this. It is also common for kids to flick their legs out to side or around a mini hurdle. Cue the kids to step “over” not “around” the hurdle. I have also experimented with constraining the movement by pegging half a pool noodle vertically into the ground on either side of the mini hurdle. This usually confines swinging legs.
Leaping too high is a common hurdling problem with beginners, regardless of the obstacle. I cue the athletes to “step” over the obstacle and quickly get back on the ground.
Most beginning hurdlers will have a poor trail leg action. Errors will range from tucking the trail leg underneath them (causing them to leap too high), to sweeping it wide, to a sideways flicking of the foot that will lead to a poorly balanced landing. You can read more about common trail leg errors HERE.
My first attempt at a remedy will often be to have them rehearse stepping over one or two hurdles. I often constrain the movement by pegging half a pool noodle vertically into the ground on either side of the hurdle and use ground dots to guide their feet.
I keep up the “secret mission” theme by telling them that the noodles are alarmed and the dots are “platforms” raised high above hot lava, or “buttons” that need to be struck to open a door blocking their progress beyond the hurdle. For more information about this activity, click HERE. I like the idea of the kids hitting the buttons with a bit of force to “unlock the door”. It leads to a quicker, crisper action and encourages the kids to avoid tip-toeing over the hurdles.
It is when they are actually running over hurdles that lead and trail leg errors are highlighted. To get the lead knee pointing forward and the trail leg knee fully brought around to the front after clearing the hurdle, I have had success relating the activity to a video game. I vertically peg a half pool noodle into the ground a safe distance beyond the finish line and tell the kids to “shoot” the noodles with their “knee lasers” as they clear a hurdle. Every time I judge that they have successfully hit the noodle with their laser, they gain a “life”.
I find it very common for kids to veer off before reaching a finish line. I often put this down to a loss of concentration. To encourage them to run through the finish line I emphasise that they have not completed the mission and reached safety until they are past the finishing markers.
Extending the Skill & Creating Connection
Have kids really learnt a skill if it disappears in a competitive situation?
If you assess that the kids are ready, the final challenge can be to race a partner or to practice the escape as if being chased by guards.
For the chase scenario, give the “secret agent” a head start from a “guard”. A partner carrying a shortened pool noodle can run behind or alongside the course. They can apply some pressure and urgency to the agent’s movements by attempting to lightly tag them with the noodle. Make sure that the “guards” are thoroughly briefed on their role and also their responsibility to act in a safe manner. Also make sure that they understand that they are there to assist rather than compete with their partner. This is a great activity that allows the kids to work together and help each other.
Ideas for Action
Get creative with your coaching and develop some challenges to replace traditional drills. I would love to hear what you come up with or of anything that you have come up with in the past. Let me know by leaving a comment/reply 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.