Category Archives: Hurdles

How to Teach Young Athletes to Hurdle

Coach Kids to Hurdle in 4 Simple Steps

The following sequence can be used to introduce the hurdles to beginners. I have used these teaching steps with class-sized groups of up to thirty children in a session, with smaller groups and also individuals.

Step 1:

Running over low objects at correct hurdle distance

Aim:

  • To teach a smooth, uninterrupted running action over low obstacles
  • To introduce the concept of the lead leg
  • To teach the basic stride pattern between the hurdles

Set Up:

Mark a starting line with cones and set up two flights of mini hurdles (or other low objects) placed at the correct competition distance for the age group. Place cones on the ground where the third hurdle would be. This is the “finish line”.

Activity:

From a standing start athletes are asked to run fast from the start line, over the obstacles and past the finish line.

  • Emphasize running fast with a smooth action and not ‘slowing down’ before or after the hurdles.
  • Emphasize that clearing the hurdles should not interrupt the running action. No ‘jumping’ the hurdles.
  • Tell the athletes to run fast until past the finish line.
  • Don’t worry at this stage about the correct lead and trail leg action.

Skill extension 1:

After attempting the above several times, introduce the athletes to the term ‘lead leg’. So that they begin to gain awareness of the lead leg, ask them to note whether or not they are leading with the same leg over each hurdle. Also introduce the basic ‘straight up and down’ lead leg action, which should be easy to achieve over a low obstacle. The athletes may need to practice this technique a few times on the spot. Make sure they practice both sides.

Repeat the first activity over the mini hurdles once or twice. Each time ask the athletes if they used the same lead leg or swapped.

Skill extension 2:

Introduce the concept of number of strides between the hurdles. Explain that three or five strides (an odd number) will mean that you will lead with the same leg; using four strides (an even number) will mean you will change lead legs. (This may need a walk-through demonstration from the coach!) Most young athletes who are old enough to hurdle can achieve the competition distance between hurdles with five strides at the most if they are running fast.

Tell them that it is ok for them to change lead legs. A three stride rhythm leading with the same leg is ideal but at their level they do not need to lead with the same leg over each hurdle; they just want to run fast without slowing down.

Repeat the initial drill, now with the additional information, twice more. Ask the athletes how many strides they took between the hurdles. (They may need the coach’s or a partner’s help to determine this).

NOTE:

  • The above sounds complicated, but I have found even eight year-olds can, in about ten minutes, generally grasp this concept with good instruction and feedback from the coach.
  • I am aware that some coaches work on the philosophy that young athletes should always be taught, right from the start, a three stride rhythm between the hurdles. They do this by moving the hurdles closer together and then progressively move them further apart over time when the three strides can be completed over the greater distance. I have no problem with this, apart from the fact that teaching exclusively this way doesn’t help the young athlete who in the short term has no hope of making the distance in three strides but at the same time is expected to compete at the regular competition distance.

Step 2:

Walking lead leg action over low ‘foam-top’ training hurdles

Aim:

Rehearse the lead leg action over higher hurdles.

Set Up:

Set up a ‘foam-top’ training hurdle (or similar) at a low height several walking steps away from the athletes.

Activity:

The athletes walk to the hurdle and perform a lead leg action as they step over, then walk away from the hurdle. Repeat this as much as time allows.

  • Reinforce the ‘straight ahead’ action of the lead leg.
  • Watch for, and correct, the athletes who swing their lead leg out to the side to get it over the hurdle.
  • Don’t worry too much about the trail leg action at this stage.
  • Ensure that the athletes practice both sides.

NOTE:

I am a big believer in using ‘foam-top’ plastic training hurdles during the learning stage. Learners are much more likely to attempt skills with confidence using a training hurdle rather than a regular hurdle.  The training hurdles also greatly reduce the risk of injury and distress should a collision with a hurdle occur.

Step 3:

Walking trail leg action over low ‘foam-top’ training hurdles

Aim:

Teach a basic trail leg action

Set Up:

Set up a ‘foam-top’ training hurdle (or similar) a few walking steps away from the athletes.

Activity:

Firstly, teach and demonstrate a basic trail leg action.

The athletes walk to the hurdle, perform a lead leg action over the hurdle and then slowly attempt a basic trail leg action.

  • Reinforce a correct “straight ahead” lead leg action.

For the trail leg:

  • Lift the leg up to the side, heel close to butt (Use a “dog and tree” action. I assume that this is self-explanatory. Kids won’t forget this!)
  • Keeping the heel close to the butt, bring the knee through to the front in a high action.
  • Put the foot straight down on the ground, on the other side of the hurdle, pointing straight down the track. Tell the athletes to imagine that there is a balloon on the ground just beyond the hurdle in the middle of the lane where you want their trailing foot to land. In order to pop the balloon, they need to bring their trailing foot through over the hurdle, around to the front and above the balloon, before bringing their foot down directly on top of the balloon to pop it. Tell the athletes that if the foot is brought down without bringing the knee fully around to the front (and over the top of the balloon) they risk merely kicking the balloon away or even missing it completely. You may need to curb the tendency of some of the group who inevitably want to “stamp” on the balloon and bring the trailing foot down too hard, but once learnt the simple command of “balloon”, even during a full hurdling action, can be an excellent cue.

Repeat this activity as much as time allows.

Skill extension 1:

As above but have the athletes pause momentarily once their lead leg is on the ground on the other side of the hurdle and their trail leg is in the “dog and tree” position. Once this position is achieved, the athlete brings their trail leg to the front, plants their trailing foot on the ground and jogs off the hurdle for a few metres. This helps to teach an athlete how to run off and away from the hurdle in a continuous action.

Skill extension 2:

Increase the speed of the above drill until it is done in a continuous walk. Some athletes will even be able to attempt this with a rhythmic skipping action.

Step 4:

Hurdling from the starting line over two hurdles

Aim:

To allow the athletes to practice the full hurdling action.

Set Up:

Set up two flights of ‘foam-top’ training hurdles placed at the correct competition distance for the age group, either at or below the correct height for the age group. Place cones on the ground where the third hurdle would be. This is the “finish line”.

Activity 1:

For this first activity, lie the second hurdle flat.

From a standing start athletes are asked to run fast from the start line, over the first hurdle, using a basic hurdling technique. The athletes step over the second hurdle and then run past the finish line. The height of the hurdle can be increased as the athlete/s’ confidence grows.

  • Emphasize running fast to the first hurdle with no slowing down or hesitation.
  • Reinforce the correct basic lead and trail leg action.

At this point, introduce the concept of a smooth run to the first hurdle arriving on the preferred lead leg without hesitating or slowing. Advise athletes that if they are having trouble achieving this, to try swapping legs at the start line.

Activity 2:

Both hurdles are stood up for this activity.

From a standing start athletes are asked to run fast from the start line, over both hurdles and past the finish line. The coach may want to start with the second hurdle at a lower height than the first hurdle to encourage confident running between the hurdles. The second hurdle can be raised as the athletes’ confidence grows.

  • Emphasize running fast to the first hurdle with no slowing down or hesitation.
  • Reinforce the correct basic lead and trail leg action. (Don’t expect all of the athletes to be able to perform a really good trail leg at speed).
  • Encourage a confident striding between the hurdles with no slowing down.
  • Instruct athletes to run past the finish line; don’t slow after second hurdle.

Skill Extension 1:

If the athletes are performing the skills safely, you can introduce competitive races over two hurdles to the ‘finish line’.

Skill extension 2:

If in a group situation and time allows, conduct a hurdles shuttle relay using two hurdles at correct competition spacing for the age group. A traditional shuttle relay formation is used however each team occupies two lanes; a hurdles lane and a sprinting lane. Conduct the relay in a similar way to a traditional shuttle relay, but each athlete must run once over the hurdles and once on the flat track.

The above seems like a lot to accomplish, but it can be done in a relatively short time. The aim is not to achieve technically perfect hurdlers but to get young athletes to the point where they feel that they are hurdling and can take part in the event with a basic level of competence and a reduced risk of injury.

Do you have any tips for introducing kids to the hurdles?

I would love to hear what has worked for you. Let me know if you try some of the tips that I have given above, and I am also happy to answer any questions that you have. You can leave a comment/reply or contact me via the details below.

Further reading

Hurdles: How to Get Young Athletes Started

How to Put Your Best Foot Forward in Hurdles

Cue Hurdlers to “Pop the Balloon” and See Terrific Results

Should Young Hurdlers Always Lead With the Same Leg?

10 of the Biggest Mistakes Young Athletes Make in the Hurdles

20150614_154020-1Darren 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 TwitterFacebookLinkedin , Anchor or via email.

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