It’s about that time of year where you may or may not have finished up with your first and only track meet of the fall and things look promising. Your kids trained hard in the fall. Some of your kids may have even done the summer workouts you sent them! But now comes the moment of truth. The time where you have to send them packing for 3-5 weeks and pray that they do what you ask of them. In a perfect world you would just keep training them and get ready for that meet in January and have nothing to worry about. The reality of the situation though, is that you are sending them home and every one of them has a unique situation as far as what equipment and facilities they have available to them. They also may live in different parts of the country, which means different weather patterns for different kids. You also hope that they will continue to train because we all realize that some of our kids are more motivated than others and some might not do everything.
Given all of this information that has the potential to threaten the success of your year, what do you do? Unfortunately there is no simple answer, but I do have a few tips that I have learned over the years from some of the great coaches that I have gotten an opportunity to work with. Here are some things to consider.
First and foremost, you must prepare well in advanced for this. I like to have a meeting with my kids a week or two before they leave and go over the training that they will be doing. After that, I want to make sure they will have a track to train at. Keep in mind too, that this may not be available to them. I also want them to be aware that they will need to purchase a gym membership or find a way to get back in to their local high school to do weights. Another key thing to talk about at the meeting is to let them know that you will always (or almost always) be available if they need to call you and ask for a plan b option or if they have a specific question about training i.e. “The weight room doesn’t have a squat rack, should I just do leg extensions?” Answer: “hell no!”
During this meeting you also want to stress the importance of sticking with the plan. A lot of kids will go home and do a workout that their high school teammate and friend got from whatever college they are at. “I was going to do general strength but my friend was doing 15×400 and I thought I’d just do that instead.” This is a huge pet peeve of mine and a quick reminder might help. Along this same line, often times your kids will go home and workout with their high school coach. While this could potentially be a good thing, I would make sure you know who their coach is and how good of a coach he actually is. Getting an extra day or two of hurdle work could be great over the break and would certainly be better than not doing any hurdle work at all, but if Coach Bryan is trying to get Sally to reach to get to the next hurdle then you’ve got a problem on your hands!
Another thing that I like to do is hand out hard copies of all of the training that they will need to be doing. I make sure it looks nice and official and isn’t some crappy looking, thrown together document. Even if you are planning to email them workouts, I still think having a hard copy is good because they may not have internet access or their phone on them when they go to pull up the training. Plus if they go home and do the workouts with a friend or in front of their parents and the documentation looks official, then you know they are going to get some positive comments about it and will be more likely to do it. At this meeting it is key to point out how crucial this period of time is and that it can make or break their season. You don’t need to threaten them here but point out how well they have done up until this point and you don’t want them taking steps back. As a minor touch, I also like to add some inspirational quotes in there to keep them motivated.
When it comes to sitting down ahead of time and programming out what specifically your athletes will be doing, there is a lot to consider given some of the variables mentioned above. Every coach loves to have progressions, and at this point in the season, you have probably progressed through several different exercises. Keeping that in mind though, chances are you don’t want to progress things too much; especially with more technical and skill related activities. You may even want to go back to some of the basics skills you had them doing earlier on in the fall. The skills that they have mastered or can do with technical proficiency without you being there would be a good option. The last thing you want to do is prescribe something that you know they will most likely do incorrectly because over the course of that time they could ingrain some very bad habits or get them hurt. Keep it simple!
Condensing training is another good option to consider. I may only have 5 days of training and the 6th day is an optional workout but something they could get done in under an hour. Instead of having Monday: do this, Tuesday: this, I find that it helps to just put Day 1, Day 2 etc. If you have five days of training then a kid might have family stuff on Monday and they can’t get the workout in. So if they know they have some flexibility with when they can do the workouts (so long as it is still done in the same order and rest days are still in there), they will be more likely to do them. Along this same line, you may want to consider condensing weight room days depending on how many days you lift. Most of the programs that I was a part of as an athlete or coach, we lifted heavy 3 days a week then did circuit style lifts 1-2 days a week. If you consider the fact that your kid will have to drive to the track to workout, then drive somewhere else to lift, then drive home, chances are they are less likely to do this 4-5 days a week. I would recommend condensing the heavy lifting days to 2 days a week and maybe have an optional third day. Replace your circuit lifts with general strength exercises so they don’t have to do extra driving on those days.
Another thing to note with weight room work is to also keep things simple. If you know your kids still struggle with the power clean and you don’t trust them to do it safely on their own, then maybe they do jump squats or clean pulls. Consider adding a few more super sets in there so they can get in and out in under an hour. This could also be a good general recommendation on normal weight room days as well.
With regards to speed training and progressions, this can be a tough decision to make here. You have probably done some special endurance work or speed endurance work here, but do you want them doing this work on their own? Maybe, if the weather is right, the kid knows how to run with good posture and form, and the kid has the right facilities. If not though, then I personally like to do more acceleration work and split runs. This can be done in tighter spaces and it also controls the intensity a bit so your kid is less likely to blow out their hamstrings. If your kid doesn’t have access to a track but there is a nice long carpeted hallway or soccer field (with no divots or crazy long grass) nearby then they can accomplish a lot of the training. If you want to continue with your progressions then it might be a good idea to have 1-2 days(or more!) during the break, where you make yourself available to them. If the weather is right and your kids are close enough, this would be a good time to get some technical work in and some quality speed work where you can see everything. Make sure this complies with school and NCAA rules though!
As I mentioned already, performing more general strength exercises/circuits is a great option. This can be done at home and can replace some of the tempo and weight room circuit work that you may have had them do. If there is snow on the ground then doing extensive tempo outside might be tough, but knocking out 3-4 general strength circuits is a great plan a or b!
Other subtle things worth mentioning and incorporating include: Have your athletes do imaginary hurdle mobility work even if they don’t have actual hurdles to walk over. Remind them to avoid basketball and other sports that they have the potential to hurt themselves doing. Don’t make the workouts too long like this article! Consider throwing a tabata squat routine in there for your 200/400 kids so they are getting some lactate work in. Have a challenge day in there or get creative with a general strength circuit that makes it more fun. Put a hidden note in there to have them send you a text to let you know how many reps they did on a circuit. The kids who don’t get back to you, probably didn’t read the workout or do what they were told! Remind them to do tempo work on softer surfaces assuming the ground is level and safe to run on. Keep in touch with them! A quick text or phone call once a week goes a long way! Remind them of their goals or send them a motivational quote. Have a plan a and plan b setup for a lot of the workouts since you already know kids will have different facilities and weather conditions to work with. Keep the training simple and safe! If they can come back from break healthy with similar speed, strength, and conditioning levels then you are setting your program up for success.
Best of luck to you as you set up your training program for winter break. Remember, the more prepared you are for this, then the greater chance you have of success. Ultimately though, you can only do so much, and at the end of the day it comes down to your kids doing what is expected of them.