BEST Practice?


As I progress as a coach, person, and athlete, I have begun to recognize how beholden I have become to one ideology. The truth is that every athlete is a case study of one, and one system isn’t going to work for every athlete. I do believe that adaptations are a response to a specific stimulus; however, I think we need to be more honest with ourselves if developmental athletes aren’t progressing. Athletes who haven’t been exposed to a lot of training should have more room to grow. They aren’t fighting against diminishing returns.

Coaching high school track and field was probably the greatest lesson in individuality. Some athletes responded to the training system very well, while others did not improve at all (or in some cases got worse). Looking back on my experience, I wish I had simplified training for kids who needed it. In other words, the kids who aren’t very fast probably don’t need a whole slew of squat variations, jump circuits, and fancy acceleration progressions. In my experience, they won’t be able to adapt well because there is too much variation.

Back to being beholden: I don’t think we should feel guilty for not doing what “that super high level coach did with his elite athletes”. Here are some ideas I wish I had reconsidered:

You can’t do event work after a session. “What if the athlete isn’t going to be overworked from that event work? What if it is at a relatively low intensity? What if it would have taken too much time earlier in the session? What if the athlete is running too slow for it to be THAT much of a stress?”

Keep all of your high intensity work on high intensity days. What about short approach work? What if it is a transitional period into more specific work? What about teaching progressions for jumpers?” A little bit of of a stimulus isn’t likely to drive an athlete into the ground.

You have to follow this super specific progression for squats, plyos, event work, and sprints. “Can you return to a training stimulus if you need to achieve a certain objective? What if an athlete isn’t REALLY going to benefit from progressing? Could that stimulus be progressed just by improving the quality at which it was previously done? Why cant that developmental athlete just try the event? Are all of those progressions going to yield THE PERFECT RESULT?” Even if you use the perfect progression, a new athlete likely won’t yield the perfect result the first time they attempt the full event.

Event work must be done after maximizing all of the necessary qualities. “How can you cue minimally if the athlete can’t perform the task you are trying to cue? If that athlete has no base in the event, will they progress just by doing the event more? Are bad habits correctable? 

In short, use tools that are appropriate for your athletes. Don’t hurt the athlete by giving them too much. Use advanced progressions with the athletes that need it. Diminishing returns are a great evaluative tool.

John Evans

John Evans

John has a BS in Exercise Science from Slippery Rock University, and is currently pursuing his MS in Sport Science from Northern Michigan University. He is an assistant combined events/jumps coach for NMU women's track and field team, and USATF/USAW level 1 certified. Previously, John interned at Athletic Lab for two summers under owner/director, Mike Young.

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