[DJ Hicks was formerly an assistant coach at Valparaiso University and is a graduate of Houston Baptist University and the Athletic Lab Coaches Mentorship.]
Typically, in programs that are geared towards developing post-scholastic athletes, the ability to plan for the entire calendar year is present. The athletes are your athletes and all things being considered, you’re in control. With this being said, however, it’s understood from the onset that in reality these plans that you have created will probably be thrown out the window for one reason or another, but your initial aim is still the driving cause. Not all training systems have this luxury, however. When training athletes for the specific demands of track and field, it’s vital to understand and train what is essential based on the allotted amount of time.
Grade school and summer track programs are often times forced to work within an abbreviated training/competition year. Though this is not always the case, it’s not uncommon for track and field athletes to also be other sport athletes that participate on other teams during non-conflicting times of the year, and this is greatly encouraged. Once the athlete is in the hands of the track and field coach, however, depending on the particular scenario, the span of time from the first practice to the championship meet might only amount to 10 weeks or less. Whatever the case, if in a situation similar to this one, there are two important steps that should be taken in order to facilitate success. The first step that should be taken is to identify what the athletes have. If the athletes are in fact coming from another sport, then they at this point have already hopefully established a non-track specific general foundation. The athletes are athletic…hopefully. Because this training point has been covered, coaches need not be overly concerned about progressing this area because it has been well addressed. In one way or another, most of the standard general aspects of a full time track and field athletes training program are addressed in team sports indirectly. These include common action such as accelerating, throwing, jumping, lateral movements, and others that occurred daily in practice and game situations. Once the athletes “haves” have been identified, the next step is to discover what the athletes need.
In order to understand what the athletes need, some effort must be put into catering to the athletes as individuals. I’m not saying that absolutely every single piece of the training program needs to be individualized, but if every athlete is arbitrarily assigned the same workout without consideration of their needs as an individual, then their training is less than optimal and possibly at risk of causing them an injury. Being able to identify and understand athlete’s individual strengths and weakness will greatly help in this area. Of course, if it is not your first season with the athlete and you have already spent a training year with them you’re in a pretty good position to get things rolling immediately, but I believe that a year to year needs assessment would still be a wise choice.
Training what is essential is important in every training program regardless of the amount of time, but in systems that are limited by time, understanding this is greatly important. So, when selecting what is essential for your athletes, pick the things that give you the biggest bang for your buck, observe the principle of specificity, and always remember that recovery days are a nonnegotiable. If efforts are built on understanding what the athletes have and need are paired with sound training practices, success can be expected down the road.