7 Tips to Becoming a World Class Track & Field Athlete

7 Tips to Becoming a World Class Track & Field Athlete

I attended the Annual Parisi Speed School, Speed and Strength Summit in Fair Lawn, New Jersey with my Parisi Speed School staff. This educational opportunity began with a three-hour workshop on how to motivate and inspire young athletes. We learned games, tricks and techniques to make the time we spend with a kid effective, memorable and impactful.

There is no doubt that speed is a skill. The rest of the weekend focused on actual mechanical work and programming. We talked about making kids faster and stronger and then transitioned into building high level athletes like world-class track and field competitors.

Building high-level track and field athletes is far more involved than most people think. Assume all baseline athletic aspects are created equal in a group of naturally talented track and field athletes. Also, consider that they all work hard and are viewed as highly dedicated athletes. It is true, that some kids are born with a little more talent than others; but to become “world class,” you will need to spend time focused on mechanical work and surrounded by great coaches.

Advise from Legendary Coach Dan Pfaff

dan_pfaff3-e1393104058907Dan Pfaff, was one of the presenters that spoke at the Parisi Speed School Summit. Pfaff is a renowned track and field coach who has coached national, world and Olympic athletes. His students include: Greg Rutherford, 2012 long jump gold medalist, Donovan Bailey, 100 meter record holder and 1996 gold medalist, and Glenroy Gilbert, another 1996 gold medalist.

Coach Pfaff directed his lecture to us knowing that we were all nationally certified speed and strength coaches. Although we were excited to hear about tricks for the track and field athlete, he made sure we could apply his information to younger athletes, as well as any kid looking to simply get faster. Although his examples and case studies featured an array of his track and field athlete portfolio, he understood that his lessons needed to be able to be applied to a variety of athletes.

Awaiting Coach Pfaff’s insights initially had the group hopeful that we were going to leave the summit with 5-10 secrets to building faster track and field athletes. These secrets would then be added to our coveted ‘bible of speed.’ However, the theme of his lecture was that you can not fit one training regiment or drill to all athletes, even if they come from the same event.

At first many of the attendees were not sure how to digest this mantra; after all Coach Dan Pfaff has tutored 49 Olympians including nine medalists, 51 World Championship competitors and served on five Olympic Games coaching staffs.

Brennan Cox, The Director of The Parisi Speed School Chicago and I found comfort in this message. Although Coach Pfaff did break down the biomechanical adjustments that need to be made for athletes with various mechanical flaws; he did not present one single drill (for example, just do more A skip) as the answer. Our take away was more along the lines of how to create the proper regressions and progressions for an athlete once you have revealed their mechanical needs. Essentially, it was like we were given that extra large socket set from Home Depot. The trick is figuring out which of the tools is going to work, then which size socket to use for the application.

7 Tips to Becoming a World Class Track & Field Athlete

    1. Find a coach that understands the successes of various track and field athletes. One training regiment does not fit all. The goal is that your coach is able to coach to your body’s mechanics.
    2. Find a coach that spends time listening to your health history. Coach Pfaff emphasized the importance of knowing about all injuries. For example, he had an athlete that separated their shoulder at an very young age. This injury was never properly managed and lead to mechanical flaws. Once that was addressed, chronic injuries subsided and speed increased.
    3. Make sure you are cross-training, even if you are a linear speed athlete. Both linear and lateral movements bring value to developing an athlete overall. Cross-training also includes training different energy systems in the body. Incorporate some form of strength or power training.
    4. Find a coach that understands what your key performance indicators are (KPIs) - this will help them to better understand which mechanical drills should be assigned.
    5. Avoid coaches that train you exactly the same way at every age. Training must evolve based upon your KPIs. These will also change as you get older and certainly change if you have experienced acute injuries.
    6. Find a coach that considers the strength of your mental and emotional health. These are fatigue factors. Sleep, nutrition, coping skills and competition stress management are key variables to developing a healthy athlete.
    7. Become an intelligent athlete ( or explain this to your child). Every great athlete takes responsibility for themselves. You are your own best advocate. Learn how to maturely communicate so your coach can make adjustments. Do not wait for your coach to always ask you questions, provide feedback proactively. Be honest about your amount of sleep, level of nutrition and how your body feels. Learn how to communicate what you are feeling. Learn muscle anatomy so you can be specific when expressing discomfortable, pain or soreness.

written by : Katalin Ogren and Brennan Cox

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