Talented Track & Field Athlete Pathway
by Steve Bennett
Former Head Coach Western Sydney Academy of Sport
The following information
is intended as a guide for Athletes, Parents and other community members. It
involves many recommendations that are in the best interests of athletes that
are planning to make the most of their talent.
Athletics (Tots - U12)
Many athletes will
start in this sport via Little Athletics. Many having seen Senior Athletics
on TV in Olympics etc. will want to have a go at it themselves.
is mostly structured in a way that suits young kids up to the U12 age
group. Beyond this age athletes should have at least some involvement
in Senior Competition in a variety of settings.
(up to U12) should participate for fun in a variety of events and develop
their skills. This should however never be enforced by clubs or parents.
e.g. Running a 100m may not be as much fun when it is run after a 1500m,
so why not do one or the other or alternate the choice on a weekly
basis. Athletes should not be forced or given incentives to participate
in multiple events on the one day if they do not like it. Incentives like
this eg school age championships should be ingnored in favour of quality
performances in a very safe number of events. In fact parents should lobby
to replace these counter-productive incentive systems.
and State Championships are meant to be enjoyable experiences where athletes
experience the thrill of representing. Make sure the athlete is aware that
there are many other opportunities in the year to be at their best. These
events are just another meet in what hopefully will be a long participation
in the sport. Having to place in the top 3 at each level is arguably a burden
of pressure that is unnecessary at a young age. Athletes and parents should
recognize that there are many other comparable competitions and will be
many more opportunities in the years ahead.
This sport is not
just about competition it is about enjoying the participation in training
as well and in developing new skills. Most Little Athletics Coaches have
done the Orientation to Coaching Course and are
well prepared to conduct training sessions that have a large variety
of activities and not just basic level specific training for each event..
These sessions are intended to be fun experiences but they should also serve
to build a broad base of skills that are needed to help athletes reach their
potential as Seniors in many years time.
For a great crash course on the latest best methods for developing athletes
download these brilliant articles, From regular Western Sydney Academy guest
Adrian Faccioni's website.
Conditioning by Adrian Faccioni and Di Barnes
Also have a look at Adrian's F-cubed
more Training Ideas for Young Talented Athletes is at
Also look at a page titled How to develop a young
talented athlete into an adult superstar.
at this age should be very varied and this should also mean being exposed
to a variety of coaches. Improving posture and developing relaxed movement
qualities are the best starting points. Training in only a specific way
especially where athletes pick up and "train in" bad habits must be avoided.
This type of training may give rapid results and enjoyment for the athlete,
coach and parents BUT in the long run is not in the athletes best interests. E.g. Lots of long running to prepare for a better 1500m may improve
performance in the short term but may provide as a side effect over the
longer term bad movement habits (poor technical model) that are damaging
to better performances as an older athlete.
- It is appropriate from time to time that any clubs Little Athletics Coaches,
Parents and the athletes themselves are exposed to ideas from Level 3 Senior
Coaches who are usually very aware of the latest methods of training and what
they would like to see being developed in very young athletes. Many overseas
countries have done research on what is the best to do with young kids down
to age 8 that will maximize their ability as adults. The awareness of these
methods is worth knowing more about. Someone like Michael Khmel (Coach of
Matt Shirvington) or Peter Fortune (Coach of Cathy Freeman) would have a heap
of good ideas that could enhance the training of any Little Athletics Coach
and Club. There are many traditional teachings that have been recently updated
-Dynamic warm-ups need to be taught instead of overemphasizing the value of
static stretching. Some recent studies even indicate an increase in injuries
in athletes that use static stretching pre-workout or competition.
-Dorsiflexion needs to be taught and drilled instead of teaching young athletes
to run "up on their toes", this coaching tip is a disaster.
-Athletes are still being taught to run with an inappropriate intentional
forward lean. Where it is best to hold good posture and run tall.
-Recent research indicates that some use of free weights is safe and very
good for injury prevention for any athlete and can play a part in adding to
the variety of training experiences.
The first steps in the Australian
Mens 100m Championship in 2000
School Age Athletes
High School age
athletes should be encouraged to participate in a variety of athletics
settings. This may mean a mix of Little Athletics, Seniors regionally,
major Interclub and in State Youth Championships.
There are also
the NSW Schools Championships and Australian Schools Championships which follow a similar format to the Youth Championships. The National Schools
Championships held in December is a very important meet.
High School Athletes
should find a Coach that is at least level 1 in their event group
(for explanation see coaching levels below). This is a very important decision
to make to ensure that the athlete is trained in a way that develops good
habits and is prepared properly for competition both in the short term and
in the long term. A coach needs to be chosen that demonstrates an interest
in coach education, so that as the athlete makes progress they have the
proven expertise to suit the athletes ability or they will be able to mature
in experience with the athlete and become equipped to give them the best
possible guidance. Very good coaches are humble enough to know when to pass
on talented athletes to a more experienced coach if & when they grow
beyond their expertise or are better suited elsewhere. It is sad to
see the number of athletes that leave this sport because they
do not want to leave and disappoint their Little Athletics coach even
though they have clearly outgrown the situation and just need a fresh new
start and some goals. Coaches also need to decide themselves what they are
trying to achieve, the time requirements are too much for any coach to be
able to do a really good job of coaching both talented high school athletes and a little athletics squad.
It is recommended
that athletes in this age group focus on improving posture and postural
strength by doing a variety of training activities for the trunk and general
strength. e.g. Swiss Ball, Pilates, free weights The ability to maintain
good running posture is critical in improving an athletes resilience to
training so they can be less easily injured when they are older. Many athletes
gradually develop worst running postures from lack of this focus in their
training and will eventually develop injuries to related to it.
eg. hamstrings and backs.
Recommended links are:
Conditioning by Adrian Faccioni and Di Barnes
practice perfect and be in a training environment where quality training
is valued. This is an important age in terms of establishing athlete personal
accountability and a smart work ethic. A value that often transfers into
the athletes school work.
800m at Brisbane GP in 1999 - Juniors Alice Goodberg then
17 and Georgie Clarke 15 are the athletes on the left.
High School Athletes
For this article
a Talented High School Athlete is one who has qualified or is likely to qualify
for the Australian Youth Championships. These are athletes that could even mature
into Senior International Athletes or represent Australia as Juniors (U20).
Talented High School
Athletes should either find themselves a Level 2 or 3 Coach in their
Event Group or be certain that their coach is personally committed to
maturing to match their development over the long term with a
focus on their event. Coaches who are committed are usually networking with
other coaches and studying for more advanced accreditation.
At this level it is now easy for an athlete to outgrow a coach especially
if the chosen coach is one who isolates themselves from other coaches. The
sport at the top level has a technical demand that is much higher than what
most people are aware. Training for elite athletics is a precise
art and is very time consuming for the coach. The best coaches have networks
of coaches to be involved with , some are setup by their states sports institutes
and many also even have the athletes from various coaches train together
for their common benefit under the guidance of all the coaches. It is in
these situations where coaches can develop the skills to one day be able
to coach international athletes to success like Cathy Freeman. No coach
can ever help an athlete reach that level of success in isolation.
participate in any development programs that are offered e.g. Regional Academies,
Institutes, State based Squads, OzSquad , Institutes etc. These are a great
opportunity for the athlete to enter a larger supportive community where
they can grow in this sport and enjoy their involvement in a mature way.
This is also an opportunity for the coach to meet and learn from other coaches.
- It is strategically important
in Australia that athletes are tasting success as they enter their HSC years
as there is a very high drop out rate from athletes that attempt to give athletics
a break for the HSC. Most that have a rest from athletics never come back
and reach the success of their peers that stick with it and balance their
training/studying life. Often University years are the best chance athletes
get to really make the most of their potential. But this only happens when
they have tasted success enough to have excited belief ("the Dream")
that being committed and making the effort is worthwhile. It is in year
10 at school where the opportunity is best seized this is age 15-16 and
is usually immediately after Little Athletics finishes. Waiting a year for
an athlete to start Senior Athletics clashes terribly with the increasing
Darren Clark Olympic finalist in the 400m at age 18 in 1984
seen here winning the Auckland Commonwealth Games Gold Medal
Levels within the ATFCA
The Scheme is made
up of a very basic Introductory Course, the
to Coaching Award - intended for Little Athletics Coaches & Schools
and three Levels of
1 Basic Coach- Directed toward the coaching of athletes
up to 15 years of age. Comprises 23 hrs of study covering all events over
2 weekends. Exams are open book, plus a prac assessment in one throwing event,
one jumping event and one track event.
1 Event Specific Coach- Need to have done the basic course.
Emphasizes the coaching of late adolescents and older athletes in a choice of
1 event group.
- Sprints, Hurdles and Relays
- Endurance Running
Each option is one
weekend. 12hrs of study. Assessment is a 1hr Multiple choice Exam and practical
assessment in two events.
Young Athlete Coach
(aged 10 - 15) or Coaching Athletes with a Disability groups , must
have extensive coaching experience across a broad range of events with children
in this age group.
This course usually
involves a 1 week residential school and a 3hr exam plus a practical exam
involving the actual coaching of athletes.
Event Specific Coach
This course usually
involves a 1 week residential school and a 3hr Exam plus practical exam involving
the actual coaching of athletes. The course is designed to give the committed
coach a broad background in the Sports Sciences, and a higher level
of knowledge in one area of Track & Field Coaching.
Before doing the course the Coaches must have an extensive experience
of coaching late adolescent or Senior athletes at a State Level in that group.
in an event group from:
-Middle & Long Distance Running
This course usually
involves a 1 week residential school and a 3hr exam plus a practical exam involving
the actual coaching of athletes.
3 - Senior Coach is the highest qualification currently available
to Australian coaches. Candidates to become Senior coaches must have had extensive
coaching experience, especially at Senior level, and preferably with Athletes
in State or National Squads. They are expected to have a high standard
of knowledge of Sports Science Theory and Training Theory related to their chosen
event(s). They must have held Level II accreditation for at
least 3 years.
must be considered, at the completion of assessment procedures, to be capable
of coaching senior athletes up to Australian representative (i.e.. International
The choice of specialist
-Middle Distance (800/1500)
-Long Distance (3km,5km,10km,Cross Country)
-Athletes with a Disability
A Supervising Level
3 -Senior Coach is allocated to mentor the candidate.
The Development &
Assessment Procedures involve:
1. The submission of a high level athletes
training diary over a whole year.
2. Practical Coaching:
- assessment of the coaching of your own top level athletes by a
supervising Senior Coach.
- assessment of supervision of a training session with National Senior
Athletes from outside the coaches own squad.
- analysis of techniques from video tapes of top level athletes.
30hrs of study of General Sports Science in theory related to the chosen event
4. A choice of either of
a/ 5000 word dissertation
on one or more aspects related to the chosen event group.
b/ 3hr written Exam which tests for a depth of knowledge and understanding of
the event group.
5. Final Assessment - Practical Activities
and an Interview Examination by a panel of Senior Coaches in the event
(at left) the World Record Holder at 800m is one of the nicest "movers"
that you will ever see.
Tracks are bad for Training"- Synthetic Tracks are used for
the overwhelming majority of Elite Athletes. The new Technology Surfaces
are much softer and therefore gentler than many years ago. By IAAF Rules
they are supposed to have at least a 35% reduction in shock when compared
with a standard surface (Mondo Tracks are guaranteed to be over 35 and are
usually around 39%). The benefit with synthetic tracks is that they are regular
surfaces unlike grass and the athlete has a much easier time running relaxed
and smooth. Training on synthetic generally enhances an athletes smoothness
of running and make it easier to stay balanced posturally when athletes
are running very fast. Athletes that do not train on synthetic often
run into trouble when they race on it as because their bodies are not used
to it and they can get sore easily. Any athlete that plans to race on synthetic
(all talented ones) should be training regularly on synthetic surfaces throughout
the year. The only precaution is that for large volume sessions the use
of light fast training shoes (called racing flats) is recommended.
week after week for a large percentage of the year is
not in the athletes best interests. It is very important to be prepared
through training physically and emotionally to be able to get the most out
of themselves when it counts in important competitions. Athletes that compete
almost all year e.g. Track and then XC every week often struggle to get
the most out of themselves when they need to. Races are usually the most
likely opportunity for athletes to demonstrate a bad technical model. Bad
technical habits cannot be fixed unless the athletes stay away from competition
for a while and "train in new good habits to replace the old".
It is also sadly very commonplace for young athletes to be doing almost
no preparation yet competing in stressful events like the 400m or 800m.
Count how many races Cathy Freeman does in a year over 400m and then answer
the question of why it is OK for a younger athlete to do 4 times as many
with minimal preparation. Preparation is a must for some events and the
bad effects of racing too much cannot be overstated. I believe the number
one cause of young athlete burnout is the "underprepared over-racing
Be wary of overcompeting in school competitions. In Australia these
sadly still occur in what is the preparation season. The temptation and
the incentive often exists for the athlete to overcompete and be underprepared.
This is often where injuries occur ie. on days when athletes warm-up is
cut short and the athlete is expected to overcompete. Take great care in
competitions of this kind, prepare carefully on the day and choose events
carefully within the safe absorbable limitations.
Clubs - Talented athletes should find a club that is committed
to the needs of athletes both competitively and socially. Athletes need
to have a support network that acts in their best interests rather than
being in a situation where they are encouraged to act only in
the clubs best interests. Some clubs are very good at creating situations
where they can support the athlete while the athlete is able to support
their club in a way that does not compromise their development.
athletes for their late teenager years" - This is often
a phrase used by coaches who plan to keep their athletes involvement low
key ideally until they are older. The problem is that most of these
athletes do not stay in the sport that long or the ones that stay often
develop injuries that with more thorough preparation would have
been prevented. Athletes need to gradually learn the discipline of following
a program that is designed specifically for them and have a plan designed
that will develop everything that is needed over a long period of time.
This does not mean allowing them to develop a slack work ethic
and waiting until they grow up.
Many other sports have athletes training hard at age 10 and
up. What needs to be recognized in athletics is that until good levels of
postural strength are evident is that injuries will occur as a natural result
of doing a certain amount of training. However there are many things that need to be done early to help athletes have good movement habits
later. A better philosophy to approach the training of young athletes
should be the really hard stuff will come later but there are plenty
of things we need to do first to prepare for later.....variety of
quality is the key phrase. Training is not always
hard work some of it is very precise.
More information about
Training Ideas for Young Talented Athletes go to
Also have a look at
How to develop a young star athlete into an Adult superstar.
Training Kids for Speed
Contains the very latest Sprint Training Ideas
Modern methods have been adapted into a comprehensive program that is suitable for use with developing athletes of any age.
Learn to run the modern way displayed by Marion Jones , Maurice Greene and other star sprinters.
More information is HERE
Modern Speed Training.
A comprehensive guide to Advanced Speed Training using the latest methods.
This book is by Adrian Faccioni , a highly regarded speed coach and consultant in Australia.
It contains over 135 A4 pages of text plus images. Available only in E-book format.
I believe this is the best book on Speed Training that is currently available. Steve Bennett
More information is HERE
Maintaining Running Form During Middle Distance Racing
Presents a large range of Modern Training techniques that will improve athletes Running Form and help any athlete maintain more speed in the closing stages of races.
Training to improve "ease of speed" is the missing factor in many training programs.
This e-book will help develop the ability to finish races in the way displayed by the likes of Haile Gebreselassie , Wilson Kipketer,Hicham El Guerrouge and Michael Johnson.
The information applies to all athletes that have to run fast while fatigued ie. 200m to Marathon.
More information is HERE
See more E-books by Oztrack at www.oztrack.com