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Coaching the Sprinter

You have probably heard the saying "Sprinters are born and not made." This is true to a certain extent, but don't neglect working with your sprinters on other things besides starts and relay exchanges. Speed can be improved through an increase in stride strength and an increase in stride frequency.

You can help your sprinters improve these two variables through extensive training in flexibility, strength and running technique.

Techniques Involved In Sprinting and Starting

Foot Placement
The sprinter does not run on the toes. Ideally, the foot should make contact with the ground on the outside edge and rotate inward with and outside edge, heel toe movement. The foot makes contact with the ground slightly ahead of the center of gravity to allow the sprinter to push off into the next stride.

Knee Lift
Knee lift in sprinting is natural. It is an extension of proper foot placement and lift off of the track. The knee should be lift only high enough for maximum stride length. Be careful not to only stress knee lift as this will result in the upper body becoming upright which is highly ineffective.
Proper foot placement and drive from the ground results in proper knee lift.

Trail Leg Lift
The trail leg is also very natural in its movement. It is in reaction to the drive of the opposite leg. The harder the drive, the greater the bend will be. Strength and flexibility will also influence the fold of the leg.

The arms are used to counteract the twisting and untwisting of the trunk caused by the leg action so that the sprinter will stay properly balanced. Concentrate on the backward movement of each arm. If one arm is swung back the other will go forward naturally to conteract its movement. The hands should be about level with the shoulders when in front of the body and the upper arm almost parallel to the ground when in its backward movement.

Do not clench the fists or let the hands flop at the wrist. Have your sprinter loosely curl the fingers with the thumbs resting lightly on the index fingers. Keep the thumb and index finger contact light. So light in fact that the sprinter should be able to carry a potato chip between them and not break it.

Body Alignment
Faster speeds require a greater body lean. The lean will come automatically with acceleration. The sprinters lean will vary according to their normal posture, flexibility, speed at the time, physical condition and wind and weather conditions.

The head is held in a natural position with the eyes focused straight ahead. The head and back are in alignment with the face, jaws, and neck as relaxed as possible. Relaxation at top speed is the key to maintaining correct form. This is only accomplished through quality sprint workouts under simulated competitive conditions.

Coaching the Start

The start is relatively easy to learn and very rarely has a great deal to do with the final outcome of a race. Yet it is probably the most worked on phase of sprinting. The purpose of the start is not to be the first one out of the blocks, but to put the sprinter in the proper running position within four strides after the start.

Setting the Blocks
Set the front of the blocks one step from the starting line. Have your sprinter step several yards in front of the blocks in his lane to make sure they are in a straight line and then secure to the track. The front block is set by placing the elbow on the starting line and extending the arms and fingers back. Where the fingers come to rest is where the front block is set. The rear block is set by getting into the "on the marks" position. The knee of the free leg is placed on the track parallel to the front block placement. Where the foot of the free leg comes to rest is where the rear block is set.

On Your Mark
Just before the race is set to begin, the starter tells everyone to stand behind their blocks. On the "on your mark" command the sprinter should walk in front of their blocks and then back into them by placing the lead leg on the block first and then the rear leg.

The hands are placed behind the starting line with the index fingers and thumbs parallel to the starting line. The arms are straight with the elbows locked. The hands should be shoulder width apart.

When the sprinter assumed this position, he should lean forward and place his body weight on his hands. The sprinter does this so that on the "get set" command the sprinter only needs to raise the hips. Point the knees slightly in so that the feet will drive straight out on the track.

Get Set
On the "get set" command the hips are raised to a point slightly higher than the shoulders so that the trunk is gently sloped downward. The back is flat and the head is in natural alignment with the trunk. The back leg should have an angle of approximately 120° and the front leg less than 90°.

The sprinter should be concentrating on their actions once the gun is fired, not on the sound of the gun. Once the gun sounds there should be a strong pushing action of the front leg. The sprinter should not step out with the rear leg. The arm opposite the rear leg is driven to a point where the upper arm is parallel to the track. Do not stand up immediately, stay low and gradually become upright within 5 strides after the start.


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