Complete Track and Field

Why You Shouldn’t Coach Freshmen

The other day, while trolling the Interwebs, I saw a post about how a coach had an athlete run 4×8, 800, 1600 *and* 3200 in the same meet. I tweeted:

And he/she should.

Most coaches agreed because the types of coaches who follow me on Twitter are (generally) rational human beings who prefer not to abuse children to pad their personal coaching stats. ‘Abuse’ too strong of a word for your politically correct soul? Then I meant ‘incompetent’. That coach is incompetent.

Most states have rules limiting the number of events an athlete can do. It’s protection for the athletes because here at the high school level (and especially in a second class sport like track and field) the only coaching qualification you need is to have human DNA.

Then again, after the last school I coached at, even that is debatable.

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something.

I can write workouts that will make my athletes puke up the dog meat sandwich or whatever garbage their school served them for lunch. Doesn’t mean I should do it. (That also goes for eating school lunches.)

I can go buy crack, smoke it and roll up to practice looking like Tyrone Biggums. It doesn’t mean I should.

The whole incident reminded me of something I’ve found myself saying regularly this season:

“I don’t coach freshmen.”

I have two talented freshmen on my team. One male, one female. Two amazingly different human beings who each hold freshman school records in various events.

They don’t get much attention. Only one of them was even allowed in the weight room. And that was only in the spring. And that was only because he asked 50 times.

But, shouldn’t I be putting time and effort into molding ‘the future’ of the program?

Sure. And I am. But that doesn’t mean they should get any specific attention or coaching. Because they’re training age zero little children who don’t know what a warm up is and certainly haven’t paid their dues like the older kids.

Running a successful program depends on your ability to delay gratification and think long term. Because you can’t teach and stabilize performance in kids (who aren’t freaks) in less than 12 weeks.

In this this video from my HS 400m Development program, I explain a simple way to approach long term athletic development when dealing with short high school seasons:

To your success,

Latif Thomas

Links to places you’ll probably find interesting:

Follow me on Twitter: @latif_thomas

Links to coaching resources you should consider:

Complete Speed Training Volume 2
Complete Program Design for High School 400m Runners

And last, but not least…

The Complete Track & Field Summer Clinic


About Latif Thomas

Latif ThomasUSATF Level II and USTFCCCA Event Specialist (Sprints, Hurdles & Relays) Certified High School Track and Field coach specializing in the sprint events. But I know a thing or two about the jumps and hurdles as well.
View all posts by Latif Thomas →
  • Dan

    Wondering if you could clarify %’s for me. I have a good understanding of % effort/perceived effort, and use it all the time in acceleration work and recovery days, and it seems like my athletes understand it well. What I need to do for next season is solidify my times on intervals when it comes time for quality workouts.

    If I have an athlete running 54.00 in the open 400 in the early season, with little top end training, and want to put together intervals based on that number, how do I calculate? If I want a 400 @ 85%, is that 54.00 + 15% of 54, for a time of 62.1?

    Seems like a silly question, but I have hesitated to use specific times until now because I would rather use perceived effort and under train, than blow up a young training age 16-17 year with over zealous intervals in the middle third of the season. Also, I feel like it can be discouraging if times are set incorrectly and an athlete keeps missing them in a practice.

    Thanks, and great article. Season is over out here in Idaho, would love to see a summer time weight training article for sprinters (non-xc folks).

    • http://www.completespeedtraining2.com Latif Thomas

      @Dan:

      To figure out specific intensities, multiply the time by 100 and divide by the percentage. So, in your example, 54.0 x 100 / 85 => 5400/85 = 63.5

      I will put summer strength training content on my list.

  • Reza

    I eager to see your video. Can you send it to my email

  • Reza

    Sorry, I can not see the video

  • Coach Deke Rush

    I agree that some overzealous HS Track and X-country coaches may tend to overwork their athletes in meets regardless of their age. I disagree with your statement: ” Because they’re training age zero little children who don’t know what a warm up is and certainly haven’t paid their dues like the older kids”. My son, who will be a Freshman in high school this coming September, started running at age 5 under a Track Club, has been running track and field for 10 years and x-country for 8 years and he definately understand and knows how to do a Dynamic Warmup and has paid his so-called dues. So many feshman runners may come from track clubs. Now, I have seen many high school coaches that don’t teach their runners of any age what a proper warmup is. So it’s not just limited to Freshman. The training that I give my youth club team runners is based on Long Term. I constantly tell them that becoming successful in track and X-Country is a long journey.

  • COACH JOHNSON

    I often have my kids run that quadruple in dual meets because the dual meet takes the place of a hard training day. They run each race as they would run a repeat in a workout with a specific purpose and pace. I usually have the kids race the mile and go 90% on the 2 800s and run the 3200 @ tempo pace. We have had good results using our early season dual meets for this higher volume mixed workout. We don’t have the young kids do 4 events but will have them double the 1600/3200 early at the first 2 dual meets which are over a month away from championship season.

    • http://www.completespeedtraining2.com Latif Thomas

      @COACH JOHNSON: At least you have a thought out plan on why you’re using it (in place of workouts because of the quick start to the dual meet season) instead of just hammering kids in order to get points.

  • Ralph Kroetch

    The state C-C this year was won by a Team from Ipswitch comprised of just Junior High girls.In this state C-C we use 3 team counters in our B devision from a Team of 5.
    These girls finished 2 -3 -4 at the State meet. just edging out the # 2 Team who placed 1- 4 and ? dont recall but couldnt be verey far back, also very young ? Freshman? I believe? The boys Ipswitch Team finished 7th. We have a Combine Team Award at our State Meet they easily won this.
    The lead runner for thisIpswitrch girls C-C Team is an 8th grader followed by a 7th grader and a Freshman.
    Now in Track this lead girl, enters the State meet with a 2:16 800M—4:58 1600, very fast around here. This 7th grader enters the state Meet the top seed in the 3200 open. These girls enter the state meet 1 # in the 3200 relay 1600 medly relay.

    Is this coach doing somthing wrong while getting these results? These are premium times at any age. Please dont just say if you have to ask…

    • http://www.completespeedtraining2.com Latif Thomas

      @Ralph Kroetch: I do not believe the coach is doing something wrong because he/she is training middle school aged kids. I’m a firm believer in the idea that kids in the United States get treated like they’re fragile little things when kids the same age in the rest of the world do actual physical work every day. So is the coach doing something wrong? Based on your post, no. But if he/she had those young kids running 800, 1600, 3200 in the same meet, multiple times per year, then, in my opinion, that is a selfish act that is in the best interest of the coach and not the athlete/s. But, based on your post, that does not appear to be the case. It appears the coach is simply doing an outstanding job of developing young talent.

  • Jimi Bleicher

    Thomas,
    Good article and video. I generally agree. However, making blanket statements like “Any coach who has a HS kid run 4×8, 800, 1600, 3200 in same meet should be fired on the spot” is unfair. I did that every meet during my senior year in high school and I was not injured and was good enough to qualify for state in the 4×800, 1600, and 800. I like to think that my coach paid attention to my health and was definitely not abusing me (or my teammate that did the same thing). My teammate went on to be a MAC cross country champion in college, and I did okay. As far as I can tell, it had no long term effects on our health. So all I ask for is to avoid blanket statements. Senior of track was the best time of my life. My coach was neither abusive, nor incompetent.

    • http://www.completespeedtraining2.com Latif Thomas

      @Jimi Bleicher:

      Yes, possibly unfair to that coach and almost certainly unfair as a general statement. In my ‘regular life’ I regularly rail against ‘absolute’ or ‘blanket’ statements because I find extreme views on either end of the spectrum to be almost always inaccurate and those who possess them to be almost entirely incapable of rational discussion. But, after posting my opinions online for almost 10 years, I have learned that the best way to get my point across is to overreach a bit. I would say that you and, more specifically, your coach tend to be more exceptions than norms at the HS level. I know many people, especially distance girls, who were ground into pulp at the HS level due to running too many miles and tough races and either got hurt or failed to improve at the collegiate level. While I still believe that too many young athletes get beaten into futility by overzealous HS coaches, I do not actually believe that *any* coach who runs an athlete in more than 2 events in one meet should, without question, be fired or be considered either abusive or incompetent.

  • http://houstonsonics.com Robert M.

    LOL, classic stuff, especially the Tyrone Biggums reference!