How to Organize Track and Field Practice
The number one goal of practice is to improve performance. Coaches need to know how to teach and what to teach it. During practice, coaches need to communicate effectively, teach the technical aspects of the sport, offer challenging skills, and share feedback to gauge progress.
Dividing the daily session into three phases will provide a solid framework to educate the athletes and develop the skills needed in the sport. First, the coach should preview the skills and objectives of the session. After the preview, the athletes will practice specific skills as the coach provides instruction and feedback. After practice, the training session should be reviewed, including what went well, what needs improvement, and the expectations for the next session.
Coaches set the tone at the start of practice with a preview of the day. First, they explain what exercises are included in the session and the purpose of the workout. Coaches must demonstrate the skill with clear instructions that the athletes can easily understand.
Use various coaching methods and strategies to educate the athletes. Review the technical objectives and how highly skilled athletes execute the technique. Demonstrations provide an accurate visual representation of the skill. Emphasizing one or two coaching points when watching videos or viewing an experienced athlete will help athletes understand how the skills are performed.
- Discuss practice objectives before the training session
- Provide information on the skills during the session
- Preview the session with demonstrations or video
The first activity in the practice session is the warm-up. The warm-up is designed to prepare the body for the training session with a gradual increase from lower intensity to higher intensity movements starting with active flexibility exercises. As the athlete's body temperature is elevated, more dynamic movements are added to the warm-up routine. Increasing body temperature will physiologically prepare the athlete for activity (Judge, 2008).
The warm-up routine will include general and specific exercises related to the athlete's event area in track and field. In addition, the warm-up should consist of individualized activities based on the athlete's needs.
- General warm-up exercises: low intensity to high intensity
- Event warm-up exercises: simple to complex
- Individualized warm-up exercises: preventative to specific needs
The daily session is one workout based on the specific objectives of the current training cycle. The daily session program sheet will include information such as the training cycle theme, purpose, and workout intensity. The specific activities in the routine and the dosage (volume, intensity, and rest periods) are detailed for each exercise in the daily session. The components of the daily session will depend on the goals and theme of the training cycle.
During the session, coaches need to analyze and evaluate the practice environment to determine what skills are being completed accurately and what exercises need to be adjusted. Vital points are reinforced with questioning strategies and other feedback methods to help the athlete feel the movement or understand the skill better.
Teaching Methods and Strategies
- Allow time for skill development
- Look for acquirable parts of the challenge
- Provide specific feedback
- Praise positive outcomes
- Suggest strategies for change where needed
- Ask questions
- Check on understanding and knowledge
- Encourage decision-making
The session will continue in three ways: the activity keeps going, the training is adjusted, or the skill is advanced, moving on to the next phase, learning or the next segment of practice (Thompson, 2009). Coaches can continue with the current skill, change the activity with more advanced skills, add simpler skills based on progress or move on to the post-practice phase of the training session.
After the training session is complete, reviewing the positive changes made, discussing what areas still need improvement, and previewing the objectives for the next practice is beneficial.
- Evaluate the session after practice
- Preview the next training session
- Provide opportunities for additional knowledge or work
Coaches can recommend 'homework' for the athlete. For example, the coach can ask the athlete to watch a specific high-level performer or to execute a particular drill between sets of an exercise in the weight room after the session on the field is complete. Homework is an excellent way for athletes to improve their knowledge base or get extra repetitions.
Practice Design Overview
Coaches need to know how to teach the skills to improve performance. Different teaching strategies and feedback will help the athlete improve performance and gain a broader knowledge base about the sport. Detailed practice plans with challenging skills are essential to the training process. A thorough evaluation after practice will help ready the athlete for the next session.
Coaching athletes is an important role, it is not just about great drills and technique; coaches must focus on establishing good habits during track and field practice that will prepare the athlete for competition.
Coaches and athletes should work together when planning practice and when getting ready for competition. Both coaches and athletes are expected to to be prepared for practice and have strategies that are well thought out.
- Discuss practice objectives before every training session
- Encourage decision-making during practice
- Present acquirable skills during the session
- Look for do-able parts of the challenge
- Review objectives after the training session
- Preview for next training session
- Routines: Be consistent and prepare for practice and competitions
- Strategy: Plan for anything and everything
- Visualize: Feel the event and see the event (like a movie)
- Focus: One cue during an attempt
- Composure Level: Relaxation vs. anxiety-optimum performance level
- Reflect: Achievements of the day and plan for the next day