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Sprinting Coaching

Olympic sprinting coaching and starting technique correction

Technique correction for a female sprinter (J).

Previous case studies strongly suggest that Old Way/New Way® is an effective intervention strategy for rapid correction of technical errors with national and international level athletes.

However, one limitation of these case studies was that the interventions were all conducted by the end of the season and it was not possible to measure baseline performance and other outcomes of the learning trial.

Therefore, a more controlled study, involving a young national level female sprinter (J), was employed.

Athlete's profile

J was a 19 year old female sprinter with personal bests of 7.25 (60m), 11.51 (100m) and 23.62 (200m).

Background to the technique difficulty

There were two main errors in J's starting technique, namely:

  • J's back converged at the same time as the push off from the blocks, making the push off powerless and direction of the push too upright.
  • J's rear leg's movement pattern for the first step was incorrect because she raised her heel too high while bringing the real leg forward, resulting in a braking effect on first contact

The reasons for these errors were speculative but some possibilities emerged, as follows:

  • Strength development of lower body and middle/upper body, especially the middle, had not been in balance. Legs had become too powerful in respect to the middle body.
  • During the 1998 training season, a heavy harness (up to 20kg) was used to develop acceleration. Such a heavy load pulling from the shoulders may have caused her back to converge and changed the movement pattern at the start of the push off.
  • Because of the convex shape in the middle of the body, body alignment during the push off from the blocks was not straight. Moving the rear leg forward with a correct pattern requires support from the body, so J was not able to perform the movement correctly because her back bent during the push off.

After careful consideration, it was concluded that, in order to correct the second error, the first error should be corrected first, so this became the goal of the correction session.

During training in 1999 coach and athlete tried to correct J's start technique using the traditional method, i.e., the athlete performed starts repeatedly (drill fashion), supported by continuous feedback from the coach after each start, with the conscious aim of changing the movement pattern.

Start technique improved slowly during drill sessions, but the athlete repeatedly fell back to old, incorrect, ways during competition.

(29.10.1999) J's coach, PJ, heard about Old Way/New Way® from the sport psychologist (YH) and discussed the possibility of using Old Way/New Way® with J.

(1.11.99) PJ attempted to conduct the Old Way/New Way® session on his own based on general ideas about the method. Being untrained in the methodology, his attempt was unsuccessful.

(3.11.99) PJ and J approached YH to learn why the method did not work for them. It was decided to conduct the session together as a team, including athlete, coach and sport psychologist, so that the necessary expertise could be focused on the problem.

Stage 1. Error analysis

(4.11.99 and 5.11.99) A thorough error analysis was done. PJ wanted his athlete's push off from the blocks to be more efficient.

Summary of error analysis by the coach

What is she doing wrong?

She loses power because:

  1. Right leg (rear) movement is too high in way forward (movement).
  2. Her upper back rounds and her chin presses down toward her chest.
  3. Left leg's push off from the front block is partial and its direction is too much upwards.

How should it be?

  1. Her right leg movement forward should follow a lower path.
  2. Her upper back should stay flat and her head should be in line with the rest of her upper body.
  3. Push off from the front block should be done to the end meaning that her head-shoulders-hip-knee and ankle should form a line at the end of the push off. In that way the push off would be more efficient.

What is the difference "new" vs. "old"?

  1. Right leg's (rear) movement forward is faster.
  2. Upper body stays solid and her head is in line and directs push off into the right direction.
  3. Whole body shoots forward as a result of push off.

In an attempt to simplify this list and reduce the amount of detail the athlete had to concentrate on, this error analysis was re-examined and refined.

Summary of refined error analysis of a sprinter's technique.

What is she doing wrong?

  • her upper back rounds and her chin presses down toward her chest.

How should it be?

  • her upper back should stay flat and her head should be in line with the rest of her upper body.

What is the difference?

  • upper body stays solid and her head is in line and directs push off into the right direction.

Stage 2. Correction session (1.5 hours including warm up)

An individualized Old Way/New Way® protocol for correcting J's technique problem was devised by PB, the Old Way/New Way® Learning consultant. The protocol was implemented in one session with J and her coach, PJ.

The session was conducted by YH who was trained in Old Way/New Way®, with the assistance of PJ.

Similar to our previous learning trials, the session began with YH briefly describing the four-step protocol, after which J did a regular warm up lasting 30 minutes. Then all four steps of the intervention were conducted.

During the session starts were video taped and immediate replay was used to emphasise erroneous and correct starting technique. At the same time after each trial J reported the feelings and kinaesthetic sensations that accompanied erroneous and correct execution of starts. These open ended self-reports were taped and later transcribed.

J's coach made the following observations of the learning trial, in a message to YH.

(12.11.99) "Thank you for your great help and interesting ideas on JO's start training. Here is my report of what happened."

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Case summary and discussion

This case again illustrates many of the important outcomes of Old Way/New Way that have been demonstrated experimentally and in field trials in non-sport learning settings.

These outcomes concern skill development, performance improvement, cognitive and affective change and the desire to continue using Old Way/New Way® for technique development.

1. Skill correction

Predicted efficacy of performance following the successful correction session is usually around 80% or better.

Three separate training sessions (18.11.99, 22.11.99, 26.11.99) were observed in order to evaluate the impact of Old Way/New Way® on subsequent performance of starts.

The results were as follows:

  • 9 technically correct starts from 11 starts (82%) were good in the next training session
  • 9 technically correct starts from 10 starts (90%) were observed in the two subsequent sessions
  • What is more, spontaneous recovery of erroneous starts was handled effectively
  • Learning gains also transferred successfully to competitive performance.

A series of video stills of J's starts clearly indicated the differences between the old and new way of starting. Technique faults are now corrected and her back stays flat and her head is in a straight line with the upper body. In addition, her left arm is driving her body more actively forward.

2. Performance enhancement

Now that J's technique was corrected and it was clear that the learning gains had successfully transferred to competition, J's performance was followed up further in competitions to test whether the "new way" of starting would produce faster times, i.e., that it was actually a "better" way.

Table 1 reports the dynamics of our sprinter's timed performance in pre- and post-correction situations. Immediately post-intervention, both results in tests (60m) and results in the competitions (national and international) improved significantly (p< 0.05). The magnitude of change was also of practical significance.

Table 1. Percentage correct actions after intervention
  Before After
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