Speed Training Using Sprint Groups

Managing large groups of athletes for speed training or strength training is part of being a high school coach. Our goal is to always provide each athlete with the training program they need to be successful. Yet at times facilitating that program in larger groups proves difficult.  At Wayzata High School, we use smaller “sprint groups” as part of our agility and speed training program to help manage large numbers.  These sprint groups take what can be a daunting larger group, down to manageable smaller groups.  These groups can then be effectively monitored and coached for effort and form.  I’m going to first go over our process for how we create our sprint groups.  Then we’ll review how we use them to train for speed, agility, and basic conditioning.

Creating Your Sprint Groups for Speed Training

1) Break your large group into smaller “sprint groups”.

Training a great deal of athletes is a numbers game, and trying to break down sprint dynamics with such a large group can be intimidating. One of the keys when training sprint techniques in our Summer program is to make a large group smaller. Using smaller sprint groups is a way to see the trees in the forest, so to speak.  The size of your groups depends on your total group size, and how many coaches are available.  Obviously an ideal situation would have one coach to every 4-5 athletes.  Just do the best you can with the number of athletes you’re accommodating is all you can do.

2) Organize your sprint groups by ability.

We start the training process by aligning the kids into basic lines. The sprint groups are more than just putting the fastest kids first.  Instead they are designed to incorporate several other factors throughout the training protocol. We take into account athletes’ athletic ability, training age, biological age, and body type.  Organizing by ability ensures a high-level of competition is maintained in each group. There is nothing as simple as a race to get athletes to work hard.

3) Get outside!

When weather conditions are suitable, getting outside and focusing on speed dynamics and sprint groups is great vehicle to train athletes.  A larger, open space with clear sight lines allows coaches to get eyes on their athletes. Using sprint groups outdoors helps coaches program speed workouts based upon the facilities available.  Using a football field, a coach can establish parameters that are easily followed by other coaches and athletes alike.  The athletes know exactly where they are running and the coaches can operate accordingly.  I have athletes run from the 20 yard line to the opposite 20 yard line.  It is a 60 yard sprint and I can have coaches working the space in between the 20’s.  The open space and smaller group numbers allow us to coach athletes on both ends of the field in a very efficient manner.

3 Ways to Utilize Your Sprint Groups for Speed Training

Sprint groups can be used for general speed training, agility training, or conditioning work.  A general rule of thumb for speed training is max effort and full recovery.  Placing athletes in 5 – 6 groups allows for full recovery in between repetitions, and competing in a group provides the effort.   I like all of the groups to finish a repetition as if it is the state finals in the 100 meter dash. Sprints should be a max effort with the runners leaning at the finish to break the tape in first place.

1) Elimination Speed Training

For speed work, we move athletes up and down a group based on their results and our perception of their effort. We like to move kids that finish in the top and bottom of each group, and will do so on every rep if possible.  The top group is the top group and they are competing against the stop watch.  The bottom finishers will be moved down a group and replaced by winners of the group below. It’s jungle rules; outrun your competition or be eaten!  

This serves as great motivation for athletes in all groups to keep reaching and try to get to the next group.  We use the stop watches a lot in these groups and show kids that even though they may have finished in the bottom of the pack, they ran faster as they were in a faster group.  This gives us the ability to give them quantitative data and prove that they were working harder on that rep then the rep before.

Others may have finished first in a slower group but they didn’t work as hard. With these athletes we can use the stopwatch to give them evidence of their lack of effort.  In the weight room they are measuring themselves against each other as they are adding up the weights, but out on the field they are measuring themselves in head to head competition as well as the stopwatch.

More recently we have also begun to incorporate heart rate monitors into our speed training with sprint groups.  It is a relatively new training concept to us, but allows us to see when an athlete is in fact totally recovered and ready to begin the next repetition.

2) Jurassic Park Tag

We also use the groups to vary the runs, by adding some other elements to the training.  For example we add an element of “tag” some days by calling out an athletes’ name.  If their name is called they must tag another athlete who then must tag another athlete…so on and so forth. If they don’t tag anyone 10 push ups await them.  It adds some agility and further competition to the groups.  We call this version “Jurassic Park” as again it is a eat or be eaten environment. We established a no diving rule to this drill as we did have several athletes experience some hand injuries.  So no diving!  

3) Conditioning Training

If we wish to do a conditioning workout we simply reduce the number of lines and the emphasis now shifts from speed work to conditioning.  We maintain the groups as we want them to push each other, but recovery time is shortened in order to train heart rate recovery. 

Sprint Groups are a fantastic system to train a lot of athletes at once. Placing yourself in the middle of the run provides the space and means of maintaining effective instruction and coaching as well.  Varying the workouts will entice and engage the athletes throughout the course of a training program.  

To upgrade your speed training arsenal, check out our brand new assortment of speed products designed to have your field, court, and track athletes performing at the top of their game.

Interested in trying out some heart rate monitors in your sprint training?  Check out the Gopher Optic Heart Rate Monitoring System that accurately helps coaches keep track of up to 24 athletes in real time!

Heart Rate Monitors for Speed TrainingHeart Rate Monitoring System for Speed Training

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