This article is guest blogged by Lee Ness, a UKA qualified Event Group Coach for Sprints and Hurdles, the Head Coach/Sprint Coach at City of Salisbury Athletics, and Running Club and Track and Field Team Manager for Wiltshire Athletics Association.
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When It’s Competition Time
When competition time comes around, it’s time to put all your training into effect. But many people do their training but not their preparation and the two things are very different. In my book, The Sports Motivation Master Plan, I devote a whole chapter to how to prepare for competition, but this is more general in nature and not sport specific. In this post, I will build on the general preparation in the book and take you through to the starting gun.
The Warm Up
Your warm-up should be specific to what you are about to do. So, it follows that a competition warm-up should be specific to competitions. I have a competition warm-up that we use every time. Routine is important. We practice the warm-up! The pace of the warm-up is different, what the athlete thinks about, what they focus on. Also, the last training session (usually 48 hours) before an A or B category event is a competition warm-up and nothing else. The athletes know exactly how long this warm up takes. They know how to accelerate it if need be (sometimes circumstances like traffic mean you need to get it done) and also how to adapt it for different conditions – indoor/outdoor, hot/cold etc.
However, throughout the next stages, once you have warmed up, stay warm. Keep your layers on until the last possible moment.
Many events, especially area or national-level events have call ups, which have to be accounted for in your preparations. Call-ups are specific holding areas where the officials assemble the athletes so that they are in the right place at the right time so the events can run smoothly. These can be as short as 10 minutes but as long as 30 minutes. This has the obvious impact of forcing you to start your warm-up earlier, but also a 30 minute call up means staying focused and physically ready to race can be difficult. Find out what the call up is and make allowances for it. Not only how long it is, but where.
The Start Line
Your approach to the start line should always be the same. From the point, you step on the track until you are called to ‘take your marks’ your routine should be the same. Clear your thoughts of everything except the race. Focus on your breathing. If you’re using blocks, get them set up exactly as you want them. Take your time. Make sure the blocks themselves are correct and functional and are anchored to the track properly. Go into set position a few times, make sure everything feels right and comfortable.
To Practice or not to Practice the Start?
This is a personal choice, but my advice is don’t. My reasoning is twofold, but I’ll add a huge caveat at the end. First, you will have practised the start in the warm up. It should be just enough times to be ready, but not too often to be fatigued. I remember reading some research that said on average, the seventh start is the best, so I go for 6 full power starts in the warm up routine. That being the case, if it works well in the warm up, you don’t need to do it again. My second reason is the ATP-CP stores. These are burnt off quite quickly and take a while to replenish. Why waste it?
However, my caveat is this: if you get to the start line and feel the need to practise a start, then do it! There could be a few reasons for this; confidence, a long call up, block setting. It doesn’t matter. Confidence is more important than theories and opinions.
“On you marks”
From your position 1m back from the start line, the starter will call you to take your marks. Again, this should be a routine process that goes on irrespective of the people around you. Here’s how I coach it (although each athlete has their own repeatable variation).
On the starters command, you must start to move into position straight away or face a possible warning. Immediately on the command take a step forward and do a single tuck jump. This is an explosive move which primes the muscles. Go a step in front of the start line, stamping on the anchor points of the starting blocks on the way past to ensure they haven’t moved during your set up, and squat down. Load yourself backwards into the block. I tell my athletes they should picture themselves like the stuntmen being loaded backwards into a large cannon. They’re going to explode out just the same. Load in one foot at a time, usually front foot first.
Once your feet are in place, come up onto your knees and doing any final adjustments to clothing and do your final visualisation, looking at the finish line if you are doing 100m or the apex of the bend for the longer sprints.
Then deliberately place your hands in position one at a time and sway slightly from side to side until you are ready. I won’t go into all the rules around the start here, but you need to know them including how long the starter can hold you in set. One thing I will say is that if there is any problem now, like crowd noise or block issues, then raise your hand in the air, and the starter will ask everyone to stand up.
Once you’re called to set, I tell my athletes to focus on the first movement. Usually for mine it is the first arm movement. You don’t need to focus on the sound of the gun in my opinion; you will automatically react to this.
Here’s an example from one of my athletes showing some of the points above.
Video of Start Preparation (example)
About Lee Ness
Lee Ness is a UKA qualified Event Group Coach for Sprints and Hurdles, the Head Coach/Sprint Coach at City of Salisbury Athletics and Running Club and Track and Field Team Manager for Wiltshire Athletics Association.
The book,The Sports Motivation Masterplan, is a support guide for athletes and parents, helping them with the role of mentor through their journey from young aspiring athlete, to elite performer.
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