When it comes to high school sprinting, few can match the credentials of Brian FitzGerald. The 2016 USA Today national track coach of the year has led athletes to California state titles in each of the past four decades, including athletes named Athlete of the Year by Track and Field News. When coaching beginners it is important to know the basics. It is also important to know the myths that people wrongly pass off as the basics. On this episode FitzGerald dispels some of those myths and explains his five-step approach to teaching sprint mechanics.
Notes and quotes
FitzGerald recently retired after 37 years teach and coaching at Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard, California. During that time his teams he led the boys’ and girls’ teams to 55 league titles, 5 Southern Section Championships, and the girls’ State Championship in 1988. His sprinters achieved the most accolades, including multiple state relay titles and some of the following highlights:
- Angela Burnham ran 11.28 in the 1980s, winning 5 state titles and was twice Track and Field News Athlete of the Year;
- Marion Jones began her high school career at Rio Mesa, where she ran 11.17 and 22.76 as a 15 year old, and was named the 1991 Track and Field News Athlete of the Year;
- Zaria Francis clocked 11.26 and 23.09 in 2015 and is currently running at USC.
On the episode he shared some of his thoughts on sprinting technique and coaching technique.
Myths in sprinting
- 1:30 – Myths about arm action in sprinting. “The arms play a bigger role in sprinting than we originally thought. The legs are about the front side, but the arms are all about the backside. “
- 5:45 – Coaching cues for arm action.
- 7:30 – Myths about leg action in sprinting. “The truly elite sprinters differ because they are on the ground a shorter amount of time. “
- 9:15 – Pawing the ground. “Sprinters don’t pull their legs under themselves. That’s not how we run. We want to teach young athletes to put downward force vertically into the track. “
- 14:00 – Foot contact, dorsiflexion, and stiffness.
- 19:30 – Making things simple.
- 21:00 – Coaching point 1: run tall.
- 22:45 – Coaching points 2 and 3: dands down/back and heel under.
- 24:00 – Coaching points 4 and 5: toe up and active contact. “Don’t just let gravity take the foot to the ground, actively take it to the ground. “
- 26:15 – Getting feedback to the athletes: peer coaching, video review and finding the best angle for video.
- 30:00 – The role of lower intensity and higher intensity work in motor learning. “To run fast, you have to run fast in practice. You can’t work on top end mechanics at slow speeds because the dynamic isn’t the same. “
- 35:00 – Balancing training intensities with two competitions a week and minimal training time.
- 38:30 – The LA84 Foundation and some final thoughts.
To hear more on these topics, listen to the full episode above. Also be sure to subscribe to our podcast and review it on iTunes.
The following links were referenced in the podcast or provide some additional reading material on the topic:
- Throws coaches: learn more and sign up for our upcoming Houston Throws Training Seminar on June 16.
- The site theme in May is training speed. We started covering the topic on last week’s GAINcast with Vern’s experiences on training speed. We’ll have several new podcasts, articles and videos on the topic. Join HMMR Plus so you don’t miss all the content on this topic.
- Vern Gambetta’s PAL system for sprint mechanics, which we discussed on this episode, was outlined in a three-part series from him: part one, part two, and part three.
- Another top high school coach Joe McNabb joined us on Episode 77 and shared the basic speed drills he uses in HMMR Classroom Video Lesson 6.
- The biomechanics of speed has also been discussed in more detail on a few episodes of the GAINcast: GAINcast 21 with Ken Clark and GAINcast 89 with Peter Weyand.
- For more resources on speed and sprinting, see our topic overview, including interviews with other top sprint coaches like Jonas Dodoo, Pat Connolly, Gary Winckler, John Pryor and more.