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David Freeze: Gotta Run

Getting the most out of young runners

Running coaches are a rare breed. Good ones are even rarer. Lots of runners know something about running technique and many have raced often. So, why do some coaches successfully improve their young runners and other struggle?

The answer is simple. Just knowing about running is not enough. A good coach knows how to get his runners, even the young ones, excited and willing to put forth the effort to want to succeed. We all understand that when we put an effort into something, when we try hard, we get far more out of whatever we are doing than if we just go through the motions.

Often, trying hard is a learned behavior — learned through the opportunity to realize success, be part of something special and to experience the sense of belonging.

Runners, especially young ones, must decide that they will try hard for the coach. Over the years, I have had kids who just love to run and compete, others who want to win awards, or maybe just because their parents want them to run for one or more wonderful reasons.

It is not much different with adults, but older runners are better at expressing their reasons to be involved. All of these reasons are good, just different — and different coaching matters.

A good coach has to have the ability to lead. He or she shows this by demeanor, caring, communication and excitement, all easily picked up on by the young runners. Just as with other sports and many day-to-day situations, those kids are watching how the coach handles the little things. They will notice whether the coach exercises and eats right, is on time and demonstrates meeting challenges head on. And the coach needs to keep his or her personal situations and cellphone away from the time devoted to the young runner. Distraction or stress have no place.

With most kids, just like adults, the kids want to know the plan. My own procedure is to allow the kids to warm up and then present the workout that I plan to employ. Often that workout has to do with a specific goal, race or desire to improve at certain distances. Later in the workout, ask the young runner what benefits they are getting from the workout. I do sometimes change the final portion of the workout if I think it will benefit the goal, but always with an explanation of why.

As the workout develops, challenge the young runners. Get them excited about the faster times and consistency. As personal records come within in reach, pump them up with how the faster track times will translate into seconds shaved on the total race time.

Always try to have something as a positive takeaway from practices, and make sure the young runner knows how happy you are with improvements. A good coach has to be OK with talking about lackluster performance, but even better with talking about top effort.

Be approachable and fun to be around. That doesn’t mean that the coach can’t address the hard topics, but always be a professional and glad to smile. Guarantee that each practice will have some time for humor. If you do have to address an unpleasant topic, do it quickly and quietly. No runner, young or old, needs to hear a long harangue about something not done correctly. Always converse with the young runner, as near to eye level as possible, when such a situation occurs.

Last thing, and the biggest for me, make the workout fun for the young runner and yourself. Running is painful at times, especially for the top-level athlete, but that pain passes quickly. But the memory of how the overall experience of the workout will linger. Make it a good one.

Here is one memory I have from a recent young runner’s workout. While we had a very successful series of track intervals (half lap, full lap, two laps), I challenged the young runner to beat her best time at a certain distance before we quit. She didn’t do it, but just missed. To my surprise, I turned around to find that young runner lining up to try again without prompting. I couldn’t have been more pleased!

For those desiring the team concept, Kevin and Ester Marsh run a great program through the Hurley YMCA. Upcoming races in June and early July include the Shiloh Missions 5K in Faith on June 30 and the Run for the Greenway 5K on July 14. Look for these and other upcoming events at www.salisburyrowanrunners.org




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