With just one day to go until the action starts at the British Senior Championships this weekend - for an unprecedented seven WLTF sprinters and hurdlers - we sat down with Head Sprints and Hurdles coach, Laura Turner-Alleyne, to explore her coaching philosophy.
Laura, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. What does an outline of the season long programme for the West London Sprints and Hurdles groups look like?
When I started coaching, one of the first coaches I researched was Charlie Francis. I could relate to his short to long principle and decided I wanted to base the programme around this approach. This allowed me to work on the technical elements as I had hoped and also try and break out of the “tough training makes you tough” mentality (which I hate, by the way). So with our programme you are either running fast, or you’re running easy. There was no in between. I want the athletes to appreciate “tough training’ comes in many forms. You do not need to be throwing up after every session to be working hard. Tough training should be mentally challenging, breaking habits, challenging thought processes, prolonged periods of concentration. Finding and maintaining correct sprint mechanics is “tough”.
Our structure does not change very much through the year. We work with a specific theme for each of our 4 days of training. Monday, speed. Tuesday, tempo and conditioning. Thursday, acceleration. Saturday, speed/technical endurance. Each high intensity track session (Monday, Thursday, Saturday) is followed by a plyometric activity and a short gym session which follows the same theme as the track session. For example a speed day will have a fast, single leg/split stance lift as the primary movement.
How much of your programme do you change from one season to another and do you find that you change less as you gain more coaching experience?
In our third season, our programme has maintained its structure. The content has changed slightly, as you would expect, as the team learn from our experiences with the group and from our continued reading and conversations around many aspects of coaching. I would say the main change year to year so far has been the volume of training. I am constantly trying to strike a balance between too much and too little volume and the form that volume takes. I am learning that there is not one answer to the volume debate. It depends on the athlete. So I tend to programme different options for athletes depending on what they need and what their body can handle. Some can handle volume in the form of tempo/easy runs, others need the hard speed endurance, some can handle neither.
Our programme has an increasing influence from our lead Therapist, Gareth Degg. The more I work with our therapy team the more I appreciate how important it is for the athletes to be moving well. Everything we do from the warm up to the conditioning session has been influenced by Gareth and his movement strategies.
How much does your training programme for the athletes you coach change during different times of the season?
During competition season I will plan the athlete’s week depending on their race schedule. Other factors to be considered when planning training around races are:
- How much gym work is needed? Minimal effective dose, males versus females, strength versus elastic athlete
- Increase plyometric activity if gym work reduces
- How many times a week running fast? Some athletes can only run fast 1/week which may mean only on race day and not at all in training during the week
- Maintaining volume versus reduced volume; some respond better to maintaining a level of volume in the programme, some need to reduce volume
- Competitive training sessions; some respond well to these, others don’t
All in all, this leads to many hours spent carefully planning each athletes race preparation and myself and the other coaches having to be masters in multi-tasking at training sessions.
How important do you think it is for athletes to be aware of what stage of the season it is and how this should effect their perspective & how do you communicate this to them?
As a coaching team, we work really hard on making sure mechanics on the track and movements in the gym are optimal. This requires attention to detail, video review, clear communication and accountability from both athlete and coach. The longer we work with an athlete the clearer we can see what type of feedback they respond better too. Some athletes are thinkers and like internal cues, others respond better to external cues. This is not to say we use either one or the other, both are required at certain times and for certain aspects of training.
When we get to competition season I try to keep the majority of cues external and limit the amount of video footage I let the athlete look at during training. Small tweaks and reminders may require a small degree of internal cueing, but generally we use external cues. I tend to use warm weather training in April as my last chance to make any big technical changes we need to address before competition starts. After that, I am just trying to maximise the model they have been working on for the past 6 months.
During race season, athletes will always want to watch video footage or talk about every step of their 150m rep, I simply keep answers short and make sure they have a very clear objective (just one) for each run. I will also not show them video if I do not want them to see it, I haven’t had too many athletes struggle with this concept. They understand my reasons and respect my judgement.
How do you manage athlete’s mind-set during competition season and do you find that it is harder for them to be more process driven during this time of the season?
Managing an athletes mind set has been the biggest challenge I have faced as a coach (so far). Whilst studying for my BSc and MSc I chose the hard sciences, completely disregarding the psychology modules. At the time, I was an international athlete and found it hard to get my head around all the theories these modules threw out. Looking back now I wished I had taken at least one of these modules!! The majority of my reading is now around psychology and coaching science, I find it really interesting and the most relevant area to delve into working as coach.
Every athlete responds different during competition season and as such, needs to be handled differently. Those who know me will know my militant approach to most things, stemming from my days as an athlete. Some athletes respond really well to this and can relate to that mind set. This is not the way to bring out the best in everyone, so I am constantly having to manage my approach to sessions, feedback, race warm ups and debriefs. This is by far the most changing aspect of coaching and, in my opinion, is the difference between an average coach and a great coach.