A coach can scream sprinting cues until they're blue in the face, but unless their athletes are being timed, it likely won't make much of a difference.
Elite strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle, co-founder of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning, has long had athletes sprint in training. But it wasn't until last year that he began electronically timing all of their max-effort sprints. Suddenly, athletes were being timed 4-8 times a week rather than 2-4 times a year. The results have been mind-blowing, leading Boyle to realize that no feedback is as powerful as an accurately-timed result.
"When you're just saying 'Here's A. Here's B. Run from A to B and we're going to time you.' What happens?" Boyle tells STACK.
"I believe timed sprinting is very self-organizing...Frequent timing allows you not to be afraid to try something different. Because you're like, 'OK, I'm going to do eight of these a week. If six of them aren't fast, I don't care. Because if I PR on seven, then I'm happy."
Timing also makes the cues Boyle does provide all the more impactful. In terms of mechanics, what's actually fastest might not necessarily feel natural to the athlete—at least not at first. But if it correlates with a lower time, you better believe they'll stick with it.
When you're just tossing out cues with no concrete results to back it up, how can you expect the athlete to buy-in?
When it comes to his most powerful cue, Boyle's found a quirky one to work best. The goal is getting athletes to think about "push the ground as hard as you can," particularly during the acceleration phase. But kids often need a mental picture to fully grasp what that means.
"I always use the same cue," says Boyle, whose nearly 40 years as a strength and conditioning coach has included roles with the Boston Red Sox, Boston Bruins and U.S. Women's Olympic Hockey.
"'Have you ever been at your grandmother's house where she has a rug in the hallway? And you play the game where you run on the rug and try to push the rug back?' And kids are like 'yeah, we've done that before.' 'That's what I want you to do. I want you to push the turf back. Imagine you wanted to pile all the turf up in the end of the room. That's how I want you to think.'"
"It's kind of like everybody's played that game at some point on a rug in a hallway, so they get that idea of, 'I know exactly what I'm supposed to do if I'm trying to make that happen—and that's push down and back.'"
For more of Boyle's most impactful coaching tips, check out his latest seminar.
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