coaching high school sprinters

6 Essential Tips For Coaching High School Sprinters

In this article, I will discuss some of the concepts that have helped me have success as a high school sprints coach, as well as an athlete myself.

Key Takeaways

  1. High intensity, maximal effort sprinting is the most effective form of training for improving acceleration, speed, and speed endurance. Training must be specific!
  2. Sprinting volume should be low, quality should be high
  3. Athletes should only sprint two to three times per week.
  4. Competitions are the most intense and specific form of training, and adequate recovery is required for sprinters to perform well in competitions.
  5. Large volumes of slow or moderate paced running does not prepare athletes for the demands of maximal effort sprinting.
  6. Training schedules must be modified when athletes are highly taxed by academic stressors, such as around midterms or finals.

High Intensity Sprinting Is Imperative

If you want to run fast, you have to train fast.

The adaptations that athletes must make in order to sprint faster require that the athletes be exposed to fast sprinting in their training.

By sprinting at maximal and near-maximal intensities in practice over distances which are relevant to their competitive events, high school sprinters will develop qualities such as the following:

  • The tissue strength and resilience to handle the high impact forces and high tension they will be exposed to in competition without getting injured.
  • The specific energy systems needed to run fast, such as the ATP-Creatine Phosphate, Alactic Glycolytic, and Lactic Glycolytic systems.
  • Nervous system qualities such as rate coding, rate of force development, and the ability to recruit high threshold motor units.
  • The proper rhythm and postural control needed to run fast.
  • Sprinting technique that is unique to maximal effort sprinting.
  • The ability to relax in high pressure environments while sprinting.

Practicing sprinting in a manner which is specific to the demands of competition will prepare athletes for those demands, making them more likely to perform better, stay healthy, compete with confidence, and enjoy competitions.

Sprinting Volumes Should Be Low, Quality Should Be High

Because sprinting is a very taxing activity, the volume or amount of work performed in terms of meters sprinted within a session must be kept low. If not, athletes run the risk of getting injured or overly fatigued which will make them slower or unable to run at all.

Further, we get the best results when each sprint is performed with the highest quality possible. This means that athletes should run each sprint as fast as they safely can, with the best technique and relaxation possible.

For most athletes, 180 to 300 meters per session is enough to get them faster without pushing them over the edge. Some example workouts that fall into this range include the following:

  • 6 x 30m with 3-5 minutes rest.
  • 3-4 x 30m Flying Sprints (50-60m in total per rep) with 6-10 minutes of rest.
  • 3 x 90m with 7-12 minutes rest.
  • 2 x 30m, 2 x 60m, 1 x 120m with 1-2 minutes of rest per 10m sprinted.
  • 4 x 30m, 1 x 150m.

When performed consistently over time, the amount of high quality sprinting they perform will add up and the results will show.

Sprint Fast Two To Three Times Per Week

Sprinting induces fatigue to the nervous system, cardiovascular system, and the musculoskeletal system, all of which take time to recover.

Training is essentially the application of stress, from which your body will adapt to the specific demands imposed by that stress. If training is minimally stressful, the recovery time needed before another session is performed will be low. If training is highly stressful, more time will be needed before the athletes can perform at that level again.

Generally speaking, sprinters will only be able to sprint fast week in and week out if they are allowed 48 to 72 hours of recovery between intense sprint training sessions. If intense sprinting is performed before the athletes are ready, they will likely underperform, become more fatigued, and be at risk of injury due to microtrauma in the tissue and poor technique execution.

Be cautious about how often you apply high levels of stress to the athletes, ensuring that they have recovered from prior training sessions before applying another dose of stress. If you planned an intense workout but everybody shows up looking like they just left a funeral, it would be wise to do something light or take the day off and try again the following day.

Missing one workout will not ruin your season, but getting hurt by training when fatigued might.

Competitions Are The Most Specific Form Of Training

As a coach, you need to view competitions as the most specific form of training and ensure that athletes are adequately recovered when it comes time to race.

Far too often we see coaches trying to fit training into the program, instead of trusting in the training they have already done and letting the athletes rest prior to the meet.

Once you are a couple days out from a competition, there is no more fitness or skill to be developed. All that matters is that the athletes are as fresh and pain-free as possible on the day of the meet, so they can sprint at maximal intensity and run good times.

The better they are able to perform on meet day, the greater the stimulus will be from that competition. Since training is all about applying an adequate stimulus to encourage adaptation, athletes must be firing on all cylinders when they line up to compete.

With my high school athletes, I would typically have them rest completely on Fridays for a Saturday invitational. For less important meets, we may do a light warmup, a couple accelerations below 95% effort, and possibly a couple block starts if it helps the athlete get ready psychologically.

In cases where the athlete was dealing with some kind of minor injury or pain, I would have the athletes rest completely so they could feel as good as possible on race day.

I think that athletes and coaches who do too much the day before a meet are operating from an insecure mindset where they are trying to prove to themselves that they are ready for the meet, so they’ll do a workout or do too many block starts and end up tired or sore the following day.

At the end of the day, you need to trust in the training and show up ready to race.

High Volume, Slow Running Does Not Prepare Athletes To Sprint Fast

The biggest problem I tend to encounter when helping high school athletes or coaches is that they do too much high volume, moderate intensity sprinting. While there may be times where you run longer reps at submaximal speeds, programs that are dominated by high running volumes tend to break athletes down with fatigue and injury and not prepare the athletes for the specific demands of racing at one hundred percent effort.

The adaptations we make as athletes are specific to the demands imposed upon the athlete by training. Further, the technical habits that are developed are also specific to the intensity at which athletes sprint.

Sprinting at 85% for 300 meters does not train the athlete technically or physiologically to sprint 100 meters at 100%. In fact, the mechanics used to make it through a grueling high volume workout may in fact predispose the athlete to injury when they end up racing at speeds they never encountered in practice!

When in doubt, apply a stimulus (i.e. training) to the athlete that is specific to the demand of their event, both in terms of the distance, intensity, and total volume of sprinting. If an athlete is going to run 300 meters of total volume in a meet (1x100m, 1x200m), there is no sense running 1200 meters at a slower pace as their main form of training.

Adjust Training Schedules When Academic Loads Are High

High school athletes are student-athletes, in that order. They are students first, and athletes second.

During periods of the year where academic stress is high, such as during midterms or finals, athletes are going to show up to practice mentally fatigued and often with inadequate sleep.

As coaches, we need to take into consideration the totality of the circumstances the athletes are dealing with, which includes stress from school, social situations, and life in general.

We cannot expect athletes to take on a massive workout when they spent the last 3 nights cramming for a final. In these situations, it is important to reduce the overall training load, add more days of rest, and adjust workouts individually based on how the athlete is feeling.

If they show up looking like they just left a funeral, chances are that they should just rest or do something light instead of taking on a big workout.


With all this said, I think it is important to try and simplify things as much as possible so that you can approach coaching in a clear and concise manner.

As you train sprinters, remember these points:

  • High intensity sprinting is the primary form of training for sprinters.
  • Keep sprinting volumes low, ensuring both intensity and technical quality are high.
  • Sprint fast two to three times per week, only when the athletes are well recovered.
  • Use competitions as the most specific form of training.
  • Avoid large running volumes with moderate intensities.
  • Reduce training stress when academic loads are high or the athletes are stressed out.

By following these simple guidelines, athletes will not only run faster and stay healthy, but they will also develop a love for track & field that will last them a lifetime. They will walk away from their time with you seeing you as a coach who cared about their wellbeing, prepared them properly for their events, and set them up for success in competition.

Back to blog