Ultimate Guide to Coaching Youth Track and Field

Youth jumping hurdle.
Preseason training helps athletes prepare physically and mentally. See more sport pictures.
©iStockphoto.com/Toby Creamer

As a coach at the onset of a new track and field season, you'll likely encounter a wide range of ability among young athletes. Some will have a background in everything from javelin throwing to high jumping, while others may not know the shot put from the discus.

Regardless of the shape your athletes are in, preseason training is a must for everyone. If you're able, begin practice sessions six to eight weeks before the season begins [source: Faigenbaum]. Productive preseason training will not only help your athletes physically and mentally prepare for their first meet, but it will also lay a foundation for a successful season.


Runners, throwers and jumpers will all benefit from a mix of strength and endurance training. Have your athletes focus on building strength in four main areas: the upper body, the lower body, the abdomen and the hips. Even though newcomers to track and field may not yet know whether they're interested in running the mile or throwing the discus, strength training will improve overall athletic ability. You can later cater strength training to each athlete's ability [sources: Hackett, Faigenbaum]. Endurance training during the preseason will also help the team, especially your runners. Have distance runners run several sets of half mile or mile (800 or 1,600 meters) drills at jogging pace, and make sure runners concentrate on maintaining a steady pace throughout this exercise [source: Welch].

Preseason practice is a good time to help youth who are new to track and field figure out which events best suit their interests and abilities, so give them an opportunity to try everything from passing the baton to jumping the hurdles. To get your athletes off on the right foot, read the next page to learn about the variety of youth track and field events.


Track and Field Events

Track and field events can be divided into running events, throwing events and jumping events. During a meet, athletes will likely compete in several events in the same category. For example, a sprinter may run a 100-meter (328 feet) race, a 200-meter (656 feet) race and a 4x100-meter (13x328 feet) relay.

Running events can be either sprints or long-distance runs. Sprints consist of 100-meter (328 feet), 200-meter (656 feet) and 400-meter (1,312 feet) races. Youth also may run 4x100-meter (13x328 feet), 4x200-meter (13x656 feet) or 4x400-meter (13x1,312 feet) relays, where four people each run the given distance. Hurdling events are typically shorter sprinting distances between 55 and 400 meters (180 to 1,312 feet) [source: Complete Track and Field].


The half-mile (800-meter) run and mile (1,600-meter) run, as well as the 4x800-meter (13x2,624 feet) relay, are long-distance events. Some high school athletes will also run a 2-mile (3,200 meter) race. Distances on an indoor track may be slightly altered.

The discus, shot put, javelin and hammer are the throwing events. Discus and shot put are the more common throwing events for youth -- many youth competitions don't offer javelin and hammer competitions [source: Track Field Events].

Jumping events include the long jump, triple jump and high jump. Pole vault is another jumping event, but it's uncommon at the youth level [source: Track Field Events].

Each throwing or jumping event requires its own special technique. Technique also varies slightly among sprints, distance races and relays. For information on how to cater technique to different events, read the next page about teaching basic track and field skills.


Teaching Basic Track and Field Skills

Your athletes may think their legs are the most important part of their body for running, but in actuality the whole body works together to run quickly. Instruct runners to pump their arms, and remind them that when the right leg is forward, the left arm should be forward and the right arm should be back. Leaning forward and lifting the knees will feel natural for runners, but it's important for athletes to tune into these motions and emphasize them for extra speed [source: Y-Coach].

Hurdlers should follow the natural motion of their bodies, too. To clear hurdles, hurdlers must know to lead with their knees and reach toward the toes of the lead leg with the opposite arm. Tell hurdlers to lean forward slightly and keep their eyes focused on the next hurdle [source: Y-Coach].


Relay racers will need to practice their running form and the form they'll use when exchanging the baton -- athletes should grasp the baton at one end to ensure a smooth hand-off. Mark off checkpoints on the track so runners can see where the exchange zone begins and ends. These marks should be catered to each hand-off and based on the speeds of the incoming and outgoing runners [source: Y-Coach].

Just as the motion of the entire body is important for running, the whole body is behind throwing the shot put or discus. To throw the discus, have your athletes start by practicing with a standing throw and then move on to a half throw. Once they've mastered the half throw, they can move on to a full throw. The athlete's arm will act as a lever, with the legs and torso propelling the discus forward. For the shot put, the athlete should begin by holding the shot next to his or her neck. As the athlete pushes off, momentum from the legs and hips will send the shot flying -- the arm merely serves as a guide [source: Track Field Events].

To learn more about throwing the shot put and discus, as well as other track and field events, read the next page about athletic equipment.


Track and Field Equipment

Aside from a good pair of shoes, runners will encounter a few more pieces of track equipment. If they participate in relays, they'll use a baton, and, of course, hurdlers will encounter hurdles and jumpers will use a landing mat and adjustable bar. Sprinters will use starting blocks at the starting line, so they can push off when the race begins. It should take a sprinter about five strides to rise from the crouching position on the starting block to reach a full-on running position [source: Y-Coach].

The discus is a flat disc that has sides made of rubber, plastic, metal or wood with a metal core that gives it weight. In high school track and field, boys usually throw a discus weighing about 4 lbs (1.7 kg), while girls throw a discus that weighs about 2 lbs (I kg). The shot put, on the other hand, is a solid sphere that fits in the thrower's hand. Boys typically use a 12-pound (5.44 kg) ball and girls use an 8.8-pound ball (4 kg) [source: Track Field Events].


Keep in mind that besides the obvious equipment used by the athletes, you may want to have a few other things on hand to help practice run smoothly, such as a good stopwatch, a loud whistle and plenty of water.

Teaching young athletes how to compete in track and field and use equipment properly is only the beginning of being a successful coach. Keep reading for tips on coaching youth track and field.


Youth Track and Field Coaching Tips

Many good youth coaching philosophies apply to a variety of sports, including track and field. As a youth coach, your goal is to teach young athletes how to compete, how to enjoy themselves and how to analyze and improve their performance.

When you're able, work out with your athletes. You may not be able to clear as many hurdles as you once could, but going for a jog with the team will make you approachable and reinforce your knowledge of the sport to your athletes.


After a meet, talk with athletes about their performance -- ask them what worked well and what didn't. Listen to their answers, and guide them in figuring out what they'd like to improve and how they can achieve their goals. It may be tempting to lay out strategies for your athletes, but helping them come up with ideas on their own will increase their confidence and their understanding of the events.

Also, be sure to introduce yourself to the opposing coach at the beginning of a meet to show good sportsmanship. When your athletes see this, it will demonstrate the importance of respecting their opponents [source: Positive Coaching Alliance].

For more information on coaching youth track and field, see the links on the following page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Complete Track and Field. "Hurdles." 2009. (Accessed 12/26/2009) http://www.completetrackandfield.com/hurdles.html
  • Faigenbaum, Avery. "Sports Preparation: Pre-season Recreation and Exercise for Pre-teens." Everything Track and Field. 2009. (Accessed 12/25/2009) http://www.everythingtrackandfield.com/catalog/matriarch/OnePiecePage.asp_Q_PageID_E_348_A_PageName_E_ArticlePreSeasonPreTeen
  • Green, Warren and Martyn Shorten. "Winter 2009 Running Shoe Guide." Runner's World. December 2009. (Accessed 12/27/2009) http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-240-400--13336-0,00.html
  • Hackett, Brad. "Pre-Season Conditioning." Everything Track and Field. 2009. (Accessed 12/25/2009) http://www.everythingtrackandfield.com/catalog/matriarch/OnePiecePage.asp_Q_PageID_E_151_A_PageName_E_ArticlePreSeasonConditioning
  • Positive Coaching Alliance. "Coaching Tips." 2009. (Accessed 12/27/2009) http://www.positivecoach.org/subcontent.aspx?SecId=3442
  • Pucher, Frank. "7 Tips and Tricks for the High School Track Athlete." Everything Track and Field. 2009. (Accessed 12/27/2009) http://www.everythingtrackandfield.com/catalog/matriarch/OnePiecePage.asp_Q_PageID_E_410_A_PageName_E_articlepucher7tipstricks
  • Pucher, Frank. "Curing the Runners Side Stitch." Everything Track and Field. 2009. (Accessed 12/27/2009) http://www.everythingtrackandfield.com/catalog/matriarch/MultiPiecePage.asp_Q_PageID_E_443_A_PageName_E_articlepucherstitch
  • Track Field Events. 2009. (Accessed 12/26/2009) http://trackfieldevents.com/
  • USA Track and Field. "Race Walking." 2009. (Accessed 12/26/2009) http://www.usatf.org/groups/racewalking/
  • Welch, Bill. "Objectives‚ĶMiddle Distance and Distance Running." Everything Track and Field. 2009. (Accessed 12/25/2009) http://www.everythingtrackandfield.com/catalog/matriarch/OnePiecePage.asp_Q_PageID_E_455_A_PageName_E_ArticleWelch
  • Y-Coach. "Coaching Relay Exchanges." 2009. (Accessed 12/27/2009) http://www.y-coach.com/exchange.html
  • Y-Coach. "Coaching the Sprinter." 2009. (Accessed 12/27/2009) http://www.y-coach.com/sprinter.html
  • Y-Coach. "Principles and Technique of Hurdling." 2009. (Accessed 12/27/209) http://www.y-coach.com/Hurdling.html