Catnip Goes to Coaching School

Flickr Common image by evmaiden.
Catnip gets schooled! Flickr Common image by evmaiden.

I have always loved school. I drive through Ohio State’s campus twice weekly and each time I do, I consider applying to work on another graduate degree, but then I remember how stressful essays, exams, and group projects can be. So instead, I am a sucker for professional continuing ed courses and now I am the proud owner of a USATF Level 1 Coaching Certification, scoring 98% on the final exam like the (run)nerd I am.

And my motivation? I have self-coached and informally coached friends and may eventually seek more structured coaching gigs. But mainly I was interested for the pure sake of understanding the non-distance events better. When I attend a track meet, I am enthralled by the 1500-10,000, but the sprints, throws, and jumps are harder for me to appreciate. So coaching school to the rescue!

And of course, how could I go to coaching school without sharing what I learned with you?!

The coaching school consists of over 21 hours of instruction over three days divided among 13 subtopics. First were the more general overarching topics — Philosophy, Ethics and Risk Management; Psychology; Physiology; Biomechanics; and Training Theory. Then we got into the event specifics — Biomotor Training for the Speech and Power Events; Sprint Events; Hurdle Events; Relay Events; Jumping Events; Throwing Events; Endurance Events; and Racewalking Events.

Dave Pavlansky, Larry Judge, and John Hartpence served as expert instructors. Not only are they all experienced coaches, but Pavlansky and Judge also have significant experience as educators. While the instruction was based off the standard USATF curriculum booklet, I appreciated the many supplementary videos, the opportunities to practice movements, the illustrations of proper posture, and the handouts of specific drills.

You can probably guess that my main interest is in the endurance events, but surprisingly my favorite topic was the throwing events! I am embarrassed now to admit this, but I’ve rarely watched the throwing events and I’ve never seen a javelin or hammer throw in person. (Come to think of it, I’ve never even seen those two implements in person!) Now, however, I have a good appreciation of the strength and technique this events require as well as a decent understanding of how to coach throws — and I’m itching to get my hands on a shot to give it a whirl for myself.

Salty Pole Vaulting. Our spin-off site coming soon! Flickr Commons image by Sangudo
Salty Pole Vaulting. Our spin-off site coming soon! Flickr Commons image by Sangudo

Pole vault is one of the most dramatic events so I was really excited to learn more about the mechanics and the lesson did not disappoint. Holy technique! I was better able to visualize myself coaching long jump and triple jump. In fact, I’m pretty confident I could help a beginning or even intermediate athlete add a few feet to their jump. As a spectator of both throwing and jumping events, I sometimes have a hard time following the competition because the athletes are not competing side-by-side, but with new knowledge of skills and strategies I’m excited to appreciate these events and athletes more.

On the flip side, I found the endurance events section to be mostly information basic to me, probably because this is my area of interest and am already fairly well self-educated in this area. Coaching students without a background in distance running got a decent foundational overview of training and can hop over here to Salty Running to enhance their knowledge!  People with prior experience in other events probably felt the same way about their preferred event lessons, of course. I did appreciate a good overview of track starting protocols (e.g. waterfall vs. one turn stagger vs. alley start) and review of physiology for specific distance events.

I was surprised how much science was packed into the sprints and hurdles sections! There was significant discussion of starting block techniques and efficient posture during the run — some of which was applicable to distance running as well. Did you know that 100-110m hurdlers from high school to Olympians should take the same number of steps between hurdles? The difference is footspeed combined with hurdling efficiency.

Relays obviously have a lot of basis in good sprint coaching, but we spent a good amount of time learning about exchange strategies as well as considerations for selecting the order of runners for the team. I’m looking forward to watching some relays this spring and then summer at the IAAF World Championships (someone always drops a baton!) to check out their exchanges.

Overall, I felt like USATF Coaching School was a worthwhile experience. I now am officially certified if I decide to look for a position or clients, but I’m also satisfied with gaining knowledge simply for the sake of understanding and appreciating athletics more.

Any coaches out there? How did you get started as a coach? What certifications do you have? Athletes/parents, what do you look for in a coach?

I'm a 20-year veteran of competitive running, USATF certified coach, mom of a toddler -- and still trying to set PRs. I write about training from 5k to marathon, motherhood and competitive running, and the elite side of the sport. The 5k is my favorite race (16:56 PR) but I've got a score to settle with the marathon.

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  1. I just accepted a position as the sprint coach for our girls track team at the school where I teach. I haven’t coached before, but your article got me even more pumped for the job. Woohoo! I am very intrigued by your experience. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’d looked at USATF but not being a TF person, went with RRCA for my initial running coach training. I may still do the USATF course as I’m also an insatiable nerd …