3 Major Changes to My Program for 2013

Posted by Latif Thomas

Each August, before I write my annual plan for the upcoming season, I go back through my workouts, notes and results to determine which elements of my program went well last year, which areas didn’t and why.

Then, I adhere to the wisdom of Bruce Lee:


“Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own.”


Based on my large numbers and lack of staff, I run a ‘minimalist’ program. I try to get as much bang for my buck out of each cue, drill or pattern of movement as I’m always battling the Track Practice Law of Entropy (the natural tendency of practice to devolve into chaos).

I also have to consider that 99% of all coaching information is written by college and elite coaches working with college and elite athletes with their college and elite season lengths, talent and facilities. Their information is (sometimes) fantastic, but in terms of replicating specific volumes, intensities, progressions and skill sets with my standard issue high school kids, the information has great conceptual and intellectual value, but little practical value.

Which is why it is critical to make adjustments that are uniquely our own, while still being able to give a viable ‘reason why’ you are or are not making changes. Otherwise, we’ll be crippling our athletes year in and year out and be grasping at straws as we look for answers.

Based on my results in the sprints, hurdles and jumps last year, here are three areas I will be focusing on this year.

1. Continued refinement of upgrades to my long sprints (200-300-400, but especially 400) programming.

2. More practice time spent on strength training.

3. Less coaching and more managing.


1. Continued refinement of upgrades to my long sprints (200-300-400, but especially 400) programming.

Last year was a breakthrough season for my long sprints group. The kids set an MA D3 Championship Meet Record in the boys 4×200 and school records for both the boys and girls relays at that distance. We saw an MA D3 Title and school record in the boys 300, MA D3 titles in the boys 400 and 400IH, 2 girls dip under 60 in the 400 (only 5 girls, including them, have gone sub 60, ever, at that school), a 9 second improvement in the girls 4×400 from 2011 to 2012 and even saw a girl PR by 8 seconds in the 400h, placing 2nd at the MA D3 Championship and breaking the school record in that event.

I’m not over here flexing in the mirror, just offering evidence that I’m not just making this all up since, of course, you can go online and verify all these results.

So what programming changes led the group to go, and this is a scientific term, bonkers, last season?

(And why do I have a growing group of kids asking to train for and compete in the 400?)

I attribute it to 2 things, all of which I will go over in more explicit detail in the coming weeks and break down to its purest form in my upcoming ‘Planning Training for HS 400m Runners’ program coming out on September 17.

1. Emancipated myself from the mental slavery of the false ‘short to long or long to short’ concept.

Everyone always asks the same question:

‘Which approach is better for high school 400m runners? Long to short or short to long?’

The answer is neither. And both. Simultaneously!

Once I was liberated by this insight and figured out how it specifically applied to my workout  progressions, everyone start running faster times in the long sprints.

So simple, yet, not at all.


The second reason my 400 program got better is also the major area of change/refocus for this year:


2. More time in the weight room.

I asked my top female 400m runner (a basketball player I only get for 11 weeks) what one thing she thought made the biggest difference between her placing 25th in the 200 at the 2011 MA D3 Championship and placing 3rd in the 400 in 2012. Her answer?

“We lift more.”

When I was at our spring track banquet, I was, in truth, shocked, by the one thing my girls specifically and repeatedly requested (and had already started doing on their own even though it was still June and I told them not to…):

“Coach, can we lift more this year?”


We’re trying to win titles and break records around here not just sing songs, tie-dye shirts and get a certificate of participation. So we’re going to focus heavily on getting stronger this year which means teaching, learning and properly executing the Olympic Lifts and doing more plyos and medicine ball throws, especially since we don’t do many block starts in practice (even the short sprinters). We’ll also need to do a better job of keeping accurate records of results in the weight room while sustaining the same level of intensity and focus in the weight room as we do on the track.

So, yeah, we’ll see how that goes!


3. Less coaching and more managing.

If you came to one of my practices you’d either be impressed or horrified by how little ‘coaching’ I actually do.

And that is how my system is designed to run.

It’s physically impossible for one person to effectively coach 80 kids in the sprints, hurdles and jumps. (Note:  I run three separate programs. I don’t make everyone a sprinter except we jump and/or hurdle twice a week like in bootleg programs.)

So I don’t try to.

Like I said, I’m a minimalist. So I’m not teaching a million different drills and skills just because they exist and I know how to do a search on YouTube.

Track practice is not a buffet. It’s a gourmet restaurant. We try to get really good at a few things. So, I teach the basics. Then I put captains and responsible upperclassmen in charge of the groups.

They run the warmups. They get the workouts going. They teach and coach the fundamentals. After all, you don’t need 10 years of coaching experience to teach a basic run-run-jump or skip for distance. I mean, it’s just skipping. For distance.

“How do we do this drill again, coach?”

“You skip. For distance.”


Kids thrive on being put in a position of responsibility and I’m not asking them to teach it perfectly or be perfect. Just get the system operational. Then I come around, clean it up and focus my coaching time on the group leaders and varsity athletes who sacrificed some of their session to lead. JV got coached by Varsity. Varsity gets coached by Coach Thomas. Everyone gets some instruction. Less people fall through the cracks.

Eventually those freshman become junior and senior group leaders and the system is running itself. I move around and keep things flowing, put out fires and place my attention on the athletes and groups who are scoring the most points. It’s not ideal, but it’s hard to find good coaches without ginormous egos who can clear all their afternoons and Saturdays for 6 months out of the year and work for about $5 per hour. (But if you’re a young coach who wants to learn, send an email to neclinic@gmail.com and state your intentions. I’m hiring.)

That said, I firmly believe my group leaders could outcoach 75% of high school coaches.

So this year, I’ll be adding even more responsibility to my group leaders. They’re responsible for the content of all the videos I post on our team page. They’ll get some homework to do in order to be prepared for practice. They’ll do more teaching. They’ll coach and help each other without being dependent on me to watch every start, jump or hurdle rep. I think this cultivates a stronger team atmosphere and a greater overall commitment to the success of the group as a whole.

By focusing on these big picture concepts instead of irrelevant questions like whether to do 30s on Monday or 50s or whether to do 600s on Tuesday or 200s and how many and at what pace, I expect that we will continue to see big improvements across the board.

Hopefully this article got your mind working a bit as to how you plan to improve your program this year.

In track,

Latif Thomas

PS When you’re ready to invest in specific resources to up your game this year, I recommend the following:

-For the long sprints (200/300/400) stay tuned for my new ‘Planning Training for HS 400m Runners’ program coming on September 17. I’ll have lots of 400 specific info over the next couple weeks.

-When you want to get better at programming the short sprints (55-200m), I recommend this.

-When you’re ready to put more focus on the sprint hurdles (55-110HH), you’ll see big improvements with this.

-If you coach jumpers, your mind will be blown when you start using this for teaching technique and/or go with this for step by step instructions on how to write workouts and plan training.

Latif Thomas - Latif Thomas owns and operates Complete Track and Field and serves as the Co-Director of the Complete Track and Field Clinic at Harvard University, the largest track and field clinic in the United States. A popular speaker and presenter at some of the largest coaching clinics across the country, Latif has true passion for the sport and it definitely shows. Over the past 19 years, he has coached more combined League, Division, All-State, and New England Champions in sprints, hurdles, and jumps than he can count. Follow @latif_thomas on Twitter.

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