Young Sprinters Struggle with Erectile Dysfunction
by Marc Mangiacotti, Brown University Sprints/Hurdles
As soon as you read “erectile dysfunction” you probably thought about a problem some men have as they grow older. For them…there is a blue pill to help fix their dilemma. Young sprinters struggle with a different type of erectile dysfunction. Youngsters “pop” straight up out of the blocks when they hear the gun go off.
When this happens, sprinters are skipping the most important part of the race. This issue needs to be addressed.
Unfortunately, in this case, taking the blue pill won’t fix the problem.
Why does this need to be addressed?
We have all coached athletes who pop up out of the blocks and rush into maximum velocity mechanics. I know this feels faster to the athlete, but they are not utilizing each stride to the best of their ability. There is a good chance that these sprinters have either played (or still play) football, basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, or any other sport that preaches quickness.
Sprinters do NOT want to be quick out of the blocks. Sprinters may want to react fast to the sound of the gun, but they do not, under any circumstances, want to run quickly. The first four pushes out of the blocks allow the athlete to properly overcome inertia so the athlete can execute a sound race plan. The athlete needs to go through a full range of motion, which may feel slow to them. They may feel slow, but they are actually covering a lot of ground with each step because of the full range of motion and the amount of force (power) they are putting into the track.
In fact, the first push out of the blocks (also known as the ‘Zero Step’) accounts for 5% of the 100m race. However…if this small percentage is not done correctly the race plan will be shot to pieces. In order to be successful with this part of the race the athlete needs to be patient. We need to “retrain the brain” since most of the sprinters have been brainwashed into believing that quickness is good.
More tips and advice on Starting Blocks
We need to teach patience to teenagers. I know it seems like an impossible task. How is it possible? The first thing I do with new sprinters is teach them the difference between ‘quickness’ and ‘power’. I usually ask them each to run 2 very different 30m intervals.
In the first 30m interval I ask them to take as many steps as possible in the 30m segment. I say, “Be quick”. I time the segment and ask the athlete to count their steps. To make it a contest I will say, “Whoever has the most steps wins”. I record their time and the number of steps they took in the 30m run. I also ask them to check their heart rate.
In the second 30m interval I ask them to take as few steps as possible. I say, “Cover as much ground with each step as possible”. I time this segment and ask them to count steps again. To keep it a contest I will say, “Whoever takes the fewest number of steps wins”. I record their time and number of steps as I did in the first round. Again, I ask them to check their heart rate.
The athletes are almost always surprised to find out that the first round was SLOWER than the second round. The first round felt quick, but they were not covering much ground with each step. The second round felt slower, but they were covering a lot more ground with each step. They will also recall that their heart rate was much higher after the first round. I explain that the first interval felt fast, but they were not covering ground and they were burning more energy. I think that is a double negative. However, unlike in math, a double negative in sprinting does not equal a positive. The second round was faster and they used less energy. Energy that the athlete can use as the race moves along.
Your sprinters are more likely to buy into ‘patience’ once you help the youngsters understand the difference between quickness and power and the different qualities they bring to their race plan.
I also want to teach the athletes that there is a place for quickness in track & field. I explain that we want to react quickly to the sound of the gun. I usually add that we don’t want to anticipate the sound of the gun, but react to the sound of the gun. We work on this at practice. I ask the athletes to sit down on the ground facing away from me (no peaking). I ask the athletes to clap when they hear me say “go”. I ask them to react as quickly as possible. When this becomes easy I mix up the cadence, have them watch me so I can try to trick them, or change the word to clap on. I get tricky. I want them to not only react quickly, but also think about the sound they are reacting to in this exercise.
At this point, the athletes understand the difference between power and quickness. They also understand the proper place to use each in their race plan. I always feel that if you teach your athletes why things are important then they will be more likely to use new things. If you don’t teach the importance and the timing then you are probably hoping and praying things just happen to fall into place during their races.
I use a handful of drills that really help the athletes master the zero step out of the blocks and first four pushes out of the race. Before the athletes even get to use a set of blocks they need to master some block prerequisites. The block prerequisites include 3 point, 4 point, push up, roll over push up, donkey kick, and hop-hop starts.
If the athletes can’t do these drills they will certainly not be able to drive out of the blocks effectively. After the athletes master the block prerequisites we move onto drills out of the blocks. These drills include block starts into a pole vault mat, block bounds, and starts with a bullet belt to teach big powerful steps that go through a full range of motion (like giant pistons). Once these block drills are mastered we can start using stick drills with 3 to 4 steps. As the sprinters progress we can start extending the steps out further.
All of the acceleration drills teach proper mechanics and spatial awareness. Yes…we need to teach athletes spatial awareness. Athletes are used to being upright all day (walking, jogging, sitting in class). They are not comfortable at an angle. All of the drills help the athletes get comfortable with pushing their body into a 45 degree angle and to continue pushing to come up about 5-10% with each push (no popping up). The drills also reinforce proper arm and leg motion during acceleration. Some drills just work on arms or body position. These drills work on more than one part of acceleration. These drills really drive home “big arms”, “triple extension”, and “down and back”. I have had a tremendous amount of success teaching acceleration with and without blocks utilizing these drills.
Helping your athletes understand the difference between quickness and power, as well as teaching patience, will pay off. Most athletes don’t get this. They rush the process by doing what feels fast. Victims of their erectile dysfunction, these sprinters (and their coaches) stay in Wonderland and never experience just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
– Marc Mangiacotti
The Secret to Developing 100 Meter Sprinters