Measuring What Matters Part 5 – Meet and Season Performance

Posted by Latif Thomas

Measuring What Matters Part 5 – Meet and Season Performance

By Carl Valle

With the short sprints, especially the 50-60m sprint, technical execution is a direct influence in performance, but many times the longer 200m event and the 100m performances are a result of program design. The calendar year and other factors such as meet conditions can boggle the mind with the plethora of variables that could be the culprit of poor performances or stagnation.  The track surface, temperature, wind conditions, and time of year is obvious and unnecessary to discuss, but sometimes lesser known factors should be looked at to comprehensively in order to rectify training or to know that things are on the right path.

Looking for Trends and Finding Patterns

My high school coach use to highlight season best and lifetime best performances in his notebook, and each year “fine tuned” tapers and loading of his seasonal program based on his meticulous record keeping. When training is going well and the performances don’t seem to match what is being done in training, too often coaches abandon what is working because the times are not supporting the workouts.  So long as practices are improving and one isn’t expending too many resources in training during the week, progress will show up on the stopwatch or timing system.

Your training Program- Every program has the same constraints of trying to peak when it counts, but you need to qualify earlier and running faster each starting point is helpful. Opening up the first meet will be different for each coaching system as some seem to come out of the gate fast and other sometimes sneak-up more gradually. Some programs will hit a plateau at different periods while some seem to be almost linear in design. A good suggestion is to look at your athlete’s times during the season and see how all of them as a whole respond in general. Coaches who stay at the same school or club for a long period of time have this luxury, but even coaches who hop around will see some patterns arise.

Related article: Managing Training Adjustments for Speed and Power Athletes

The Athlete’s History- Many coaches individualize programs by tailoring workouts for sprinters, but still their program style will linger with decision making with training. If something is working or failing to work specifically with one athlete, it’s good to see how that individual responds uniquely.  Sometimes a program is good for an athlete long term but they are not responding early, making them lose faith in the system so a trust issue may be created. A coach needs to see consistent progress in practice before they can speculate on actual meet scheduling and in-season workout design. This is especially true with some athletes coming from different programs or college freshman that are not use to training. Many times an athlete needs an adjustment period in order to be able to handle a collegiate or post collegiate season.

The Heat, Event, and Meet Results- When the parametric analysis became popular  in elite swimming over a decade ago, I wondered why the same concepts were not employed in track and field races.  Each year I look to see if individuals and teams set season bests, personal bests, great openers, or even injuries at specific meets.  One good way to look at individual results is to see how the heat as whole did as well as the event in it’s entirety. With statistical analysis, the more subjects used the better the data is going to be, and the same can be said for track meets.  In general I like to see how the athletes raced and competed, as times are not always indicative of what is going on.

Your Team or Program History- Many coaches will take over a program and change training philosophy dramatically, but the team still has performance characteristics of the previous coach or program history overriding a lot.  Some successful teams seem to “know when to peak” regardless of who is at the helm and some teams seem cursed no matter what coach is at the program. Changing culture and history takes a long time a requires a special coach that knows people, not just sprint theory.  Usually it takes a generation or 4 year cycle to change a program but I have seen dramatic turnarounds in my career by messiah coaches who really know how to push the right buttons.

The Venue History- Some good facilities seem to act like the Bermuda Triangle or provide a “ghost wind” with sprinters. Some subtle issues I see are small crowds, poor meet management, and overall bad vibes that are hard to pick up on.  For example, while not sprinting, one venue had a long jump runway right next to a spectator area. Being in the US and not having the etiquette, some people constantly walk precariously close to the athletes, thus spooking the competitors.  Some meets are know to be fast, not because of the track, but because it’s run well and the crowd energy and competition seems to drive performances skyward.

The Championship History- Some Conference meets seem to vary from epic battles to so-so performances depending on the history of the conference. I have experienced crapshoots and the ever so familiar powerhouse beating up on everyone else as they were getting ready for bigger competition later. Sometimes entire leagues or conferences fade out or rekindle the old time magic, but how you compete is sometimes dependent on your competition. Eventually all athletes need to compete well regardless of the circumstances but it’s important to see what could be influencing the results.

Stay on Track or Change Course?

Coaches need to trust their instincts as well as not be blind to what is going on in front of them. A frequent predicament is what to do when things are not going well in both meets and training. Sometimes training is reactionary to meets, but other times practices dictate an obvious need to adjust. By analyzing the practice times in isolation as well as holistically with strength training, lifestyle management, personal problems, and even the need to have fun, coaches can determine what plan of action is appropriate. When things are seemingly going too well, early and accidental tapering can be happening due to athletes missing lifting sessions, not training fully because of scheduling conflicts or sports medicine issues removing training options. With good record keeping and simple practice analysis of times, good decision-making will help develop sprinters over a career.

Previous articles in this series:

Measuring What Matters – Guidelines to Evaluating Practice Times

Measuring What Matters Part 2 – Acceleration

Measuring What Matters Part 3 – Maximal Speed

Measuring What Matters Part 4 — Speed Endurance


Carl Valle is a USATF level II Sprints and Hurdles Coach and has worked with  several olympians and coached athletes at all levels to dozens of school  records and conference championships. He blogs for and  optimizes technology for athlete performance.

Freelap is a fully-automated, wireless timing system that can accurately  time fly-in sprints, splits, tempo runs, block starts, and more. Freelap is  affordable for the individual athlete and expandable for team training.
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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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