The Training Environment – The Forgotten Stimulus

Posted by Gabe Sanders

The training environment, depending on the situation, lies on both ends of the spectrum of control and influence we as coaches have on a practice session. The real art is managing the environmental factors that are both active and passively affecting what is taking place and what is being produced during the session. What can you do to maximize or create positive influence of the training environment? Conversely, what can to you do to minimize or dismiss negative influence of the training environment? Before tackle these questions, there’s a couple things we need to actively, not passively, acknowledge.

1) All learning takes place in a physical environment with quantifiable and perceptible physical characteristics. Whether sitting and watching film in a small room, outside in 80 degree heat, having music blaring from a loud system or stereo, or in the presence of other training groups training simultaneously, students are engulfed by environmental information. Specific targets within the environment draw the students’ attention, such as movement at the entrance of the track/gym, another athletes block settings, the set up of a track at an away meet or unfamiliar facility, and they continuously monitor the ambient properties such as the light of the building, the sensation of the grass field, and the heat of the sun. In any learning environment students/learners/athletes are awash in environmental information, only a small fraction of which constitutes the sights and sounds of instruction.

CTF-indoor track and field

2) Students/learners/athletes do not touch, see, or hear passively; they feel, look, and listen actively. They cannot attend to all the environmental information bombarding them at any given time; their ability to gather and understand incoming information is limited. Through automatic and controlled processes, students select information for consideration. They try to understand what they are sensing by piecing bits of information together from the bottom up and by applying existing thoughts and preconceptions from the top down.

3) The physical characteristics of learning environments can affect learners emotionally, with important cognitive and behavioral consequences. Although emotional reactions to environmental stimuli have been shown to vary widely across individuals and activities, most students would probably find learning difficult in temperatures that are on either end of the temperature spectrum.

Now that we have a better understanding of how the (training) environment affects learning and performance, where do we as track coaches go from here? My next stop is with two of the three “c’s” of involving multi-lateral training, (as described by Coach Cliff Rovelto his Complementary and Compatible Training. In this case, the training environment. Rovelto states that:

“Complementary work is best defined as that which completes or makes perfect; there exists an appropriate quality or quantity of work that completes the intended objective. Complementary components are those that produce enhanced results either by order within sessions or by scheduling on successive days.”


“Compatible is defined as existing together in harmony and/or consistent with. Within training sessions compatible training components are those that have commonalities that permit them to be done during the same session.”

Between these two ideas, in planning for the physical training environment, does it add to the given objective of the session? And does it tie in with the given objective of the session?

An example in my daily work would be an acceleration session with my short sprinters and the horizontal jumpers. We are lucky to have a very nice indoor facility complete with a very loud sound system. During the first half of the session, no music is played, and athletes either complete their reps individually, or with no more than two other athletes. A great deal of feedback is taking place throughout this portion of the session and athletes are made aware of the technical focus we’re striving for.

The second half of the session, we shift to a higher gear (no pun intended), cranking up the sound system, starting in larger groups now with a gun start and feedback is given less frequently (mainly reserved for picking gross changes from ideal technical models).

We went from a lower state of arousal allowing for a greater focus of technical components and teaching, to a higher state of arousal with the simple addition of music and larger group, enhancing the acceleration/power theme of the day.

Training Resources:  Complete High School 400 Meter Training

What does an ideal extensive tempo environment look like? Weight room session? Speed or Special Endurance environment? Acceleration session early GPP versus late SPP?

The answer’s simple: It’s never ideal, but it can always be optimal. Best of luck in fostering yours.



* The Psychology of Learning Environments ©2006 Ken A. Graetz EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 41, no. 6 (November/December 2006): 60-75

* The Three C’s of Combined Events Training – Rovelto


Gabe Sanders - Sanders has completed three years as Stanford's sprints and hurdles coach, having joined the Cardinal staff in October 2015. Sanders previously coached at Boston University for seven seasons, where he was the program’s recruiting coordinator. Fifteen school records were set under his watch and Terriers’ sprinters and hurdlers combined for 16 Patriot League titles and 28 America East crowns. He also coached athletes to 10 conference meet records – six in America East and four in the Patriot League. Sanders was named 2012 USTFCCCA Northeast Region Indoor Men’s Assistant Coach of the Year and had 21 NCAA regional qualifiers and one NCAA Championships finalist. A native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Sanders earned his degree in kinesiology with minors in sport management and communication from the University of Michigan in December 2005. In 2014, Sanders earned his master's in physical education with a specialization in coaching from Boston University.

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