“Your Focus Needs More Focus”

Posted by Marc Mangiacotti

Each year I notice that midway through the indoor season the focus of the sprints group starts to dwindle. After the initial excitement of getting acclimated to the team setting and traveling to meets fades, athletes have adapted to a routine that might not seem as appealing as before. But this time of the season is no time to run out of steam. The championship meets are still weeks away and athletes must recharge to achieve the results they have been training for.

Still, when athletes spend more time in between drills and sets goofing around and gossiping, rather than putting effort into the task at hand, I often wonder if they are committing an honest 100% effort both mentally and physically.

Early in my career, I searched for ingenious ways to reel my sprinters back in, and keep them motivated during the middle of the season.  Ironically enough, it wasn’t until watching a martial arts film did I reach an epiphany.

Two different Karate Kid lines come to mind when I think of movie quotes pertaining to keeping athletes on point.  One is from the original 1984 film and the other is from the remake in 2010.

Mr. Miyagi – “You must focus Daniel-san. To win…you must FOCUS!”

Mr. Han – “Your focus needs more focus.”


Over the past three to four years, I found just the right workout that is capable of luring athletes back in, during the season’s dull period.  It is… 4 x 100m handoffs.  That’s right… It is January in Boston and we are doing handoffs inside.  I am not saying indoor 4x100m handoffs are ideal, but it sure gets the athletes excited. I typically have short sprinters, hurdlers, and long sprinters practice relay handoffs. Honestly, what athlete doesn’t want to be on the 4 x 100m?

More sprint workout advice from Coach Mangiacotti: How to Build the Perfect 100 Meter Sprinter

This relay handoff workout has two benefits; it refocuses the group and also serves as an introduction of what to expect during the outdoor season.  Getting a head start on teaching this relay in the winter can be a huge advantage during the spring months.  In New England, the weather in January and March does not vary. The temperature usually remains the same… cold.

Additionally, relay handoffs are also a great way to get acceleration and maximum velocity work in during the week.  If an athlete lacks motivation they will quickly find it in this workout. If not, as an outgoing runner they will have an incoming runner sprinting past them in the workout. Or…a lethargic incoming runner may never catch the outgoing runner.  These repetitions will be instant feedback for you and the athletes when watching for effort and execution.

We are lucky to have an indoor track.  I typically set up the relay exchange zone on one of the straightaway’s on the oval and use the same measurements as an outdoor track. Using chalk or medical tape I shape a small triangle about 10-15m off the turn to signify the starting point for the outgoing runner.  Then I measure 10m down the track and make a large triangle to replicate the start of the exchange zone.  Finally, I measure another 20m down the track and put down another large triangle for the end of the exchange zone.  Often, I will ask the incoming runner to run in lane 5 with the baton in their right hand and have the outgoing runner in lane six receiving the baton in their left hand.  Indoor lanes are narrow so I do not want the two athletes to get their legs tangled.

Once we are ready to start the workout I will ask the incoming runner to start at the middle of the turn.  This is about 30m from the starting point/small triangle for the outgoing runner.  The incoming runner will run through the entire exchange zone.  In total, the incoming runner will run approximately 60m.  That’s some good acceleration and maximum velocity work. The outgoing runner will also run through the zone at 100% effort.  This is 30m in total volume for each outgoing repetition. If the outgoing runner does not accelerate properly the athlete will know right away.  This workout puts the focus back into practice.

On these days I will ask the athletes to do 3 sets of “give one, take one.”  In all, each athlete gets to take three and give three handoffs.  My standard line is, “You only get a few handoffs so make each one count.” This workout is comparable to 3 x 30m and 3 x 60m just done 30/60, 30/60, 30/60m or vice versa (depending if the athlete starts as the incoming or outgoing runner) with 3’ between repetitions and 8’ between sets.

This workout not only helps the team focus on running fast, but it also drives home the importance of communication with your teammates.  If the athletes can figure out the approximate number of steps to give their teammates during the winter we can spend more time working out the smaller kinks during the outdoor season. This means that we can get some serious relay handoffs in during the spring rather than trying to rush through the process during the short outdoor season.

4 x 100m relay handoffs have helped re-focus the athletes that I work with along with working on communication, acceleration and maximum velocity.  Life is much easier anytime we can kill multiple birds with one stone.

Please follow me on Twitter @MarcMangiacotti.

Marc Mangiacotti - Marc Mangiacotti enters his seventh season as an assistant coach with the Crimson for the 2018-19 school year. He oversees the men’s sprinters and hurdles for Harvard University. He is a USA Track & Field Level I and II certified coach in sprints, hurdles, relays, jumps and combined events. Mangiacotti came to Harvard after a two-year tenure at Brown University. During his time in Providence, R.I., he made a big impact on the Bears’ sprinters, coaching five Ivy League champions that combined for nine league titles. He also coached 15 athletes that earned All-Ivy League credentials and saw his group break four school records.

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