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Carl Valle


“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” — Mark Twain

For most cases when training is going well, not much intention is necessary to have an effective impact with speed training. After all, when the athlete is competing at the end of the year, they are on their own and the only interaction is going to be a bit of encouragement before the race. With coaching being very synonymous to teaching, the idea of the coach being the lecturer can be conjured up in the minds of athletes, but the key result is the athlete learning and not the coach talking. On the other hand quality instruction begins with excellent communication and many coaches work on giving he best feedback possible. Careful word choice, eye contact, inflection of the voice and the right timing are all important. Still, subjective information can be dangerous, as the human eye is the gold standard to technology, human error will be a factor to the training session. There is not distilled piece of information that is more valuable than the measured evaluation of time and space, specifically the split an athlete has run in practice. When competing, the person with the fastest time always wins, regardless how he or she gets there. For the most part any top race will see athletes with excellent technique, so time is not the opposition of running mechanics but the summary of explosive power and technical execution. When athletes finish close in a sprint event they look up the scoreboard they are looking for their name listed for immediate feedback, hopefully placed on top or first, with a number demonstrating how well they performed. Coaches who use electronic timing will have some great dilemmas on what to do with the information they collect and how they share that information to different athletes. This article will review different scenarios and offer popular ways to deliver that information.

Should We Share Times in Practice?

Coach and athlete with clipboard.

As soon as a coach starts collecting information, the next question besides what to do with the data is who and how to share it with others? Some coaches have different approaches in sharing objective feedback such as timing, and many choose to keep the data to themselves and present it later with more subjective ratings of how the run was performed and a vague overall summary. Other coaches simply just share the clipboard or tablet and let the athletes just see the data for themselves with no emotional or intellectual connection with the times. Finally, many coaches give a brief synopsis of the performances to give context to the times. Not all athletes respond favorable to objective feedback, so coaches sometimes do a little fibbing to encourage athletes when not responding to the the training or “massage times” by excessively listing factors that work against the athlete and nearly rationalizing the poor performances in training to the point they look like they could have set a world record. So what are the pros and cons to sharing times and how can we share the information properly to allow feedback to be productive.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Immediate Feedback in Training

Many coaches are excellent motivators, and that quality is an excellent tool to help athletes achieve ultimate performance. One needs to be careful when they are playing “mind games” when working with athletes, as using placebo style methods they can backfire if one is not careful. For example the motivational coach still needs to have good training, and when the athletes start realizing their coach is just a cheerleader, then two things happen. First, the athlete becomes desensitized to the loud yelling or pep talks and start to lose faith in the system. Second, the athlete will realize that the placebo pill is just a sugar pill, and their confidence will shrink when they know their training isn’t of quality. So it’s best not to sugarcoat too many things as eventually athletes will be timed in competition. Using manual estimated timing (stopwatch and coach) and fudging results versus precision electronic timing (use of electronic timing equipment) and giving honest times will eventually backfire when the results are not matching the practice performances.

Five Wise Methods in Sharing Timing Feedback

Coaches will have different options when relaying information to sprinters based on their style of training. When one is using Freelap timing, the watch is literally on the athlete making the coaches forced to communicate with the athlete in one way or another. One can collect the watch and send the data wirelessly to their computer after practice, but the option of using the information immediately does give some interesting options that may be of value. Here are five ways to use the data from Freelap directly or indirectly to help athletes.

Immediate Feedback for Emotional Needs

Motivational Needs

Timing is indeed testing, and getting results instantly creates a natural arousal response when the performance is under peer pressure or the athlete is trying to please the coach and themselves. The arousal response naturally raises physiological output to the athlete if done properly[1]. Without an objective scoring, athletes can’t leverage testing and the rise of adrenaline instant feedback can deliver in training. In a fantastic study from New Zealand the researchers and coaches found that when training in the weight room and getting power numbers, the athletes who were able to see the data got better results in the long run[2]. Strangely, the main reason why most athletes lift weights is to improve speed , so shouldn’t we using the the direct measurement of speed in training? Testing athletes in speed becomes the most intense stimulus when the athletes are timed, and just adding a few testing periods can make major strides in developing speed.

Immediate Feedback for Focus

Focus Needs

Athletes sometimes need to be sprinting at sub maximal efforts and hit narrow time ranges in order to properly load the body in some training programs. Many times coaches see that athletes can sustain a great technical ability and imprint great technique and usually a cutoff point exists that is very precise with many athletes. Coaches can prescribe very precise percentages and this can only be done with a combination of timing with instant feedback and supportive video. The use of timing as a gauge of output is especially useful with athletes and can be applied with very fine percentages in both total time (timing of the entire run) and the effort in distribution (splits). Many coaches like using splits the last 20-30 meters to ensure the athlete is focusing on maintaining form and effort in speed endurance reps. With running through the line being an age old need, coaches love using Freelap timing to motivate those who irrefutable evidence of execution is needed for them to change.

Immediate Feedback for Calibration

Calibration Needs

Speed training is very unique point of view with each athlete, and often perception of speed feeling wise is deception of experiencing time. Sometimes athletes put too much “muscle into a sprint” and tighten up because they cling to the feeling of effort equating to speed, and timing is the perfect translation tool. Many athlete interpret speed differently and will change their experience of running fast and or correctly as they evolve in development. Instant feedback along with observational commentary is helpful when timing is integrated with the feedback. Sometimes athletes feel amazing in a rep and things are effortless but the times are slow. Sometimes a rep may feel strange but the performance times wise is an all time best. With feedback of the body and an athlete’s perspective, timing helps bridge the gap of sensations being experienced and the results they carry. As athletes get more experienced they will start to understand what feelings are “real” and what feelings may be fooling them when they are timed properly. Similar to getting athletes motivated by getting objective feedback, the weight training with jump squats was found to be benefited by equipment in quantifying output[3].

Immediate Feedback to Monitor Training Sessions

Monitoring Training Sessions Live

Overtraining is sometimes a problem when we do too much too soon or the wrong things at the wrong time. Under-training should not be given free get out of jail card as not being prepared is dangerous as well and susceptible to similar problems that overtraining deals with. Fatigue is a normal and important competent to training and precision in output is vital when monitoring. The most bizarre attitude of performance coaches is monitoring all of the metrics of lifting weights, from peak power to bar velocity but being totally unaware of speed in practice. Imagine if we painted the numbers on weight plates and only eyeballed vertical jumps? Most coaches would cry heresy or think one is crazy. Not timing speed is just crazy when every other metric is listed but speed is strangely eliminated. Coaches can purposely deplete an athlete or reduce injuries by observing output over time. With injuries that come from fatigue it is on paper logical to see drop off at times but it’s best to manage the month of loading than to try to interpret too much in one sprint. Monitoring the training load by quantifying what is done is the first step, otherwise looking at physiological data is like trying to analyze what is wrong with a car by looking at the exhaust only.

Immediate Feedback for Relaxation and Recovery

Relaxation and Recovery

One argument against timing is that an athlete may be hampered in the long run when all they think about is output and fail to do some of the technique demands. While sporting action should be nearly the same speed to properly acquire mastery in rehearsing for competition, sometimes taking a step back on immediate performance output has value. Any coach can agree that proper technique is essential but they are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes an athlete will benefit from not seeing the times immediately and mentally be free in results driven training and take a break. The temporary elimination of immediate feedback can be used when athletes advance or become desensitized to timing, but one can still collect the data to analyze the training load and progression. Sharing the data is an art, and coaches can periodize the feedback like how they vary the speed, volume, frequency, and density of training. The simple contrasting of not sharing timing results or not worrying about them is valuable physiologically and psychologically, but it’s more the adjusting the attitude to the times rather than not timing at all.

Parting Thoughts

In closing, timing has a place in every coaches program and is up the imagination and can be tailored to the specifics the athlete and circumstances the coaches are experiencing. It is up to the coach to determine what approaches he or she uses to determine what the best fit will be when timing and how they relay that information to their athlete and sometimes parents and team coaches. Timing practice is very similar to quizzing athletes that are getting ready for the big test (track meets) and final exam (championship meets). Getting an indication immediately during the preparation time removes many of the surprises and the same attitude towards scholastic feedback in evaluation can be used with athlete performance with timing and speed.

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  1. Fight, Flight, and Freeze—How Timing Athletes Increases Performance.
  2. Effect of instantaneous performance feedback during 6 weeks of velocity-based resistance training on sport-specific performance tests.
  3. Reliability of performance velocity for jump squats under feedback and nonfeedback conditions.

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