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Brooks Johnson on the Advantage of Immediate Feedback


Garrett Reim

By Garrett Reim

In 2013, the difference between first and second place in the World Championship 110m hurdles was 0.13 seconds—the biggest margin of victory in championship history. David Oliver dominated that race by deploying every advantage he had. Chief among Oliver’s advantages is his coach Brooks Johnson.

Brooks Johnson, a famous track coach, knows the mentality of track and field athletes well.

“Athletes in ballistic events have a psychological profile that rewards instant feedback,” said Coach Johnson. “Instant feedback fits right in with the now psyche of the athletes and the psychological profile that allows them to run as fast as they do.”

A personality that reacts quickly is a must when races are won by fractions of a second. Losing time from a poor start or from slow adjustments can destroy an athlete’s chances. So this ability to react quickly is something that must be encouraged in training with highly accurate feedback.

“If you can get instant feedback that is objective and scientific it carries more weight with athletes,” said Coach Johnson.

Olympic bronze medalist David Oliver sets up in the blocks with the Freelap Tx Touch transmitter.

Olympic bronze medalist David Oliver sets up in the blocks with the Freelap Tx Touch Pro transmitter.

Here is where the Freelap system is a huge advantage for Oliver and Coach Johnson. Freelap is accurate to 2/100s of a second and the system displays results immediately on a simple looking yet sophisticated sports watch. When paired with multiple timing beacons, the system can automatically time splits at various increments.

For Coach Johnson Freelap helped him to fine tune Oliver’s training. Oliver’s training season breaks down into three distinct sections: “Conditioning, competition and championship season,” said Coach Johnson. As the year progresses, “we use Freelap more and more.”

Freelap reinforces the athlete’s training and builds their confidence said Johnson. Each time a practice is run an athlete can compare their performance to preset goals and past performances. That reflection is not hindered by an expensive and slow to report timing system because Freelap provides feedback immediately.

Immediate feedback trains an athlete to know what good performance feels like. It also trains an athlete to know what poor performance feels like. In a race situation, this feeling for performance allows athletes to recognize issues and make adjustments on the fly.

“The hurdles are broken down into increments, if you are hitting the target increments you know the program is right on the money,” said Coach Johnson. Freelap verifies you are hitting your goals.

Coach Johnson and Oliver review each race meticulously, always looking for flaws, successes, and areas to improve. The Freelap system enhances their ability to dissect each part of a performance.

When determining the best way for Oliver to start his race Freelap was an important tool. “Freelap lets us know the time difference between eight steps and seven steps,” said Coach Johnson. Oliver now takes seven steps, instead of eight steps on his way to the first hurdle because Coach Johnson determined that was the fastest approach.

For Oliver, who describes his hurdling style as a constant acceleration, a faster approach to the first hurdle puts him in better position to run down competitors. That is exactly, what happened in the 2013 World Championship. Below is the video of that race.

When Oliver won the World Championship people started noticing these differences and started noticing Freelap. “Freelap was a big hit at the World Championships, whenever we brought it out for training sessions,” said Coach Johnson “The same applied to all the major meets on the Diamond League Circuit.”

“If you have the number one guy in the event using the Freelap, people in other events take notice,” said Coach Johnson. The competition starts to think: “’If that guy is doing well with this then we need to get one.’”

Further Reading

In addition to coaching elite athletes Brooks is also a gifted writer. You can read his blog at Spikes and Flats.

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