Era of specialization

Teams of coaches giving athletes training particular to their events

Varsity Track And Field

March 18, 2009|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Special to The Baltimore Sun

When Gilman track and field head coach Johnnie Foreman began his coaching career at Northern in Baltimore in 1976, he had just one coach assisting him. That's the way most track teams were run for years.

The era of specialization in sports, however, has changed the approach to high school track and field coaching. Instead of using one or two coaches, public and private school teams now routinely employ a group of coaches to specialize their teaching.

"The sports have become so specialized that you've got to have those coaches who can spend time with youngsters in those events," Foreman said. "It's more exciting now."

While there are still one or two coaches who guide teams the way Foreman did back in the day, coaching during the past decade has gradually become tailored toward preparing athletes for specific events.

"It's becoming more event-specific," Hereford coach Jason Bowman said. "It's the way colleges do it, and it makes sense to train kids specifically for their events. If you use the one-size-fits-all approach, you end up not maximizing your kids' talent."

Gilman uses up to nine coaches in the spring. They work separately with athletes in middle-distance races (800 and 1,600 meters), long distance (3,200), pole vault, 400 meters, hurdles, long and triple jumps, and throws, with Freeman handling sprints and relays.

Hereford has six coaches on its team. Two work with sprinters, one coaches shot put and discus along with middle and long distance, another handles pole vault and high jump, one has middle distance, and another also works with distance.

Bowman and others said USA Track and Field, the sport's governing body based in Indianapolis, has been a large influence in this area. USATF spokeswoman Jill Geer said more than 20,000 coaches nationwide have taken a coaches' education program to help them learn more about how to teach.

"It's definitely to the advantage of the kids who are participating in track and field," Geer said. "If you're competing in the pole vault, you need a coach who knows what they are doing."

Geer said the U.S. Olympic track program has coaches who worked with athletes at the Beijing Games whom they split into groups for sprints and hurdles, middle distance, long distance, jumps and combined events (including pole vault) and throws.

This style of teaching is especially beneficial for specialized events that often did not get much coaching in the past.

"A 30-foot boy shot putter needs more than just a warm body watching him to get up to 35 or 40 feet," Towson coach Gil Stange said. "Ditto the hurdles, high jump, long and triple [jumps], discus and especially the pole vault. The effect ... of even a little bit of technical knowledge and active coaching in these events is huge."


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