IAAF New Studies in Athletics Interview with Glen Mills. Here is an interview with the legendary coach of the world’s fastest men. With the likes of Usain Bolt (9.58s), Yohan Blake (9.69s) in the century sprint, there must be something right with the coaching pedagogy/ system there in Kingston, Jamaica.
Interviewer: Can you give our readers some advice on ‘Talent Recruitment’ and what indicators to look for in an up and coming sprinter?
MILLS: First, look at the physical attributes of the athlete: physical structure, agility and coordination. Coaches should look for athletes who they as coaches can contribute more to their development rather than athletes who already have the physical development. Then look at the cadence.
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Sometimes the athletes in the middle positions of a race have superior cadence and are held back a little because the coordination is poor and they are not able to execute the stride pattern. In recruiting talent you cannot start at the top, you have to look beyond. I have spotted a lot of talent who finished down the track but are not yet developed. Some guy that finished last might have been the leader for the first 30m of the race. Nobody looks at him because he finished last. But his physical structure and the fact that he had the speed to be leading are factors that you cannot overlook.
Question the athlete about his preparation: How long have you been training? How much training have you done? A youngster might say, ‘sir I am only training a month, or a week’ while the winner of the race has been training for a whole season. You could take such an athlete and train him and see significant improvement. He may become a champion,
Another thing to look for is the bounce. Look at the heel contact with the ground, people who tend to walk with less heel contact tend to possess a lot of speed and have a better mechanism for lifting their knees and recovery. This does not mean that a man that runs on his heels will not run fast, but it is something you can look for. Finally, look at the youngster to see if he is aggressive in his movements. These are some of the general things that can indicate talent in a sprinter.
Interviewer: How do anthropometrics influence the technique?
MILLS: Every athlete has a natural pace, so you start with his natural pace and look at the deficiencies that exist. For example, stride length. If an athlete has the necessary reach in terms of physical structure, say someone who is six feet (1.83m) tall but is taking strides that are shorter that he should, I try to analyze what are the areas that are contributing to the situation. It is usually the strength of the various muscles that carry out the movements and therefore we must work, especially in the off-season, to change the athlete: 1) to develop the strength needed and 2) to improve the stride pattern with specific exercises.
For example, we determine the athlete’s natural stride and then we use markers to set out stride length. In each exercise we lengthen the marker in a very moderate way, maybe by half inch to one inch. The athlete executes the run trying to extend the stride length to meet the markers. However, he must ensure that he is not over-striding to meet the marker, hence he has to get his knee to the required height, the heel recovery must be correct, etc. Once athletes start doing that correctly, they tend to open up more and execute a longer stride length.
They will be able to maintain maximum velocity, without over striding. We have found that if we can extend the stride length and maintain the correct velocity it will improve the time significantly. We also try to develop the athlete both mentally and physically to be aware of maintaining their stride length even when fatigued, especially in the 200m. You can only carry top speed for maybe 50-60m, but how you maintain the stride length will determine your overall time.
Interviewer: Successful sprinting is very much dependent on the right motivation. How do you motivate your athletes? To what extent do you involve them in specific coaching decisions?
MILLS: We treat motivation as one of the elements of training, so we train the mind concurrently with the body. I do a lot of talking in training on motivation individually and collectively, especially in between workloads, during recovery time. Short, quick words of inspiration, directive thought process, getting the athletes’ minds to focus on what the goal is, pulling on their inner strength and so on. There is time allotted for motivation at the training site and within the training programme that lays the foundation for other motivational talks outside of the training. These are not only spoken to but are put into situations where the athlete’s mettle and mental strength is tested, for example, we tend to look for the stiffest competition to face the strongest opponent — our motto is that you have to “learn to lose in order to learn to win,”
When you lose you understand why you lose, you take it with grace and it does not defeat you, because you know that it is part of the process of winning. We believe if you are afraid to lose then you cannot win, because the subconscious is always going to be questioning your competence to win. You must be consciously able to confront it and use your positive approach to overcome it. Otherwise it will become the dominant factor in your subconscious and become a part of your consciousness.
When fear becomes a part of your consciousness, you will find that you get extremely nervous and your neuromuscular system loses a high degree of energy, almost paralyzing the limbs, The quick impulses from the brain to the muscle are crucial for explosive sprinting. Once the brain becomes distracted by doubt and nervousness the impulses are not going be as positive and strong as they should be and this lends itself to subpar performances. (Interview adapted by Jimson Lee, SpeedEndurance.com)