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Should sprinters run cross country (my updated theory)

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Since I first posted this article, the
response section has taken on a mind of it’s
own. I don’t want to put any ideas in your
head before you’ve made up your own mind,
but some have taken offense to the posting
of a person calling himself ‘Vincent’ which
starts in the ‘Leave a reply’ section with
response #7.

I think you will find it (and all the responses)
to be quite entertaining.


Surprisingly, I get asked this question more often
by high school kids than by their coaches. That says
a lot about the state of coaching at the high school

But I digress…

First, let’s define ‘sprinters’. I call a sprinter any
athlete whose primary event is 55 meters to 400 meters.
Yes, the following article includes your 400 meter

So should sprinters run cross country? No. And yes.

It’s pretty simple.

Sprinters should NOT run traditional cross country.

A sprinter running 40 – 80 miles per week with the
kids who run the mile and 2 mile the rest of the year
is a terrible, terrible idea.

Did I mention it was a bad idea?

I’d rather have my sprinters sit on the couch all
fall eating bon bons and buckets of mayonnaise than
have them run all that counter productive mileage.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t play a sport during the
fall. Play soccer. Play football, field hockey, whatever
they want.

That, of course, is far better than nothing. (If the
coach of that sport has the knowledge to provide a safe
and effective training environment.)

But some kids don’t play a fall sport. Others *want*
to train for winter and spring. If the means exist,
the opportunity should be available.

Funneling kids into a sport they don’t want to play
is silly. Preventing a kid from ‘specializing’ sounded
good in the past. But it’s an outdated concept.

Think about it. Even in your standard cross country
program, not every athlete is going to be doing the
same program. You’re not going to have your top 600
or 800 runner doing the same mileage as your best
2 miler.

You’re not going to have a freshman 2 miler running
the same mileage and workouts as your top senior
2 milers. There is going to be a scale based on
experience, talent and primary event group outside
of the fall season.

I’m simply arguing that if you have sprinters who
choose to focus on track and have no fall sport or
want to change sports, your best option is to provide
a modified program for them.

It’s not a revolutionary or controversial subject.
It’s what the best programs and coaches are already
doing. And have been, for quite some time.

As coaches our job is simply to put our athletes in
a position to succeed and not screw it up for them.

That’s why I’m a proponent of MODIFIED cross country
for your sprint types.

Modified cross country is where you allow your sprinters
to join the cross country team. They follow all the
rules of the team and even compete in the races if
those are the rules of the team, school or league.

But they don’t train for cross country.

They use it as a formal General and early Special
Prep period to get them ready for winter and spring

It’s basically running a college program for high
school kids.

So the training will be general. And some sprinters,
depending on primary event group, may bump up to to
run a few traditional cross country workouts.

But for the most part they train on their own, running
workouts appropriate to their event groups, improving
hurdle and jump technique, etc.

Powerhouse programs often incorporate modified programs.
The last school I coached at condoned such a program
and we turned out dominant 200, 300 and 400 runners,
4×4 teams, etc.

One of my coaching mentors used modified cross country
as part of the system that led to 4 All State Championship
Team Titles in a row…out of the smallest division in
the state.

That’s how beneficial a properly structured modified
cross country program can be for your sprinters/jumpers.

Let me put it like this:

If a good team in your league runs a modified program
and you don’t, your team will never win again. Case
closed, cancel Christmas. Your sprinters (and team)
are running for second place. And, as the coach, you
can’t look your kids in the eye and, with a straight face,
say you’re trying to build a team that wants to win
anything important.

Modified cross country gives your hardcore kids (what
I call ’10 percenters’) a chance to train like real
track athletes, go after the school records, state
titles and scholarships they covet.

I’m a huge proponent of the fall program for sprinters.

So should sprinters run cross country? Absolutely.
If it’s modified cross country. And only if it’s
modified cross country.

Otherwise, get them a tub of mayo and tell them you’ll
see them in December.


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