IAAF World Junior Coaching Conference

In July of this year, I was lucky enough to head over to the home of distance running in the US, when I attended the World Junior Athletics Championships in Eugene (“Tracktown”), Oregon. I was travelling over as the personal coach of Jordan Makins who was representing his country for the first time over the 800m distance. I had coached Jordan for the previous 18months and was very excited to experience this exciting time with him. One of the perks of coming over (other than the many amazing custom built running trails named after the legendary University of Oregon track runner Steve “Pre” Prefontaine) was being able to attend the inaugural IAAF World Junior Coaching Conference. This was an exciting way to end the trip with six experts presenting on the field of choice to over 150 personal and team coaches that had attended the championships.

The conference was very insightful and provided some key knowledge to assist the coaches in transitioning athletes from talented juniors to successful seniors. Coaching is most often perceived to be mix of art and science and this was certainly reinforced by the speakers. As coaches, we will follow well-oiled principles of training to enhance the runner’s physiology, biomechanics and psychology that have strong scientific merit. However, the when, where or how of the coaching process are often applied through the coaches prior experience or their personal thoughts about how it will affect the athletes they know so well. If we look at the elite spectrum, many would argue that it is more of an art given you simply can’t mass produce exceptional athletes – a personal approach is needed to extract all the athletes potential to get them to achieve their best.

Historic Hayward Field

For some interesting and key points I took away from the conference, please read on below:

  • Training will only benefit the athlete if it follows three principles:

o   It is for the long term

o   It is systematic

o   It is goal orientated

  • Athletes who reach an Olympic level in endurance based sports will typically begin some form of endurance orientated training at 9.4 years (Males) and 9.3 years (females), before taking an average of 14.6 years (males) or 13 years (females) of targeted endurance training to maximize their performance potential
  • The “window of opportunity” of juniors to maximize their endurance capacity is typically 11-13 years for females and 13-15 years for males. If some kind of endurance orientated training is not conducted in these years, they will not maximize their performance later in life
  • Relevant training data needs to be stored and reviewed to accurately assess the effectiveness of the adaptation to the training stimulus applied
  • Set competitions NEED TO BE the platform to produce successful performances. Junior athletes must be exposed to some form of competition to learn how to best display their training
  • The best athletes in the world are typically well rounded athletes (exposed to numerous different training types) prior to the age of 15-16 years, upon which deliberate endurance based training should begin and start to exponentially rise from this age
  • Those who specialized before this age, will spend less time and retire earlier from elite international competition
  • Endurance training should not exceed the follow units per week for junior athletes wishing to maximize their development:

o   15y = 4

o   16-17y = 5

o   18y = 6

o   19y = 7

Athlete Jordan Makins

  • When addressing someone’s progress, performance is the ONLY thing we can be sure of, so use it to gauge if you are heading in the right direction
  • The three phases to improving with training:

o   Training = Planting the seed

o   Eating & Drinking = Fertilising the garden

o   Sleeping = Growing the garden

  • What do top athlete recruiters look for when seeking someone with champion potential?

o   They hate to lose (will to win/competitive orientation/know what they are up against )

o   They have a great attitude (perform self-talk/expectancy to do well/self-confidence)

o   They have a killer instinct (ability to fight/accept responsibility/ability to recover)

photo 2

To end with one point that stayed with me well after the conference was a simple quote from Abraham Lincoln that can be applied to almost all aspects of life, but in particular the development of an elite endurance athlete: “If you have 8 hours to chop down a tree, spend the first 6 hours sharpening your axe”. Development through the junior years is certainly the key to ensuring performance is maximized later in life.


Ben Green

B.Sc (Hons)

Level 3 AA Distance Coach