High school coaches really have their hands full when confronted with the multitude of conditioning levels and needs of the athletes under their charge. Football is typically the exception, as they basically are allowed to train their kids year round. Track coaches like myself will have athletes show up to the first day of practice totally out of shape, and expect to be ready to compete 3-4 weeks later. Not to mention that many of today's youths lead relatively sedentary lives and are not just out of shape from a competitive standpoint, but also from a general population standpoint as well. Even if out of shape athletes do attend each practice, which is a big if, it is a challenge, not to mention a safety issue.
My method for GPP includes trying to discourage competition during workouts early on, and have athletes focus on a general progression of fitness and technique. I don't want to hold the athletes back that are ready for more intense training, but I also don't want those that are not ready, to over-extend themselves. A saving grace, however; is that young bodies are typically able to adapt pretty quickly, but knowing this shouldn't result in throwing caution to the wind.
For my sprinters the initial focus is working on basic endurance and basic strength, which includes core strength. When any athletes run a distance that they perceive as a long way, and approach as an aerobic run (long distance), they should respect certain technique aspects to avoid over striding, and to minimize wear and tear on the body. Educating the athletes and reminding them during training with various coaching cues along with some drills can go a long way. You want the athlete to be able to pull things off being able to function as naturally as possible, and not being overly technique conscious, as this is often counter productive. Those not in very good shape will be in a survival mode for much of the training early on, and will just try to finish the training runs any way they can, but hopefully fairly soon will be able to run with some decent resemblance of good technique and strategy, and be able to, on runs they consider to be long, have a pace that feels fast but is not a strain and is not too difficult to hold.
I'm not a big believer in a lot of distance work for sprinters to build a base, but I do not totally leave it out as some sprint coaches do. Early on, rather than having athletes do a 20-30 minute run or a few miles, breaking it up in 600 - 800 meter repeats can be very helpful in producing a better quality of effort. Ladder workouts, ie; 600-500-400-300-200 can be used to build basic endurance as well as an introduction into an increase in intensity to help prepare for long sprints. When working with out of shape athletes, however; if you don't watch it, they'll be doing a lot of slow running when confronted with what they consider to be long distances. They may respond better with workouts with shorter distances and less recovery time, ie; some 300s with a 100 meter walk in between, and then eventually progress to something like two sets of 400-350-300, with a recovery walk of 100 meters less than the distance just run, and walking about a lap between sets.
Once again, running technique is important for safety and effectiveness. Sprint guru, Ralph Mann, describes what he calls "The comfort trap" when athletes try long sprints and respond to fatigue, trying to run relaxed by reaching out and jamming their touchdown leg in front of them and vaulting over the leg. This results in big impact forces, longer air times, very inefficient running, and again, unnecessary wear and tear on the body.
For my sprinters, part of warm up more times than not, will be warm up runs of 50-100 meters. Early on, the effort I encourage during the warm up runs is not very intense in order to allow their bodies to gradually get accustomed to sprinting. Eventually the intensity should increase. Some athletes are ready sooner than others for the more intense sprints. A key is that even when not running very fast during warm up runs the athletes are to continue putting effort into moving down the track. A tendency is for the athlete to start very fast and then pretty much jog for much of the warm up run. This is a good opportunity for the athletes to work on spreading out their acceleration and learning to reach a sub max top speed a little further down the track than if they were trying to run all out. This is an important skill for long sprints. It is also important that after crossing the finish line of the warm up runs for the athlete to slow down under control, keeping feet under him/her, and not raising up immediately with shoulders and spine. Injuries can occur when athletes turn off the concentration after crossing the finish line and lose core control and control of body position while slowing down. Lowering yourself some while slowing down from a sprint is a good thing. (See Video). It is a judgement call as to when to turn the sprinters loose to go all out. I go into more detail and give suggestions for progressing to that point on this web page.
As for starts, I do believe that standing starts have a role in the progression of developing starts, however; early on I encourage a rolling or cheating type of standing start when doing warm up runs and training runs. To start the training runs my first command may be "toward the line" meaning that the athletes don't have to step totally up to the line and assume a stationary stance, then my "to your marks", "set", and "go" will be in a predictable rhythm and allow the athletes to even begin their starting motion a little before "go" in order to lessen the stress on the legs. Explosive starts from a complete standstill is too hard on the legs during the early portion of training. Once again, consult this page for details of my starting progression.
Another important aspect of encouraging easy accelerations during warm up runs is that the athletes get to experience some measure of each phase of the sprint, albeit at a lower intensity, thus, building a foundation for the development of the race models that you are teaching them. Athletes that do rather explosive starts followed by a drastic lessening of intensity during acceleration for warm up runs, miss out on that.
I believe in conjugate periodization, so although there definitely is an effort to build a base, I like mixing up the different ingredients that go into building race fitness, ie; endurance, strength and power, speed, rhythm/tempo, cross training, etc... During GPP, however; the intensity of the work is low, while we work at getting the volume up pretty high.
The goal for long sprints is for the athlete to be in shape enough and coached to; gradually accelerate to the top speed used for the run, to be able to have good form, maintaining that top speed while relaxing and having the sensation of "pushing". During this time the range of motion of the arms is not as great and as vigorous as when sprinting full speed or toward the end of the race. During the second half of the long sprint there is a gradual build in intensity. and when coming home, the emphasis should be more on turn over than stride length, maintaining good body position and having good form. If the first half of the run was done fast enough, because of fatigue, the second half of the long sprint should be a little slower than the first half, but the work is harder. Athletes should resist the tendency to reach out and over stride.
Prior to the first meet the athletes expected to run 400 meters in a meet will typically have worked their way up to a ladder workout with something like 550-500-450-400-350. Those running the 200 should have done something similar to 450-400-350-300-250, as well as some top speed sprints and 150s, and those running the 55 and 100 meter sprints should have done pretty much what the 200 meter athletes did, with enough attention given to starts, accelerating and those race models.
For speed endurance, mixing in workouts like broken 400s, and repeats of runs with relatively short rest between each run work well. When the time is right we'll do workouts using a stop watch that specifically develop the 400 meter dash race model. Soon after that, we give attention to the 200 meter dash race model, using 150 meter repeats, and then the 100 meter dash model.
It is critical to not pressure the athlete to run too fast too soon, and to not feel pressured to pack too many hard workouts into too short a time. Mixing in easy workouts, medium workouts, and days off at the right times is a crucial coaching skill, and requires re-evaluation and communication with the athletes. At the end of the day, if the athlete is not ready to sprint by the first meet, then he/she shouldn't sprint. Maybe run the 4 x 400 relay, field events, etc...
I am a former track athlete that is a certified trainer and high school track coach, and who has put an awful lot of time into studying the art and science of sprinting. My focus is on the youth thru high school ages. You may contact me for more information and/or to enlist my services by visiting my Speed Coach web page.