Wednesday, December 04, 2013

What changes from High School to College?

Interesting article posted by Steve Magness on his blog about the changes in terms of training that runners go through from high school to college.



Anonymous said...

The transition is wholly dependent upon the college coach and his/her philosophy of training. As Magness indicated, he did not improve due to his own efforts at sabotaging his training, but many college coaches will increase mileage so dramatically that the H.S. athlete tanks and frequently is injured.

Many high school programs graduate athletes who did not realize weekly high mileage, walk onto their college campus, have their mileage doubled, and end up injured. Of course, there are some college coaches who coach with a survival-of-the-fitness mentality, too, and toss these athletes aside.

Case in point. I had a girl go to a college in southern CA, and the coach at that college believed his runners were to walk running, talk running, live running, breath running, piled on the miles, ran massive interval sets, and she ended up injured, along with three other teammates. But it was their fault somehow. She left after a semester.

On the other hand, in another situation a college coach with a different athlete who had been ill trained her slowly and progressively, and she has enjoyed tremendous success going from a 19:30s 5k runner to a 17:40s runner and continuing to make improvement.

When these high school kids enter college, for most they are on their own for the first time in their lives, have an academic load that far exceeds what they did in high school, have to work, come from various training methods and college coaches need to treat them as individuals and not one-size-fits-all athletes.

I know one college coach that asks for the high schooler’s training programs in order to see how they trained, what their mileage was, how long was their rest period, what did they do for winter or summer training, and then builds from that and tailors the whole program to the individual. That is good coaching.

But…what the college athlete has to beware of is that fantastic coach you like, the one who may have recruited you, he or she may be gone next year off to brighter skies, and you might just get a new coach who destroys you. The athlete has to be prepared to make wise decisions in their own best interest, too.

I was reading one of the threads on this site yesterday about athletes who go to college and we never hear of about them again. They may have lost their scholarship, gotten injured, lost their love for running due to over training.

Buyer beware.

Anonymous said...

Wow. As a parent whose teenager is looking at running in college, this is gold.

Anonymous said...

12:37 -
My above post may sound pessimistic. It's not ALL bad. There are excellent college coaches out there and excellent programs.

Rather than concluding "buyer beware," I think more aptly put, "do your homework."

I would never discourage any athlete from running in college. To the contrary, I would highly encourage it. It is a time of life that only comes around once.

In the former situation, that young lady after a less than favorable semester experience, returned to her home town, ran for a local community college, had a positive experience and went on to set records, transferred to a 4-year and had success.

Do your research, write out your questions, find out what type of training the coach utilizes, mileage, philosophy, individualization, visit the campus by all means, and talk to several team members, especially the ones who are not the top runners.

Obviously there are thousands who make this transition and have a positive experience.

In all honesty, there are far too many HS kids who think they can't make it in college and do not move on to that next level.

Continue your "looking" and encourage your teen to go for it, while at the same time, move with caution. Check out many colleges and all options.

Anonymous said...

So what is the role of the H.S. coach? To get the most out of the athlete in high school? Or, maybe hold the runner back a bit and have them under trained when they get to college?

Albert Caruana said...

That's the million dollar question.

Coach Small said...

I don't believe it has to be an either or. A good coach can systematically train to improve in high school and be prepared for college.

Remember there are many factors in play here besides coaching and training once athletes head off to college. For the majority of kids it is their first time away from home. And lets not forget genetics, maturation, or the distractions of the college life. People fall in love and motivations change.

Athletics in college are much different than in high school and the competitive environment is not for everyone. Cross Country is no longer a participation sport, there is pressure to perform and win. In many cases the coach's job depends on it.

That said in my experience college training can be "survival of the fittest." But in many cases it has to be doesnt it? If you want to be successful you need to train hard. You have to handle that kind of training load to run amongst the college elite. You dont run a 13 min 5k by doing what you did in high school. Those who get a more personal approach and developmental program are generally at the smaller schools or in a building stage of the program. Not that it is right, but just the way it seems to be.

All that said I believe you can build mileage, train hard and be successful in high school and improve in college. We have many examples of such from here in the Bay Area.

No sure where the fallacy that you need to be undertrained in high school to be successful in college came from, but I don't buy it.

Coach Ozzie said...

I'm with Josh on this one. Training with an eye on the future is not the same thing as intentional undertraining. An athlete will have just as much difficulty, if not more, moving to college without a mileage background as they will by having run too much. Take for instance the athletes in the original poster's comment who were asked to double their mileage. Was that to their advantage? There is a difference between running high mileage and overtraining. Athletes can do high mileage in high school. They can also do hard workouts in high school. As long as they are kept in proper balance, they can take that preparation to the college level and make a smooth transition. If you had the opportunity to ask everyone who earned All-American status at this year's NCAA meet what their high school training was like, my guess is that most of them would not be what you'd consider "under trained".

Like the original poster, my experience is that most college coaches do not ask for information about prior training from their coaches (hopefully they are getting some of this information from the athletes). In the last few years, I have contacted the coaches of the colleges that our athletes have attended and offered them the information. In all but one case, the coach has asked for it. In some cases, they have come back and asked for much more extensive information about the athlete coming in. I don't know what they do with this information once they have it, but when it is made available, coaches do like to have background information.

Nils said...

Could the good folks here recommend any reading for a high-school runner and his dad, about how to train? The "Training for Young Distance Runners" book is good! but seems more directed at transitioning to High School. Sebastian Coe's book was to me bewilderingly technical. Are there books anyone would recommend for a good but underachieving H.S. Junior?

Also I'll say that a good H.S. coach actually prepares runners for college by having stiff but measured workouts, and explaining the schedule. It sinks in.

Anonymous said...

Great comments! I was just talking with Danny Tapia today about all of this. Finding the right balance between working hard in high school but making it so kids want to run in college and beyond is a bit tricky. I do think that we can have a great effect on all of that. As a high school coach I know I could push my kids much harder and take their training to the next level but I do think that that could have a detrimental effect if we're not very careful. I've seen way too many kids and programs that have a very low college running rate. By that I mean that very few of their kids go on to run and keep running (and faster for that matter). As a high school coach I want them to be successful at our level but not at the expense of sacrificing success later on. I am much more proud of all the kids that keep running in some way or another and watching kids like Danny Tapia flourish after high school makes it very rewarding. So, what's the correct balance? I think each coach has to make that decision. If kids are having a great time in High School on and off the course and many of them are wanting to keep running I think we are having success. The red flags come up when kids are quitting as soon as they are done with us. Or if they run extremely fast with us and never get any better later. I think most of our kids that choose to keep running should be able to get much much faster after high school while still doing well in high school.
Happy balance finding!
Coach Ibarra
North Monterey County

Anonymous said...

Excellent comments coming in on this thread, and I appreciate Albert posting it. It is an important issue to address, because like Coach Ibarra stated, "...very few of their kids go on to run and keep running..."

Coach Small made some excellent points, also. It can be a survival of the fittest, depending on the size of the program, too. In xc, if the team is going to cap at 15, then, yes, some are going to be cut, and in college, being in the Top 7 and more particularly, Top 5 is far more crucial than HS, and the athlete is oftentimes treated differently.

In my original post at the top, I addressed the need to individualize. Interestingly, in the double-the-mileage scenario, it was a small NAIA college, but in the individualized approach, it was a large D1. It really comes down to the coach and the pressures that are also put upon them.

Remember, that in HS most coaches are teachers or walk-on coaches, so coaching is not their primary job. Not so with college coaches. They are hired to coach, to manage, to recruit, to develop secondary training, to watch out for the welfare of their athletes, to ensure they are maintaining academically, and yes, to win. Many xc coaches are aspiring to become head coaches or "director" over not only xc but also T&F, and so they must win.

Recently I was asked to send a college athlete's HS training from XC into track. The coach wanted to see how long a rest period was normally taken with this athlete and what type of winter base training was taking place to springboard from that. I think this is more of the exception than the rule, but it spoke volumes to me as far as his view of the athlete as an individual rather than a cog in the wheel.

With respect to the million dollar question, "So what is the role of the H.S. coach? To get the most out of the athlete in high school? Or, maybe hold the runner back a bit and have them under trained when they get to college," Ken Reeves in an email he sent me a few years ago put it like this: "First of all, wanted them to enjoy aerobic exercise. As a physical educator, wanted them to exercise throughout their life, not just during high school. So, didn't want to over train them in high school so they never ran again. Like you, I was not a runner in high school or college. Remember looking at the cross country guys as a little mentally deranged! Went to college to play football and finished as a D1 soccer player. Started running to be in better shape during soccer and got hooked on it. So many of my high school friends who were good runners in high school who were severely overweight after high school and no longer liked to run. Wanted my athletes to continue to exercise after high school. Secondly, wanted to challenge the team to develop a positive work ethic. Looking at great leaders, great people, great parents, great athletes, great students and great teachers, all had the ability to work hard. One of our quotes was 'The reward for hard work is the opportunity to do more.' Wanted them invested in their life, their school work and their athlete efforts. While people are blessed with different athletic abilities, all people can develop a good work ethic. The beauty of cross country is that through hard work, most everyone can develop themselves into a decent runner."

I echo that.

Anonymous said...

@ Nils - "Could the good folks here recommend any reading for a high-school runner and his dad, about how to train? The "Training for Young Distance Runners" book is good! but seems more directed at transitioning to High School. Sebastian Coe's book was to me bewilderingly technical. Are there books anyone would recommend for a good but underachieving H.S. Junior?"

I assume your "underachieving H.S. Junior" is running for a local H.S., so number 1, he should listen to and follow the training program of his coach.

For supplemental information, right from this site are some threads and articles that might help. First of all, on the home page, over on the right, there is an ad with a bunch of running books to check out. Then look at these links:

Steve Palladino said...

Injuries and overtraining accounted for 47% of the reasons that college runners felt why they didn't meet expectations. Training volume was graphically increased in college vs HS. The natural tendency is to assign causation. While the survey found no difference in number of "speed" sessions per week, it failed to querry total number of running sessions per week, or number of no-running days per week/month, or amount of sleep per week, or total homework load per week, etc. IOW, injury and overtraining causation is multifactorial - on both the training load side and recovery side. Take care in interpreting a survey like this.
That said, every runner is somewhat unique in their biomechanical and physiological capacity to withstand increases in training load (and realize that training load is a big bucket of many variables), or decreases in recovery (again, many variables). Every runner, whether in an individualized program, or a cookie cutter program, if motivated sufficiently, is going to eventually explore their limits in biomechanical and physiologic capacity. In this regard, there is some "natural selection" to be expected as runners progress their careers from HS to college and beyond.
The great challenge in coaching, is to balance training load and recovery so that progression gradually approaches an individual's biomechanical and physiologic capacity, while not exceeding them....and to do this in a program with X number of runners ;-)

Coach Ozzie said...

Also take into account the fact that some injuries will occur by random chance. That is to say, the longer that an athlete runs, the more likely they are to sustain some sort of injury. If Magness had surveyed the entire population of high school runners, the injury rate would be much higher. Some of that is due to certain athlete's ability to withstand injury, but some of it was just luck (athletes didn't happen to break their ankle tripping over a root where someone else did).

It is no coincidence that the athletes who were able to stay healthy and train for four years are the ones who were able to progress to the college level, but being lucky for four years, does not imply that an athlete will then be lucky for 8 years. I would guess that the rate of injury amongst the entire high school population is pretty similar to the injury rate amongst the collegiate population.

Steve Palladino said...

It has been my observation that in runners, luck has very little to do with injury acquisition. Sure, there are those that will sprain an ankle or worse, or slip and fall, etc, but the vast majority of running injuries have nothing to do with luck, and everything to so with what Stan James classified long ago as training errors, biomechanical faults, shoes, and/or surfaces (and usually combinations thereof).
Coach Ozzie's point WRT the incidence of running injuries in all HS competitive runners versus all collegiate runners is well taken and remains to be demonstrated.
The study queries runners that competed in BOTH HS and college. The nature of the survey excludes those that were, in effect "naturally selected" out of competitive running by the end of HS, for one reason or another.
In the end, my comments for this study group stand. The data suggest (albeit not without weaknesses) that injury/overtraining tends to have some "natural selection" on those remaining in collegiate competitive running - likely as they strive to approach their biomechanical/physiologic maximal capacity.

Anonymous said...

Call it whatever you want, if you can do the training, for whatever reason, injury included you can't do what it takes to be great at the college level. Maybe it's not for you. Join a running club and run a local 5k or try a marathon. But you don't have what it takes. College is not an all-comers meet. Their job is to run fast and win, not create more entries in the next team in training event.

Anonymous said...

Steve Palladino's comments are well taken, and I agree that "luck" has nothing to do with it nor does random chance. Sure, Coach X can over train, and runner y will get injured while runner z does not. Call that luck if you want. It is a better course of action to not over train to begin with and spare both runner y and z.

The same thing with natural selection. Double the mileage of five runners and see who can withstand the load. Again, avoid over training, promote good nutrition, rest and recovery, etc., and remove these random chance variables.

@ 7:49 - it is also dependent on what college the athlete attends. Don't think that every college/university puts out fast runners. There are many colleges that do not have fast teams and they are just trying to get enough to score. From that perspective, yes, there are colleges that are like high schools trying to "field a team."

Coach Ozzie said...

Steve Palladino,

My response was not meant as a response to your comment, but rather to the thread at large. I actually agree 100% with everything that you've said and think that you bring up really good points. After reading your comments though, I think I should clarify. My use of the term "lucky" was just lazy usage of the word accompanied by an even lazier explanation of what I meant.

I completely agree that someone who runs with bad mechanics is likely to eventually get injured if they keep running. The question is not if, but when. Luck comes in when the injury can be pushed on down the road. The best thing to do to avoid the injury is correct the flaw, but we've all seen runners with bad mechanics who do not get hurt and never seem to improve the flaw. Maybe they stay healthy because the coach recognizes the flaw and has limited their regimen compared to others on the team, but more often I think they are a little bit lucky. Lucky because there are softer surfaces to run on around their school, or lucky because his or her uncle is a massage therapist (I had a teammate in that situation in high school, who then complained when he couldn't get a free weekly sports massage in college), or lucky because the cookie cutter program happens to fit their needs, or just plain lucky to dodge the bullets for longer than most people with the same afflictions.

Those who make it on to college are often the ones who have done a lot of work (that might mean high mileage, but it doesn't have to) and have remained healthy. But maybe when they get to college they don't have those soft surfaces any more, or their uncle didn't come along to the new city.

The point I was trying to make was that the athlete that went on to run in college may not be any more skilled biomechanically than the runner who got hurt and did not make a college team. He or she may not be more talented either. Some set of circumstances existed that allowed that runner to traverse the high school landscape unscathed. At the college, that set of circumstances may not exist, but in most cases it is not because the high school coach cared more about the runner. The high school coach may be a better coach (or maybe not), but the myth of the idea of the evil college coach only in it for the points is more a myth than reality in my experience.

Again, I would bet money that the injury rate amongst the typical college team compared to the typical high school team is within 5%, although I have no data to offer.

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