Athletics NI’s first Open Academy Squad day ran at Ulster University on 16th October, 2016 and attracted 16 coach-athlete pairs.  Open Academy gives aspiring athletes between the ages of 15 & 19 years old, and their coaches, a chance to experience the core concepts behind the Youth Academy Programme. To start the day Athlete Development Lead- Tom Reynolds discussed Athletics NI’s vision for Youth Physical Preparation.  “Athletics NI seek to raise the potential of teenage athletes aspiring to achieve senior success.  We hope to achieve this through early exposure to the physical preparation and lifestyle planning that facilitates high performance training.”

As Athletics NI Coach Development & Physical Preparation Lead I then introduced the idea of Physical Competence Screening and presented coaches with a range of screening options and rationale.  Athletics NI Coach and International Athlete Adam McMullen was on hand to demonstrate the screening exercises and support coaches as they gathered information on the movement abilities of their own athletes.  I explained how coaches could analyse this and how observations and analysis of information collected should guide coaches physical preparation planning for 2016/17 and beyond.  Find out more on my rationale for Physical Competence Screening at this link or check out the exercises we used in the images below:



After the physical competence discussion coaches led the athletes through a targeted mobility session as I discussed the use of mobility tools such as lacrosse balls, foam rollers and jump stretch bands. Coaches discussed specific mobility requirements for their athletes related to their event groups and lifestyle and I referred them to Kelly Starrett’s New York Time’s Best Seller- ‘Becoming a Supple Leopard‘ for further reading.


Open Academy Calf Raise Assessment

Athletes moved into their dynamic warm ups with track and horizontal jumps athletes grouped together and multi eventers, pole vaulters and javelin throwers working together. These groupings allowed us to differentiate the mobility requirements for event groups and focus on shoulder flexion/extension/ thoracic spine mobility and trunk rotation for the overhead and throws group. The track and jumps group focused on hip flexion and extension/posterior chain and hamstring activation and single leg stability. The rationale for the inclusion of fundamental movements like squat, lunge, hinge, crawling, handstands and skipping variations became clear as coaches reflected on their athletes physical competence screens. I discussed the RAMP warm up principle with some of the coaches (RAISE-ACTIVATE-MOBILZE-POTENTIATE) before we introduced monster walks with mini bands to activate the glutes. You can check out what Ian Jeffreys of the UK Strength & Conditioning Association has to say on warm up or download his article which featured in the UKSCA Journal (2007); Ian_Jeffreys_RAMP_Warm_Up.pdf

Adam, Tom and I delivered a basic introduction to foot and ankle conditioning and remedial plyometrics making reference to the importance of monitoring quality of foot contacts in plyometrics and conditioning the Achillies and calf to reduce foot and shin injuries. I think it’s fair to say the approach Adam and I take to plyometrics for youth has been influenced by LSU jumps expert Boo Schexnayder who we both listened to at last year’s Scottish Athletics Annual Coaching Conference.  Boo encouraged coaches to introduce plyometrics initially through stiff legged ankle jumps or bounces like ‘pogos.’  He encourages a flat footed landing and low amplitude jumps like ‘pogos’ allow the athlete to work with less load than repeated countermovement jumps or hops for example.  Boo explained that these develop ‘fundamental elastic strength.’


Youth Academy perform in place squat jumps

When challenged to raise the intensity of plyometrics within youth programmes our approach over the past 2 years has always been to determine if the athlete can take off and land safely first. In all ‘Rising Stars’ and ‘Youth Academy’ squads we teach take off and landing mechanics during in place bilateral jumps before progressing to hops or bounding. Assessing absorption of forces at ankle, knee and hip joint as well as foot strike, knee alignment and trunk control are all priorities.  Proper stabilization of the knee, and ankle prior to impact are important point to teach. This normally includes some stiffening of the quadriceps group, and a dorsiflexed ankle.

We completed our track based session on Sunday with a quick assessment of the athletes acceleration mechanics from a standing start.  Our next open squad will have a speed development theme and so initially we were keen to facilitate coaches to observe athletes acceleration mechanics as a starting point.  Some of the quick fixes that helped athletes to push down and back to project themselves forward in acceleration were:

  • Increasing the weight distribution over the front foot and increasing the front shin angle
  • Fixing the eyes down and slightly ahead with a neutral spine and forward trunk lean
  • Encouraging a low heel recovery in the first few strides by asking the athlete to push out and step low over the opposite ankle.  (See ANI Acceleration Progressions Resource)

On the next squad we look forward to exploring speed concepts further with coaches and hopefully improving athletes understanding of the key positions that will help them to achieve desired outcomes. We will be discussing ‘wall drills’ and use of the prowler which have proven successful tools for improving acceleration during the past 2 years with Youth Academy athletes. Athletes and coaches will also be able to explore the use of ‘dribbles’ and ‘wicket runs’ which Tom and I have included with athletes as young as 12 years old at Rising Stars squads.  These encourage front side mechanics and vertical step down during upright sprinting.  These have gained popularity in recent years as Dan Pfaff and Stuart McMillian have advocated them at World Class Performance level with athletes in ALTIS (video.).

I’ll be providing reflections on our Strength and Conditioning component in another post but for now here are the two warm ups we prepared for the Open Academy session.  Thanks to all the athletes and their personal coaches who impressed us in their attention to detail and ambition to strive for excellence in everything they do. We look forward to catching up with you all again soon at Open Academy Squad 2 when we will have:

  • A seminar on ‘Lifestyle and Recovery for Athletic Performance’
  • A ‘Speed Development Session’ with the option for coaches to use electronic timing gates
  • A ‘Strength and Conditioning’ catch up with options for coaches to work with their athletes on either first introduction to loading with a kettlebell, general strength session or Olympic Weightlifting progressions.

As always thanks to Tom Reynolds, Adam McMullen, Allister Woods and Dean Adams who contribute to weekly programming for Athletics NI Rising Stars & Youth Academy Squads.

Throws/PV/Multis Sprints/MD//Hurdles/Jumps (not PV)
Dynamic Warm Up Priorities: T Spine /trunk rotation/shoulder / hip and groin mobility

  • Yoga push up rock for T spine x10
  • Reverse lunge to high knee
  • easy skip 20m
  • Lunge to hip circles to T spine rotation x10 e/w
  • Knee up toe up skip 20m
  • Handstand hold 3×30 sec
  • Knee up toe up skip 20m
  • Crawling push up x15m
  • Wide stance squat x15
  • Lateral skips L&R 20m
  • Prisoner squat x15
  • Groiners x20
  • Single leg hip hinge x10
  • Monster band walks x25 e/s


Dynamic Warm Up Priorities: Hinge/lunge/squat/groin mobility and glute activation

  • Easy skip 20m
  • Knee to chest squeeze x12
  • Knee up toe up skip 20m
  • Reverse lunge to high knee x6 es
  • Glute band walks x20 each way
  • Knee up toe up skip 20m
  • Lateral Skip overhead L&R  20m
  • Hands ahead squat x10
  • Stiff legged skip (heel toe roll) 2x 20m
  • Single leg squat hold x 20 sec L/R
  • Hip hinge x12
  • Walking Lunges x8
  • Push up walk from forearms x 20 seconds
  • Hip bridge from heels x20


Foot and ankle conditioning

  • Heel toe exaggerated walk in socks x15m
  • Single leg calf raise in socks 2×15-20


Foot and ankle conditioning

  • Heel toe exaggerated walk in socks x15m
  • Single leg calf raise in socks 2×15-20


Remedial Plyometrics

  • Pogo forward 2x<10sec
  • Rotating pogos 2x <10sec


Remedial Plyometrics

  • Double Pogos 3x <8sec



  • 2 footed take off to 1 footed landing across lanes 1×8 L&R
  • Lateral line jumps 1×8 L&R

  • 2 footed take off to 2 footed stick 2×6
  • Alternate leg line hop & stick 2×6