Ask the coach: relay changes, introducing an extra turn in hammer, coaching boys v girls, weekly mileage for juniors

Our Event Group Leads have each answered one of our ‘Ask The Coach’ questions submitted. If you have a question you’d like answered you can submit them.

This month we answer the following:

How often should a relay team practice baton changes?

As often as possible! Relay baton practice can be part of the athlete’s regular training sessions in their own groups as part of the warm-up/down and there are relay drills that are good to incorporate into training. Relay practice as a team ideally should take place throughout the year and not just before a competition.

How do you know when an athlete is ready to add an extra turn in hammer?

The key thing every thrower is trying to do is to maximise the distance they throw. Most athletes start with a 2-3 swings followed by a standing throw.

Athletes might want to consider adding an extra turn if there distances have plateaued. The extra turn increase the acceleration path of the hammer and therefore the speed of release and consequently distance. Where athletes struggle to remain in the circle after release (due to travelling too far across during the throw or if they are unstable on release) they must consider if removing that extra turn is more optimal.

Monitoring training throwing distances provides vital information as to whether the number of turns is optimising the release speed. Where possible, athletes/coaches should be offered opportunities to learn new skills, to optimise both enjoyment and performance. Learning to swing and turn in the opposite direct, doing multiple turns with a stick or Med ball before moving to throwing is advantageous.


  • The technical excellence framework (available from Athletics Hub) created can be applied to athletes at all ages and stages.
  • In the Athletics 365 resources (available from the apple and google play stores) the hammer is described as a two-handed heave throw and starts at the purple stage. It explains how an athlete can start exploring heave throws from a static position through to multiple swings and turns

Should I be training boys and girls differently or can they be on the same programme?

Generally in coaching, it is important to coach the person in from of you. Each athlete will adapt, recover, learn and develop differently and at different rates. Our role as coaches is to ensure we prescribe the training session that is right for the athlete on that day, so very much the philosophy of coaching the individual training principle.

Consideration factors when coaching boys and girls

We need to be mindful of the critical periods of development:

  • Chronological age – age since birth
  • Training age – number of years specialised in the sport
  • Relative age – age variation to others within same age group
  • Biological age – stage of which the physiological, biological and structural process have taken place or taking place during maturation

So if we look closer at the maturation process, there is a unique rate and timing of development of the following. For some it occurs early, for others, late.

  • Neural development – nervous system development
  • General development – fat free mass
  • Hormonal – testosterone (boys) oestrogen (girls)

If we were to consider the hormonal changes, we would observe the following:

  • Bone density and length changes
  • Increases in muscle mass and density and tendon and ligament integrity
  • A re-apportioning of fat distribution to those more appropriate to late adolescent and adult common body shaping, leading to:
    - Relatively rapid gain in height
    - Relatively rapid gain in weight
    - Re-apportioning of that weight to different body areas
    - Increase in level arms (legs and arm length)

Growth of the long bones can seem rapid, and can outstrip the growth of muscles and connective tissue, resulting in a period of temporary inflexibility. As a result, greater strength is required to stabilise longer limbs – this takes time. The body can often ‘tighten-up’ to counter the loss of function (stability during motion), and previously gained technique can appear different or unreliable.

During the growth period, the physiological demands are increased and therefore the athletes may display lack of energy and increased greater fatigue. The adolescent growth spurt varies considerably in timing, tempo, duration among individuals. Allowing for this variation, Peak Height Velocity (PHV) rather chronological age should be used to characterise changes in size, body composition and performance.

Before puberty, it has been considered that boys and girls “do not differ substantially” in body dimensions and composition (Wilmore & Costill, 1994).

During puberty, differences in these measures become more evident because of hormonal changes. For girls:

  • Early growth spurt
  • Flaring / widening of the Pelvis (rising levels of oestrogen)
  • Increased Q angle (Q angle increase risk of injury of knee and hip, less stability around the pelvic area)
  • Less stability 2-3 days pre-menstruation (and the understanding of the menstruation cycle)
  • Lower levels of muscle building hormones
  • Shoulders are narrower providing weaker force production in pushing and pulling
  • Fat tissue may increase - typical female distribution of breasts, hips, buttocks, thighs, upper arms, and pubis – lower Centre of Gravity (CoG)

Therefore, girls must begin functional (neuromuscular) strength-training sooner; do it better; and sustain it longer than boys, just to survive their window of vulnerability to injury.

As coaches, we often ask our athletes to play longer, play harder, play faster, play for higher stakes, and we ask this of boys and girls equally…we ask coaches to be mindful of physical, physiological and biological differences when coaching boys and girls.

What weekly mileage do you recommend for juniors?

What a great question to which there is no finite answer as every athlete is an individual
There are however some common factors that should be considered and a great guidance document available in our downloadable Youth Endurance resource which contains tables for road and track, gender and age in figures 3,4 and 5.

What should you consider together with this document to come to a balance decision?

LTAD – Long Term Athlete Development – Endurance is a journey in which each athlete walks at their own pace- it’s essentially a late development sport where mature athletes with good conditioning, agility, balance, and coordination with flourish. The coaching challenge is to get them there fit and healthy ready to compete to their best ability and realise their individual potential. Young athletes go through windows of development which the coach should not miss by amongst other factors too much mileage on wrong surfaces.

Peak Hight Velocity – young athletes have growth spurts where bones, tendons and muscles grow at different rates – you only need to view a group of U15 boys to see the differences in both hight and maturity. Note: take care if recording hight and weight of athletes; it's an area to definitely be aware of but requires extreme sensitivity.

Puberty – Both genders go through challenges during puberty where girls tend to reach this ahead of boys. See the previous Ask the Coach question on this page.

Physical Preparation – to help your athletes journey to maturity physical preparation should be incorporated in the training plan. This does not mean that running at appropriate intensity cannot take place by using technics such as Oregon Circuits. Here Fundamental Movement Skills – Push, Pull, Brace , Hinge and Jump can be incorporated into and expanded in Lunge, Squat, Plank, Bridge and Bug patterns where the exercise is done and coached in perfect form for a given period of time identified by the athletes ability to maintain shape, followed by a brief rest regrouping period, followed by a steady run . The circuit is repeated over a number of repartitions. You can find more detail in an easy accessible format on Athletics Hub where videos covering Oregon, Exercises and detail of physical preparation cand be found embedded in the Let’s Start With series.

So what weekly mileage do I recommend for juniors?

Take a very individual approach based around the guidance tables in our Youth Endurance resource with LTAD, PHV, Puberty, and Physical Preparation all taken into consideration and woven into your programme. We want our juniors to be in the sport for the long run- so Hurry Slowly!

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Have a question for our Event Group Leads? From questions about coaching complete beginners, to periodisation for elite athletes, no question is too big or too small.