USATF track coach certification classroom time

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A few years back, in the process of course-correcting my life, I decided I want to coach runners, particularly masters runners. I started running and racing at age 45, 6 years ago, and worked my way up from being pack fodder to now being a competitive runner. So I know firsthand that it's possible to improve your fitness as a masters athlete if you're willing to put in the time and effort. Masters athletes represent a slice of the population whom I truly feel I can help.

The Internet is flooded with track coaches. Most of them are the real deal. But without a bona-fide certification, you can't be sure if your coach possesses the true understanding of exercise physiology, sports psychology and best practices needed to properly help athletes. This said, I decided that, before I'd go about offering my services or training plans, I would pursue a well-respected running coaching credential. Maybe two. 

I opted to go for the USATF certification first for two reasons:

  1. The program is rigorous. It's not a workshop; it's based on an actual curriculum, developed by some of the best coaches in the sport; and
  2. USATF is the penultimate American track and field organization, and so the certification carries a lot of weight.
My view for most of the classroom time.

My view for most of the classroom time.

The weekend of running classes

The certification process started last weekend with 22 hours of classroom time from top-level coaches. There was lots to absorb. 

On Friday night, we covered

  • Positive coaching, ethics and risk
  • Physiology
  • Sports psychology

On Saturday, we were in class from 8am to 8pm with only a short lunch break. We learned about:

  • Training theory
  • Biomotor training for speed and power
  • Sprints, hurdles and relays
  • Sports psychology
  • Sports biomechanics
  • Jumps

Sunday

I had to wait for the last day for my favorite: endurance. We delved into:

  • Throws
  • Endurance/race walking
Time to hit the books – and take the 180-question exam. 

Time to hit the books – and take the 180-question exam. 

The good and the bad

The good: The coaches were super knowledgeable about track and field, coaching and exercise physiology, and gave interesting presentations and demonstrations. They were also friendly, engaging and infectiously positive. 

I've studied running intensely over the past 6 years. Besides putting in the blood, sweat and tears, I've also devoured countless books, magazines, podcasts, blog posts and Internet articles on the subject. I consider myself more knowledgable than the average runner bear. But I walked away from this workshop knowing so much more than when I walked in. 

I also got to interact with an interesting spectrum of people, all of whom were connected by a love of running and/or track and field. I met elementary, junior high, and high school coaches, NCAA coaches, some private coaches, and even a few runners who attended simply to extend their knowledge base.

The bad: My only "bone" of contention about this weekend was the comments one coach-presenter made about vegetarianism and its supposed effect on health. These comments were not evidence-based; a simple Google search will reveal countless, rigorous scientific studies pointing to the health benefits of well-planned vegetarian diets (another topic for another blog post). I was surprised that someone in a position of authority could profess such a strong opinion without a basic understanding of nutrition or without at least presenting a more balanced point of view.

He also said that most vegetarians he knows look "ill." Many die-hard carnivores also look "ill"; in fact, many are overweight, out of shape, and pasty – but this rarely comes up in conversation. It's not fun to pick on the majority. An interesting paradox is that this particular presenter also used Carl Lewis as an example several times during his presentation regarding his excellent running form, stamina, etc.

Carl Lewis is vegan. I'm sure he didn't know this. 

Next up: the exam

After putting in the classroom hours, I now have 90 days to take the 180-question exam, which includes 20 new questions on doping (a sign of the times). If I pass the exam, I'll get my Level 1 coaching certification. 

I'm not a fan of tests. (Is anyone?) And I have not "hit the books" since I finished grad school almost 15 years ago. So please light a candle to the exam gods for me.