Track & Field Skills & Techniques

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

This lesson will review many of the techniques used in the track and field world to improve athletic performance. The techniques include ways to enhance breathing, sleep, and mental toughness. The lesson also includes physical training methods.

Different Skills and Techniques

There are many different skills and techniques involved in the extremely competitive track and field world. At first glance, we think of physical skills such as running, jumping, and throwing. However, in this advanced age of computers, we have seen an increasing emphasis on other aspects of sports improvement such as breathing techniques, psychological skills, diet, and even sleep enhancement. In the track and field world, .01 of a second or .1 of an inch (or of a millimeter) can mean the difference between a gold or a silver medal, so competitors and their coaches are always looking for any way to get that slight edge.

The Mental Side

The mental side of sports is where many experts feel an event is often won or lost. Winners tend to have a strong self-belief, an ability to overcome obstacles, a strong desire to win, and, of course, the commitment to make all these things happen. Furthermore, winners tend to utilize imagery and visualization, setting both short-term and long-term goals. Winners have mental toughness and use self-talk to help them perform at the optimal level of ability.

Dietary Habits

The dietary habits of the track and field athlete are probably the most hotly debated aspect of the sport. There are thousands of diet plans and eating theories, and we see diets vary greatly from one athlete to another. Of course, a 300-pound discus thrower is going to eat much differently than a 100-pound marathoner. One thing that most of the athletes' diets include, however, is ample protein. This applies even to the runners who eat a high carbohydrate diet. Even the vegetarian athletes eat eggs and peanut butter to achieve their desired protein intake.

Athletes, in general, also tend to consume far more calories than the average sedentary person. We have heard the stories of swimmer Michael Phelps eating 11,000 calories per day including stacks of pancakes. The average person eats only about 2,000 calories. Track and field athletes are often no different.


Probably the most nascent form of training in the track and field world is the concept that better sleep equals better performance. It seems like common sense, but we all now live in a high-stress, fast-paced world, and many of us do not sleep the oft recommended 7-9 hours per night. Studies are now showing that athletes who do not sleep properly actually underperform, and this lack of adequate rest can mean the difference between winning and losing. Colleges and universities, along with even NASA, are leading the way in cutting-edge sleep research and related technology.

LeBron James of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers has stated he might sleep 11 or 12 hours the night before a big game. Considering that the average American only gets 6-7 hours per night, we see that pro athletes need time to repair their bodies after tough workouts. Another factor sleep scientists are finding is that most people sleep in a room that is too warm. Evidently, 68 degrees Fahrenheit or even cooler is optimal. Scientists have produced studies that show better sleep increases accuracy, reaction time, and speed.


There are a multitude of breathing techniques to improve running ability, but one of the most popular tried and true methods is to train at altitude. It is believed that in the past 50 years over 90% of all running champions have either trained or lived at altitude. Many experts believe training at about 8,000 feet for about a month and then returning to train at sea level is the best formula for improvement.

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