The “Championship Season” … Practice??

Tony Holler Coaching Blogs 2 Comments

“I mean, listen, we’re talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about practice.  Not a game.   Not, not … Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last.   Not the game, but we’re talking about practice, man.  I mean, how silly is that?   And we talking about practice.  I know I supposed to be there.  I know I’m supposed to lead by example… I know that… And I’m not…  I’m not shoving it aside, you know, like it don’t mean anything. I know it’s important,  I do. I honestly do… But we’re talking about practice man. What are we talking about?  Practice?  We’re talking about practice, man.”  -Allen Iverson, May 7, 2002

Coaches came unglued.


But here’s the deal … Iverson was right.

Practice is over-rated.

Coaches want to believe that practice can turn water into wine, but it can’t.

In addition, I would take an entire team of athletes like Allen Iverson … guys that compete with intensity … guys that run every race like it’s their last.

I hate to say this, but for every coach that improves a kid, there is probably another that ruins one.

My mind flashes back to 1983.  Harrisburg’s head coach, Chuck Ingram, decided that our cinder track was unworthy of practice and meets.  Harrisburg’s track was not metric and you could still see the markings of the straightaway 220 yard dash.  Chuck scheduled 31 outdoor meets for 1983.  The maximum number of meets is 18 nowadays.  Maybe the rule was in effect then too, but Harrisburg never paid much attention to the IHSA.

Harrisburg’s Mark Bittle was the 2A 800m state champion in 1983.  He basically trained without practice.  You can’t train when you have 31 outdoor meets.  Lucky for him, he was bit by a brown recluse spider and was forced to sit out over a week in early May.  Mark came back rested and ready.  His times dropped from 1:55 to 1:52.  I still believe he owes his state championship to that brown recluse spider.  In addition, never underestimate the training value of competitions (meets).  When athletes compete, they run fast.  #SpeedKills

Before you get mad and stop reading, I do believe in practice.  I am a coach.  I coach in practice, not in meets.  I just believe that practice is over-rated, important but over-rated … me and A.I.

The first commandment of coaching … “Thou shalt not do harm”.

Sometimes I question the benefits of sprint practice during the track season.  However, one thing is clear to me … over-training is malpractice.  (Get the play on words there?  Malpractice?)

The health of a sprinter must always be the #1 priority of a track coach.

I’ve often marveled at the difference between our sport and the ball sports.  I once quarterbacked a football game with two rolls of tape on my right ankle.  Football, basketball, and baseball players are never healthy, never 100%.  Coaches encourage kids to play through injuries (“Rub some dirt on it!”).  Guys playing at 90% or less can be successful in ball sports.

A sprinter at 90% goes from 10.75 in the 100 meters to 11.83 … first to last.  Hobbled sprinters embarrass themselves.

In the 1988 NBA finals, Isiah Thomas literally played the fourth quarter on one leg due to a severely sprained ankle. In that legendary 4th quarter, Isiah went 11-13 from the field and scored 25 points in a miraculous show of courage.  Isiah Thomas would have finished dead last in a race.

Even though it’s over-rated, let’s talk about practice.

In an earlier blog, “The Practice Plan”, I shared some workouts that I’ve used for a long time.  I explained the 23-second drill, critical zone workouts (sets), and 20-hundreds on grass.


Healthy fast guys win races.  Click to enlarge.

Here are four new workouts.

FLY-500 Do this on windy days and run with the wind.  Run 3 guys at a time, 5 x 100 fly.  Have an assistant drop a hand when the three guys cross the starting line.  They must be together when they cross the start.  Time the 100.  Record the times.  The recovery is the time required to walk back (about 2 minutes).  Wear spikes of course.  After the workout, add up the times and divide by 5.  This will give you a 100m time that will indicate who your best 100-200-400 guys are.  RECORD-RANK-PUBLISH.  See the published rankings here … FLY-500

On a funny note, my distance coach, Andy Derks, pointed out the distinct difference between my philosophy and the philosophy of our girls’ sprint coach.  On the day we first did this drill, the wind was howling at 20-30 mph.  We ran super-fast in spikes with the wind.  The girls, on the other side of the track, were running against the wind, with parachutes on !!!  There may be more than one way to skin a cat, but I like mine.  Ha.

The top six guys in this drill will indicate who should be on my 4×1 and 4×2 team.  The drill times this year are as follows … Hrobowski 10.7, Ruscitti 10.9, Edwards 11.0 (alternate), Williams 11.0, Samms 11.1 (alternate), and Harris 11.2.  Ironically these six guys show up in all of my rankings: 40 yard dash, 10m fly, 30m start, and all other published workouts regardless of the volume.  #SpeedKills


Jared Samms anchoring a winning 4×2. Jared is a 6’0″ high jumper and 41.6 intermediate hurdler. He is a trusted alternate on our 4×1 and 4×2 team. He has run 11.2 in the 100m and 51.6 in the 4×4.  Click to enlarge.

400 Predictor Run:  Again, only do this with the wind … running slow teaches you to run slow.  3 x 200 fly with a 200m walk between runs (3-4 minute recovery).  Run in groups of 3 with spikes.  Have an assistant drop a hand, just like the 500-Fly workout above.  Here is the calculus … add the times, divide by 3, multiply by 2, then add 2 seconds.  The resulting number will give you a time very similar to the PR of the runner.  RECORD-RANK-PUBLISH. 400 Predictor Run


Annile Williams got “acidic” after just two 200s. Lactate workouts lower the body’s pH causing the body to purge hydrochloric acid from the stomach.  “You are not SICK, you are ACIDIC.”

The 4×4 predictor workout has been remarkably accurate and has helped me pick my 4×4 team … Ruscitti 51.0 (meet PR 51.2), Samms 51.3 (meet PR 51.6), Williams 52.1 (meet PR 52.0) Edwards 52.2 (meet PR 52.1), and Donnahue 52.7 (meet PR 54.0).  However, don’t be surprised to see me pull my 21.7 200m guy, DeVaughn Hrobowski, and put him in the 4×4 at Sectional.  Last year DeVaughn ran 52.5 as a freshman in the 4×4.  #SpeedKills


Thomas Harris is our #2 guy on our 4×1 and 4×2 (the most important leg of both relays). He ran the 200m 22.97 indoors and 22.53 outdoors. Alex Ruscitti runs the other VIP spot in our sprints relays, leg #3. He has run 22.6 in the 200 and 51.2 in the 400.  Click to enlarge.

Hill 4×4 Predictor:  Find a hill 80-120 meters long.  Make a start and a finish.  Run three guys at a time.  Yell “go” and start watch a first movement.  Full sprint up the hill, walk down.  Run five hills.  To make the times meaningful, use the equation (total hill time of best 400 guy) x (?) = (400m time of best 400 guy).  Example:  Alex Ruscitti runs about 51.0 in the 400.  I added his five hills (58.1) and divided by his best time (51.0) and got an answer of 1.14.  Therefore I divided each guy’s total hill time by 1.14 to find each guy’s 400 prediction.  RECORD-RANK-PUBLISH. Hill 4×4 Predictor


Here freshmen running backs Jordan Gumila & Nico Capezio get a hand-off right. Our freshmen sprint relays teams have broken PN records in the 4×1 (45.57) and 4×2 (1:35.02).  By the way, not one guy mentioned in this entire blog is a senior.  Click to enlarge.

Backwards & Forwards:  This is not a measured workout but it’s good.  We do 10 “chasers” … three guys per race, middle guy takes off … no “go” call … no flinching … the loser of the three becomes the middle-man in the next chaser.  Chasers are fun.  The middle man has the advantage because the other two guys must react to his start.  I call them “chasers” because the other two guys must “chase him down”.  I invented the idea of “chasers” 20 years ago.  If the middle guy loses, he gets a one step head start for the next chaser (probably too slow for his group of three).  Here is the unique aspect.  We do five “retro runs” … backwards sprint races … “butt-kick and reach”.  We go 25-30 meters.  The next five chasers are only 15-20 meters … drive-phase only.  This workout gives us 100% effort and kids have fun.  In addition, retro runs and drive phase runs are easy on the legs.


Annile Williams ran 14.55 in the HH, 39.41 in the 300 INT, and anchored a 42.56 4×1 in our first outdoor meet at Belleville West.  Despite having a two-week period without a meet, we opened up well.  #Happy  #Healthy  Click to enlarge.

Here is the plan for the remainder of this season at Plainfield North …

Conference Week

  • Monday … Backwards & Forwards, stations, specialty events
  • Tuesday … Critical Zone *** 200/200 and 100/100
  • Wednesday … handoffs
  • Thursday … SPC Conference Meet at Romeoville
  • Friday … rest, relax, hydrate, eat right, take naps
  • Saturday … hurdlers 1st two hurdles HH and INT timed, then join sprinters for final two sets … Sprinters 3 sets 100/100 … 200/200 … 200/200, with 8 minutes between sets and 45 seconds between runs.  This is NOT a critical zone workout.  The first run should be at an 800 pace, the second was at a 400 pace. Example – the first 100 (fly) would be a 15, the 2nd would be 12.  The first 200 (fly) would be 30, the second 24.
  • Sunday … rest, relax, hydrate, eat right, take naps

Sectional Week

  • Monday … juniors & seniors Critical Zone *** 200/100 and 200/100 … hurdlers 1st two hurdles HH and INT timed, then 2nd set of Zone workout … Freshmen & Sophomores ABC at Naperville Central … I love that meet!
  • Tuesday … specialty event work …. all other sprinters  – no practice … rest, relax, hydrate, eat right, take naps
  • Wednesday … focused, caffeinated speed drills & hand-offs at full speed
  • Thursday … Sectional at Joliet West
  • Friday … rest, relax, hydrate, eat right, take naps
  • Saturday … rest, relax, hydrate, eat right, take naps
  • Sunday … rest, relax, hydrate, eat right, take naps

Quintin Hoosman is our wild card this year. He has been working at getting healthy for a long time now. In the past 18 months he has had Epstein Barr Virus, hamstring injuries (both legs), and missed most of his 2013 football season with a severe hip pointer. He is being heavily recruited as a football player and has great speed numbers … school record in the 30m start (3.95), 1.03 in 10m fly, 4.29 in the 40, and he triple jumped 41’6″ as a freshman.  Click to enlarge.

State Week

  • Monday … No school … Specialty event work, all other sprinters … rest, relax, hydrate, eat right, take naps
  • Tuesday … Freshmen at Kaneland Invite … All others Critical Zone *** 100/100/100 and 100/100/100
  • Wednesday … hand-offs at full speed
  • Thursday … Leave for state 9:00 AM
  • Friday … State Prelims
  • Saturday … State Finals
  • Sunday … rest, relax, and deal with depression

* eat right = max fruits & vegetables; eliminate sugar


Sophomore DeVaughn Hrobowski has become an elite sprinter this year running 11.01 in the 100m and 21.7 in the 200.  He is a four event stud at every meet.  Click to enlarge.


Rewind to 2004.

Ten years ago I was in my final month of my final season in Harrisburg.

My wife (a 2nd grade teacher) and I were offered package deals in Galesburg, IL, Marshall County, KY, Sarasota, FL, and Franklin, TN.  We accepted offers to work for Sarasota County Schools (Toledo Blade Elementary & North Port High School).  Two weeks later we canceled our Florida plans and accepted jobs with Williamson County Schools in Tennessee (Bethesda Elementary and Franklin High School).

As you can imagine, the month of May was crazy.  Moving a family of six to Florida or Tennessee and coaching through the “Championship Season” was a whirlwind.  To make matters even more absurd, Harrisburg hosted both Conference and Sectional in 2004.  When I say that “Harrisburg” hosted those meets, it should read that “Tony Holler” hosted those meets.  Our AD, Jay Thompson, was the head baseball coach and was a busy man.  I ran concessions, sold t-shirts, and managed the meets.

My track team hoped to win the “Triple Crown” … Conference, Sectional, and State.

At the 2004 state meet we had a chance to win the 4×1, 4×2, 4×4, 110HH, and the 300 INT.  Instead we got 3rd in the vault (our vaulter, Josh Cullers, was the returning state champion and held our school record at 15’7″), placed 4th in the 4×1, 5th in the 4×2, 4th in the 110 HH, 1st & 4th in the 300 Int, and we won the 4×4.  We placed 3rd as a team behind Sparta and Leo.

The highlight of the month was our 3:18.3 4×4 we ran at the SIU Meet of Champions.

Below you see my desk calendar from that crazy month.

My desk calendar from May 2004. I don’t know why I kept it. I threw away a folder that contained 23 years of them. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

Conference Week

  • Mon … Stations – 5 minutes each of short hurdles, leg swings, and hurdle over & unders … the Southern Illinois River to River Conference held their FS meet on the Monday before varsity conference.  I think this is a super idea.  Freshmen and sophomores should have their own meet.
  • Tuesday … Sprinters did 3 sets of 200/200 with 8 minutes rest between sets and 45 second rest between 200’s.  This was NOT a critical zone workout.  Each 200 was 800-pace for the first 100m, 400-pace for 2nd 100 meters (first 100 in 15, second 100 in 12 … total time 27.0).  Distance guys (I coached 16 events) ran the same exact workout but ran 3 sets of 400/400, 8 min rest, 1600-pace for 200 and 800-pace for 200 (first 200 in 35, second 200 in 30 … total time 65).  FS guys had the day off … rest, relax, hydrate, eat right, take naps
  • Wednesday … focused, caffeinated speed drills and high-speed hand-offs
  • Thursday … SIRR Conference Meet hosted by Harrisburg and won by Harrisburg
  • Friday … rest, relax, hydrate, eat right, take naps
  • Saturday … Sprinters did 3 sets 100/100 … 200/200 … 300/300, with 8 minutes between sets and 45 seconds between runs.  This was NOT a critical zone workout.  The first run was at an 800 pace, the second was at a 400 pace. Example – the first 100 (fly) would be at 15, the 2nd would be at 12.  The first 200 (fly) would be 30, the second 24.  The first 300 (fly) would be 45, the 2nd would be 36 (ouch).  (I no longer do the 300/300 thing … almost impossible and too many guys fail.  I don’t like impossible workouts.  I don’t like failure.)  Distance runners did two sets of 4×200 … 8 minutes between sets, 45 seconds between runs.  I added up their times to give them their 800 predictor time.  Example … 30, 31, 31, 31 would predict a 2:03 half-mile.
  • Sunday … rest, relax, hydrate, eat right, take naps

Sectional Week

  • Monday … 300 hurdlers did 3 x 2-hurdles.  I made notation that my son, Alec (junior season), ran 6.07 to first hurdle and then had a 4.34 split to 2nd hurdle.  Intermediate hurdlers must do ALL work over the first 2 or 3 hurdles … never more.  The first hurdle split needs to be around 6.0 and all other splits need to be in the very low 4’s.  Time hurdlers from first movement out of the blocks to touchdown over hurdle. My remaining sprinters ran 3 x 40, 2 x 100m fly (all timed), then we did a couple hand-offs.  My distance guys did a conventional interval workout:  8 x 200 with 3 minutes (200m walk) rest with each 200 at race pace.  Unless otherwise noted, distance guys did the exact some thing as sprinters.
  • Tuesday … Stations, the same as the previous Monday.  Stations are “active rest” days.
  • Wednesday … Sprinters ran 2 sets, 200/200 and 100/100 … both at goal pace 400 (Critical Zone).  The goal for our sophomore Brett Brachear, was 50.0.  The goal for the other three (Perkins, Summer and Murphy) was 49.0.  Example … Brett Brachear was expected to run 200 at 24.5, 45 sec rest, another 200 at 24.5.  After 8 minutes 100 at 12.25, 45 sec rest, then another 100 at 12.25.  Remember, these are fly times.  Distance guys did the same thing but twice the volume and at 800 pace instead of 400 pace.
  • Thursday … focused, caffeinated speed drills and high-speed hand-offs
  • Friday … Sectional hosted by Harrisburg and won by Harrisburg
  • Saturday … rest, relax, hydrate, eat right, take naps
  • Sunday … rest, relax, hydrate, eat right, take naps

Besides running 49.0 in the 4×4, Cole Perkins ran the 4×1 and both hurdles. His last four 300 hurdle times were 38.64, 38.74, 38.53, and 38.87 … State Champion Class A.  Coles’s brother, John, was the 2002 State Champion running 38.07.  Both guys trained at only the first two or three hurdles.  Endurance is over-rated.   #SpeedKills  Click to enlarge.

After the Sectional,  “the hay was in the barn”.  From May 20th to the state finals May 29th, we did nothing more than show up, do some focused, caffeinated speed drills, smile, and go home.  I guess we did have one tough workout … the SIU Meet of Champions (where we ran that 3:18.3 in the 4×4).  SIU was a perfect tune-up for the state meet.  SIU had a 9-lane track and a very large stadium similar to EIU.  We focused on the 4×4 because we had placed an embarrassing 3rd at Sectional.  I took Cole Perkins out of the 300’s to facilitate him running a PR 49.0 split in the 4×4.  Alec Holler won the 300 hurdles in Cole’s absence going 40.0.  Five days later Alec placed 4th in the state running 40.06.

Nowhere on my May calendar do you see weight lifting.  I believe in weight lifting but not in May.  DON’T SQUAT IN MAY.  Surely football coaches can give their kids one month off.


I found this on twitter recently. Really? Bring your cleats? Spring football? You mean to tell me that 25 contact days in the summer aren’t enough? Maybe I will start having track & field open gyms in the fall. Hurdles on Monday, throws on Tuesdays, relays on Wednesdays, etc. Ridiculous.

I have the utmost respect for Oswego football.  They set the standard in the SPC.  Their kids are extremely well-coached and highly competitive.  I have a special connection to their program.  I was the starting QB at Oswego H.S. in 1975.

However, I just don’t get it.  How can athletic directors continue to condone year-round programs?  Girls volleyball is out of control.  Soccer?  Basketball?  Wrestling?  Baseball?  Sports were meant to be a part of the educational system, not a greedy, scholarship-driven, obsessive pursuit of specialization.

And don’t even counter my rant by saying that Plainfield North’s “winter strength & speed program” is the equivalent of spring football.  It’s not.  Our winter program is NOT sport-specific.  We train all of our athletes to get faster and stronger.  You won’t see us doing hurdles, relays, high jumping, long jumping, or throwing.  We train ALL of our athletes to become faster and stronger.


On another topic relating to the “Championship Season” … prelims.

When will we come to our senses and eliminate prelims from conference and sectional meets?  With FAT timing, prelims are unnecessary.

For our upcoming SPC Conference Meet, four teams have voted to do away with prelims.

Minooka, Plainfield South, Plainfield East, and Plainfield North would like to give our sprinters a chance to run great times leading into the Sectional.  The other teams want to “prepare our kids for sectional” by running six races.

North, South, East, and Minooka are all fast … all four teams could run state qualifying times in the 4×1, 4×2, and 4×4.

Improved conference times would improve our lane assignments at Sectional.

If Sectionals had no prelims, we would have more sprinters and sprint relays run state qualifying times.  I guarantee it.  And isn’t this our goal?

Why can’t everyone think like me?  Ha.


If anyone is interested in the other notations on my 2004 calendar I will explain them.

Strangely, my leaving Harrisburg was a top-secret endeavor.  I coded and abbreviated most of the stuff on my desk calendar.  My team learned I was leaving on May 29th, the morning of the state finals.

I weighed myself every day and eventually got down to 189.3 … 22 pounds less than my present weight.  “Dickerson” was Willie Dickerson, the female principal at Franklin High School.  Doug Crossier was a middle school principal in Franklin that was hoping Franklin High School would hire a good track coach.  S.C.S. stood for Sarasota County Schools.  North Port basketball coach James Slaton was hoping Alec would make his debut in a shootout on June 11th.  Mike Steele, on the far left of the calendar, was the head football coach at North Port.  My family moved to Franklin in June to the dismay of Coach Steele and Coach Slaton.  The newspapers didn’t report our leaving until we were already living in Tennessee.  Crazy times.

The whole story of my final year in Harrisburg will never be a blog.  If anything, it will be a book.  I don’t have a title but it will have something to do with lawyers, judges, Germans, institutional coverups, treachery, and the backbone of the IHSA.  Should be a best seller.  Ha.

On another point, blogs are, by their very nature, the writings and opinions of the author and don’t reflect the views of any organization.  I hope that ITCCCA will continue to give coaches access to the opinions of others without trying to please all the people all the time.  Back in the day, coaches had no vehicle to voice ideas, questions, opinions, frustrations, dissent, etc.  Now we have the keys to the car.

Good luck to all of you as you prepare your team for the “Championship Season”.  Don’t limp into the Sectional. We’ve all been there.

Injuries & sprinting are like thunder & lightning.  You can’t have one without the other.

Sometimes I wish I was a throws coach.

All we can do is prioritize “happy and healthy” and remember the commandment … “Thou shalt not do harm”.

Less is more.


Coaching is part art, part science, and part bullsh*t.

“We’re just talkin’ about practice, man.”


Tony Holler, Head Track Coach, Plainfield North High School
Follow on twitter @pntrack and follow online at




If you want more information on “Critical Zone” workouts … I sometimes call them “Sets” … I sometimes call them “Lactate Sets” … you can go to “The Practice Plan”

In addition, this is what I wrote to Todd Vohland of St. Theresa last year.  The instructions I gave Todd may clear some things up …

You can break up the two sets any way you want. You can choose to do 400/400.  You can do a 400/300 or a 300/300.

Make it a big deal.  A magic workout.  Scientifically proven to take kids to the next level.  Pick a good weather day (they won’t make times on a bad day).  Warm up with speed drills.  Wear spikes.  Give a motivational talk.  THIS IS A CRITICAL WORKOUT.

Have groups of 2-5 sprinters.  One group does their set, then they rest as you process the next group.

This is NOT a race.  NOT a competition.  This is a fast cruise … a controlled sprint … great sprinters always make it look EASY.

My guys last year (2012) were all 49ers who dreamed of 48.0 splits in the 4×4. They ran their 200s in 24.0, 150 in 18.0, 100 in 12.0.

Make sure your sprinters have a 10 meter run-in start (kind of like a relay start).  Have the group try to cross the start line at the same time. One person has their hand up and drops it at the line to let you know to start your watch.  Record exact times of each kid.

Get them back to the next starting line ASAP.  You want their rest to be 30-45 seconds, not 45-60.

Add up their times. Make a big deal out of being successful in meeting their goals.

8 minutes later, set #2.

Tell them set one was easy.  Set #2 is the one that “will take them to the mountaintop”.  This is the set that will make you champions.  WE CAN’T FAIL. 

Can we do this?  

In many ways you are making this WORKOUT more important than the meet.  There is some Bob Knight in there somewhere.  The magic not only happens in their lactate biochemistry but also in their minds.  Building the belief of greatness can not be underestimated.

Failure is not an option.

And when we get to the meet, we will win.


Geez … I think I just totally contradicted my thesis … maybe practice isn’t over-rated after all. 





The views and opinions expressed on this web site are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the ITCCCA-N  board, members, coaches, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Comments 2

  1. I really enjoy your articles especially the ones that talk about your time at Harrisburg. I had you for a teacher in a science class and my brother Jake ran for you. Keep up the good work.

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