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What changes from High School to College? – Science of Running

What changes from High School to College? – Science of Running
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A couple posts ago, I asked for help on a survey about transitioning from High School to College running.  It’s an attempt to answer the question of why kids success or struggle with transitioning to college.

Admittedly, this question is something that strikes close to home, on two fronts.  First, I’m a college coach at The University of Houston, who has coached at the HS level and still coaches professionals. I have a vested interest in trying to figure out how best to transition HS kids to college, regardless of their background.

Secondly, I sucked at transitioning to college.  I went from HS phenom to a kid who didn’t improve his HS mile best.  In particular, mine was more to do over-training (hello 120mi weeks my freshman year…), then anything else.  But the point is, I think it’s a college coaches, and thus my, job to figure out how to get every kid to develop.  I don’t buy the notion that some kids are tapped out in HS from training.  It just means they might need a different stimulus then someone who is undertrained.  I also think, we lose a lot of those undertrained/underdeveloped kids in college to a very high rate of injuries.

With all that being said, let’s take a brief look at what the collected data says so far.  This is just pure raw data, no statistical analysis yet.  We might not be able to jump to any conclusions yet, but I figured it would be worthwhile to see if we could spot any trends.  What this data does is it gives us a comparison of how things change on average from HS to College.

I had about 260 people respond to the survey, so thank you for that.  It includes numerous levels of running, from walk-on college kids to Olympic finalist.

Training type:

Let’s start with the training type.  This is a difficult question to ask because it requires a level of background knowledge on training to answer that.  And the likelihood is that knowledge most likely won’t be present.  Given the limitations, we shouldn’t put a lot of stock into the answers, but it’s still interesting to see how things stack up, so I’ve included it.

 

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Training- Mileage and Speed:
There is no easy way to quantify training, especially in a broad sample study.  We need to simultaneously grasp the volume, intensity, and density of the training done.  And we can’t really even consider how it is periodized.  So, again, there are drawbacks, but in order to make the data useful, if we simply look at the highest average miles per week an athlete got to in HS and college, we get a decent grasp on volume.  Then if we look at how many “speed/workouts” per week and then ask the average “difficulty” of such workouts, we get an idea of how intensity changes.  These two points are provided in the charts below.

What we’re left with are some fairly obvious trends.  On the volume front, there is a nice semi bell curve that occurs in HS and college.  The difference is that in college, that bell curve is shifted 2 places (or 30mpw).  So what we have is over 4 years of running, a large shift in average mileage.  The volume goes way up, which shouldn’t surprise anyone.  But what is kind of surprising is the amount of shift.  As an example, we had 55 runners in HS run between 15-30mpw, while in college that number is 2.

If we look at the number of speed sessions per week, it is fairly comparable HS to college.  The number of sessions per week doesn’t really change.

HS-College Miles per week and # of speed workouts:

 

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Racing:
But if we look at racing density, you can see that athletes shift completely in how often they race.  In HS, only 16 people (6.37%)  raced less than once per week, while in college you had over 50% of the athletes racing once every 2 weeks or less.  So the density of racing goes down significantly.  Which may be one reason why the training volume can increase, besides just getting older and more developed.  There is more time to train.

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Workout Difficulty:
Now that we know that the number of speed workouts per week didn’t change, what about a change in how difficult they were.  By looking at how difficult the average speed session is, we can get an idea of the intensity of the training.

Interestingly, there isn’t a large global change.  Most athletes, whether HS or college, fell into the hard or very hard category.

What I will be curious to see is if there is any correlation between going very hard or extremely hard and being dissatisfied with your college transition or not.  As this is one of the components that people often cite when they discuss “burnout.”

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HS to college transition:
Now that we’ve looked at a lot of factors that play a role in the transition to college from a training standpoint, let’s look at whether or not people were satisfied with their transition, and then investigate the possible reasons why.

Surprisingly, less than half of the respondents were completely satisfied with their improvement rates in college.  This is somewhat disheartening to look at as a coach as that’s a pretty poor number.  What we’d need to see is if it was too high of expectations going in, or if it was just from lack of improvement (which is a statistic I’ll look at in the full analysis when I enter in the HS to college PR progression for each respondent).

If so many people weren’t satisfied with their improvement, what were the major reasons why, according to the respondents?

34% of people said that injury/illness was the main reason for the lack of improvement.  Followed by “other” at 18% and then inferior training in college at 16% and over-training at 13%.

What I see as a coach is that a lot of these factors are training related.  Injuries, over-training, and inferior training are all directly tied to training obviously.  So it seems to me that there are potentially a lot of things that a coach can do to ensure improvement.  I was somewhat surprised by the lower numbers of either burnout or changes in motivation/priorities.  Those were the external choices that would explain motivation changes.

 

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Injuries:
To investigate this further, we can look at a snapshot of the number of injuries in HS and college.  What you see is a very large shift of the frequency of major injuries.  Keep in mind that major injuries are defined as those that keep you out for more than 2 weeks.  In HS, the majority of the respondents were injury free throughout their HS careers, with only 2% of athletes injured every year.  When we get to college, the picture changes completely.  Only 25% were injury free, and the largest group (32%) had 2-3 major injuries during their career, while 12.6% suffered 4+ major injuries.

We can infer that the large increase in training demands probably played a role, but should the injury rate jump that high just because of an increase in training demands?  Perhaps, as coaches were missing the boat on preventative strategies, or modulating the training to ensure a gradual progression, instead of throwing people to the wolves.

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It’s important to understand that these are simply the raw numbers.  We can get an idea of how the global picture changes from HS to College, but what we really need to do is look at how the trends change on the individual level.  The next step is to look to see if we can see patterns and correlations.  In particular, I’m looking to see if we can spot differences between those who had successful transitions versus those who had mixed or negative experiences.  Hopefully, we can do some statistical analysis on the data to see if there are any strong correlations or significant differences.

The goal is to figure out the why’s.

For more on the psychology of performance, check out my NEW book Peak Performance. Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever books are sold! Consider checking out my first book as well, The Science of Running.

 





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