This past winter, I spent a week training track and field athletes in Belize after a 3 week tour of Mexico. For those of you who haven’t heard of Belize or have only vacationed on the Cayes (pronounced “keys”), I’ll give you a short description. Belize lies south of the Mexican state of Yucatan, has Guatemala to its’ west, as the Caribbean to it’s east. Belize is the only country that it is both part of the Caribbean and apart of Central America. Although home to the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere, along with several small islands called Cayes, Belize has a rather large tourism business despite being near the size of Massachusetts having a population similar to Pittsburgh, PA. It has a rather diverse population consisting mostly of Mestizos, Kriol, Mayan, Garifuna, and German descent. You can google what those terms all mean but most of them are various blends of European, African, and Indigenous American populations.
The experiences and opinions I share will be primarily in from dealing with Belizean track athletes, mostly sprinters although I did a session with volleyball players. Many of these runners are on their national team and have competed out of the country, with one woman being a former Olympian jumper in 2008. But to not give a false impression, with Belize City having a population of around 57k (Texas Longhorns stadium fits almost double) extremely exceptional athletes are still exceptions and rare. At my estimates, many of the ones present could compete well in U.S.A. NCAA Division II and potentially in Division I in the northern U.S. In a previous blog I spoke about how I got the opportunity to train Belizean athletes but if you haven’t read that, it was a product of networking in short. In brief I’ll share my expectations and plan, challenges faced, and what I actually did.
It all started when I received the go ahead to come and help out while having brunch with a friend in Tulsa, OK. I was overcome with joy to say the least. “Me really, you want me?!” I was not given specific instructions as to what my role was going to be, so I needed to make a plan for this. I scheduled to meet with a coach who had previously spent some time there to get some further background on what Belize was like. Coincidentally, he just so happened to live in Tulsa, given that I was in Tulsa that weekend for a personal history lesson. After the meeting, the battle plan I felt best to follow was to observe the first day and base the week from that. I was prepared to be given the reins the first day, planning to us that as an evaluation day. That ended up being exactly what happened. The coach basically allowed me a one week clinic as athletes around the city came out for practice, many whom haven’t been out since the summer. I didn’t have many expectations because I really didn’t know what I was walking into outside of them being in their late teens and in school. As it turned, many were in high school or had just finished high school. Coming from the U.S. to Belize for training brought some interesting challenges that were not completely foreign to me, but not what I expected from a government sponsored group.
Some of the challenges in working in Belize City had to do with logistical things that tested their dedication to practice. Many of these aren’t big problems, outside of consistency in attendance, but are head scratchers. Belize City first of all has only one track and is 13 square miles in area. Here in Austin Texas there are 4 tracks within 7 miles of my apartment. Unlike Mexico where there is a bus for every 10 cars I saw, these kids mostly walk everywhere, the track being 30-60min walk for many. Practice attendance is comparable to the social butterflies of high school track in the U.S. Having to walk nearly an hour to and from the track often can be burdensome as it gets dark around 6pm roughly all year round. This leads to a serious focus on injury prevention. This wasn’t inherently a negative as it was a test for me and an educational opportunity for them. I gave them several minibands and a couple of resistance bands along with several exercises for strengthening their glutes and hamstrings, which are the most important muscles they have for running. Equipment was limited, having only one set of starting blocks we couldn’t locate, worn out measuring tape, and only the bottom part of a leaf rake for the sand pit. These minor challenges, particularly the attendance issue, transformed my entire week’s plan for them.
Upon arrival my first day, within 10 minutes it’s confirmed that I have all week to implement, stuff. Even today, right now. Cool. There were about 13 athletes with us that came out, with about 5 regulars. I spent our Monday practice installing a dynamic warm up routine, explaining that sprint drills are not “mere warmups” but are sprint drills, and trying to decipher the Kriol they spoke. It was honestly harder than Spanish for me. In Spanish I could pick up phrases when people spoke slowly, in Belizean Kriol I just didn’t know what the words were haha. What makes this annoying is that it is based on English, just with more flavor than I could handle. They were very receptive of the dynamic warm up, they normally run, static stretch, and get started but they enjoyed moving through stretches and having activation exercises. With the sprint drills I pressed the importance of them being to work on pieces of sprinting and not only warming up. Afterwards I had them sprint a moderately fast 60m and 100m so that I could evaluate their acceleration, running form, and roughly how fast they were. I recorded each of them so that I could take various notes on each of them. We cooled down and stretched. I spent a good bit of time just getting to know them after until going to the gym to meet some coaches. That night and next morning I worked on my entire weeks planning.
My thought process for the week was simply to showcase how to train for acceleration, maximum velocity, speed endurance, and have active recovery with mobility. Olympians aren’t made overnight but with them and their coach’s interest in what I was doing, I wanted to be able to educate them on training modalities and hopefully even earn the opportunity to have input on their long term program. The rest of the week went rather smooth although I learned that Belizeans don’t practice in the rain, period, even if the rain was much earlier in the day. But…that afforded me a night and day to stay on Caye Caulker, which was paradise and I have plenty to say about that. Aw man… Caye Caulker, what was I saying again? Oh yes the rest of the week! The training went well for the week from the competitive acceleration practice, dreaded speed endurance workout, and the hilarious attempts of some at a couple plyometric exercises. The coach enjoyed seeing their high level of enthusiasm.
To conclude, my experience training these track athletes in Belize was phenomenal as they were highly motivated and very fun to be around. The bonding I was able to do with the athletes over the mutual love of a red circle with 8 lanes was great and I look forward to going back again. I learned a lot about working with people from other cultures, especially in regards to asking all of the right questions. Particularly when it comes to obtaining injury histories. Be on the lookout for more content curated in regards to me being in Belize as well as plenty about Mexico to go along with various pieces about athletic performance training until my next adventure! Share your comments with me and even any recommendations for how I could improve, especially if you’ve done anything similar!