Drills are important for runners. There is a theory out there that runners only need to run. But you are training racers. A racer uses as many forms, kicks and body parts when racing as any other athletic pursuit (if not more). All the dynamic stretching, drills and core that we do addresses that. You are, however, coaching Middle Schoolers and drills will not yet be a norm for this group. You need to introduce not only the drills, but the idea behind drills and the importance of drills. Just keep telling them- they will hear it eventually. You also need to keep things as simple and straightforward as you can. Amateur endeavors into exercise and sports of every kind have, in my opinion, been over complicated by advice that addresses the needs of elite athletes only. The result is people turn away from a general healthy lifestyle and enjoyable athletic pursuits because they find it overly intricate and their initial interest wains. I know, as someone that must do PT daily if I want to run at all, it is hard for me to keep focused- imagine how it is for 12 or 13 year olds. But drills do a body good, and that is true for the still growing and ever changing middle school body, too
For Middle School I suggest choosing 5-7 drills. There are hundreds of drill options out there. Middle Schoolers are still learning to perfect body movement, and many take time to master new movements. I focus on lower leg strength and coordination with the drills I choose. So for simplicity- may I suggest- measure out 30-40 yards and make clear lines where this begins and ends. Each drill is performed one length of this. Drills should be daily or at least 3 times a week.
1) First introduce simple skipping (but with gusto- I tell my athletes)
2) Next go into High Skips (use those arms to get up there)
3) And finally into Cherry Pickers (this opens up the chest and prepares posture for tall running)
4) For a bit of a rest, 1-2-Sweeps, this is walking slowly bending down on the third step while the leg is extended in front and foot flexed and scooping or sweeping arms to ground, alternating legs. (this is also a dynamic stretch)
5) Now do High knees- tapping knees with hand that is kept just above waist high
6) Next introduce A-skips (videos online if you need to see)- the kids love these.
7) And your final drill is a Grape vine with a high knee over (again videos online can demonstrate if needed.
At some point I ask the runners all to do tiptoe walks and/or toe raises or a combination of the two, because I have the majority of injuries in the shins and this helps. Tip toe walks should be done with toes front, then pointing more inward and then outward. They can do this while waiting for practice to start, during stretches or drills, even after practice. Additionally, on “rest” days you can do more drills that you do not do typically. Although these should not overly tax a new group of muscles. Great additional drills are lunge walks, squat walks (or sumo walks), frankensteins (where you walk straight legged kicking leg up in the air to touch an extended hand), backwards jogging, and backward reach step (it is performed just like it sounds). Perform all drills tall. Find your comfort zone as the coach and introduce these as they work for your team’s attention span.