In 2011, junior Brandon Moss won the Texas 4A Region 1 track meet and set the Chapin High School triple jump record with a massive leap of 48′-2″. The victory earned him a ticket to Austin for the 4A state championship meet two weeks later. The 2nd and 3rd place medalists also qualified.
The results were much different at State. The two athletes Brandon had outperformed at regionals placed ahead of him. Brandon walked away with a 4th place finish (47′-1.75″), while John Warren of Killeen jumped 48′-4″ to earn silver and Shakiel Randolph of Waco Midway bounded his way to bronze (48′-1″).
I remember agonizing over the results. On each of his six attempts, Brandon was as much as 18 inches behind the board even though he had practiced running through the board numerous times during the weeks leading up to State. I was dumbfounded and couldn’t find the words to console Brandon. It might have been nerves, the stage, or overconfidence. We vowed to fix the problem and return to State his senior year and medal.
Too often I see high school athletes trying to emulate elite jumpers. Some walk or skip into their approach. Others place their feet parallel to each other and simulate a “waterfall” start. Still others put on a theatric performance filled with entertaining hand movements, confusing foot placements, and clapping. Unfortunately, all these methods lead to an inconsistent drive phase that decreases the likelihood of a consistent approach.
All our jumpers begin with their power leg/foot forward, so they have an even number of steps. It is easy for them to remember, and it makes our life as coaches that much simpler. We typically have several athletes jumping simultaneously at meets. If you ask each one, “What leg do you jump off of?” as I have observed many coaches do, it will drive you crazy by season’s end.
Video 1. Crouch start analysis for the horizontal jumps.
In the crouch start, the athlete places his back foot 8-12 inches behind his power leg for a balanced and consistent base. He leans over from his waist, placing his chest near his power leg thigh. We cue the athlete to “bring chest to thigh and nose to knee.” The power-leg knee is over the front toe, resulting in the shins being inclined and the hips higher than the head. The hips should be placed above (vertically) the space created by the two feet. The majority of weight is on the front foot, although some weight should remain on the back foot as well. The front toe should remain on the ground, and the back heel is off the ground. Finally, the arms are in alternated positions with the one opposite the front leg forward.
Video 2. Roll-over start analysis for the horizontal jumps.
In the rollover start, the athlete’s feet remain in the same positions as the crouch start, but the upper body is tilted back. In this position, the front toe is off the ground and pointing up (dorsiflexed), with the back heel on the ground. The arms are alternated, with the one opposite the front foot raised high overhead. The athlete initiates the rollover by bending at the waist and creating a position similar to the crouch start. However, it is extremely important to note that the athlete should bend at the waist FIRST as he brings his chest to the thigh before the front toe touches the track or the back heel leaves the ground. If the athlete moves his knee over his front toe and back heel off the ground before bending at the waist, he most likely will stumble from the start.
The Drive Phase
The first four to six steps of the approach determine either success or inconsistency at the board. The majority of high school jumpers lack consistency at the board primarily because of an unpredictable drive phase. I constantly hear coaches telling their jumpers to move two feet back or two feet forward without first having checked out the accuracy of the athlete’s first four to six steps. Those athletes will move forward and hit the same mark as before, or even worse, be over the board by an entire stride.
Check the drive phase first. I’ve attended several conferences where college coaches have suggested establishing a checkmark for jumpers. This definitely works for full-time jumpers or if you work exclusively with a few athletes, but the majority of high school athletes also run individual sprints and relays. I work with many jumpers at the same time, so trying to establish a check mark for each of them seems tiresome and unreliable.
However, if an athlete is having difficulty getting on the board at a meet, the first issue I address is the drive phase. I immediately check the athlete’s 4th or 6th overall step and make sure it is consistent. If the drive phase is consistent, the reason he is not hitting the board occurs later. But the majority of the time this check will remedy the situation.
And why wait until the meet? I might have a jumper who has just completed a 4×100 race and must report back to the pit within 10 minutes. He is tired and might also be competing in another field event. I believe in check marks and in fact, they have helped several of my jumpers. But they will only confuse the majority of high school athletes. Use them as needed.
Athletes need to be patient during the drive phase. “Patience” here means they should feel longer timed pushes into the track, resulting in movement up and forward during the initial part of the approach. We want them to be powerful, rather than quick. Quickness does not equal fast.
Jumpers should work on large ranges of motions with their arms, which will allow their legs to work in sync. If they can produce “big arms,” the opposing thigh will work toward the chest in unison, creating greater force application. This will also appear as if the athlete is coming out of blocks, and the coach should see triple extension. This includes the head being aligned with the body and not tucking the chin. Cue the athlete to “split big,” use “powerful pushes,” and continue to reiterate patience.
The Continuation Phase
The middle part of the approach consists of 4-8 steps, depending on the length of the approach. The early part of this phase continues to have some aspects of the drive/acceleration phase. Look for the head to remain in line with the spine and hips. The head, body, and hips gradually unfold into a tall posture during this phase. Once the jumper is upright, he will continue to run faster and approach max velocity. At this point, the jumper has become a sprinter. Therefore, the coach should encourage effective sprinting mechanics. The feet should land directly below the hips and at contact the shins should be at or near 90 degrees.
Because the jumper is using sprinting mechanics during this phase, max velocity sessions, wickets, and/or full-fledged sprinting drills provide an opportunity to coach athletes to work this aspect of the approach. The main point here is that 90 percent of the success of the jump occurs during the approach. Flight, landing, and air mechanics are predetermined based on the approach and takeoff.
Too many jump coaches, I believe, waste time on gimmicks that place the athlete in a high-risk environment. These gimmicks include placing a hurdle near the jumping board to have the athlete get more height and increase knee drive at the end of the long jump approach. Another is placing barriers at specific distances and having triple jumpers bound over them to increase second-phase distances. I’ve often witnessed both of these at high school practices even though height in the long jump and second-phase distance in the triple jump are a result of other factors, not stand-alone causes. You’re better off having your jumpers work on becoming better sprinters, which in turn makes them faster and leads to more successful jumps.
The Final Four Steps
Long Jump: Mention “penultimate step” to an incoming freshman or fast sprinter who wants to try jumping, and they will give you the same look they give a foreign language instructor teaching verb tenses. We call it “p-step”; the kids like it because it sounds cool.
Before getting to the p-step—the last step before takeoff—it is important for athletes to understand that they must continue to sprint at near full-controlled speed. High school jumpers tend to get to the board and freak out. They either try to get faster or come to a screeching halt, thereby destroying the momentum they’ve built up during the approach. You need to make sure they continue sprinting all the way onto the p-step.
During the p-step, the athlete’s hips lower while still maintaining velocity. The p-step lands slightly ahead of the hips and allows the center of mass (hips/torso/head) to move upward and forward. As the p-step foot nears the surface, it should be dorsiflexed, allowing the heel to lead the foot onto the ground. The actual contact on the track will be flat with the entire p-step foot creating a rocking-chair-like movement onto the toe. This rolling movement allows the hips and center of mass to move upward and forward. The athlete should feel the p-step behind him, allowing the toe to remain on the ground and the heel to be slightly off the ground to create a bridged position. During the transition from the foot striking the ground into the bridged position, the hips move forward, and the shin shifts forward and down toward the track.
Video 3. Penultimate step analysis.
The takeoff leg should also hit the board in a flat manner and slightly ahead of the center of mass. This means the takeoff foot lands in front of the hips, but not excessively. The jumper should allow the hips to go past the takeoff foot as it pushes down and away from the board.
Triple Jump: The final four steps need to be as close as possible to full sprinting mechanics but in a controlled and relaxed manner. The jumper should continue to land with his foot directly under his hips and maintain a tall and straight posture. Much like the anticipation in the long jump, many jumpers slow down near the board. But this destroys posture and mechanics, leading the jumper to reach for the board and foul because of the excessive front-side mechanics.
Only in the last step should the foot strike slightly ahead of the hips. Again, the jump foot should hit the board in a flat manner and then allow the hips to pass through. The jumper should be cued to be patient on the board by “running through the board” and then pushing off. If the athlete is patient, the height of the first phase of the triple jump will be lower. But rushing onto the board and prematurely jumping creates too much height for an effective first phase.
Number of Steps
How many steps should each jumper take for the approach? There are many proposed guidelines, and the differences are significant, but the number generally falls between 12-22 steps for high school athletes. You can either count every stride your jumper takes to arrive at the board or only the jumping leg. For example, a 12-step approach would be the same as a 6-step approach counting only the power leg.
While all coaches base their approach distance on different aspects, you need to consider the jumper’s training age (how long the athlete has been participating in track and field), speed, strength, and other related factors. The lower the speed and strength of an athlete, the fewer the steps. The reason is simple: the sooner the athlete gets to controlled top speed, the sooner deceleration begins. The key is the amount of time an athlete can sustain his top controlled speed approaching the board. It is important to note, however, that although a high school jumper may be faster, stronger, and have a relatively higher training age, he may not necessarily benefit from a longer approach. I’ve never had any jumper go past a 16-step approach.
When measuring the total distance and the number of steps for each athlete, have them get their marks on the track rather than the pit. Introducing jumpers to the runway—even veterans—when you first measure distances will lead them to alter their mechanics to hit the board. Have them line up at the starting line or finish line, with either a crouch start or rollover start, and measure the total number of steps and distance from that point.
Be sure to include a “pop up.” If you simply run through with a predetermined amount of steps, the measurement will be inaccurate. A “pop up,” as shown in this video, includes the p-step and takeoff.
Have them do this 4-6 times on the track and place a piece of tape from the takeoff spot each time. Then measure the distance from the most consistent takeoff spot. For example, if the athlete has five takeoffs, and three pieces of tape are within a few inches of each other, measure from that spot all the way back to the starting point. Next, take that measurement and begin from the back of the board (nearest to the sand pit) and measure away from the pit.
When should a coach allow the athletes to take their marks and practice approaches on the runway? When you feel comfortable, they can attack the board without hesitation. We generally have a month before our first meet. In the past, I have allowed jumpers to start practicing approaches within two weeks after measuring their approach distance. But two years ago we didn’t practice any approaches on the runway until we got to the actual meet. That is part of the art of coaching: figuring out what works best for your athletes.
Brandon: The Sequel
In his senior year, Brandon had knee issues, so we had to limit his triple jumping. He still did 47′-10″ and finished 3rd at the regional meet. However, he long jumped 24′-1.5″ at the same meet to earn a gold medal and punch his ticket to State. The jump set both a school record and the city record for a non-wind-aided jump. As coaches, we dream about our athletes executing the perfect jump and Brandon did it.
The weather at State two weeks later was rainy, and the boards were slippery. Yet Brandon trusted himself, his mark, and his entire approach. He leaped 22′-9.25″ to earn gold.
All the principles I’ve outlined in this article are the same ones we practice with our jumpers throughout the season and year by year. But they are only guidelines. I still search daily for anything to give my athletes and me a better understanding of the horizontal jumps.
Just like anything else in track, the horizontal jump approach is a process. Schedule time in your practices to work the approach 2 to 3 times a week. When focusing on acceleration, allow the athletes to work the drive phase from a crouch or rollover start. In max velocity, they can work on transition and final step mechanics on the track. Work the approach on the runway when you feel your jumpers are ready. Stay away from gimmicks and flashy landing and bounding drills. Instead, focus on the fundamentals that will make your jumpers faster, stronger, and more accurate on the board and enjoy the results.
Special thanks to the following mentors: Boo Schexnayder, Schexnayder Athletic Consulting and contributor to Completetrackandfield. Reuben Jones, Associate Head Coach/Sprints, Jumps and Hurdles at Columbia University and contributor to Completetrackandfield. Latif Thomas, Owner of Completetrackandfield. Ron Grigg, Director of Cross Country/Track and Field at Jacksonville University. Nick Newman, Director of Scholastic Training at Athletic Lab and contributor to Elitetrack. Travis Geopfert, Field Events and Multi-Event Athlete Coach at the University of Arkansas and contributor to Digitaltrackandfield. Jake Jacoby, Former Jumps Coach at the University of Louisville. Calvin Robinson, Assistant Coach at Texas Tech.
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