Coaches use drills to reinforce the movement concepts they teach, so it’s important to understand why a drill is used. Coach Parno breaks down the concepts behind the hurdle wall drills, wickets, and toe drags and explains why and how he uses them in is track and field program.
After the huge success and popularity of the first “Jumps Roundtable” series of articles, SimpliFaster asked Coach Nick Newman to trade his usual answers for questions. Nick interviewed eight accomplished jumps coaches for the second edition of this excellent six-part series.
We will publish one question from the “Jumps Roundtable Edition #2” per day over the next six days. This fifth installment is on the specifics of building a technical model. Please enjoy, and please share.
Bob Myers: Bob Myers is currently retired, but served as Associate Head Coach at Arizona and was a college dean and athletic director over the past 40 years. He has an M.S. in Kinesiology, specializing in Biomechanics, and a doctorate in education with his dissertation on “A Comparison of Elite Jumps Education Programs of Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom Leading to a Level III Jumps Education Program in the United States.” Bob was inducted into five Halls of Fame as an athlete, coach, and athletic director. He has published 31 articles in professional journals around the world and has lectured at over 50 locations throughout the world.
In his 13 years coaching at Arizona, Bob coached four national record holders, five collegiate record holders, and 27 All-Americans in the high jump, triple jump, long jump, javelin, and heptathlon. He is perhaps best known for coaching the University of Arizona women high jumpers to a 1-2-3 finish in the 1985 NCAA Outdoor Championship, where all three jumped over 6’3” (1.91m for second and third, and 1.93m for first) even though two were heptathletes. He also coached Jan Wohlschlag, who was ranked No. 2 in the world in 1989, won four USATF National Championships, and was the World Grand Prix Champion.
Todd Lane: Todd Lane entered his 10th season as a member of LSU’s coaching staff in 2017. The Tigers and Lady Tigers have flourished in eight seasons under Lane’s direction—he has coached 11 NCAA scorers to 35 scoring All-America honors in four different jumping events since joining the LSU coaching staff right before the 2008 season. His student-athletes have also captured six SEC championships and 36 All-SEC honors over the last eight seasons.
Nelio Moura: Nelio Alfano Moura has been a member of national coaching staffs in Brazil since 1990, participating in five Olympic Games, five Pan-American Games, and 17 World Championships (Indoor and Outdoor). Nelio has developed, in partnership with his wife, Tania Fernandes de Paula Moura, more than 60 athletes who qualified to national teams, and he coordinates a talent development program successfully maintained by the São Paulo state government. He is Horizontal Jumps Coach at Esporte Clube Pinheiros, and has a master’s degree in Human Performance from UNIMEP – Piracicaba. At least one of Nelio’s athletes has qualified to each iteration of the Olympic Games since 1988, and he guided two of them to gold medals in Beijing 2008.
Dusty Jonas: Former high jump Olympian, Dusty Jonas, was named a full-time assistant coach on the Nebraska track and field staff on July 12, 2017, after eight years as a volunteer assistant for the Huskers men’s and women’s high jump. Since joining the Huskers program as a volunteer coach in 2010, Dusty has coached nine Big Ten high jump champions and 10 first-team All-Americans. Twelve Huskers have cracked all-time Top 10 high jump charts in his eight seasons. In the 2015 indoor season, Dusty helped then-sprints coach Billy Maxwell coach the Huskers men’s sprints, hurdles, and relays, and that group went on to combine for 46 of the team’s title-winning 127 points at the Big Ten Indoor Championships.
Neil Cornelius: After a torn ankle ligament at 19, Neil started coaching in his free time at the age of 20. One year later, he coached his first National Junior champion in the triple jump (Boipelo Motlhatlhego, 16.07m). By 2011, he had his first 8m jumper (Mpho Maphutha, the youngest South African and the first South African high school athlete to jump over 8m at the age of 18 years). By 2013, Neil has his first national colors by representing South Africa as a team coach for the African Junior Champs. There, his athletes received three medals (long jump: Gold; triple jump: Gold (15.98 CR) and Silver). In 2016, Neil coached Luvo Manyonga to an Olympic Long Jump silver medal (8.37m) and in 2017 to a World Championship Gold (8.48m) and an African/Commonwealth Record (8.65m).
Since Neil first started coaching, his training group has amassed 88 medals (16 medals at various international championships and 72 medals at national championships). He’s currently the head Long Jump/Triple Jump coach for the Tuks Athletic Club (University of Pretoria), as well as the head jumps coach for the Tuks HPC and the Tuks Sport High School.
Kyle Hierholzer: Kyle Hierholzer has most recently worked as the 2017 Lead Jumps/Multis coach and education manager for ALTIS in Phoenix, AZ. During the 2015 and 2016 seasons, he was the co-coach of Jumps/Multis with Dan Pfaff. Over the course of Kyle’s tenure, the group produced podium finishers at the U.S. Indoor Championships, World Indoor Championships, World Outdoor Championships, and Olympic Games, and also a Diamond League Champion. Before joining ALTIS in fall 2014, Kyle worked eight years at Kansas State University. Kyle primarily assisted head coach Cliff Rovelto in the sprints, jumps, and combined events. He also served as the primary coach for the K-State pole vaulters.
Stacey Taurima: Coach Taurima has been the Head of Athletics of the University of Queensland for almost five years, where he has coached senior and collegiate athletes to finals in World Youth, World U20 Championships, Commonwealth Games, and World University Games. He has coached national medalists in both senior men’s and women’s sprints events, and in 2017 coached Liam Adcock and Shemaiah James to Silver and Bronze in the Open Australian Championships, along with Taylor Burns and Daniel Mowen to Gold in the 4x400m. Stacey has coached 16 national champions and 19 international athletes in a five-year period and many professional sporting teams utilize him for his expertise in speed-based programs.
Alex Jebb: Alex Jebb is the Combined Events and Jumps coach for John Hopkins University. In his first two years of coaching there, his athletes have earned six All-American honors, five Academic All-American honors, 15 school records, four championship meet records, and two NCAA Division 3 All-Time Top 10 marks. Alex was honored as the USTFCCCA NCAA Division III Mideast Region Men’s Assistant Coach of the Year for the 2017 indoor season. He graduated from John Hopkins with a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering and Applied Mathematics, and from Duke University with a master’s degree in Engineering Management. He is an engineer by day and coach later in the day.
Nick Newman: Event technical models are difficult to create because of the physical and anthropological variables each athlete possesses. However, for your specialty event, what are the most valuable technical specifics that you feel influence performance the most? How do you address them within your program?
Bob Myers: In one word, kinetics—the position, momentum, and body movements to create maximum forces in the correct direction (angles at takeoff) at the right time. A good part of the season is spent trying to progressively and systematically maximize these forces at the right time to attain maximum vertical lift (as pertains to the HJ) at takeoff. As the season comes to an end and the athlete is peaking for the most important meets of the season, high jump approach accuracy and rhythm (momentum and body position) must be foremost in the technical preparation for a peak.
All coaches should employ a technical “system” whereby a systematic progression (or technical learning progression) of technique is taught, then use an inventory of problem-solving drills to address particular technical deficiencies that pop up. Drills should not be used just to drill, unless they are part of the physical training for an athlete. Drills should be used to build the technical model or to correct a technical error.When you drill, have a reason: Use drills to build a technical model or correct a technical error. Click To Tweet
Many coaches drill for no particular reason or at the wrong time in the season, often just because they have seen a drill used by another coach. Again, every aspect of training should be done for a specific purpose, not just because they saw a good athlete doing a particular type of training.
Todd Lane: I disagree with the statement, “Event technical models are difficult to create because of the physical and anthropological variables each athlete possesses.” Technical models are the commonalities we see across all good performers in performing the event. There are stylistic differences within this model that are unique to each performer, but they still exhibit the key checkpoints that make up a technical model.
For instance, in the triple jump, the athlete has horizontal displacement at takeoff and free hip/leg extension creates a somewhat neutral pelvis position, which allows all phases to be efficiently executed. This is addressed during all the work we do, from bounding to short approach jumps.
Nelio Moura: My program is really open, so I allow plenty of technical variations. For example, if you ask me the best way to begin the approach run, I will say, “standing.” However, my athletes begin their run-up in different ways, according to their individual preferences. I just try to help them be as consistent as possible. On the other hand, there are key, fundamental aspects that determine performance at the horizontal jumps, and I am truly emphatic about them. I can’t see how to make concessions at the transition and takeoff phases, as well as the active landings in the triple jump.
Dusty Jonas: I want to start by giving the readers a clear understanding of how I choose to define the term “technical model.” To me, it refers to coaching to the demands and physics of the event to achieve the desired result. I will also continue to use the high jump specifically as my example of developing a technical model. While this is high jump specific, the concept carries over to most of the other events in track and field.
There are specific things in the high jump that an athlete needs to be able to execute in order to reach as close to their potential as possible.
- Generate 90%+ of the required horizontal velocity over the first three to four strides of a 10+ step approach.
- Initiate the curve such that the foot, hip, and shoulder turn progressively to greater degrees. This develops inward lean that causes the COM to stay inside of the outside leg on the curve. The COM should not shift over the top of the penultimate foot.
- At takeoff, the COM should travel from the outside edge of the heel to off of the big toe as the athlete leaves the ground.
- If all of these things are executed correctly, four rotations should occur: forward, lateral, about the long axis of the body, and about the bar.
As the above list for the technical model points out, there are many different things that need to happen correctly for an athlete to efficiently clear a bar. That being said, many athletes can jump relatively high while lacking one or more rotations, but bar clearance and, very importantly, athlete health, can suffer over time as a result.
To address the original question directly, the most valuable technical aspect that affects performance is the approach. It is also the most time-consuming and, for some, the most difficult to master.
Knowing that these things need to be accomplished, accommodations must be made based on factors such as anthropological differences, genders, training ages, etc. The first thing that I do is identify weaknesses, specifically on the approach, and adjust accordingly. One athlete’s time may well be spent doing acceleration work and running a large number of approaches to develop a rhythm and feel for the lean and speed through the curve. Another athlete may do extremely well with just a very small amount of full-approach running/jumping. When I find where an athlete’s time is best spent, I start to see the most significant improvements.
The largest accommodation that we make is to fit specific radius measurements to each athlete individually, based on a number of factors such as height, speed, and technical proficiency on the curve. Regardless of individual differences, the goal is the exact same for every athlete, so in reality, there can be only slight variations to the model itself. The only variations that should be made are in how the training is programmed and how the coach chooses to implement his or her system to fit the technical model.
Neil Cornelius: Jumping is all about control. You need to be able to control your speed, control the timing of your takeoff, control your flight, and control your landing. The most important and valuable part to control is the athlete’s body position and posture. The perfect body position in a specific phase (i.e., shoulders up and open in your takeoff) allows you to pull out the proper movements and technique when you take off, fly, and land. This is why plyometrics on the track during the year (off-season and in-season) are of vital importance, as that control, posture, and body position (as well as timing) can be more easily taught while doing those exercises.
Kyle Hierholzer: I’m not sure what my specialty event is, but I will go with the long jump because that is where I’ve probably done most of my work recently. I will, however, make a comment about specializing to young coaches… Don’t do it! Even if you fancy yourself as a jump coach right now, spend some time with the throws coach, the distance coach, the sprint coach, etc.
Also, that administrative stuff? It’s pretty important as well. The more well-rounded you become, the better you will be down the road. Everyone pretty much agrees that young athletes shouldn’t specialize—well, neither should young coaches. Rant over, on to the long jump. I’m going to discuss shapes, targeting, and penultimate no-nos.
The first element we spend a large amount of time developing is the approach. I won’t spend too much time discussing it now because it’s been talked about and written about for years on end. There really is nothing new under the sun. Back in 1936, Jesse Owens was solid.
We train and teach acceleration, transition, and max velocity technique and qualities. We train these qualities on the track, and we transition them to the runway. We hold athletes accountable to each phase, and demand mindfulness of execution. However, what has been important to me lately is understanding shapes.A jumps coach can only see and hear what the approach should look like, but an athlete must feel it. Click To Tweet
What do I mean by shapes? Can the athlete spend the appropriate amount of time in each phase? Can they blend together each phase in a harmonic, well-executed fashion from any length of run, in any conditions? The athlete must feel what the approach should look like. As a coach, I can only see and hear what the approach looks like. The athlete can feel it.
The length of the approach should be able to be expanded or condensed and still have shape. If the athlete executes a 20-step run well, but loses shape on a 12-step approach, then I haven’t really done a good job of teaching them what the purpose is for each phase of the run. In our system, I know that when an athlete maintains shapes for any length of run, we really have someone who is learning, who is mindful, and who is buying in.
The second element is targeting. I hear lots of people talk about steering, but I hear very few talk about targeting. I was introduced to it by Coach Pfaff. It centers around the athlete targeting a specific point on their foot to a specific point on the track. Targeting makes steering more effective and precise.
When someone shoots a rifle with open sights, they line up two points. One at the end of the barrel, and one at the back. So, we can’t just tell athletes to hit the board. We should tell them exactly “what” to hit the board with, and exactly “where” to hit it. The board is 20 centimeters long. Be specific. “Target your back row of spikes 15cm behind the board.”
Typically, the faster the athlete is coming down the runway, the farther behind the board they need to target. The only exceptions to this are the super twitchy, fast converter types, who by the grace of God have a much bigger margin for error than everyone else. So, if an athlete hits their mid/check mark with a well-shaped run but still fouls, we go to targeting. If they were targeting 20 centimeters behind the board, we’ll move it to 30 centimeters, and so on. If they weren’t targeting at all, we remind them to do their job.
Targeting is an easy concept to grasp, but a hard skill to master. It requires mindfulness, and it should be a KPI in jump sessions. This can sometimes be difficult because athletes want to work on “technique.” That’s when you show them how many fouls they averaged in each competition last season, and then see if they think it’s an issue. Find your teaching moments. Athletes will generally need to have different targets for approaches of different lengths.Targeting is easy to understand, but hard to master. It should be a KPI in jump sessions. Click To Tweet
The final portion I’ll discuss is penultimate mechanics, and point out two common errors we’ve experienced in recent years, as well as share some possible strategies to address the issue. The two issues we’ll be looking at are over-lowering on the penultimate, and being over-active on the penultimate.
- “Over-lowering.” Although the center of mass will lower, athletes generally do not need to have any conscious feeling of trying to lower their center of mass on the penultimate step. The lower their center of mass goes on the penultimate, the higher it’s going to go in flight, the more forward rotation that will occur, and the shorter they will jump. Correct lowering of the COM should result from the proper shape of the run, and correct penultimate execution. Over-lowering can occur for several reasons:
- The athlete is too close to the board, and must put the brakes on and sit on the penultimate to buy time to get the takeoff in. Debrief the shape of the run, targeting, and conditions.
- The athlete is too far from the board, and must now buy time to get to the board for the take off. Debrief the same as above.
- The athlete craves being way up in the air and looking cool, and is lowering to allow this to happen. Explain to the athlete that this is the long jump not the high jump, and our objective is to go far.
- Poor posture going into the take-off phase. This requires the athlete to again spend too much time on the penultimate to correct the posture error. Debrief shape of run and mindfulness on postural strategies.
- “Over-activeness.” You can measure this by looking at the angle of the penultimate shin upon touchdown of the penultimate foot. We are looking for perpendicular (90 degrees) to the ground. If the penultimate step is too negative (less than 90 degrees), then the center of mass will be going down into the board, and the athlete will interpret this as falling. As a reaction, they will most likely block the takeoff leg into the board to fight the sensation of the fall. This can be a very injurious action.
Most athletes who are “over-active” have a wrong understanding of the penultimate step. They generally are mistakenly trying to add velocity to the run, or they are trying to spend less time on the ground than they should. The athlete must decelerate to jump. It’s the price you pay to fly. We want to maintain as much velocity as possible on the penultimate, but that will be unique to each athlete. Each athlete will also have a unique amount of time that they need on the ground to execute the jump. Less time on the penultimate is not always better for every athlete.
To correct this error, some good cues can simply be to ask the athlete to “feel the penultimate foot further out in front,” “let the ground come to them,” “feel a little bit more flight on the penultimate stride,” “feel the ground for a little bit longer on the penultimate step,” or something else that you come up with for your specific athlete based on their characteristics.
Generally, if the shin angle is correct and the center of mass lowers the appropriate amount for the individual, then your athlete will be in position to execute proper takeoff mechanics.
Stacey Taurima: For me, key technical areas include:
- Understanding the technical requirements in acceleration transferring to upright running.
- Run-up rhythms in relation to stride length and frequency.
- Emotional control and steering abilities having higher KPI requirements.
When training these elements, we tend to observe foot placements along the runway and assess individual foot placements, which we call “grouping,” at various points along the way. The more consistent the groupings, the easier it is to steer into the board.
Alex Jebb: For me, I believe that nothing replaces the base of just being an athlete in the purest sense. We even have a phrase we use that helps keep athletes out of their own heads and keeps things fun after jump or throw attempts or races: “More athlete.” This objective is something we work towards as a base throughout the year, with the aim of the athlete developing a wide range of skills and abilities in a multitude of areas.Jumpers need what I call a ‘more athlete’ base, to develop a wide range of skills and abilities. Click To Tweet
For example, I’m a big believer in high jumpers playing pick-up basketball because of the many types of jumping and mixed energy system work involved (the only rule we have is that they must play with other varsity athletes to help reduce injury risk). I believe that working through various planes of motion and types of movements develops the athlete’s motor learning capabilities so that when we do focus in on a few ultra-specific types of jumps, they see a greater uptick in performance than they would have with less of an “athlete” base.
Technical models are largely the same, regardless of the athlete, because the laws of physics will dominate a large portion of these models. Building off of the physics piece, I think the concepts of basic physiology are the next level of governance. Only after accounting for these two layers, physics and physiology, can we begin to interject athlete-specific modifications. An event such as the long jump begins with looking at projectile motion and objects in flight—greater horizontal speed and vertical takeoff velocity will produce a greater jump. Physics!
The next piece is how the athlete should most efficiently reach peak speed at the take-off point and conserve as much horizontal velocity as possible while converting energy into a vertical takeoff (i.e., a stiff take-off leg). Physiology! Delineating between the requirements of a “speed jumper” or a “power jumper” in the long jump, for instance, then becomes a puzzle of fine-tuning take-off actions and angles for what will work best for that particular athlete.
Thus, working off of my first point, increasing the athlete’s ability to “figure things out” makes my job much easier as a coach. Once the athlete and I identify what works best for him or her, then we can alter different variables to develop proficiency in his or her individual “model.” For example, we’ll utilize spatial cues such as low hurdles, incorporate jumps on or off of boxes to address when and how to apply forces, and employ objects such as weighted vests or assisted speed devices to target the feel of ground contacts.
Tomorrow, we’ll feature the last installment of this Jumps Roundtable Edition #2 series: “Designing Training Plans.”