Good coaches provide technical feedback that helps their athletes improve upon previous performances. Great coaches simplify technique, rely on a few critical indicators to assess, and provide individualized feedback, where they can be most confident and effective. Pole vault has a few exceptionally powerful indicators that will help you coach it successfully.
Mid-marks are a simple, yet effective way to predict the success of a jump and provide immediate feedback to the athlete. Certified coaching instructors teach the requisite knowledge of theory and practice for your event, but then they also tell you to find your personal style.
Mid-marks do not qualify as personal style. Mid-marks are effective, they are individualized, and they are critical to coaching the vault. Find other technical components of the vault to apply your personal style. Other critical indicators for pole vault include drill proficiency and hip movement. In this article, I focus on mid-marks and will address the other two indicators in forthcoming articles. For now, let’s understand mid-marks and discuss their benefits.
Sequence of Mid-Marks
In the following sequence, pole vault coaches should become proficient in addressing:
- Pole carry
- Air mechanics
Your athlete must become proficient in this sequence, too. Therefore, Run becomes the first critical indicator for the event. Similar to any other jumping event, when the steps are off, the jump is off. Get the steps right, get the jump right. “Catching their mid” will address runway challenges so that the athlete can adequately set up their plant and take-off.
What Are Mid-Marks?
Mid-marks are a diagnostic measurement for the coach to assess the quality of an athlete’s plant and take-off. Mid-marks can be used generally and individually. In general, they help determine a new athlete’s approximate approach and grip, and they become more useful when applied individually.
From a 6-step approach, a mid-mark is the position of an athlete’s 6th stride on the runway, or their 3rd left step. For example, Craig’s 6-step approach starts at 82’ back from the box. His left foot will touch down six times on the runway before he takes off and attempts to clear a bar. Craig’s mid-mark is the position on the runway where his left foot touches down for the 3rd time during his approach. A reasonable mid-mark for Craig would be 52’ in this case. For someone who is a lefty, you would use their 3rd right step. Once you know how to “catch their mid,” you can use this measurement to address the athlete’s plant and take-off.
When an athlete has been in a coaching system for a long time, they should know their mid-mark and its progression in a given practice session, performance, or season. Mid-marks progress further back down the runway as an athlete matures and improves.
How to Use Mid-Marks
Regardless of pole vault style or model, mid-marks are useful data for all vaulters. When a vaulter hits their mid, it’s reasonable to expect that they will be set up for a good jump. Let’s consider some less than ideal mid-marks on the runway.
In the past few weeks, Amanda has typically hit a 42’ mid. Today in practice, Amanda consistently hit her mid-mark until her 7th jump. Amanda was under by about a foot and hit a 41’ mid-mark. Either:
- She needs a higher drive knee in the first step to correct her over-extended first stride, which caused her to be too far under the pole on take-off—this adjustment emphasizes gradual acceleration during the approach; or
- She needs to move back a half-foot because her first step was fine; she has loosened up from her warm-up and her previous jumps, and she’s taking longer strides that must be accommodated.
For option 2, I would encourage only a half-foot back adjustment to see whether Amanda remains under the pole again on her next jump. It’s not going to be obvious from one jump that she needs to move back the full foot. It’s important to use the next few jumps to assess how well Amanda will be set up for plant and take-off.
Now, consider Max, whose mid-mark is 48’. Max takes 15 jumps and has moved back a foot over the course of practice, but he’s still hitting a 48’ mid and his jump looks good. On Max’s 16th jump, he hits a 50’ mid and gets stood up by his pole on take-off. Max will either need to:
- Grip up and jump up because his run looks good and he’s moving the pole exceptionally well; or
- Extend his left arm more and jump up; or
- Move up a half-foot because he’s fatigued from his prior jumps and his stride has shortened slightly.
It’s the coach’s responsibility to assess the athlete based on the objective data available as well as a more subjective context. A good coach will know what’s necessary to create the best possible runway for their athletes. If Amanda often goes out too small, then a bigger first step will best support her. If Max has stronger arms than legs, it may be best to move him inward for the end of his practice session. Even the best vaulters put together relatively poor attempts when they’re outside their mid—over or under.
Why Should Athletes and Coaches Rely on Mid-Marks?
It’s hard to observe speed. Human eyes can observe relative speed easily, but absolute speed is much more difficult to see. Mid-marks help you measure speed.
When Amanda hit that 41’ mid in option 2, she sprinted faster because her nervous system was firing and her muscles had warmed up. Her speed was the determining factor in moving that mid-mark forward. Although she missed 42’, her increased speed predicted that she would have a better jump. Amanda’s higher speed and 41’ mid placed her too far in on take-off, so this one jump didn’t end up being that great. However, if we didn’t know her 41’ mid and its 42’ references, it would appear that Amanda needed to correct her plant and take-off. This was not the case since Amanda is consistently great on take-off.Mid-marks monitor an athlete's speed on the runway & offer an evaluation of the setup for take-off. Click To Tweet
Follow the correct coaching sequence and accommodate Amanda’s increased speed by moving her start position backward on the runway. There’s nothing wrong with Amanda’s plant and take-off. On her next jump, she will have an excellent take-off with good hip height. Speed creates the best jumps. Mid-marks monitor an athlete’s speed on the runway and offer an evaluation of the setup for take-off. Every time an athlete sprints down the runway, their mid-mark data is available, whether you use it or not. Collecting this data is easy, so it’s inexcusable not to have it.Mid-marks will fit into different coaching systems and vault philosophies. Click To Tweet
Mid-marks are objectively measured and subjectively determined. Your coaching system will have mid-marks that correspond with your vault philosophy. Some coaches encourage blocking big, which will bring mid-marks inward. (Blocking is a term that describes the position, or positioning, of the vaulter’s arms when they plant the pole.) Other coaches may emphasize letting the plant block the arms into position. This style will bring mid-marks outward. The vault philosophy doesn’t matter because the mid-marks remain consistent for athletes within a given coaching system. For example, Coach David “DJ” Johnston (from Lees-McRae College in North Carolina) developed a mid-marks chart that correlates grip, start on the runway, and approximate bar clearance height.
At Apex Vaulting Club, we rely on DJ’s chart for newcomers because it’s a great initial reference. As our athletes progress and move their approach farther back down the runway, we move away from DJ’s mid-marks because Apex athletes take off farther out than DJ’s recommendations. Again, DJ’s chart is a great place to start, but his system is his and your system is yours. If you know what you want from the take-off, over time you’ll know where to expect your mid-marks to land on the runway.
How Mid-Marks Apply to Other Events: The Long Jump and Triple Jump
The long jump approach resembles the pole vault approach in many ways, including initiation, posture, sprint mechanics, the penultimate step, and take-off. Mid-marks provide a reasonable check on the athlete’s approach before they reach the board for take-off. A coach will know if their athlete will foul the jump if the take-off foot touches down past the expected mid-mark.
Once again, fatigue will shorten the stride and poorly support the athlete’s acceleration down the runway. When it’s obvious in a competition or practice that the athlete is losing steam, move the start position inward or call it quits. I recommend the latter option. There’s no need to push through fatigue in fast-twitch events, and it would take a greater concerted effort to accommodate the approach in doing so.
Unlike vaulters, long jumpers don’t carry poles so their stride is less encumbered and longer than a vaulter’s stride. DJ’s chart does not apply. Instead, a different mid-marks chart based on a longer stride length is more appropriate. Here are David Johnston’s long jump mid-marks chart and Coach Jeff Martin’s (from Indiana State University) long jump mid-marks chart.
Mid-marks support the triple jump, too. Under the same jumps coach, gradual acceleration may work better for some athletes, whereas constant and controlled velocity may work better for others. Coaches must know their system and their athletes extraordinarily well to develop a reliable chart, but I recommend keeping mid-marks more individualized in the triple jump.
As stated, your coaching philosophy for an event may differ from the next coach, but mid-marks always apply, and the mid-mark charts already available offer a great place to start. Modify DJ’s or Martin’s chart to fit your system because no one knows your athletes better than you. Mid-marks are just one of three indicators that allow you to assess your athlete’s running mechanics—an imperative skill—which you can use practice drills to reinforce. Drills build skills. Stay tuned for my next two articles, which will address drill proficiency as an indicator of translational skills and hip movement as an indicator of pole speed.
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