One of the most common inquiries I get is which tests I utilize to identify athletes who may excel in the jumps in track and field (long, triple, high). While I do not lose sleep over many things, one thing that does worry me is not placing athletes in the area where they can be the most successful—or placing them in that area too late. Some of my biggest frustrations as a coach have involved asking an athlete to try out a particular event as a senior and watching them absolutely tear it up.One thing that worries me is not placing athletes in the area where they can be the most successful—or placing them in that area too late, says @HFJumps. Click To Tweet
As much as I try to think “glass half full” and be glad that we were finally able to place the athlete correctly, I also cannot get away from kicking myself for failing to recognize the placement earlier in their career. In a program that generally begins with more than 100 athletes (this past season, we had 140), this can be a huge challenge—especially when 80% of those athletes view themselves as sprinters. Before going into the tests, I think it is imperative to mention a few thoughts that can help you ensure the right athletes make their way to your jump squad:
- Even though I do my best to see everything, I cannot. The process of athlete placement is the combined effort of the entire staff. I would even go beyond that and say it can extend outside the staff. Physical education teachers and coaches of other sports can be a great asset in communicating about potential athletes and encouraging them to give track and field a shot.
- Watch the warm-up! The tests I will discuss give objective measurements to help drive decision-making. Watching the warm-up is a way to add a subjective evaluation to the evaluation equation. Furthermore, it can serve as a safety net because an athlete may be absent for one or more days during the early-season testing.
- Create an appealing environment for new athletes. Returning members of the jump squad will be your best recruiters. If you make practice enjoyable and they perform well over a season, your returners will deliver the ideal message to newcomers. Typically, the only “recruiting” line I may use is, “Anyone can be a sprinter, but true athletes are found in the jumps.” This, of course, also applies to the hurdles and the other field events, but I have to be a champion for the group I lead!
The following six tests are ones we administer over the first two weeks of our 19-week high school season. I have them listed in order of significance (largest to smallest), although the order is certainly debatable.
1. 10-Meter Fly
All of the jumps in track and field occur at a speed that is below an athlete’s maximum velocity. This is due to the coordination required to execute specific movements prior to the jump and takeoff from a specific target. If an athlete has a faster maximum speed, they will have a faster submaximum speed. Every elite jump coach I have spoken with agrees that take-off speed is the most critical factor in performance potential (yes, even in regard to the high jump).
At the high school level, I advise a 20- to 30-meter sprint into the fly zone. While I allow flexibility during training, I think it is essential to be rigid with the run-in distance during testing. Not only does this allow for legitimate comparison among the current athletes, but it also allows for year-to-year comparison.Every elite jump coach I have spoken with agrees that take-off speed is the most critical factor in performance potential (yes, even in regard to the high jump), says @HFJumps. Click To Tweet
There has been debate in the past regarding the 10-meter fly versus the 30-meter fly—I think both are great. Since the focus of this is testing early in the season, I find the 10-meter fly to be most appropriate for the majority of our athletes.
2. Bilateral 6-Bound for Distance from a Bilateral Start
I believe we perform this test a little differently than others do. The athlete starts behind a line with both feet together. They jump and land on either their right or left foot, then alternate contacts until the seventh contact hits the ground. This guarantees three true bounds on each leg.
I prefer this test over the standing triple jump since I have found it easier to teach because it is all unilateral after the initial jump. We perform this test on turf in trainers, and I have found that when athletes are tested with a bilateral landing in these conditions, it gets unsafe really quick—which is why we switched to a unilateral landing. Note: We do not tell them to “stick” the landing on the last contact. The last contact simply hits, and they roll through. This method has also enhanced safety.
This test could certainly be done on a runway with a sandpit and a legit jump landing, but most of the athletes we are testing do not have any experience. So, again, this has been a simpler method for us.
When administering this test with large groups, I advise having two lines on each side of the tape measure. One athlete goes, I verbally yell out the mark, and then the athlete in the other line goes. I always put a cone down for the top mark to give the athletes something to go after. To potentially drive even more intent, you can have a cone for the top mark for each year in school. Always find ways to enhance intent!
3. Backboard Test
This test is somewhat less objective than the others. It simply asks the athlete to take an approach, jump, and touch as high on a backboard as possible. I like this test because it shows whether an athlete can use horizontal velocity to get vertical. It certainly correlates the most with potential in the high jump, but the athleticism of being able to do it bodes well for the coordination requirements in any of the jumps.
We do not get exact numbers for how high the athlete gets off the ground, which makes it more subjective: you can use a simple numeric rating from 1–5. If you want to add more intent, use post-it notes and have the athletes stick them on the backboard. If you have multiple hoops, you can break the athletes up by class or, even better, by height. Enhancing intent for the win!I like the backboard test because it shows whether an athlete can use horizontal velocity to get vertical, says @HFJumps. Click To Tweet
If an athlete performs this test and jumps off two legs, make a note of the performance, and then ask them to repeat it by jumping off one leg. In my experience, the athlete who jumps off two legs tends to be more “muscular” versus “elastic” in regard to movement strategy. This is, of course, up for grabs if the athlete jumps really well off one or two feet.
You can certainly use this test as a stand-alone to identify jump talent, but I find it to be most valuable when used in comparison with others to find diamonds in the rough (more on that later).
4. 20- to 30-Meter Acceleration
Most of the time, the 10-meter fly will give me the information needed to target an athlete based on their running ability. However, there are times when an athlete has a poor fly time in comparison to their acceleration time. Someone who accelerates well—but does not have top speed that correlates—could still jump well, especially if the top speed issue is resolved.
Remember, all the jumps occur at a percentage below maximum velocity. If an athlete who accelerates well but has poor top-end speed can jump at a higher percentage of their maximum velocity, there is a chance they could find more success than an athlete with a higher maximum velocity. Usually, the factor most involved in this occurrence is coordination.
Coaches can run regressions using acceleration and fly times to help see if an athlete meets this criterion or simply look at where the athlete ranks on the team in each category. If the athlete ranks 25th on the team in the 10-meter fly, I may be inclined not to pursue that athlete; but if they also rank eighth in a 20-meter acceleration, my decision could change.
5. Scandinavian Rebound Jump Test
I have written about the SRJT before (here and here). It is definitely my favorite test to measure RSI if you have the technology to measure flight time or jump height and ground contact time. The test identifies athletes who can sync their upper and lower bodies well and, more importantly, identifies athletes who can “bounce”—the ability to produce high outputs in minimal ground contact time.
6. Countermovement Jump
As a stand-alone, I think the CMJ is a subpar indicator of potential success in the jumps. I have had 7-meter long jumpers and 15-meter triple jumpers whose CMJs were between 24 and 27 inches on a Just Jump mat. However, that does not mean the test is worthless. What I find more common is that an athlete may have a good CMJ but struggle jumping off one leg. This mostly tends to be a general lack of exposure.
This past season, we had an athlete who was in the middle of the pack in all tests besides the CMJ, where he was in our top five. He had an interest in jumping, but if he did not, I would have targeted him anyway because of his CMJ performance. As the season went on, he became more and more comfortable jumping off one leg. I think he will have the ability to jump 1.90 meters or better in the high jump this year. If we did not test the CMJ, and he did not have an interest, I may have missed him!
Note: When I train private clients, I like to test a squat jump and CMJ without arms, which can assist in determining if an athlete is more muscle- or tendon-driven. This helps identify athlete strengths and weaknesses, and each can be emphasized at certain times throughout the macrocycle.
Sifting Through the Data
During the first two weeks of our season, I analyze the data collected during a session. Because we do not do all the tests on a single day, it becomes an ongoing process of adding and subtracting the athletes I intend to target. Since we have been completing the same tests from year to year, we have created a set of norms for each test (besides the backboard test) for all athletes and by year in school. While there are testing protocols that have norms provided and are excellent for reference, I think it is extremely important to use your own data, as it is the best representation of what you are dealing with from year to year!
As we continue to perform more tests and I continue to sift through the spreadsheets, certain athletes begin to stick out. This is where I start to lobby our staff to have all the elite athletes jump! That being said, the most time-consuming part is looking for the athletes who do not stick out but may fit the part (such as the high jumper mentioned earlier).While some testing protocols are excellent for reference, I think it is extremely important to use your own data, as it is the best representation of what you are dealing with from year to year. Click To Tweet
Another key point to consider beyond the data is body type and physiological age. A 6’4” athlete may test poorly, but it could be because he grew 8 inches in six months. Getting him involved in the jumps may pay big dividends once he learns how to coordinate the new length.
If I have to approach an athlete about trying out the jumps, I usually say, “All of the metrics we have collected lead me to believe you can find success in the jumps. What do you think about giving it a try?” Most of the time, they are interested. However, last year I had an athlete tell me, “I completely disagree, so no chance.” The funny part is that by the end of the season, he was talking to me about wanting to be a jumper next season.
I’m not sure of the reason for his change of heart, but I’d like to believe it is because of the culture our jump squad has built over the years, of which a key component is working with a staff with a unified vision. Again, the goal is to place everyone properly, which is best done via a team effort!
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