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Olympic Champion Stacy Dragila Talks Pole Vault Training

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Stacy Dragila, the first women’s Olympic pole vault champion, currently coaches young vaulters. She discussed pole vault training during a February 2013 interview.
How do you balance working on the different technical aspects of the pole vault with learning to make all the pieces flow together?

“I would usually jump Tuesday and Thursday. And my Tuesday was more technique-based. So we would work from a short run, whether it was from four and five (steps) – I ran from five a lot – working on technique, really trying to time up the plant, and then be really aggressive on the pole and have a lot of bar clearances from my five-step. And then my full run day would be more, obviously, working on that run and the pole drop. And if I timed everything up, then I would kind of relate back to what I did on Tuesday and try to line things up. So we did a lot of things – short approach and then full approach. And I could do more, obviously, short approach jumps then I could do my full approach. I could probably do 30 jumps from a short approach day, and then I think my full approach days would be more like – 18 to 20 jumps would be a really successful day for me. And that’s a lot of jumps. ... I think short approach is key, but I think a lot of people don’t spend a lot of time there, you know – ‘Season’s coming and we’ve got to get back to full run and we’ve got to put this all together.’ And I think if you spend just a couple more weeks on short approach, I think you’d actually see better benefits from your full run. Because you just need a couple more weeks to be able to hone in some of those skills and those progressions that you need to work on.”

Do you have any favorite drills for a beginner?

“Doing stuff from a three-step (approach) is huge. And if they can swing up and go to their belly – because then we bring the bungee into the element – and then they try to swing. If they can move a straight pole from a three-step, I think they’re going to have a lot of success for the (approach) run because they’re going to understand how to move the pole. And then obviously you have to have upper-body strength to be able to turn upside-down, or at least turn and quarter-turn on the pole. So I do a lot of stuff from three-step with my young kids. I don’t do a lot of slide box with the young kids, because they don’t have that aggressiveness yet. You have to kind of develop that run and hit the slide box, unless you have a really light one. Sometimes I hit towels with the young kids, or I do a lot of sand stuff and grass vaults with those kids.”

What advice do you have about choosing a pole?

“It depends who the athlete is. And for me, because I coach privately, I have all these poles. I bring out the smaller poles, obviously, and as soon as they are able to push those poles and bend them a little bit, then we go on to bigger poles. I don’t say, ‘Hey, what do you weigh? OK, we’ve got to get on that pole,’ because these kids don’t know how to move those poles. So I’m always on smaller poles in practice. And they gain so much confidence from being able to move a pole, that when it comes to the season, they’re able to get on the pole that’s weighted for them because they understand how the pole actually needs to move. And it still might be pretty stiff, but they’re being aggressive coming in, and throughout the season you’re going to see that pole bend a lot more, and they’re like, ‘I bent it!’ And then they’re ready for that next pole.”

Are there any special challenges for girl vaulters these days?

“I don’t think so. I haven’t heard of anything and I don’t treat my girls any differently then my guys. A lot of people think, ‘Oh, you have to treat girls differently.’ But I think girls are more pleasers; they want to please you. So if they trust in your system, they’re going to go out there and do what you ask of them. And the guys, sometimes are a little bit macho, and they may have come from another coach and they already think they know what they want to do. So trying to break them of, maybe, some of their weaknesses is hard, or their technical things that I think that they can improve on is sometimes more difficult. But I think women are pretty easy to coach. They get down on themselves and maybe cry a little bit maybe more because they get frustrated. And I think it’s only because they want to please you and progress the way that you see that they should progress.”

Do you have any final advice to offer young pole vaulters?

“Just have fun and expose yourself to a lot of different events, because I think it’s just going to make you a better athlete. Don’t be afraid to work hard in the weight room – do your pull-ups, your push-ups, your dips. Things that are pressing above your head or things that are pulling over your head. Your squats, your cleans. Pole vault is a very explosive, violent, dynamic sport and you need to be prepared to do it if you’re going to be successful. And it’s fun. And there’s so many different ways to train for the vault, so you should never get sick of training for the vault because it’s not like a sprinter where you just come out of the blocks, come out of the blocks, and do the drive phase. You’ve got gymnastics, and I like to train on the hurdles and the long jump and work on sprint mechanics, and carrying the pole off and on the runway. There’s sand drills. There’s all kinds of stuff. So it’s always a fun day out at the track.”

Read more about the pole vault:
How to Find Pole Vaulters
Pole Vault Technique, Part 1
Pole Vault Technique, Part 2
Stacy Dragila Interview, Part 1
Stacy Dragila Interview, Part 2

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