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Pole Vault Technique, Part 2

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Former Olympic and World champion pole vaulter Stacy Dragila currently coaches young vaulters. She discusses pole vaulting technique in part 2 of a February 2013 interview.
How do you teach vaulters to keep accelerating through the takeoff?

“The biggest thing is just trying to keep those kids’ grips down and not running from very far (from the takeoff box). A lot of those kids I just drill, drill, drill from three and four steps (away from the box), so there’s not a lot of run in front of them. It’s about controlling the pole into the box. And as they kind of master those steps, then we can maybe go back to that five-step (approach) and beyond. But I drill a lot from three and four (steps), and that really shows, I think, what they can really handle going farther back.”

Are there any other keys to the plant?

“I’ve seen a lot of kids carry the pole too low, or too far behind them. So what I’ve always been taught is to keep your bottom hand pretty much centered in the middle of your chest, (as if) there’s a nice box between you. You don’t want it too far out (in front), you don’t want it too far out to the side. Because if you’re too far out (front) you’re going to be probably taking a long last step into the takeoff, and probably be falling into the takeoff. So you always want your hand in the middle of your chest, and as the tip comes down your hands rise up so it’s a nice, tight plant.”

Should young pole vaulters do some type of upside-down work before they try the pole vault?

“I think it’s good to do some drills, because then I think it just lets them know, ‘If I’m (upside-down) in the air like this, this is the (correct) position.’ … It kind of has to happen after they’ve tried to do it in the air, and then you bring it back down and they say, ‘OK, I kind of felt that.’ And then they put things together. Everybody learns very differently. I was more of a visual learner. I always trained with my coach, and luckily my coach was fit enough to train with me for most of my career, and he was left-handed, so it was easy for me to see kind of what he did, and then I tried to emulate it. And then I would get off of the pit and (her coach would say), ‘OK, what did you feel?’ And I said, ‘I felt this,’ and he said, ‘No, you shouldn’t have felt it like that.’ So he’d put me in a position, especially if it was an inversion drill, he would try to put me in the correct position and put pressure on the pole and say, ‘This is what you should feel, and now push against it. And this is how you should row through or pull through.’ … So then I would try to get back on the runway and try to emulate that. So it was a lot of different ways to kind of skin the cat. And that’s why we go to coaching clinics, because we try to just keep learning new drills to put in our bag to then pull out, you know, ‘This might work for Johnny, but it doesn’t work for Susie, but I’m going to try it.’ And that’s where I learned a lot of my drills. And I pull different things out to help people. And that’s what I think coaching’s about, is that you have to have a lot of different skills and ideas and cues to give to your kids, because not everybody learns the same way.”

Are there any other keys to body control in the upward phase?

“I think jumping on the trampoline is good body awareness, learning how to come down in a safe manner and not just flailing around. Or doing some gymnastics maneuvers where you’re swinging, or doing even low-level skills, like somersaults and things like that. I think the more you do things with your body, you’re going to understand where your body is and try to be able to control those elements. And then again, trying to do some things, like two- and three-step (approaches), once you’re on the pole. I think those things start coming together, those things mesh together and (the students say), ‘OK, that’s why I do that in the gymnastics, because she wants me to feel this here.’ So they put things together quickly.”

If you do everything right up to the top, does bar clearance pretty much follow naturally?

“Pretty easy, yeah. If you set up the takeoff really well and you get in the right position and you line up on the pole and you’re tight, then bar clearance is just like this blast of energy over the top. And that’s fun, when you hit it right.”

Read more about the pole vault:
Pole Vault Technique, Part 1
How to Find Pole Vaulters
Olympic champion Tracy Dragila Talks Pole Vault Training
Olympic Pole Vault Rules

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