The 4 x 100 relay race is often won in the exchange zones, so drills to increase a team’s baton-passing efficiency are vital to success in the sprint relay.
First, of course, coaches must select their 4 x 100 relay runners with an eye for athletes who can exchange the baton smoothly, and at full speed, in addition to being strong sprinters. Then the coach must train the team, through its drills, to hone its passing technique into a smooth-running operation.
Here are some beginning drills, mainly aimed at newly-formed relay squads. But most can be helpful for any 4 x 100 relay team.
Drill No. 1 – Running in place:
Four runners line up, with arms extended to maintain proper spacing. Each runner stands with
feet together, moving only his/her arms in a running motion. The first runner holds the baton.
When the coach says “go,” the second runner moves his/her arm back to receive the baton. The
runners then continue moving their arms in a running motion until the coach says “go” again, at
which time the second runner passes the baton to the third. The sequence is then repeated, with
the third runner passing to the fourth.
Make sure each receiver observes the proper fundamentals
when reaching back for the baton. The elbow goes back first, leading the forearm and hand into
position. The palm is up and the arm is fully extended, at close to shoulder height, to receive the
baton. Coaches should repeat the drill, making sure each runner has a chance to pass and receive
the baton with both hands. Some athletes will likely be better passing or receiving from one side
or the other.
Drill No. 2 – Proper lane spacing:
Repeat drill No. 1, but practice on a surface that has a line down the middle. If you’re indoors, you can employ tile lines on a floor. Outdoors, you can
put a line on the track. When passing the baton from the runner’s right hand to the receiver’s left,
the passer is on the left side of the line, the receiver on the right, and vice versa for a left-hand-to-
right-hand pass. Emphasize that neither the passer nor receiver ever moves across the line, i.e.,
into the other runner’s portion of the lane. Again, you can shuffle your athletes around to see who
passes and receives better with their right or left hands.
Drill No. 3 – Timing the pass:
This drill is also similar to the first. The four runners line up and maintain proper spacing. The runners pump their arms and move their feet in place, while the coach counts out loud: “one-three-five-seven.” This simulates the seven steps that should take
a receiver from the acceleration zone into the exchange zone. If the first pass will be from a
runner’s right hand to the receiver’s left, the runners begin by raising their left legs. The coach
counts “one” when the left leg hits the ground, “three” when the left leg hits again, etc. On
“seven,” the first receiver reaches back and the runner passes the baton.
This drill can be
done at different tempos, getting faster over time. Again, make sure the receiver observes the
proper technique, with his/her arm fully extended for the exchange, with the elbow going back
first, keeping the hand under control. The receiver will always look forward.
Drill No. 4 – Stepping into the exchange zone:
The first runner begins with the baton. The receiver will take seven steps, then reach back for the
baton. Runners who’ll receive the baton in the right hand begin striding with the right leg, and
vice versa. When the receiver counts seven steps, he/she reaches back for the baton, and the
passer hands it over. The passer, who’s following, doesn’t count steps. When the passer sees the
receiver’s hand coming back, he/she finishes that stride, then passes the baton. Again, make sure
the receiver maintains proper form and doesn’t look back.
Drill No. 5 – Timing drill:
Mark out acceleration and exchange zones on a track, possibly using cut up tennis balls. The
receiver, running at full speed, begins in the acceleration zone, counts “one-three-five-seven” and
puts his/her hand back for the baton. The passer follows and accelerates into position but doesn’t
pass the baton. This gets the runners used to the speed of the relay and helps them develop the
necessary timing without having to worry about passing the baton.
Once your team has these drills down, then start practicing full-speed exchanges, generally once
each week, possibly twice if you’re not running a meet that week. Relay runners shouldn’t run
complete laps during practice drills – that will wear out your runners too quickly and they won’t
be able to practice as many exchanges as they should. Even if you cut the distance in half, with
each runner only going about 50 meters, they’ll still get a good speed workout if you practice at
least three or four exchanges – for each position – during the session.
When you run full speed exchange drills in practice, time the baton in the exchange zone.
Start your watch when the baton breaks the plane of the exchange zone, stop your watch when
the baton exits the zone. The key is to have the baton spend as little time in the zone as possible.
For high school teams, the baton should move through the zone in no more than 2.2 seconds for
boys’ teams, 2.6 seconds for girls’ squads.