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Beginner's Track and Field: Learning the High Jump

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Beginner's Track and Field: Learning the High Jump

Clearing the bar is the fun part, but beginning high jumpers must learn the fundamentals before flying into Olympic glory.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
The vertical jumps – high jump and pole vault – both include a certain margin for error. Unlike the horizontal events – long jump and triple jump – every inch doesn’t always count. The idea is to jump over the bar and land in the pit without knocking the bar over. In the short run, it doesn’t matter whether you clear by a millimeter or a foot. At the higher levels, of course, those millimeters or fractions of inches will eventually spell the difference between the medalists and also-rans. For beginners, however, the focus should be on getting them comfortable with jumping over the bar, and teaching the fundamentals.

Safety and comfort:

There are no major safety concerns in high jumping, as long as the landing area is secure. Of course, injuries can happen in any event, and even beginning high jumpers should perform proper warm-up and stretching exercises. But the young jumpers will feel discomfort if they knock over the metal bar and fall on top of it. While the chance of serious injury is low, the pain can be enough to discourage young competitors from pursuing the sport. Using a softer substance, therefore, is advisable. Coaches can employ a light, plastic bar, or may wish to run a string or rope through the uprights, with light weights on the ends to keep the rope in place. Let your beginners learn by jumping over these soft objects, which can’t possibly cause any pain. Some coaches may simply have novice jumpers perform backflips into the landing area, with no bar or bar substitute in place. The jumpers will be instructed to land on their backs – not their necks or rear ends – which is how they’ll land after successful jumps in competition.

Technique:

There are three basic parts to a high jump – approach, takeoff and clearance. Each part will likely be taught separately at first, using a variety of high jump drills . When teaching the approach, coaches will likely focus on maintaining the correct running speeds at different parts of the approach, on taking a proper angle to the bar and on hitting the correct takeoff point. Intuitively, young jumpers may want to take off as close to the bar as possible. This, however, will cause the jumpers to leap almost straight up – at too narrow of an angle – and they’ll likely knock the bar off on the way down, even if they achieve sufficient height. Potential jumpers will also determine a takeoff leg – the strongest leg will be on the inside during the jump, making the opposite the takeoff leg. Takeoff and clearance drills may begin with the backflips mentioned previously. The young jumpers will then move on to clearance technique, perhaps learning the old-fashioned scissors kick first, to get them used to flying over the bar, then later advancing to the modern “flop” technique.

Putting it all together:

Eventually, young jumpers will be taught to put the three parts of the jump together. They’ll determine a starting position – which depends on an individual’s stride length – establish a fixed takeoff point and clear a real, metal bar.

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