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Beginner's Track and Field: Learning the long jump

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Carl Lewis running to do long jump
David Madison/Contributor/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Youth track coaches rarely have to worry about finding volunteer long jumpers. After all, what kid wouldn’t want to compete in an event where it appears that all he does is run as fast as he can, then jump as far as he can, into a nice, soft sand pit?

Young jumpers may be surprised, however, that their first lessons probably involve running, not jumping, as they learn to develop a consistent stride. The eventual goal is to start from the same point on the track and always be running at full speed when the takeoff foot hits the board.

Those who display sufficient speed, combined with a consistent stride, will eventually move on to learn advanced long jumping techniques.

Safety and comfort:

As with beginning high jumpers, young long jumpers don’t have major safety concerns, provided the landing area is maintained properly. As with any event, long jumpers should warm up properly before practice and competition.

Beginning jumpers probably won’t leap far enough to injure themselves, but it never hurts to teach some flight techniques to young jumpers, so they don’t tumble out of control while in the air, or land on their hands. The first landing drills will likely be performed from a standing start. The jumpers will leap off of both feet, then reach their arms forward as their legs do the same. They’ll learn to extend their legs, land on their heels, and either roll to one side or push themselves forward. But the first concern will probably be to insure that jumpers don’t instinctively try to break their falls with their hands, thereby risking sprained wrists, or worse.

Technique:

The first thing a prospective long jumper may learn is that the sport lacks a starting line. Jumpers, of course, must determine their own starting points. The coach will choose the number of strides for the approach run – probably based on the jumper’s age – then the jumper may run toward the takeoff board, or may begin at the board and run toward the starting area. In either case, the jumper runs the appropriate number of strides so the coach can determine whether she is striding consistently. Once the jumper learns to stride consistently, the coach can measure the distance she travels in the appropriate number of strides. This distance allows the coach to set the correct starting point.

Beginning jumpers, of course, will be focused on jumping, not the approach run, which may just seem like a preliminary activity – something to get out of the way before the real fun begins. To keep them focused on the approach, therefore, it may be wise to practice the approach run on a track, rather than on a long jump runway. Once the novice jumpers develop a consistent approach run – and they’ve learned proper landing technique – let ‘em rip on a real runway. Generally, right-handers will begin the approach by striding with the right foot, and will take off with the left foot.

Putting it all together:

Beginning jumpers who advance to the next educational steps will learn how to properly approach and hit the takeoff board, how to control their flight, and how to land safely while maximizing distance.

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