Do me a favor. Take a moment and reflect on either the long jump or triple jump. In your opinion, what is the single most important element in the event? In other words, if you had to tell your athlete only one thing to focus on for the event, what would it be?
I’m not kidding. Take a moment and pretend you’re the coach. Maybe you’re talking to an athlete, maybe you’re giving a presentation to other coaches, what would you pick as the #1 focus of the horizontal jumps?
Did you go with posture? How about acceleration mechanics or pushes out of the back? Top speed? Speed at take off? Take off position? Air mechanics? At best, in my opinion, these are all a distant, distant second, like not-even-in-the-rear-view-mirror second place.
My answer is simple. It’s try to jump as far into the sand as possible. That’s it. The only critical element of the horizontal jumps is how far you jump.
Don’t roll your eyes at me. I’m constantly amazed at how many athletes and coaches lose focus on this simple fact as they pursue technical perfection. When looking to improve, too many people ask the question “What do I need to fix (or what’s wrong) with my technique?”
Seems like a harmless question, right? But it steers the conversation. It leads it in one specific direction and eliminates too many other variables that may also address the “only critical element” of the jump – how far you land in the pit. So change the question.
What do I need to change in order to jump farther? That’s it. Simple fix. This is a much more vague, open-ended question. It has so many more potential answers. And to be honest, for both the coach and the athlete, it’s scary as hell. This puts it all on the table. It’s technique-plus. Technique plus effort, focus, sleep, nutrition, lifestyle, character, determination, resilience…
For the athlete, it’s scary because they may have to examine and evaluate deeper aspects of themselves and their role in the process. It’s safe to say that the reason a PR isn’t happening is because of technical flaws. It’s a whole other beast to admit that a rough patch, plateau, or regression stems from choice or disposition. That means it’s controllable. That means that my situation is my own making. Who cares if you talk to a coach and they tell you that you just need to fix your posture to improve? But if you start talking about consistency or effort or focus and it’s an entirely different conversation.
For the coach, it’s equally scary. You better be ready for this. You better know your stuff or know where to get the resources. You better check all judgment at the door and focus on progress. You better have built a relationship where you can say “I believe you can do better.” and your athletes trust and respect your opinion.
Technique is easy. You have to admit that. This is track and field. A high school physics class could break down the technique for each and every track and field event. We’re not trying to put a human on Mars. We’re trying put a human a few centimeters farther into a sand pit.
Don’t get me wrong. I talk about technique a lot. You better know it inside and out and be able to teach it if you want to keep your job. But there’s a lot more there too. For me, it’s probably 50/50. The answer to the question “What do I need to change to jump farther?” is technique related 50% of the time. The other 50% it’s entirely something else.
As always, there are costs and benefits to every situation. If you’re only focused on technique, then the cost is that you may be abandoning a huge chunk of potential gains, but the benefit is that you likely don’t have to have many difficult conversations.
On the other hand, everything is fair game. Sure, there are some harder conversations and personal choices, but they’re worth it for those needed centimeters. At least in my opinion.