Teaching the Long Jump to Young Jumpers
By Lee Taft, CSCS
To the average observer the long jump appears to be a rather simple event. Jumpers simply run fast and land as far away as possible from the take off point. Well, basically that is the goal. But it is not that simple.
When introducing a young jumper the event of long jumping it is wise to start with the one thing you know they can do; Run. Make no mistake about it; if the athlete isn’t fast they will never be a great long jumper. Speed is what carries the jumper to long distances. A jumper with great jumping technique, but a slow approach, will not complete with a much faster runner, which has poor jumping technique, at least at the beginning stages.
Treat young jumpers like sprinters. Make sure they can execute a proper sprinting pattern and reproduce it over and over again. As the jumper learns the true essence of the long jump approach they will begin to develop their own style to meet their personality. The long jump is an aggressive event. Jumpers need to get psyched up and ready to explode into the air.
Ok, before I get too far ahead of myself let’s look at the stages I would introduce to a first time long jumper.
Stage #1 The speed phase
Teach the jumper how to run properly with appropriate arm and leg action. The arms should swing from the shoulder joint limiting the shrug action which is common in young sprinters. The arms should stay on their side of the body to avoid a rotational force created by crossing the mid-line of the body. And finally, the arms should be aggressive on the back swing with a slight opening up of the elbow joint and on the front swing the elbow joint will slightly close down. The hands can be either open or closed, but not tense when closed. The action of the legs should be straight forward and back as well. The more lateral movement of the knee drive or foot plant the less efficient the stride will become. The jumper should be taught to properly use his hips to extend the leg during the push off phase and flex the hip during the recovery phase. In order for the leg to make a complete cycle from push off to recover to plant phase to push off again, the leg must close down at the knee joint during the recover (lifting into the high knee position) so that it can move through that stage quicker. If the athlete runs with a low recover (the foot passes by the shin) the recover will be slower and the power output becomes diminished.
The first stage is vital to becoming a good jumper because if the jumper running form breaks down during the approach the jump will ultimately fail before it gets started.
Stage # 2 The take off
The next phase I like to move onto is the final six steps of the approach into the take off. During this phase I have my jumper stand with me at the take off board and begin to visualize what it takes to transfer all that speed gained during the approach and transfer it into distance. I want them to realize that just jumping straight out won’t be the most advantageous way of gaining the most distance on the landing. Eventually I get the jumper to realize the process of gaining distance in the long jump is a matter of combining optimal lift off and horizontal speed. Just like a shot putter. The thrower knows he must get optimal height and speed on the shot to gain distance.
Once I know my jumper understand this concept, I then walk him through the mechanics of transferring the speed into optimal height without losing too much speed at the take off. I don’t give them too much information for the purpose of not confusing them. I simply give them what they need to know to take off and gain some air. Here are the initial points I make with regards to the take off:
1. In order to get some vertical lift, the plant leg must be slightly in front of the hips.
2. In order to explode into the take off the hips must drop lightly upon the second to the last step.
3. The final thing I tell them is to look out in the horizon, not up or down, just out.
At this point I back the jumper up so he takes abut 4-6 total steps (strides) and ask him to run and take off without worrying about which leg to take off with or the board. I just want to see athleticism at this point. I want to see if he understands what it takes, on a superficial level, to take off and gain distance. This will give me the direction I need to coach him in by the take off he displays.
Obviously, I will need to take them through the stages of the approach, take off, and landing, but not in the initial stages of a new jumper. I just want them to feel comfortable that they can jump out into the sand pit.
Stage #3 The final six steps
In this stage I will have the jumper back up so his approach will be 6 total steps (3 on the take off leg). We will find which leg he is most comfortable with for the take off. We then work on trying to get the penultimate step concept. I don’t go into too much detail with a young jumper over this, I just want him to understand that if he can slightly lower his center of gravity and aggressively drive out and up off that final step he can increase his hang and therefore distance. I don’t give him too much direction on what to do in the air yet, except to stay tall and allow his arms and legs to hang back while in the air. I will deal with in the air technique later.
What I want the jumper to get comfortable with is when he hits the take off to drive his free leg up aggressively as he extends the take off leg into the ground. The arms also must be aggressive and aid in propelling the body off the take off. The reason the free leg must be upwardly aggressive is so that the athlete can run off the board with great speed yet have the action of the knee drive, and take off leg, elevate the center of gravity up so the jumper will follow an arc pattern into the pit. If he simply runs fast and has less aggressive knee drive and push off force he will not have much arc and will drop to the pit quickly.
This skill must be practiced often. Getting the jumper to be aggressive into the take off is important.
Stage #4 Hitting the board and finding an approach length
In this stage I spend time teaching the jumper to get consistent on hitting the board. I let the athlete show me how far I can set his approach simply by how he handles the speed at take off with regard to the take off technique I discussed above. It does no good to have the jumper run for 18 to 20 steps if he can’t control it.
Generally, I will start him at 8 to 10 steps just to build confidence that he can hit the board and still take off. He will not be at top end speed, but that is good for a new jumper. When I finally can back him up he will start to make improvements in distance and no other changes have been made- just speed added to the approach.
To teach the jumper how to get his mark I will have him run back from the board and count the number of step and give him a mark. We then measure with a tape measure for future references. At this point I have him start from a standing track start; he will develop his own style later, and do a run through. I will see if the take off foot is on the board. If it is, then I start giving him check points, which are actually more for me. I will start him out with one check point at 4 strides from the take off. If he is missing this mark- He will not hit the board. Using this check point I can help him become more consistent with his start. Later on I will give him another check point at four strides out from the board. This check point let’s me know if he is consistent on his approach or if he is not applying equal sprinting force all the way through the approach. Also, this check point lets me know if he is starting to make changes in his run through as he approaches the board. Maybe he is looking down or beginning to stutter step…
To make adjustments when not hitting the board I will have him move back or forward equal to the distance he is missing the board. I only do this if he is consistently missing the board at the same place for several attempts. If he is missing the board long on one attempt and short on the next this tells me his effort isn’t consistent with his approach. With a young jumper- this can be a frustrating aspect of the long jump. This is why I believe in keeping the approach short until he can become consistent with hitting the board nearly every time.
Stage #5 In the air and landing.
This stage I pretty much start all my jumpers with the hang technique. Once again I will start the jumper up closer and have them just worry about getting air born and not hitting the board. Because this phase happens so fast in the air it is difficult to have the athletes feel what you want them to feel, so sometimes I will use a low ramp or box so they can get extra air time and get the arms and legs in position.
First I simply focus on having the jumper take off his take off leg and as soon as the jumper is in the air I have him drop his free leg down so it is even with the take off leg. Both legs are bent at the knees with the thighs nearly vertical. The torso must slightly extend back to equal the forces of the legs being back, otherwise there will be a forward rotation of the body and the landing will happen way to quick.
The arms during the take off will complete the running action. The arm on the same side as the take off leg will drive up in the air above the head. The arm on the side of the free leg will continue its drive back and circle up and around to the same position above the head as the other arm.
The hang position has the arms high and the legs low and back. This position is maintained for as long as possible.
Once the athlete must prepare for the landing, the arms will drive forward and down as if paddling the body in a boat. This helps keep the legs up. The legs will swing forward and the knees are raised up by flexing at the hips. The upper body must lean forward to match the upward rotation of the legs. Just before landing the legs will extend so the heels break through the sand way in front of the hips. The legs will collapse and allow the hips to sink into the spot the heels landed. The arms will swing back around and in front to help keep the jumper forward upon the landing.
Stage #6 Putting it all together
Jumping events like the long and triple are too intense to continually do full approach and jump attempts every day. So the approach I use to break into the phases and make each one really consistent. At some point in during the learning stages with a new jumper I must have him do the entire jump at full speed so he can gain confidence in himself and I can coach the full skill.
One way of avoiding the pounding of landing, but still being able to get a full run through is to have my jumper take the full approach but abandon the jump at take off. This takes time for a young jumper to demonstrate the mental concentration to give a full run through yet not back off because they are not jumping.
I hope this six stage system that I described is helpful in dealing with your young jumpers. It is certainly not the only way to approach it, but it worked for me and I am sure it will work for you.
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