Why Young Athletes Should Learn the Scissors High Jump
Do you remember high jumping when you were of primary school age? I do . . . and despite being quite a sporting youngster with a solid Little Athletics background – I didn’t like it. My main problem was the bar. Even though the foam mats were by then in use and I never experienced the thrill of landing in a sand or sawdust pit, I was not lucky enough to be jumping in the era of the rounded fibre glass bar or the elastic and foam “flexi” bar in common use today. The barrier we were expected to hurl ourselves enthusiastically over was made of metal and sported triangular edges. Who designed this thing? I presume it was to encourage you not to hit it – which was fine in theory . . .
Thank goodness things have advanced since then and most coaches and schools now have access to the less fearsome foam and elastic training bar. The teaching and coaching of high jump at a novice level, however, still has its problems. In fact, the high jump, particularly in schools, seems to be the cause of more confusion, more controversy, more questions and more anxiety than any other athletics event. One issue that attracts constant attention is which high jumping technique should be taught to beginning youngsters.
The Battle Rages On . . . Scissors vs Flop
There is no consistency in Australia over this one. Over the years I have known of some schools that have banned the flop technique for fear of student injury. On the other hand, I have been astounded to learn that some schools haven’t allowed the scissors style of jumping.
The Little Athletics movement in Australia requires that the scissor technique be the only high jump technique that is allowed to be used at any level of competition for athletes in the Under 10 age group and below.
Unfortunately, the scissors technique is thought by many to be an outdated relic of high jumping from when jumpers were virtually forced to land on their feet due to the unforgiving landing area. For accomplished high jumpers, this may be true. The flop technique is a far more effective method of clearing the bar, holding a biomechanical advantage over the scissors.
But remember, we’re talking about a bunch of kids. Most youngsters are not strong or coordinated enough to achieve the finer points of the flop and therefore capitalise on these advantages.
So what is the answer?
My advice: Teach and encourage all novice high jumpers to initially learn and perform the scissors in preference to the flop technique. Below are the reasons why:
The scissors technique is more “user-friendly” especially for the less confident youngster. Compared to the flop, the scissors is less complex and less intimidating; the jumper stays in an upright position the entire time and gets to land on their feet. The scissors also lends itself to a number of gentle teaching progressions that young athletes can easily cope with.
It is rare that a school or athletics club doesn’t have a high jump “horror story” about a novice jumper hurting themselves by landing awkwardly or by completely missing the mats while attempting a flop high jump. While children want to copy the exciting images of the event portrayed on television by attempting the Fosbury Flop, a safe, sound teaching practice must be followed by teaching the scissors first. It is more likely that a young beginner, particularly those that are a little awkward or less confident, will perform a safe landing technique when using the scissors style.
Preventing bad habits
Forcing the flop upon children at too early a stage is like teaching them to run before they can walk. Bad habits that are difficult to change can be the result. I know of a number coaches, even at the elite level, that have been forced to conduct remedial work with promising high jumpers who have never learnt or been encouraged to perform the scissors at a younger age.
The scissors technique requires the children to actually jump over the bar by lifting their hips and therefore their centre of gravity; the flop can lead to the children “falling” or “diving” over the bar, especially when the bar is at a low height. The scissors technique can be used to instil sound jumping principles such as a tall take-off position, an extension of the take-off leg, a driving of the free knee up towards the bar and an explosive vertical lift on take-off, which can later be transferred to the execution of the flop technique.
I am often astounded by the number of young athletes who tell me that they “can’t do” or “don’t do” the scissors – that they “only do the flop” (or what they think is a flop – see below, under “Problems”). What they fail to understand is that many elite senior high jumpers use the scissors as an important warm up and technical drill. Even when an athlete uses the flop as their main competitive technique, they should never discard the scissors as a training drill.
Despite best intentions, however, the biggest problem most teachers and coaches will face is that not only do many kids want to do the flop, most think they can do it. Ironically, what most kids consider as doing a flop is simply a bad scissors – a sideways scissor bar clearance, their body parallel to the bar, with a landing on their back or their backside. In this case, it should be tactfully pointed out to young athletes exactly what is occurring; that instead of doing the scissors badly, they might as well do it properly and land on their feet. It also should be explained that high jump is about jumping up; and they will only continue to jump “up” while their head is up. As soon as they begin to fall back (in a “lazy” attempt to lift their feet), their power will no longer be going up in a vertical direction.
A second problem is that younger, small, awkward, timid or non-athletic children may encounter problems in attempting to scissor onto some of the taller high jump landing mats. The high jump mat may even be higher than the child’s scissors PB! I find that a lower mat depth (“scissor-style” mats) will often assist youngsters to land on their feet in a balanced position, which can be difficult for some children when using the higher mats designed for the flop. Lower mats also allow young athletes to develop a feel for jumping over the bar, rather than stepping up onto the mat. Finally, lower mats also allow the coach or teacher to set the bar at heights below those that are possible with a higher mat.
A child’s first high jumping experience should involve using the scissors technique. It is safer, and more suitable for inexperienced youngsters. It should not be seen as an outdated technique but viewed as a vital part of the teaching process. Skipping this important progression may endanger the athlete with never reaching their full high jumping potential.
Let me know what you think
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Do you think that all young athletes should learn the scissor technique in the high jump? Do you think that scissors should be mandatory for younger athletes up to a certain age? If so, up to what age? Let me know by leaving a reply/comment
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Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes, and founder of the blog coachingyoungathletes.com. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, or via email. Check out Coaching Young Athletes on YouTube, the Coaching Young Athletes podcast, and the Coaching Young Athletes E-Book Series.
Thanks Darren this was an awesome read. I was put onto it from a work colleague who is a level 4 junior development coach. I will be subscribing to your newsletter. I have a background jumping, 2.22 back in the 80s and I have been involved with my kids little athletics and I have to totally agree. Kids who do the flop to early tend to throw their head and shoulders straight into the bar, they never learn to jump up, hold the vertical for as long as possible this is the importance of the scissors jump. I believe the scissors should have a straight 45degree approach and the flop a j curve, but the take off is the same. Foot plant directed to back corner, not parallel. Quick double arms or single. Our club got some scissors matts and was a great investment. We have tried using cones to ensure kids jump from the half they run in from. Stops them putting an extra step in continuing along the bar and potentially missing the mat.
Thanks for a great article.
Thanks for your comments Phillip. I appreciate your words, particularly as you are someone who has had extensive experience with the high jump. I agree with all of the points you make. I believe that the widespread introduction of the scissors mats in Little Athletics across Australia is a positive move. It helps to make the high jump less intimidating for beginners, allows the bar to be placed at lower heights and encourages the athlete to attack their take-off with more confidence. It will be interesting to see the effect that they move has had in a few years down the track. Darren
We’re in the US & my question is to help my 9th grade son focus on the best method to jumping the high jump. He’s been taught both the scissors and flop but tries to do the scissors at the 5’00” mark sometimes and can’t clear it when I think he should be doing the flop. His approche is also not on the correct ‘J / 45° angle’ ether, It’s starts on move of a 30° angle. This is a huge debate on trying to correct it.
At what age or height would you say a teen should stop doing the scissors high jump and start doing the flop in ratio to their own height? Or what exercise would help strengthen their body to clear their own height of 5’7″?
Thanks… James H.
Hi James. That is a great question – when should a young athlete move on from doing the scissors and start doing the flop? A very experienced high jump coach once told me that a young athlete should be able to scissor a bar set at their own shoulder height before being taught the flop. This is because he believed that, when learning the flop the bar needs to be at least at an athlete’s shoulder height to ensure that the athlete “jumps” and doesn’t dive over the bar. Since I was given that advice, I have used an athlete’s ability to scissor a bar set at their own shoulder height as an indication that an athlete is ready to transfer from scissors to flop. Of course, the scissors should still be used as an important training drill. It is difficult to suggest certain exercises but when it comes to high jumping technique, I would suggest focusing on the run-up to ensure a good take-off position is consistently reached, and when attempting the flop, maintaining a lean away from the bar right up until take-off. I hope that this is of some help. Darren