Look Out for These Common Scissors High Jumping Errors When Coaching Young Athletes
Below are 10 of the most common skill errors that I see kids make when they are scissors high jumping. I’d love for you to continue the list in the comments section of this blog.
1. Too long a run-up
A scissors high jump run-up for kids should be approximately 8-10 strides. Many youngsters start way too far back from the bar and therefore have to maintain their run-up speed for much too long. The run-up should be just long enough to allow the athlete to reach a good speed for take-off. They should not need to maintain this speed for any more than a few steps, otherwise they risk slowing down as they approach the bar.
2. A poor angle of approach
Young athletes should run up in a straight line, at a 30 degree angle to the crossbar. (There is no need for a curved run-up). Some kids will run in at too great an angle, ending up approaching the bar from almost front-on, causing them to have to “hurdle” the bar. This often results in the lead or trailing leg dislodging the bar.
Some youngsters will narrow the angle and run much too wide so that they are running alongside the bar when they reach it.
Running alongside the bar causes many problems after the take-off:
- The athlete spends too much time in flight along the bar when they are above it, meaning that there is more chance that they will hit the bar on their way down.
- The athlete may hit the crossbar on way up. (By running alongside the crossbar they are also running parallel to the landing mats and not towards them. To land on the mats they will have to get very close to them, which means that they will be too close to the bar).
- The athlete may land dangerously between the bar and the landing mats, or land on the front edge of the mats and slip down. This is because their flight direction has not taken them far enough onto the mats
Tell kids to aim for the far back corner of the landing mats during their run-up. This is a simple visual cue and means that they will actually cross the bar after take-off.
3. A poorly-paced approach
Many problems can occur with the pace of young athlete’s run-up. These include:
- The entire run-up pace may being too slow
- The athlete might stutter or hesitate during the approach
- The athlete may slow down as they get closer to the bar.
All of this means that the athlete will not have enough speed to transfer into a vertical take-off that will launch them above the bar. A lack of run-up speed can also result in the athlete coming down on the bar as they have not generated enough horizontal momentum to get themselves past and clear of the bar before they descend.
The athlete generates too much horizontal momentum, and is unable to transfer it to the vertical. This can cause to them to crash into the crossbar or hit it on the way up.
A good high jump run-up will build in momentum. It is common for young athletes to approach the bar at the one speed, with no build-up to the take-off. Teach the athlete to use an accelerating rhythm.
4. A “soft” take-off
A high jump take-off needs to be explosive to be effective. An athlete needs to fully commit to the jump. Due to a lack of confidence, young athletes often only half-commit to their take-off. Their jump will lack the required power to clear the bar and almost always result in a missed attempt. I often see this occurring when an athlete is progressed too quickly and feels outside of their comfort zone with the skill or the height being attempted. It is a signal that the bar needs to be lowered and/or the skill made less complex for a period. This will provide the athlete more time to adjust and build their confidence.
5. Poor take-off position
Hitting a good take-off point is an important part of high jumping effectively. The three main errors that I see young athletes make with their point of take-off are:
They jump from too close to the bar
Jumping from too close to the bar means that the athlete does not give themselves enough room to execute their jump. The common result is the athlete hitting the bar on the way up.
They jump from too far away from the bar
Taking off from too far away from the bar means that the athlete will reach the peak height of their jump prior to reaching the bar. They will most likely be coming down when they are above the bar. The common result is that the athlete hits the bar on their downwards flight.
They jump from too far along the bar
In simplest terms, the take-off point should be no further than one-third along the crossbar from the nearest upright. This helps to ensure a safe landing in the middle of the mats. It also means that the athlete will pass over the crossbar at its lowest point – the middle. (A high jump crossbar may dip by up to 2cm at its centre).
A number of young athletes are under the impression that they should take-off from in front of the middle of the crossbar. This creates two main problems:
- The athlete is risking landing or rolling off the far edge of the landing area.
- The athlete will not be passing over the crossbar at its lowest point.
A visual guide can be used to ensure athletes will use a safe and effective take-off point. Marking a circle on the ground with a substance like baby powder can guide the athlete to a take-off point.
6. “Wrong foot” take-off
To correctly perform a scissors high jump, the leg that is closest to the bar goes over first. In other words, a young athlete should take-off from the foot that is furthest from the bar.
Many youngsters will try to perform a scissors high jump by taking off from the foot closest to the bar. This necessitates them swinging the outside leg over the bar, which will often cause them to turn away from the direction of the jump and “roll” over the bar.
Rehearsing the correct scissors technique over a line on the ground or low object, or even onto the landing mats without the crossbar can help. Cue the athletes to run and jump towards the far back corner of the mats so that they are less likely to turn away from the direction of the jump.
7. Poor positioning of torso
Young athletes should be “tall” when taking-off for a scissors high jump. In other words, their torso should be upright in order to direct forces upwards through the top of their head.
Watch out for athletes who lean forward or duck their head as they take-off. Too much of a forward lean will cause forces to be directed towards the bar, rather than over it.
Also look out for the athletes who lean back on take-off, often in a lazy attempt to lift their legs up. This is often a problem that occurs when higher landing mats are being used.
8. Lazy trailing leg
A lot of young athletes seem to forget about their trailing leg when they are scissors high jumping. It is common to see a youngster vigorously drive their leading leg up and over the bar, but leave their other leg behind. Young athletes must focus on also driving up the trailing leg. If I detect that this is a problem with an athlete, I have them perform the following drill away from the high jump landing area:
- They begin by standing with their hands held out in front of them, palms facing downwards
- They perform a standing vertical jump and whilst in the air, try to touch their lead knee and then immediately their trail knee to their hands in a quick “1-2” rhythm. The head and torso are kept upright.
9. Stiff legs
Many people are under the impression that a scissors high jump action is done with stiff, straight legs. I think that this is because the name “scissors” makes people imagine a pair of scissors with straight blades.
It is, however, far more effective for a young athlete to flex and drive up their knee during take-off. They only need to extend the leg at the knee in order to avoid hitting the bar with their foot.
Teach a knee drive on take-off, rather than a driving up of the foot.
10. Landing on back or in a sitting position
Ideally, a scissors high jumper should land on their feet. This is usually not a problem when the scissors-style (20cm high) mats are used as the landing area – no one wants to land on their back or backside on such a low landing surface! But when higher (e.g. 60cm high) mats are used, many young athletes don’t jump high enough to provide the time and space to get their feet back down on top of the mat. They simply find it easier to land in a sitting or lying position. This highlights the advantage of using the lower mats for younger athletes.
What common technical mistakes do you see young athletes make when they are scissors high jumping?
You can add to the above list by clicking on “Leave a Comment” located on the left sidebar or by scrolling down to the “Leave a Reply” box below. I would also love to hear if you have any solutions other than those noted to any of the common mistakes identified.
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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.