3 Tips to Help Kids Stop “Jumping” Hurdles
If you ask young athletes what they are supposed to do with a hurdle, most will answer “jump it” – and many do just this, taking a huge vertical leap over the barrier, losing forward momentum and wasting a lot of time while in the air.
By the time you have finished reading this article you will have learnt three of my favourite ways to combat this common problem and teach kids to run lower over the hurdles.
1. “Step” Not “Jump”
Start by changing how the kids THINK about hurdles.
Change the terminology that they use and alter their understanding of what hurdling is.
Good hurdlers get back down on the ground quickly so that they can continue to sprint to the next hurdle. They “step” over hurdles rather than “jump” them.
“Step” is a great cue that communicates the quickness and timing of the action, and the fact that the athlete should not “leap” high above the hurdle.
2. Teach the Trail Leg
Jumping is often caused by a poor trail leg action where the leg is being tucked under the body rather than folded up to the side. A trail leg tucked under the body leaves the athlete no alternative but to jump high above the hurdle to prevent their knee or foot from hitting the barrier.
For the trail leg:
- Lift the leg up to the side, heel close to butt (Use a “dog and tree” action. I assume that this is self-explanatory. Kids won’t forget this!)
- Keeping the heel close to the butt, bring the knee through to the front in a high action.
- Put the foot straight down on the ground, on the other side of the hurdle, pointing straight down the track.
3. Direct Their Momentum With Pool Noodles
When clearing a hurdle, athletes need to learn to direct their momentum forward rather than up.
Really good hurdlers can keep their hips and their head at virtually the same level through an entire hurdles race, even when crossing the barriers.
Simply describing this to kids is not sufficient for them to learn it. You need additional practical strategies.
One of the most effective activities that I have found to encourage the required direction of force is to use a pool noodle to guide the athletes.
The coach stands next to and in line with the hurdle and extends a foam pool noodle parallel and directly above the hurdle just above the athletes standing/running height.
The aim is for the athlete to hurdle through the gap created by the top of the hurdle and the pool noodle. (i.e. above the hurdle but below the noodle).
This activity is challenging and is not for absolute beginners. The fact that it is so challenging is often why athletes love it.
The pool noodle is light and soft making it ideal for this activity. In saying this it is the coach’s responsibility to make sure they move the noodle out of the athlete’s way if they sense that the athlete is about to collide with the noodle.
Watch for athletes who duck their head, chin down to chest in an atttempt to avoid hitting the pool noodle. This is not the action you are looking for. It is caused by the athlete being fearful of running into the pool noodle. I have found that holding it a bit higher above the hurdle can give the athlete the confidence to hold their head up and keep their eyes forward.
1. Tell athletes to “step” over the hurdles
2. Teach an effective trail leg action.
3. Use pool noodles to encourage the athletes to drive forward, not up.
Do you have any other tips for helping young athletes stay low over the hurdles?
I would love to hear from you! Add to my list of tips by leaving a reply/comment or by using the below contact details.
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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, Anchor or via email.