Should the Fastest Runner Always Be Last in the 4 x 100m relay?
What needs to be taken into account when determining the order in which 4 x 100m relay team members should run?
When it comes to kids’ relay teams we often see that the fastest runner gets to run last, and the rest of the team order is built around this.
But should the fastest runner always run last? After a number of other factors are taken into account, the answer is often no.
Despite it being a commonly held view, it is a misconception that the fastest runner should automatically be selected to run last with the baton.
The following article will provide you with eight factors that can come into the equation, whether you are working with novice relay runners, or those competing at state and national level. It will be up to the team coach to ultimately decide which factors take priority over the others to determine the final order of the runners.
The eight factors to consider are:
1. In What Position Do They Like To Run?
It is good for a runner to be comfortable with, and like the position in which they are running. Therefore, as a starting point, it is worth asking the team members about what positions they have run in the past and in what position they enjoy running. It’s also worth finding out in what positions they really don’t like running. While not being a major determining factor, this information may provide some initial assistance to the coach.
2. Who Can Start Well?
The first runner in a relay needs to be able to start well, which may narrow down the options for this role. The first runner needs to be able to get off the mark and get up to speed quickly. They also need to be a steady and reliable starter who is not likely to false start.
Some venue regulations or competition rules insist that athletes use a crouch start or starting blocks. Therefore, if this is the case, your first runner needs to be able to crouch or block start while holding a baton. This may narrow down your choices for the first runner even further.
3. Should The Fastest Run The Furthest?
A number of coaches and coach education manuals advocate that the fastest runners in the team run the second or third legs of the relay (i.e. the the back straight and the second bend). This is because the second and third runners potentially get to carry the baton over the furthest distance, depending on where within the changeover zones they receive and pass the baton. Theoretically, all things being equal, it makes sense that the best runners spend the most time with the baton. Unfortunately, all things are rarely equal and the answer is often not as simple as this.
4. Who Can Finish Well?
The last runner doesn’t have to be team’s fastest but they need to be a gutsy runner. If the opportunity arises, the last runner needs to be mentally capable of chasing and catching a competitor, or holding on if someone is catching them. The last runner needs character and determination and must never slow or give up. They have to be that person who, if they feel someone coming up on their shoulder, grits their teeth and goes. They must have the ability to run all the way to the line.
5. Who Can Pass A Baton; Who Can Receive A Baton?
An athlete who is running the first leg of a relay only has to pass the baton. The second and third runners have to receive and pass the baton. The last runner only has to receive the baton. The skills the athletes have in receiving and passing the baton need to be taken into account when determining a relay team running order. Some kids are great at passing the baton but are really poor at taking the baton; some kids are great at taking the baton by not very good at passing it. Some kids can’t yell loud enough when trying to give instructions to the person taking the baton from them. All of this will have an influence on what order the athletes run.
6. Do They Struggle With A Right Hand Or Left Hand Carry?
The first and third runners ideally carry the baton in their right hand, the second and last runners carry it in their left hand.
Some runners are comfortable with carrying the baton in either hand, but others struggle to use their non-preferred hand. Being a big enough problem, this may affect which positions the athletes eventually fulfill.
Additionally, if there are one or more left-handers in the team, it may be worth considering running them second or last, both being positions that require the runner to carry the baton in their left hand.
7. Is There A Significant Height Difference Between Runners?
Height differences in team members sometimes need to be taken into account. Technical difficulties can arise if a very tall runner is required to pass a baton to a much smaller runner. The same can occur if a smaller runner is required to pass a baton to a runner who is much taller.
8. Is The Chemistry Right?
The baton-passing chemistry between athletes is possibly the most important factor that will determine in what order the team members will run. Some athletes just naturally pass the baton well together while others just can’t seem to ever get it right. Even if everything else points towards two athletes running in a position that leads to them exchanging the baton, ultimately, if two athletes just can’t get it right, the combination will have to change.
The order of relay runners is not as simple as placing the fastest runner last and then working out where to put everyone else. It can be a complex process and involve quite a bit of trial and error. Some things to think about include:
- Which positions the runners like and don’t like running.
- The first runner being a strong and reliable starter.
- Running the best runners in the second or third spot.
- The last runner being tough and determined.
- The baton passing and receiving skills of the athletes.
- The baton carrying skills of the athletes.
- The height differences between team members.
- The baton-changing chemistry between team members.
Can You Add To The List?
Is there anything else that needs to be considered when working out the order of relay team runners? Let me know if you can add to the list by leaving a reply/comment or by using the below contact details.
How to Teach Kids Circular Relay Baton Changes
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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.
All great points Darren that make selecting the right order for the team quite a quandary! I would “normally” go with fastest 2 as 2nd/3rd runners and generally the slowest as the starter. But I have been caught out with putting in a kid as the final leg runner ….. and he didn’t handle the pressure of being chased down from behind well at all 😦
Thanks for your comment Lindsay. I think many of us have been caught out in hindsight by decisions we have made with the team running order. It is a good example of the need to choose that last runner carefully! Darren
I’ve also found that there are some runners who just don’t run well on a bend and actually lose speed.
That is actually a really good point Kylie and is something that is definitely worth adding as consideration. Thanks for your thoughts. Darren
Running on the curve is a skill that needs to be considered…legs 2 & 3…
Agreed. Thanks for adding that. Darren