The Best Place To Start With Young High Jumpers
A young athlete’s introduction to high jump will most likely be via the scissors technique.
Even with the scissors, it is common for kids to be fearful of high jumping. Therefore, a high jump introductory activity should be one that makes initial success likely and builds confidence. It should form a platform for progression, be fun, engaging and active. It must also be safe.
Scissors High Jump Prerequisites
To perform a scissors high jump, a young athlete must be able to:
- Run confidently at the high jump bar and landing area from a 30-degree angle.
- Without slowing, leap forwards and upwards over the bar and onto the landing surface. In performing this movement, the knees and feet need to be lifted to the front.
- Bring the lead foot and then the trailing foot back down onto the mat to land on their feet.
In performing the take-off, the child needs to leave the ground from a certain spot to ensure a safe landing.
There is quite a lot to process and coordinate for beginners. Even those kids with reasonable running and leaping skills can be intimidated or confused by the presence of a defined, raised landing area (the mats), an obstacle (the bar) and the need for an accurate take-off.
So we need to strip everything back to begin with. We need to simplify the skill by removing some of the “distractions” and construct an activity that hits the challenge “sweet spot” for the kids.
Where To Start With Young High Jumpers
I find that the best place to start is with the high jump “step-up” drill.
Over the years I’ve experimented a lot with the best place to begin. For some years I would initially keep the kids away from the mats and did a lot of lead-up activities over obstacles on the ground. While teaching scissors lead-up skills in this way is valid, I found two problems:
- Kids new to high jump are desperate to jump on the mats.
- To run and leap confidently, kids need to trust the landing surface.
The step-up drill:
- Gives the kids an early feel for the landing mats.
- Is a reasonably simple, familiar movement for the kids, making early success more likely and the challenge less intimidating.
- Allows more variance in the take-off point and thus is relatively safe for beginners.
- Uses practically the same movements as a scissors jump. The only real difference is the angle of approach to the bar.
The child stands at 90 degrees and approximately 10 metres from the high jump landing mats. No high jump bar is used. The higher or lower scissor-style mats can be used for this activity.
The child runs in a controlled manner directly at the mats and, taking off from one foot, leaps up onto the mat to land on the other foot. Their forward momentum may see them take several steps forward on the mats after landing.
- Ensure that the child takes off from one foot and lands on the other foot before the take-off foot is also brought down on the mats for balance.
- A bent leg drive of the lead knee is preferred to a straight leg kick.
- Ensure an upright (i.e. on feet) landing position up on the mats.
- Make sure that the child doesn’t slow down or stop before taking off. It is a continuous, flowing action.
- Instruct the child to come to a stop on top of the mats and then, if using the higher style mats, carefully climb down.
It may help to tell kids that the action is a “step” up onto the mats. Asking kids to “spring” or “pop” up onto the mats can also be useful.
Working with a Group:
To cut down waiting time with a large group, it is worthwhile to organize this activity so that two to three athletes are active at once.
Depending on the size of your landing area, split the group into two or three lines side-by-side and several metres apart, facing the mats. This will allow more than one athlete to run in and jump at a time. This can be done very safely if you indicate that the athletes MUST land on their area of the mat. This can be further emphasized by dividing the runway with ground markers and the landing area with elastic high jump bars, skipping ropes, etc.
Once the kids become reasonably proficient at this introductory skill, I suggest laying an elastic high jump bar along the top front edge of the mat. It means that the kids will have to jump up and over an obstacle, rather than just up and onto a landing area. It is amazing how this can change the psychology of the skill.
The bar can be slightly raised as the kids gain confidence, but you need to take care that it is not raised to a point that it will trip up a child.
Attempting the Scissors
When it is time for the athlete to finally attempt a scissors jump from an angled approach to the bar, simply instruct the child to run and step up onto the mat as they have already been doing. I suggest the movement is done initially without the bar.
For more information on how to manage the learning process from this point, click HERE.
The high jump step-up drill:
- Gets the kids on the landing mats early
- Builds initial confidence
- Uses practically the same movements as a scissors jump
Would you use this activity as your high jump starting point?
What are your thoughts on this as a high jump starting point? Let me know by leaving a comment/reply or by using the contact details below.
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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.