Teaching Before Tape Measures When Coaching Young Athletes
In Australia, the long jump event in Little Athletics is introduced as early as the Under 6 age group, using a half metre-wide take-off area.
For these kids, taking off from one foot and landing on two feet from a running approach can be complex. To also require them to accurately step on a narrow target set at the end of the runway prior to take-off is a big ask.
For absolute beginners, the take-off “board” is a long jump learning barrier.
The Problem With The Board For Beginners
If this is a kid’s first experience of long jumping from a run-up, the inclusion of a take-off board/area creates more of an obstacle course for them to negotiate than presenting a simple run-and-jump activity.
Long jump is about launching yourself as far into the landing pit as possible. To do this, you need to learn to run at speed into a one-foot take-off.
Focusing on the need to step on a target prior to take-off causes kids to hesitate and slow to the point that some kids virtually tip-toe up to the take-off area. They become too preoccupied with touching the target. This is contrary to what we are trying to teach them.
You can’t teach a fast run-up and an accurate take-off at the same time to very young athletes. It is all too much for them to process and is contrary to good long jumping. Initially insisting on run-up accuracy will confuse them and interfere with their ability to perform the skill we asking of them.
When kids are first learning to long jump into a landing pit from a run-up, simplify the skill and take away any type of distraction. Remove the requirement to jump from a board or specific take-off area. Simply get the kids to run fast and jump into the sandpit, taking off from one foot and landing on two feet.
I understand that many people may raise their eyebrows at this suggestion. How can we record a measurement? Shouldn’t they be taught the right way from the start?
Run-up accuracy eventually becomes an important part of long jumping. But only when we become concerned with rules and measurements. Teaching should always take precedence over the tape measure with young kids. Too often I have seen kids completely lose the ability to jump when they become too preoccupied with their toes hitting a target.
A Suggested Progression For Beginners
Here is what I suggest as a broad teaching progression for the set-up of the long jump take-off area for absolute beginners:
No take-off board; simply a pit and a runway.
A very large take-off area right up against the edge of the landing area. (i.e. No gap between the take-off area and the landing area). It should initially be large enough so they will hit it whatever they do.
Gradually reduce the size of the take-off area as the kids become comfortable with running in fast and trying to jump far.
Over To You!
Watch beginners try to accurately step on a take-off area AND jump a long way. Note what you see. Would they run in faster and jump more aggressively if the expectation that they jump from a specific place on the runway was removed?
Experiment with just letting kids run fast down the runway and jump as far as they can into the pit. Does it make a difference?
I would love to hear the results.
Coaching Young Athletes E-Book:
How To Teach Young Athletes To Long Jump (plus bonus cheat sheet)
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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.