The long jump is the most saturated field event in track and field. Everyone wants to run at top speed and jump into a soft pit of sand - it's fun! Many times though, athletes and coaches think this event is solely made up of an athlete running and jumping. Although this is true to an extent, there is so much more to it that must be discussed/practiced to realize one's true potential!
The long jump approach is all about pure speed and aggression. With how quickly the jump is completed the athlete needs as much speed/power as possible to maximize their jump. Some athletes need a short number of steps to get to their max speed, while others require a larger number of steps. The approach should be tailored to the athletes and their needs.
The approach itself is extremely difficult and takes a great deal of practice to "master". Many times an athlete will not experience success in the approach until they've done it for one to two seasons. If you are a younger athlete, I suggest focusing most of your attention on the approach before you decide to move on to other aspects of the long jump due to it's great importance. The rhythm and mindfulness in the approach are paramount to the athletes success and should never be minimized in it's importance. To lean more about the approach click the button below!
Many times athletes put too much emphasis in the takeoff and the "board" that accompanies it. Let me begin by saying that if an athlete fixates on the board they will at some point slow down. There is no way around it. An athlete must first understand and be able to perform the approach before they should worry about doing a proper takeoff. Only then will an athlete maximize his/her potential in this jump due to the great importance of speed.
The takeoff itself is a mixture of easy and hard. Anyone can run and jump, so to that extent the takeoff is quite easy. The reason it can be hard is due to the technical aspects that many athletes don't know prior to being coached. The term "penultimate step" (PS) is used to describe the proper takeoff
I generally don't teach my kids the technical term "penultimate step", instead I simply tell them that the last two steps in their approaches must be flat. To properly perform the PS you need to drop your hips so that you can jump upward and get as much distance between yourself and the ground as possible. Without that drop in an athlete's hips he/she won't be able to create distance between themselves and the ground and will ultimately land much quicker. Think of a basketball player or volleyball (spiker/hitter) attempting to jump upwards without first lowering their hips - it would be extremely ineffective (and somewhat comical).
The flight in the long jump is somewhat difficult due to the need of the athlete jumping to properly perform multiple parts of the takeoff correctly (I recommend watching the video link above before moving on).
In the takeoff an athlete must keep their eyes and chest up when jumping from the board (which often does not happen). If the athlete fails to do this and their eyes, chest, and overall posture are trending downward. This will make it extremely difficult to practice patience in the air and will lead to an athlete feeling out-of-control or uncomfortable in air. When this happens athletes generally put their legs/feet down more quickly than desired and thus cut off possible added distance.
Many coaches say that once an athlete has jumped there is no way to add any distance to a jump - everything has already been determined due to the approach and takeoff. This is true; but many times athletes can do improper technical aspects that greatly reduce the chances of them maximizing their best jump and losing a great deal of distance in their overall results.
If you are ever going to get the most out of your jumpers the landing is an absolute must. I have had multiple athletes in my years of coaching that could have been state-qualifying jumpers but were often foiled by the landing. There is no another sport/event out there that asks an athlete to run at full speed and jump - on top of that the athlete is also asked to land on their bottoms (which completely freaks them out).
I personally chose to work implement what I call the "traditional" landing, but have seen many other athletes/teams that like to use what I call a "elbow dig" landing. In the traditional landing an athlete keeps their heels/body out of the sand as long as possible with the heels/body only contacting the sand just before the entirety of the landing occurs. Once the heels hit the sand the athletes momentum (from the approach) carries their butt to the mark in the sand that their heels made, and ends with the athlete kicking their legs forward. It is completely up to you on what to use, and I highly recommend picking the way that most speaks to you and not simply conform to the way my athletes land.