The MOST Important Training Focus?

Many athletes and coaches don't seem to spend much time on this focus.  There seems to be an inherent belief that things will simply "figure themselves out" if enough approaches are completed.  In reality, a proper start is essential to consistency at the board and thus must be a focus that takes the front seat in any training plan.  If athletes are unable to get on the board, all other focuses are pointless.

Who Knew?

A number of years ago my athletes had a season full of scratches and disappointing conclusions.  I took it upon myself to do an extensive amount of research in hopes of finding an answer as to how I could better train/support them moving forward.

In my honest opinion, there is nothing more frustrating than an athlete jumping a meet-winning jump, or a new PR, and it not counting due to being a scratch.  It's deflating, and it's a complete waste of energy.

While researching, I stumbled upon an article that changed my thinking completely.  The article stated that "90 percent of scratches are due to poor starts."  How could this be?  I was completely confused...

How could the first handful of steps at the beginning affect an athlete's overall consistency in the lane?  I read the article 2-3 times and each time got a little more understanding of what it was saying and decided to attempt a new starting technique during the upcoming season.  To say it completely revitalized my team and led to a successful season would be an understatement!  Our new start was the beginning of something special for our team and I couldn't be happier that we switched!!!

The Waterfall - The OLD Starting Technique

Before the change was made to a new starting technique we used a start called the "Waterfall".  Basically, the Waterfall has you start by falling forward (generally from your tippy-toes).  Once you get to a desirable forward-learning angle (roughly 45 degrees) you explode outwards/upwards to begin the approach.

What I came to realize is that this start is widely inconsistent in the fact that athletes were never catching themselves at the same angle when falling forward, and the percentage of intensity when they landed on that first step changed daily.

Many people think that an approach should be about rhythm (which I agree with - to a point).   When they use the word "rhythm" they are referring to the athlete's ability to find not only "rhythm" in their sprinting mechanics but also to rhythmically adapt to the lane and make adjustments on the fly.

What many either disregard or simply don't understand is the fact that there are very few athletes that are able to develop proper "rhythm" during their high school years.  It takes a great deal of experience for this to happen and is generally only seen at the collegiate or post-collegiate (professional) levels.

The "Waterfall" rests (in my opinion) fully on a "rhythm approach."  It asks that athletes come out with some intensity and purpose but advocates for slowly developing approaches and thus is improper for high school athletes.

For that reason, I highly suggest if you have an athlete using a Waterfall approach you teach them the next technique - The Crouch Start.  If they are successful with the Waterfall and your feel as though they are performing the approach properly with the correct intensity then changing may not be in the athlete's best interest.  This is where constant reflection and collaboration between coach and athlete comes into play!

The Crouch Start

Once I realized the downfalls of the waterfall start I started researching like a "madman."  I searched nearly everywhere, and finally found what I was looking for in a DVD package sold by "Schexnayder Athletic Consulting" (SAC).  I chose his "crouch start" because it mimics coming out of the blocks very closely.  The idea of finding a start that had elements from block starts was too hard to pass up.
I want to make things as easy as possible for my athletes.  By doing this they better understand what I am coaching and generally experience positive results because of it.  My belief is the more the athlete knows the better and using something like the crouch start is infinitely easier with jumpers (since they already know how to perform a block start) than teaching them "rhythm."