Inside Pole Vaulting #1 –
Choosing Pole Vaulters
By Bill Falk
This is the first article in a series in which I cover all aspects of the pole vault event. I welcome your suggestions about future topics you'd like to see covered. Just email your ideas to me.
Let's lead off with maybe the most important aspect of the pole vault – finding kids who have a chance to be successful in this event.
Pole Vaulting Abilities
Your prospects may vary in size and shape, but there are abilities they all need to succeed. Here's what to look for:
Years ago when I coached track & field in high school, kids would try the dashes first because it was the shortest distance to run. Once they found out they didn't have dash speed they tried the 400m. If they still weren't fast enough they moved up to the 800. If the 800 didn't work out, the coach might suggest the athlete try the pole vault. That's a loser's mentality. The pole vaulter should have good speed. He or she doesn't have to be the fastest kid on the team, but speed is important. If you can, make the fastest kids on the team pole vaulters.
2. Jumping Ability
Speed alone doesn't make the pole vaulter succeed. It helps, but the biggest problem in the pole vault is converting horizontal movement to vertical lift-off. It does no good if the vaulter takes-off straight into the pit without lifting off well. He or she must drive upward at the end of the Approach Run. The better the jumper, the better the pole vaulter will be.
3. Athletic Ability
Make no mistake, pole vaulters should be good athletes. Success in the pole vault event depends not only on speed and jumping ability; it also depends on good coordination, balance, strength and power.
This is difficult to describe. Contrary to some theories, pole vaulters do not have to be "nuts." I've known a lot of vaulters over the years, and most of them have been as sane as any other athlete. However, to be good, a pole vaulter must enjoy the thrill of the event. He or she doesn't have to talk like a whacko, but deep down vaulters must enjoy riding the pole and flying off of it. "Guts" are a prerequisite to success.
Pole Vaulting Tests
Here are a few simple tests that will help you pick the best pole vault candidates. I can't guarantee that everyone who does well in these tests will turn out to be good, but I think they will have success more often than not.
1. 30 Meter Dash
Lineup your candidates, blow the whistle and see who has some raw speed. I use 30m because it's about the length of a high school pole vaulter's Approach Run. Don't bother using a stopwatch; just see which kids are the fastest.
2. Long Jump
Once again, line them all up and test for long jumping ability. Nothing resembles the pole vault take-off more than the long jump. Pole vaulters are really long jumpers with poles. Don't use a full run. I suggest a half-run length. Don't worry about fouls, just measure from the spot they take-off from. The standing long jump is not a good indicator of jumping ability for the vault, since the athlete leaves the ground off two feet.
Give the athletes a quick review of hurdling technique, then set the hurdles at the lowest height and let them give it a go. Don't worry about their making steps between hurdles, but let them go over two hurdles placed 10 yards apart. This is an easy test for coordination.
4. Rope Climbing
Here's an excellent test for strength. If you have the athletes climb fast, it also becomes a test for power.