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4x100: Consistency in the Exchange

Nick Stebenne

by Nick Stebenne, M-F Athletic

After experiencing many 4x100m relays as a competitor, coach, and track enthusiast, I begin to cringe when I see a slow or awkward hand off, or even worse, a dropped baton! Exchanging the baton is the most important part of the 4x100m relay. The perfect race is when there is little to no change of speed amongst the runners. Ideally, during these clean exchanges, both runners must meet at full speed and prevent slowing down at the point of hand off.

Make sure there are at least 6 runners for your relay team- 4 competitors and 2 alternates. Practicing together will produce a mastery level of hand offs to create a fluid and timely exchange. Having an acute awareness of the marking tape at the exchange zone will help to decipher among the passers. Keep in mind that if the passer is faster than the receiver, the marking tape will be farther away and if the receiver is faster than the passer, the marking tape will be closer.

"No look" or "blind" exchanges are a way of mentally preparing yourself for a same speed interaction for both runners. Obviously they are more difficult than look exchanges, but they force the receiver to focus on speed rather than getting side tracked with worrying about the baton. This will hold true until the command.

Only until the receiver hears the command, they then take control and the left hand goes back immediately; the most common commands are “stick” and “hand”. Since these are used quite a bit, it might make more sense to come up with a unique term for your team to alleviate any confusion among runners. For instance, a word like “boom” would separate your team from the competition limiting devastating errors during the exchange.

There are three types of baton passes to choose from. In all three the receivers should have a clean “L” shape hand as a target for the passer.

Push Pass

At the command, the passers hold the baton vertically and drives it into the receiver’s hand. The disadvantage of this specific pass is that the runners may get too close to each other and cause short stepping.

Underhand Pass

After the command, the passer exchanges the baton to the receiver in a “soft ball” pitch motion. This is very popular because it is a natural position for the receiver. In this pass the left hand is slightly above the hip ready for the baton, but due to the receiver’s hand being positioned quite low, it is more difficult for the passer to have a clean hand off. This, in turn, can slow down the exchange.

Overhand Pass

After the command, the passer exchanges the baton to the receiver in an overhand motion. The receiver’s hand is high above the hips, easier for the passer to locate. This relies heavily on the receiver and takes the pressure off the passer. If done correctly, this is the cleanest and most effective exchange.

Once the baton is passed many coaches prefer that athletes affix the baton to one solitary hand and refrain from switching. If you receive the baton in your left hand, you must keep it there until the exchange. I personally disagree with this theory because the 4x100m relay is to be consistant and structured. Batons should always be handed from the passer’s right hand to the receiver’s left hand and once the exchange is made, the runner must change hands. Worrisome coaches may agonize about the possibility of dropped batons, but with enough training, any apprehensions will be lightened.

Many coaches, due to invested time and experience, have their own unique ideas and techniques, but in the end it all comes down to practice, practice, and more practice! The more comfortable the runners are with one another, the more effective they will be on race day. Good luck and train hard!