Every pole vaulter that has ever lived has ran through once in his/her life. Whether it is a once in a moon occurrence, or a persistent problem, we’ve all struggled with it at some point in our vaulting career. Words can’t express how frustrating running through is. Your coach sometimes can’t relate, your parents always pester you with questions about it; you just don’t have an explanation. Something just feels off and it’s not allowing you to take it up. Everyone always gives the same advice, “It’s all in your head” “It’s a mental block”. Well they’re actually right. A lot of vaulters don’t want to hear that. They want to hear an adjustment from their coach like, “scoot your step back 4 inches” or “hold a fist lower on that pole”. But what if I told you that it’s how you perceive pole vaulting in your head and what you focus on during your vault?
When work with the kids I coach I use analogies constantly. Whether it’s “swinging the axe” or “jumping up to dunk a basketball”, cues that I’m giving my vaulters are always coming from a place of familiarity. So lets think of the first time you played hopscotch as a kid. At first it was hard to get the footwork just right to land in the middle of each box, but after 4 or 5 times it was easy and not intimidating at all. Well, assuming you’ve vaulted for a year or at least 6 months, you’ve probably taken hundred of vaults. So what’s the problem? It’s the answer no one wants to hear; you’re scared of pole vaulting
It’s nothing to be ashamed of; it’s the most intimidating track and field event. Even I get times in practice where I have a string of run throughs. It’s really easy for my to chalk it up to “something is just off”, but really I just got a little spooked. When days like that happen for me sometimes I just have to sit back and remind myself I’ve been vaulting for 9 years and have taken countless jumps. I can count the number of times I’ve had scary vaults or injuries on one hand. Compare that to a football player that gets spearheaded in the chest every football game, does he just skimp out and run out of the play? It’s hard for us to come to grips with the fact that we’re scared of something. It’s even harder to swallow our pride, especially when your teammates or competitors are taking up all their vaults no problem.
So what is the solution to this problem? It’s definitely a problem, and virtually every problem has a solution, some are just more difficult the fix than others. Well we have to put pole vault into context within our minds. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done? Dive off a cliff into a lake? Skydive out of an airplane? Ride a rollercoaster with your eyes open? Now put that experience next to the time you set your personal record, or even just had a good vault. Do the two experiences even compare? That is the first step in fixing your run through problem. Once you’ve addressed that pole vault is a scary sport, but nowhere near the scariest thing you’ve ever done, you’re on the path to recovery.
The second half of the problem is viewing pole vault in an incorrect light. I always tell my athletes that pole vault is like a pyramid. What’s at the bottom of the pyramid is MUCH more important that the top. So looking at our vaults, what proceeds is always more important than what comes after. 99% of coaches will agree that the plant is more important than how you peak over the bar. When dealing with run through problems it’s easy to view the whole vault as one piece that seems impossible. If you stay cerebral in practice and focus on cues, you’ll likely overcome your problem. Examples could be: focusing on a tall run, hitting the plant with hard hands, having a high pole carry, or staying relaxed in your run. If your problem is taking the vault off the ground it’s important that you focus on what comes before that. If you’re running through, focusing on your inversion probably won’t help you get off the ground.
Another analogy that might help is a basketball player shooting a free throw. To them, they’re not worried about actually shooting the basketball; they’re worried about it going in. Never are they so scared of missing that they just don’t shoot the free throw. In order to make the basket, the shooter focuses on the countless times he’s practiced this exact movement and replicates it to a tee. No hesitation. As a vaulter our made basket is a cleared bar. We’ll have a much easier time clearing the bar when we focus on what we’ve practiced or cues that our coach has given us rather than if we’re going to attempt it in the first place.
Always remember, put pole vault in context!!