Should I go to a Club?


Switching the subject around a bit, this question comes up many times especially for vaulters. Women seem to seek out club training and instruction more so than young men. Our club has about 65% more women than men and most women seem to prefer the structured program in terms of learning the event. Clubs that instruct pole vaulters usually have more equipment and poles to offer additional skills to the athlete. I know that almost every vaulter could just love to come to the club and vault for several hours but, that’s neither good nor practical.  The approach we use at “Heights” is one that looks longer term, we design programs that are year-long, this gives us time to develop strength and skills required to last both the indoor and outdoor seasons in high school. Conditioning is at the heart of all vaulting, pole vaulters take so many jumps in the course of a year that physical stamina is a must. Young athlete who is still growing needed time and a plan to work into this type of conditioning and that is exactly how we prepare them.  We use a basic concept or plan if you like, broken down into cycles (Macro & Micro) which allows us to modify each individuals needs while still keeping them in line with the overall goals of the program. This is a lot of work and when you have lots of young men and women it can be taxing at times. However, when you attend the big meets at the end of each season and see the progress your athletes have obtained, it all becomes worth it.


A good club will offer a solid program of instruction; it should have a written policy governing the entire year with both short term goals and more strategic long term goals. The coaches must spend time with the athlete instructing them in the finer points along with the basic skills needed. The program should cover areas like gymnastic as it relates to pole vaulting, plyometrics for bounding, weight training (not lifting: which is a sport) designed to each individuals personal requirements. As an example, if I’m coach a young lady who is an 8th or 9th grader the chances of her being fully developed as a 12th grader are slim. Therefore, the weight training program might shift more to exercises that reflect body circuit drills as opposed to say squats. A coach must know the physical limits of his athletes and the idea of “one size fits all” is defiantly wrong. Learning basic skill drills is the key to vaulting both high and safe.


So, should you go to a club…………this is a question that the individual athlete must ask themselves. However, here are some items you might want to consider while you are deciding. Is your current situation providing you with the necessary equipment and instruction to make further gains? How much time are you putting into your training and is it producing the results you want? Finally, and this is a tough one, can your coach take you to the next level? Club coaches are professional coaches and you should treat them as such, ask what is their background, how do they approach the sport, what methodology do they prefer and who have they coached that has been successful. This last item does have some issue with it, to make my point, IF THE WORLD RECORD HOLDER joined the club and jumped 20 feet, the current coach may have contributed very little if anything to making him better, he was good coming in the door!  I hope this give s you some points to think about, we at Heights Unlimited believe it should be about the kids and always about the kids!


April 28th, 2013: Opening Thoughts………………First Pass 


I finally have a page to make some comments on pole vaulting and the sport in general. As time goes on I will comment on subjects that I feel might be of interest to our membership and others in general. My first subject will be a few comments on the club and why we formed it. Over the past 12 plus years Victor (my partner) and I have tried to provide a unique program for the instruction of teaching the sport of pole vaulting to both young and older athletes. This of course has been a passion of mine since I was 12 years old. What I’ve learned over these many years is that no matter how good a coach you might think you are it always comes down to the athletes you work with. I’ve seen coaches that didn’t know which end of the pole went into the box produce champions because there athletes had tremendous natural abilities. On the other hand, I’ve know coaches who I believe were excellent instructors never getting the talent to show off their personal abilities in coaching. However, I will say that even though these coaches may lack a super-star, they because of their knowledge produce better than average vaulters.


Vaulters are usually better than average athletes and because of this have abilities that often lend themselves to other events in track & field. My problem is a simple one most high school coaches I believe are pretty good running coaches and prefer to coach runners. Field events are a completely different animal. In order to coach a field event athlete you must have the technical knowledge and put the time into them in order to get the high level of results expected by today’s high school teams.


Field events which consist of jumpers and throwers need a coach that has gained the required knowledge in order to instruct these young athletes. Field events are mostly technical, plain and simple; especially hammer throwing and Pole Vaulting. Nobody just walks up to a pole vault pit and jumps into the air. Vaulters in my opinion usually take about a year to learn the skill sets well enough to start to thinking about the big jumps. Some vaulters progress at faster rates than others but, this is true with all human endeavors.


I feel that all high school coaches as well as club coaches should be certified in their respective events. The primary reason is that I believe it is safer and that should be the primary goal regardless of anything else. Vaulting can be dangerous but if instructed properly I do believe that injuries can be reduced to just minor accidents. This might shock some people but gymnastics, diving, skiing; snowboarding are all high risk sports to name a few, thus making proper instruction the number one priority. I think it is time for all high school programs to require a certified person to instruct the athlete.


Why are pole vaulting clubs so annoying to most coaches? This problem has occurred from day one of the first club opening. The reason usually falls into several categories: first, high school coaches believe that club coaches are trying to take over their programs. Also, if an athlete gains considerable success by using a club the high school coach feels it reflects poorly on their program. Finally, I believe it is a matter of control……” I’m the coach and you’ll do as I say mentality is Neanderthal thinking in my opinion; I though the object here was the development of the student and their future not the coaches?” Knowingly pushing a student athlete that is injured to gain a few more points to the point of losing them for a season is absolutely horrible in my opinion. Does winning at all costs really mean that much? Today’s students often are so use to just going along with the program that often times they will not stand up for themselves. I think this is a real problem. Sport competition teaches many things and should be encouraged as far as participation is concerned but, it should also teach a student to think and standup for themselves in the course of competition. The skills that are learned have a great deal of carry over in later life when pole vaulting is just a memory.


Next Subject: ……  Second Pass


During the past couple of weeks I’ve had the opportunity to go to several meets to watch my kids compete and I would like to share a few thoughts with you. First, these young men & women have put in a great deal of time and effort trying to become the best possible pole vaulters they can be. I respect all their efforts and I’m proud to say I coach them. As with all individuals, some want it more intensely than others and that can either work for them or against them. It has been our policy at “Heights” to always focus on the big meets at the end of each season; in this way we have the most time to prepare and focus on these competitions. As of this writing we had several athletes score significant performances, Jordan Pacheco:16’ 1”, Nick Eckett: 15’ 4”, Nick Patterson: 15’ 0”, Alex Kossak, Matt Benvenuto both at 14 feet and sophomore Haley Steele going 11’ 6” for a county record.  These athletes and others are all performing at their best right now. However, when I go to observe my kids at these competitions I can’t help noticing that so many of the other vaulters lack basic skills in their vaulting. I just do not understand why these individuals, some who in my opinion posses real talent aren’t being coached to allow them to succeed to higher heights.  If it is just plain old lack of coaching then this should be addressed immediately. I believe it is unfair both to the child and to the schools program by not having the proper instruction available.


There are so many places available to learn this sport, organizations that offer instruction on how to safely instruct and conduct a pole vaulting program. We at “Heights” have always welcomed coaches to our practices to learn what we teach their kids and see how a proper program is run. I have always found that the biggest success stories come from all the coaches being on the same page. I know many coaches resent clubs and think that they are trying to control their programs; well I can only speak for my club and that is I could care less about running another schools program, my focus is the individual athlete. Truthfully, if I wanted to do that I would get myself a full-time coaching position and really drive them crazy.


Since I’m on a roll, let me make one more final comment that I’ve notice in my travels and that is pushing a hurt athlete to much for the sake of the team. Oh, that’s blasphemy! Yeah, right… single guiding principle which I learned from my first coach Charles Fleetwood was never hurt a kid! In today’s world so many young athletes are molded into complying with everything and I often think that standing up for yourself is lost in the process. There is a difference between protecting oneself from harm and brutally making athletes push beyond what you know is a break or potentially breaking point, you never want to willing cause you more injury. Yet, I’ve seen coaches make athletes run or jump with what I would consider server injuries when they should let them rest and recuperate first.


I know many will not agree with my points of view and that is fine…it is still (I hope) a free country. However, whatever happened to common sense?  My philosophy is a simple one, I believe that as a coach you should do all you can in a responsible manner to insure the safety and success of your athletes. Today’s kids have such pressures on them to succeed both academically and athletically that I some time wonder why more of them do not have nervous breakdowns with all that pressure.


We now are approaching the “Championship Season” as I like to call it for outdoor season. It’s now time to bring everything together and really FOCUS on your vaulting. Remember, that less is sometimes better than more. I believe that a solid preparation which includes training and rest is the key to better performances. I like an athlete to be hungry and want’s to get out there and perform; this is often when big jumps that you never expected or simply just wished might happen actually come through. I wish everybody success in these final competitions and look forward to when all this is done to having some fun during our summer sessions.


Next Subject: …… October, 2013 Focusing on Your Training Program


Heights will be sending out training programs to each member based on their needs. I trust you will find time to work it into your schedules for training away from the club. The new program will focus on stations which will focus on single exercises per station. I trust that each member will find away to incorporate these exercises into your schedules.


Next Subject: …… 11/5/13 Possible improvement on the Petrov/Bubka Planting Technique?

As a major supporter of the Petrov/Bubka Model, I’ve used this system to instruct my vaulters over the last 15 years. This system has proved to be exceptional for most of my vaulters. In this system the major emphasis is placed on the approach run and the overall timing of the pole plant. However, not everybody has either the skill sets or the mental understanding to initiate this type of technique.


For most new or even seasoned vaulters the planting of the pole at takeoff is critical. However, the overall timing of the mechanics often proves to be critical factor in the conversion of momentum at takeoff.  As I’m ways looking to help my vaulters and as a coach, we must always try to refine find or perhaps utilize old methods revised to help our vaulters improve. I came across what I think might be a major help to instructing my vaulters. This is what happened over the last several weeks; I was having trouble with some of my younger vaulters planting correctly, I therefore, tried a modification of their planting action. The key element was a change to the counting system we use in our planting system. For right handed vaulters the system utilizes a counting of left leg hits. I utilize a system that Petrov and Launder calls the 123/123 approach; I call it Drop 2/3, Plant 2/3 to make it simpler. Petrov states that the pole tip is dropping down from the first step forwards. This is why the pole tip is held so high it helps eliminate the weight of the pole on the arms and shoulders while running down the runway. I’ve had tremendous success using this approach with over 90% of my vaulters. However, not everyone falls into this category. 


Some vaulters either can’t utilize the counting system because their timing is poor. So, what to do with them? Well, I tried an old method that I was taught about a million years ago when Io first started to vault and that is to extend the front arm one step earlier than normal. This allows the vaulter more time to get the pole above their heads earlier. The motion is very fast, once you commit to this type of plant you must move it to vertical and press it upwards as you leave (jump of) the ground.


The result of this exercise was overwhelming. It not only fixed so many of these vaulters planting actions but, it actually allowed them to move up to stiffer or larger poles because the transfer of energy was increased by so much more. I was so impressed that I took a couple of my better technical vaulters and tried this method with them. The results was amazing, not only did they improve in their planting action but everyone of them moved up a minimum of 10 lbs. in test weight or went to longer length poles because of over-bending. I now believe that this modification of the Petov/Bubka technique offers great potential. I will continue to use this method and continue to modify my training regime to take advantage of these types of modifications.


Next Subject: …… 11/15/13 Being Realistic about your Training Program.


The Indoor season for 2013-14 has just started or is about to start in the New Jersey Schools. For members of the “Heights Family” many of you have been in pre-conditioning training since late August, so for the most part you are way further along than most others athletes. However, even with my crew I’m often surprised how little my vaulters really understand about preparing to train for a long vaulting season. So many vaulters believe that lots and lots of vaulting in practice will make them really good. It is true that there is a good deal of skill drills needed to be done in this event but, that alone will not cut it in the long run. The biggest problem you’ll encounter is that as the season progresses you start to run out of steam and begin to either breakdown or develop minor injuries. This is a reoccurring pattern seen year after year by most high school vaulters. Today’s athletes are different from those 20 or 30 years ago ( I can’t believe I’m using that card) in that there are greater demands being placed on them in many new areas and balancing their schedules has become a major problem. Right now so many of my athletes are staying up later to do homework/studying and then there are the electronic distractions as well. They also are involved with other activities that draw down on their time schedules, so they become tired, sluggish and general it’s the old saying they are burning the candle at both ends!  The priority now to get into a named college or university has become a singular point of focus for so many. Now, I truly believe that this is not a bad thing but, should be kept in control and not allowed to drive them crazy as I see it does month after month till there is a resolution to the issue.


Having said all that above, I believe as far as the pole vault goes that if you really expect to be in the top levels of this sport that you must sacrifice other things to make it happen. What things well of course there are priorities and school is certainly one which I would not expect to diminish in anyway. However, playing multiple sports in a given season as example: cheer or soccer, football, band etc., all while expecting to train two to three times a week in the vault is simply crazy. How would you find time to do all the secondary training that is so vital to your vaulting without multiple times slots available? This is why I suggest you think about your priorities; your body cannot maintain that kind of activity indefinitely, it will break down.


So, let me summarize all this; if pole vaulting is a high priority for you and you plan on being the best vaulter you can be, then a more structured approach to your lifestyle is required. That part of your life where pole vaulting fits into will require you to make time available for all of the various training requirements need to be the best. This is not an easy thing to do I know but, you must be realistic about your wants and goals. If pole vaulting is high on the list of things to accomplish (top two) then laying out a complete a proper training schedule is a must. As I mention to my vaulters every year, pole vaulting in high school is a 9 month plus sport. So, being able to last the two seasons (indoor/outdoor) is your first task. Remember, not everybody is going to be a State Champion, NCAA Champion or even an Olympic Champion so ranking your priorities is a must. However, I can tell you from my 50+ years involved with this sport; it was the best thing ever to happen to me. I believe that the discipline and focus required to compete at a high level carried through to everything else I did in my life.


Next Subject: …… 12/5/13 Talking Pole Selection


I wanted to take this opportunity to briefly discuss pole selection for the up-coming indoor season. The rules state that a pole vaulter MUST use a pole equal to or above his/her body weight when fully dress in competitive clothes. This rule has its merits but truthfully it was adopted to cover schools/coaches and officials from liability suits. However, at HUVC everybody jumps with poles 10+ lbs. or more over their body weight. I’m a firm believer in using a big pole as long as it does not become a weight lifting project. The reason so many of my girl vaulters jump 15-20 lbs or more over their body weight is their approach and planting techniques are better than average, the same is true for the fellows. So, working on a proper takeoff scenario is all important first and foremost.


Now, two points: first, using a smaller underweight pole for learning a skill drill is perfectly alright. The vaulter must have confidence in his/her ability to handle the drill (skill) correctly. Putting a vaulter on a pole that does not allow this process to be obtained is a waste of time in my opinion. Now, we are not talking competitive jumps with the pole just training. As progress is made you gradually move up in size to allow for more resistance and skill development to occur. I often start my 7th & 8th graders off with a 10’-70 lbs. pole to teach them the basics. This size pole allows them to “get the feel” of vaulting while not having to have a higher level of skill development at the start of the program. We then as progress is made move upwards and onwards.


Now, my second point: this one requires a slight understanding of the pole selection process and the various lengths and sizes for a mix and match process. I will attempt to simplfy that statement if I can. There is a sizing chart available which is put out by the manufactures of vaulting poles (best flex) this chart allows you to determine the various relationships between the poles by either moving up in the range you are or moving up to a long length pole. This is a very good guide in general.  It however, does not cover flex numbers which is an entirely different problem.


In my coaching I often run into a problem with athletes regarding pole test-weights as they improve in their skill sets. For most vaulters a 5+ or 10 lbs. increase is normal; however, let’s say your vaulter weights 145 lbs., and is on a 14’-160 pole holding the maximum grip of 13’ 6”, what do you do? Well, you could go to a 165 pole, which is now 20 lbs. over his body-weight; or as I would recommend move up to a longer pole say a 14.7 -150/155 pole. This would allow for a slightly higher handhold and a much better bend for him to work with. My point is this I do not believe that younger vaulters need to be on poles that are what I call weightlifting (so large as to be a slowing of progress) in order to jump high. By moving up to longer poles you can keep the weight size down to a more appropriate range and not endanger your athlete. I have found this method to work for me for many years especially for the girls. Most of my girls that are between 9’ 6” and 11’ 6” generally use a 12 foot pole, depending on physical skill levels this will work. However, for my better ladies I move them up quickly to 13 foot lengths which enhance their swing because the bend or sail piece is much higher on the pole and it gives them a much longer swing-up position. The average pole to body weight range is generally 5-15 lbs over their weight. Of course these young ladies have better skills so handling these poles is not a problem.


I do not want to leave without saying something on flex numbers on poles. This is a method in which manufactures try and determine how soft or stiff any given pole size is within a given length. There is no absolute for determining one manufacturer to the other (the numbers vary). However, basically if a pole has a flex number in arrange from 21.2 to 23.2 the soft end pole which would be the 23.2 is closer to the stiff end of the pole below it. The lower flex number is the stiffer range of the pole you are looking at. In my club we generally order all medium flex poles because it covers the widest range for us. There are several manufactures out there that produce quality poles, in our club we generally go with UCS-spirits or GILL –Mystic/Pacers. I do have some other poles types but these two are the bulk of our inventory (150).


Final word on carbon poles vs. Non-carbon poles. I like carbon poles for several reasons, there lighter, smaller diameters and when used correctly come back I believe faster. Most of my vaulters use UCS Spirit poles because they are unbelievably consistent in their design. I put my more advanced vaulters that have mastered a solid strong high level plant on Carbons, if needed. I have found that the sail piece is higher on the pole thus requiring a better takeoff position, the advantage comes in the fact that if used correctly these better technical vaulters get back better on these poles and thus go upwards faster.  I strongly recommend that you do not buy a carbon pole for beginners or near beginners, besides that they are more costly, they do not enhance the vaulters progress because they in my opinion require much more skill develop to utilize correctly.


Next Subject: …… 12/12/13 SPP Training


At Heights we adhere to the basic Petrov/Bubka Model on vaulting, we also use the basic system proposed by Petrov on setting up a yearly training regimen. Starting in Late August of every year we begin with our Pre-Season Conditioning Program (PSCP) and then proceed to our Preliminary Preparation Program (PPP) but as the indoor season begins generally around the end of November we switch to the Specialized Preparation Program (SPP) and that is what I would like to discuss now.


During the two preliminary programs we are bring the vaulters along both physically and technically. In the technical aspect we start simple and progress to more complex skill sets. The amount of actual vaulting varies depending on the skill level and ability of the athlete you are working with. For those vaulters who have had a couple of years prior training and are familiar with the program we tend to start vaulting a little sooner than the others in our club. Now, this brings us to the SPP part of the training cycle. It is my belief that when a coach evaluates his athletes he must determine what skill sets need to be improved first. This of course will vary from athlete to athlete. When dealing with my more proficient vaulters I usually focus on the skills needed but I also reduce the number of total jumps in a training session. Taking 1-12 jumps in a single session over a 2 month period can lead to the vaulter peaking to early in the season and losing their edge as the bigger meets come at the end of the season. I do work on fixing or enhancing the skill sets needed to improve however, I do also focus on the secondary skills sets like weight training, gymnastics, plyometrics, sliding box and hurdle drills which support their overall conditioning program.


Heights’ vaulters tend to jump for height on Mondays or Tuesdays for skill work and timing. The rest of the week involves these other skill sets; there is the possibility of a second jumping session on Thursday but usually that would be my less accomplished vaulters. The reason is this as my high school vaulters compete for their various schools, each has a different competitive program to deal with, and so flexibility is the key to working in conjunction with their programs.


By mid-January in NJ we have most of our bigger state meets starting; therefore, when we move to the CP portion of the training program another change in training is required. Simply put we tend to reduce the amount or volume down quite a bit. We do increase the level of participation or jump levels but we do reduce the number of jumps. As an example I might have my best girl vaulter jump for height only 4-5 times in a session and call it a day. Of course a big warm-up and a few steel type swing-ups are done also prior to actual jumping. The mental aspect as one approaches major competitions is far more important than pure jumping ability. It is at this time we stress the art of mental competing and how to keep your wits about you at all times.


Next Subject: …… 12/15/13 Being a Student of the Vault


Reading, reviewing films studying the literature is necessary if you want to be a better vaulter or even coach in the future.  This should be no surprise to anybody, the real question is do you really understand the mechanics and their implementation? In order to progress I truly believe that you must take one step at a time in terms of skill progressions. Remember, you are the instrument and your mental picture is the key to the implementing it.


I would like to suggest that everyone should take some time to develop a plan that gives you a step-by-step approach to improving your skill sets.  First, as I’ve said we are now in the SPP part of our training you must analyze and study the mechanics of your vaults. Determine what skill sets are needed to improve your vaulting. Remember, vaulting is a sequence of skills which all start with the approach and takeoff.


The second item I would suggest is that you plan your workouts to include the necessary secondary skills like running, weight training, plyometrics, gymnastics and flexibility drills. These skill sets are the key in helping you prepare your body for the upcoming seasons meets. Reviewing films is always a good idea but careful that you are analyzing and making the correct assessments. As always I’m more than happy to sit down with you and review your films. I expect that many of you will see significant improvements in your first meets but, please remember your focus is always the State Championship Meets.         


Next Subject: …… 1/2/14 Coaching in High School


There is a snow storm due so we’ll close today and now I find I have all this time on my hands, so I’ll write a bit on coaching in general. Every year in every state, high school coaches start-up x-country, indoor and outdoor track & field programs. In some states the ability to coach a pole vaulter requires that the HS coach be certified by a recognized program like the USATF or other qualified educational certification programs. Most school systems do not have this requirement and this in my opinion presents a problem in both instruction and safety.


The average HS coach usually has his/her bases in running skill sets for training and that is normal. However, when it comes to field events: shot put, javelin, discus, hammer,

high jump and the pole vault a more in-depth understanding of the event is required. Just as Diving and gymnastics are specialty sports so is pole vaulting. First, let me say that if you have 50+ kids out to practice every day and 20 of them are field event people, I cannot see where you are going to find the time to spend 2-3 hours working with pole vaulters on techniques. Since the vault requires a basic understanding in physics, bio-mechanics, specific training skill sets for vaulting techniques it is impossible to acquire all these skills without spending a good deal of your time off the track studying the events.


The obvious answer by many coaches is to find/have (if available) somebody who has had previous vaulting experience. This seems very logical of course, however, there is a hided danger in this type of thinking. Just because you can drive a car well, does not make you qualified to race formula 1 sports cars!  So many times I’ve seen former vaulters instructing younger athletes in the same methodology that they used, unfortunately it is often times wrong. The other big mistake I find is having your older or more senior vaulters instruct the newer younger vaulters at the beginning. Since this phase is so critical allowing another vaulter to instruct is in my opinon a big mistake.


My suggestion would be either take up the gauntlet and go learn how to instruct your vaulters yourself or if possible send them to a qualified club vaulting instructor. There are two main benefits to doing this type of program. If you chose to learn it yourself, then your value as a coach increase tremendously or if time does not permit you to do this, then choosing a good qualified club program might be a better alternative.


I can only speak for my own program as a club instructor, we offer a year round training programs that requires our athletes to not only learn the physical skill sets needed but also we spend a good deal of time in a” classroom type environment” learning the basics. I have found that making my athletes take notes and participate in exercises explaining to their peers specific aspects of the techniques learned helps them have a much broader understanding of their training program. I have always allowed their coaches to come to my practices to observe what and how we do our thing. I do not allow them to coach or be on the floor but they get a chance to see their kids in action.


Final thoughts on this subject: so many times I see coaches focus entirely on obtaining points from their athletes at all costs under the name of team scoring. Personally, I hate this; I know right now for the majority of coaches they will disagree totally with me. However, here me out I have always found track and field, to be a singular individually oriented sport, it is for the individual and is not focused on the team mentality. Competitions are between individuals and not teams like baseball, basketball and football are team sports, and in fact you can’t play them without a teammate or several teammates competing with you. Most good track athletes I have found to be highly individualistic in their mental outlook. This is what drives them to be good or even great. Personally, I like this in an individual, too often today we see kids who will not stand up for themselves so often being told to be part of them team mentality. I’m all for teamwork but not at the expense of the individual.  I have now gotten to the age where I’m old enough to be able to look backwards and have seen three generations of kids develop and I have seen this quality being eroded away way too often. America was built on rugged individualism I think that it is time to spark a little of that feeling in today’s youths.


Next Subject: …… 1/12/14 Getting Ready for “the Real Season”


Well, the time has come for the “Real Season” or as I like to put it, the meets that count. Every indoor and outdoor season there are in NJ four basic meets that lead up to the final Meet of Champions (MOC). They are the county, sectional and group meets which setup the finals each year plus the HS Nationals for those who maybe qualified. HUVC has always focused on making these qualifying meets the main focus of our training yearly programs. Everything leading up to these meets requires careful preparation so you are ready both physically and mentally. The biggest problem I have with HS programs is that there are way too many competitions leading up to these meets which often finds so many athletes running out of gas by the MOC.


Proper planning in terms of the entire season is required by the coach, working every meet to its maximum is foolish in my opinion. I often use the earlier competitions as training exercises for my vaulters in order to try out various poles, approaches and new techniques without pushing for a big PR every time out. It is a very natural thing for young athletes to try and go all-out every time they get into a competition. There will be times when circumstances dictate that you will have a great day during these competitions, so go for it and let it happen. However, I wouldn’t go into these meets planning on it.


During the course of an indoor seasons training (Sept. – Feb.) you will be changing many aspects of your vaulting style while you also learn additional techniques and skill sets.  I like the word “Balance” as a guiding point of focus. All programs and goals must have balance, which means there must be a path that leads one to ones goals. Young athletes are just that young, you can’t expect them to recover as fast as say a 24 year old would. So, allowing for built-in rest periods along the way in my opinion this is critical to avoiding burnout. My final comment here again is: So often I’ve seen potential medal winning or placing vaulters over worked thus killing their ability to perform at the highest levels when needed. I often wonder which is more important the individual athlete’s success or the team score.


Next Subject: …… 1/27/14 Hip Elevation


I’m often asked what the secret to jumping higher is. Well, to completely answer that question I could write a book (which I’m considering seriously). However, let me say that the single biggest effort in the pole vault surrounds the swinging up of the hips to a highly elevated position before you rise towards the bar. Yes, all the other skill sets play  into this but, no matter what if the hips go up your chances of clearing a bar improves greatly…style notwithstanding. Right now all my athletes no matter what their individual skill level is are working towards making this move better.


I explain to my team that your main purpose is to move the pole to vertical (90 degrees straight up) at this point the bar is set to where you want behind the box and I call this side of the operation front-side mechanics; anything that is behind the pole well are calling back-side mechanics. Yes, I choose these terms because everybody understands it from their sprinting mechanics.


So, simply put I tell m y vaulters to swing their hips up and past the pole in order to elevate their hips higher than their shoulders. This is back-side mechanics. You do not want your body or your legs to be in front of the pole 9front-side mechanics) since this will eventually lead to extending your feet/legs towards the bar and not going up. We spend a great deal of time dong hips-over-the-bar on the high bar to simulate this movement. If the vaulter can achieve this position early then as he/she extends/straightens their legs by pushing their butts upwards towards the top of the pole, they will be setting up the perfect turn. After this initial movement which I ask them to conclude by doing a ½ turn into the pole, they are in a position to go vertical coming from behind the pole as they pull and turn. Properly timed the vaulter will now go upwards and towards the bar giving them the maximum amount of height they can get from this particular jump.


This all sounds quite simple but I assure youit is the most difficult thing to time just right; all great vaulters have it down…Do you?


Next Subject: …… 2/7/14 Preparing to compete in Big Meets


The hardest thing I believe is to learn how to compete!  Younger and even some older athletes have a difficult time controlling their emotions during competitions. It is true that the adrenaline flows a bit more in competition which generally allows you to do things you normally couldn’t do, like moving to bigger grips or heavier poles. There is a sign in my club that says “You compete, the way you Train”; this I totally believe in. Proper preparation during practice sessions sets up the mental framework that will allow you to control yourself during competitions.


I preach to my kids that when you arrive at practice you must stay focused so that you start to develop a mindset that will allow you to perform at the highest levels without panicking when the pressure is being applied.


Here are a few points that might help:

1.      Arrive early  and immediately measure your steps and check-in

2.      Allow enough time to do a proper warm-up prior to stepping on the runway

3.      Limit your warm-up jumps….You are here to compete, not practice. I see so many vaulters taking 8-10 warm-up jumps prior to the competition, this is plain foolish!

4.      Manage your time in relationship to when you start to jump. As an example, if you warm-up at 9 am but do not start jumping until say 10:30 am the warm-ups are useless. It is better to check steps takeoff once or twice and sit down; wait for the next three heights to pass and then when you start be ready to warm-up then. You will find that you waste less energy and will be in a much better position to start competitions.

5.      STAY FOCUSED during the competition………this is a key point

6.      Finally, remember do not concern yourself with bar height, you should focus on what you can control which I believe is more important: the approach, the planting action, the drive/swing and finally the swing to the top of the pole. If you do all these things well there is no way you are not going to jump well.


Think about what I’m saying and work it into your competition planning. Prepare the day before, check all poles, taping, pack your bag make sure you have tape, chalk etc.


Next Subject: …… 2/10/14 Heights Prepares for State Meets


Every Indoor and outdoor season ends with the State Championships: Meet of Champions (MOC). It has always been the clubs focus to concentrate on these meets throughout the season; it is the single minded goal for our members. Again, I’m overwhelmed by just how well our membership does in preparing for these contests. This year the club is sending from the sectional meets 25 boys and girls (Club Record) into the final state meet qualifier (Groups). This meet will reduce the total number of vaulters down to approximately 33 whiuch will compete for the MOC title.


I believe that the training methods we employ for our vaulters have lead to this success. The club uses a style of vaulting known as the Petrov/Bubka Method or more commonly known as the “Russian Method”. This style emphasizes a strong approach and takeoff and builds on the skill-sets required to master greater heights. There is no substitute for natural ability and hard work, but having the right training program is also key to being successful.


Next Subject: …… 3/1/14 Heights Vaulters Sweep top spots in the NJ Meet of Champions!


Well, another indoor season has come to a conclusion and I must say that this was our finest hour! Heights vaulters sweep 4 out of the top 6 spots I n the pole vault while 15 others placed high.  Michael Benz from Delbarton claimed the winning jump of 15 feet. Michael cleared every height on his first try which put the pressure on everybody especially teammate Abe Gertler (Madison) who claimed 2nd place overall with a 15 jump also. Following up for the Ladies were Haley Steele pulling off a third attempt clearance to make 11’ 6 and claim 2nd place. Right behind her was Monica Benz who cleared 11’ 0” to get 3rd.


After these four vaulters came 5 boys and 4 girls to round out “Heights Attack” on the MOC. Also, included in the boy’s side were: Max Maroney (14’ for 9th), A.J. Bradley, and Malik Dixon, Alex Kossak all clearing 13’ 6” for 13th place and Sean Hopkins clearing 13’ 0”, 22nd. The girls included: Sabrina Anderson, Dana Fantuzzi (10’ 6”) for 9th, Marlena Paz: 10’ for 16th and Sophia Cortazzo at 9’ 6”.


On behalf of the entire coaching staff we can’t tell you how proud we are for their accomplishments and what a privilege it has been to coach these young men and women. They work very hard to achieve many personal best this year and to finally bring it all together was an outstanding effort by all. Thank you!


Next Subject: …… 3/14-16 New Balance National HS Championships


The 2013-14 indoor seasons ended as it began with another fantastic series of jumps made by the Heights Team. Heights were able to qualify 9 pole vaulters and 1 lady shot putter to the national meet at the Armory in NYC. As always this is a tough competition and I’m pleased to say we did extremely well with all 4 boys going 14’ 4.5” and all the girls jumping 11’ 1” as well as our shot putter placing also.


It is now time for a break from all our serious training and to start planning for the up-coming outdoor season. The team has surpassed our expectations this year and we are very proud of all the membership; now onwards to the next phase!


Next Subject: …… 3/16/14 Mistakes in coaching the pole vault in high school


Every year the club gains more and more members who want to join us and develop their skills to a higher level. Yes, we have developed scores of vaulters over the past 15 years. But the real question is why do they come to us? The average high school coach has anywhere from 30 to 100 young people come out for spring practice. These numbers make it almost impossible for one or two coaches to manage a team of various skill levels. Coaching runners is far simpler than coaching the field events. Field events are very specific types of skills and require a much deeper understanding of the biomechanics and training programs necessary to develop these athletes. One major issue is facilities needed to help make these athletes better; the other factor is time. HS coaches cannot give up two to three hours a day to coach just pole vaulters.


There are many HS coaches that have a solid basic understanding in this event; however, I believe that most do not. State HS Athletic Education Boards should require each coach in the vault to be certified by a qualified association. I believe the “best of the best” might be the USATF level 1 & 2 certifications courses. This would at the very least give everybody a solid basic understanding of how to instruct their athletes. Clubs like “Heights Unlimited” provide not only in depth knowledge of the sport but also provide extensive facilities to help train each vaulter. Heights have the time to design and work with each athlete in order to help them develop to their maximum potential.


The other problem I come across is coaches giving poor or incorrect feed back to their athletes. This knowledge is bases on hearsay and not a solid understanding of the event. One such typical point is having coaches tell their athletes to pull-down with the top hand at takeoff or push the front arm out as if they were using a bow & arrow. Neither of these actions is correct but I see it all the time. “Rowing the pole” is also a common mistake which coaches often telling their athlete to do in order to get their hips up faster? These actions will get you a bigger bend or lift your hips up; however, they all are in correct if you understand the basic mechanics of the vault. The single biggest issue I see with most if not all vaulters is coming up short in the swing. This is a real, danger and coaching any style that allows this to happen is just plain wrong.


Vaulters that come to Heights are required to undergo many lectures and films showing just how the vault is done. This is an ongoing process, notebooks are required and tests (every so often) are given to see if they are getting it. I often ask questions and require my students to get up and go to the board and explain various components of the vault. This is all done to help the athlete develop a solid mental picture of just what it is they are trying to accomplish in the vault. I believe that you must have a good mental picture of the skill set you are going to try and do before you take one-step.


We are open to coaches coming with their athletes to better understand what is happening with their vaulters; however most coaches don’t bother since they resent clubs being involved. As a certified licensed teacher in physical education I could coach at any high school. However, I feel I can do more by instructing through the club programs and I get to instruct both college and elite vaulters also. There is a place for everybody in this sport; you just have to be willing to want it.