On a special TV program I watched years ago, a list of the most difficult athletic tasks were ranked. I only remember the top three. Number three was pole vaulting (two was driving a NASCAR and hardest was hitting a major league baseball). If you don’t know what the pole vault is, check out this video, then come back here to read more about coaching it.
I coach one of the hardest things an athlete can attempt in all of sports. It helps that I was a pole vaulter myself, but coaching is a completely different skill. The greatest coaches will tell you that just because you were a world class athlete doesn’t mean you can coach. That’s true. Sometimes those who were only mediocre at the sport make the best coaches.
My first coach in high school never pole vaulted in his life. I asked him how he knew so much about the sport.
“I studied it.”
In high school, I also met with a club during the off season. The coach of this club was also very good. He had experience as a pole vaulter. I personally thought my high school coach was better, but maybe it was because my own coach’s coaching style matched my learning style.
I’ve coached beginner pole vaulters (8-15 years old), high school, and junior college vaulters. I’ve had the most success with the beginners and the least success with the college kids. I love coaching the new and young athletes because they don’t know anything, they absorb everything you tell them without question. The college kids ignore you and think they already know how to pole vault The coach needs to let them get their repetitions in. Okay, those are both generalizations. Some beginners are snotty and some college vaulters are teachable.
I’ve had kids get hurt on my watch. One time, a high school boy planted the pole in the box, went up (pole bent a considerable amount) and let go of his grip. The bent pole came back for him and whacked him across his midsection. The welts it left were amazing. A college boy went up and started to go upside down, but instead of continuing forward towards the pit, he started coming back towards the runway. He landed on his feet before falling back on his head. I called him that night after practice to see how he was. I was afraid he received a concussion. I myself broke a pole once and landed on my upper back in the pit. Could have been my neck!
A high school, a poorly funded institution to begin with, has to spend large amounts of money to fund a pole vault program. This is why many high schools don’t offer pole vaulting on their track teams. A pit, cover, and standards cost $19,500 retail. Each pole may cost anywhere from $300 to $1,000 dollars. You’ll need two poles in each size from 11′; 90 lbs poles to 15’6″; 175 lbs poles at the high school level. That’s A LOT of poles and money.
Being a pole vault coach is a heavy mantle. It’s one of the hardest things to do physically, it can be dangerous, and it’s extremely expensive. I’m afraid that all these factors may cause the sport to become extinct over time. I feel a large responsibility to keep it alive for the next generation of athletes. I encourage each of my athletes, no matter how good or poor their vaulting career is, to pay it forward and coach the sport later in life.
While I’m on the topic, if you were ever an athlete, pay it forward and offer to coach at your local high school if you have the time and means to do so. You can make such a great impact on those kids and help your local school greatly. Choose to be a good coach and study the sport.
Coaching is rewarding. Good coaches change lives. Coach on.