Contributor: The Nerd
A few weeks ago Patrick Grosserode, who runs Trackville in Lincoln, reached out to me on Twitter with an unexpected invitation. “Would you like to interview US Olympic jumps coach Jeremy Fischer?” Umm, just name the time and I’ll be there.
Perhaps no one in Nebraska is more qualified to interview an Olympic jump coach. After all, I dabbled in the high jump in junior high, exploding to a 4’10” PR before distance running stole my heart.
Close your eyes. Imagine a field of study that you know absolutely nothing about, like nuclear submarines. Then consider that you are offered the opportunity to interview one of the foremost experts in nuclear submarines. That was me last week. The interview was amazing, and I’ll try to do justice to Jeremy’s expertise.
First, a quick primer on Jeremy since his Wikipedia page is sorely lacking. Like most kids in the early 90’s, he dreamed of being the next Michael Jordan. While he high jumped 6’3” in 8th grade, he clung to his hoop dreams until 10th grade when his height plateaued at 5’9”. He turned his focus to jumping during his last three years of high school, reaching 6’11”, 7’2” and 7’4”. He hadn’t planned on competing in college, but his talent led to a track scholarship at Wisconsin where he graduated with a degree in molecular biology and nutrition. He took a UW grad assistant position to train for the 2000 Olympic trials – he finished 7th – but it was supposed to be a brief detour before joining a pharmaceutical company. He never reached the corporate world. By the end of his one-year unpaid coaching gig, he was hooked, and he’s still a coach 22 years later.
After a progression of increasingly impressive collegiate coaching gigs, Jeremy joined the US Olympic coaching staff in 2012. During his career, he’s coached athletes to 15 Olympic and world championship medals. Current and former athletes include Will Claye (three Olympic TJ/LJ medals), Brittney Reese (Olympic LJ gold), Keturah Orji (US TJ record holder), Ricky Robertson (2016 HJ Olympian) and Chris Benard (2x TJ Olympian).
Here’s a recap of our discussion. Please note that I don’t record interviews, so the article reflects the substance of his response but not necessarily his exact wording. Jeremy has reviewed the article for accuracy.
What’s the best way to get more kids involved in track and field?
Start them at the youth level. In Europe, and particularly in Germany, everyone ‘plays’ track and field in elementary school. Gym teachers show kids how to jump, hurdle, run and throw – at some German schools the children are exposed to almost every discipline except the pole vault. The more we expose kids to different events within track and field, the more likely they are to find something they enjoy.
Let’s say you had a 5th grade daughter who watched Brittney Reese win at the Olympics and decided she wanted to be a long jumper. What training or sports would you recommend to support her new passion?
Nearly all studies reflect that the later an athlete specializes in one discipline, the more success they have. In fact, the majority of elite athletes didn’t become elite among their peers until they were college-aged. However, that wouldn’t prevent me from introducing a child to track and field during their elementary school years. I would teach her the basics – how to bound and land, proper sprint mechanics, proper jumping posture, efficiency of movement – essentially focusing on form and mechanics. I’d also encourage her to play fall and winter sports to improve her athleticism. Specializing in one sport or one discipline with a sport can lead to training that is too linear, and that could hinder the athlete’s development in high school.
I encourage interested families to find a USATF club teams or a USATF-certified coach. Over the past decade, youth and high school coaches have improved so much in terms of teaching fundamentals. Find a good coach and then encourage your child to practice those skills throughout the year.
So your recommendation would be ‘early exposure, late specialization’?
Definitely. That is the best approach.
If you were a new track coach at a middle or high school, are there any ‘tells’ that would show you which kids in gym class could be great track athletes?
There really isn’t. The gangly kid who develops late might eventually be the best athlete of the class, while the early-developing kids who dominate junior high athletics may not even be on varsity in high school.
Each track and field season in Nebraska lasts less than three months. How do jumpers, who often play football and basketball, continue to improve if their track season is so short?
When I was recruiting for colleges, we accounted for the short season when recruiting Nebraska kids. For example, if I had the option of offering a spot to a 22’0’ Nebraska long jumper or a 23’0” California jumper, I would take the Nebraska kid every time. I knew they were jumping 22’0” despite playing two other sports and working all summer, while the California athlete may have been jumping all year.
That’s changed a bit with year-round facilities, although there are still major cities that don’t have an accessible indoor training facility. Trackville in Lincoln is an example of a facility where you can extend your track season and obtain high-level coaching while continuing to participate in other sports.
At some point in high school, you might realize that you’re not playing enough minutes to make that other sport a productive pursuit. If it that happens or it’s simply no longer enjoyable, then you can spend more time on track-related activities.
What are most high school athletes lacking in their routines, performances or mindset?
The most common issue for high school athletes is the lack of access to facilities and coaching. If a family can afford it and the athlete is interested in learning more about the sport, I recommend they seek out a local resource. Kids are sponges – even brief exposure to good coaching will make a difference. For example, a few years ago I briefly worked with a family friend to help her improve her jumping performance. When she went to meets, I could almost always pick out four or five competitors who were better athletes than her. However, she almost always won because she had access to better training.
If the family can’t afford personal coaching or access to a facility, there are still other resources. The internet is full of good training resources and videos, including my website.
What’s one common trait of high-performing athletes?
They are intrinsically motivated. I run a tight ship for athletes who want to be at practice, but I rarely have success with athletes who don’t have self-motivation.
Distance athletes are at high risk for repetitive use injuries, but jumpers face a different set of risks. How do you keep your jumpers healthy?
Jumpers have repetitive use injuries too, but what I often see are compensation injuries because athletes ignore an injury and then end up with another one in a different area. We try to spend part of every training day on ‘pre-hab’ work that involves stretching, core work and strengthening. There’s an entire section on my website devoted to pre-hab work, which includes things like barefoot exercises, major hip work and trigger point therapy. All you need is a lacrosse ball for some of these exercises, but the biggest challenge is to make time for pre-hab work before you’re hurt.
Do you recommend a specific diet for young athletes?
High school kids have a reputation for eating fast food four or more times a week, but I see very few kids who actually eat that much fast food. It’s more common for me to see athletes who don’t have a reliable source of food, and I understand that; I struggled with access to good food in my early 20’s when I was a tight budget. I simply recommend that athletes try to have a colorful diet – with ample portions of protein, vegetables and fruit – and that’s usually good enough until they reach the elite level.
I do get more involved – or engage a nutritionist – if I learn that athletes are on restricted diets for Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, if they’re vegan, or it they have an eating disorder like anorexia.
Over the last five years, Nebraska has seen several female high school athletes with a wide range of high-level talents – combining sprints or jumps with great success in cross country. If you’re coaching someone like that, what advice would you give the athlete?
As long as they enjoy each discipline, I’d tell them to keep running cross country in the fall and then pursue all of the events they enjoy during the spring. For example, Laura Roesler swept the 100, 200, 400 and 800 titles at her state meet in North Dakota from 8th grade through 11th grade, and she went on to win the NCAA indoor and outdoor 800 titles as a college senior at Oregon. Emma Coburn was a four-sport athlete (BB, VB, XC, T&F) in high school who as a freshman qualified for State in the high jump, 1600 and 3200. On that same note, if I’m a college coach recruiting a boy or girl who has solid jumping and endurance skills, I’m immediately thinking about their potential as a steeplechaser.
In addition to coaching for the US Olympic team and serving as a personal coach to a high-level athletes, Jeremy Fischer also provides jump clinics throughout the country. He recently launched the website www.mva.services which provides sprinting and jumping resources for coaches and athletes as well as personalized training programs.
Originally written for and posted at www.preprunningnerd.com by Jay Slagle.
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