Coach Tony Holler coined the term “Feed the Cats” 20 years ago and 5 years ago, I had the opportunity to start coaching alongside Coach Holler as his jumps coach. In those 5 years, my coaching style has been revolutionized. I came to a lot of realizations and my own realizations revitalized my coaching and even my own long jumping career. My style of coaching jumpers co-exists beautifully with Feed the Cats and the results speak for themselves. If Feed the Cats is a new term for you, then please spend a weekend, or two, to read Coach Holler’s blogs which contain a wealth of knowledge that can turn around your program.
When I came to Plainfield North, my coaching style was the same style as I had been coached in high school and college. I loved repeat 200’s/ high volume, lifting weights and working really hard every single day. I had been a hard worker my whole life so naturally, this style of coaching really fit what I loved to do. When I was hired, Coach Holler told me about his program and I immediately thought it needed more volume to be successful. I could not have been more wrong.
To give you a little of a backstory, I grew up in a very small Midwest town, Fulton, IL. We had one coach for the entire team and we ran A LOT. I can’t remember ever sprinting full speed in practice. A sprint practice consisted of a 800m warm-up followed by static stretching then running lots of repeat 200’s or 300’s or variations of that. After that we would do our technical events. Practicing for long jump consisted of my coach holding a broomstick out and saying jump over it. The training seems so silly now but back then, I thought that was great training. Despite the training, we had a great 4×4 that looked to be the team to beat after running the top time in prelims at the state meet in 2004. That is until we got beat in the state finals by Harrisburg, coached by, you guessed it, Tony Holler. They ran 3:21.37 to take the win after barely squeaking into the finals placing 3rd in their prelim heat. I wonder what Coach Holler said to inspire his guys for finals? I know I’d run my heart out in a 4×4 for Coach Holler.
My high school best in long jump was 18’7″ which on my team at Plainfield North wouldn’t even be top 10. I miraculously was allowed to be a walk-on at a small Division 2 school where I upped my best to 19’11”. College training was a lot harder than high school. It was a lot more structured and I started to get actually long jump technique work for the first time in my life. However, we ran a lot of repeat 200’s and a lot of volume. Which, of course, I loved because I loved working hard. The greatest thing for me about college track and field was that I fell in love with the sport and my passion has never stopped to this day.
I continued to competepost collegiately and have jumped over 19 feet every single year since. If I can jump 19 feet this season, it will be my 15th straight year of long jumping at least 19 feet. I jumped 19’10” at the age of 30. And, last year at the age of 32, I jumped 19’5.5″. My best jump as a sophomore in college was 19’6″ and 13 years later, I was jumping the same. “Old guys” are not supposed to jump this far but Feed the Cats for jumpers works even for old cats like myself.
Feed the Cats for jumpers is super simple. I minimize the amount of jumping we do but increase the focus. Fast guys don’t always jump far but getting faster makes guys jump farther. Here are some general guidelines that I abide by in Feed the Cats for Jumpers:
Jumpers are always sprinters first.
Most coaches are doing too much volume in their jumps work.
You can’t do quality LJ/TJ approach work after a hard workout.
Don’t coach your jumpers like they are Olympians.
Use Freelap data to determine appropriate LJ/TJ marks.
No walk-in starts for LJ/TJ
Use as much video as you can.
Send as much video as you can to your jumpers.
Don’t beat up your triple jumpers.
Simple is better.
Focus on what your jumpers do right.
Don’t let tired jumpers jump.
Create a culture.
My #1 priority is to make my jumpers as fast as they can. Increasing speed increases jumping. If I had to pick between sprinting and jumping for a day, I would 100% pick sprinting. I believe that sprinting fast in training also leads to runway consistency and hence not having to do nearly as many run-throughs as coaches think they need to do. If your jumper has runway inconsistencies, they are probably just not a good sprinter in terms of acceleration and running at top speed. I never let athletes walk-in for an approach because we don’t practice acceleration that way. Instead, all my athletes use a 2-point start which we practice all the time. I see the most inconsistencies in approach work with my young guys who are the least polished sprinters. If you look at their Freelap times, you will see that they have a lot of variation in their times hence their inconsistencies and not a “bad mark” as I have heard coaches say.
Freelap times also help me determine how far a guy should run on their approach for long jump or triple jump. I don’t count steps like some coaches. I’m not saying it is wrong to do, I just don’t care. I know my sprinters speed numbers really well so I give them an appropriate distance in feet to start from when we are first finding a mark. Then, using video, within 2-3 approaches, they are on the board and good to go. Some athletes are really fast accelerators with not as good of top speed. Those athletes don’t need their approach to be 100 feet away or they will decelerate on their approach. Finding the optimal approach distance for the athlete is important. It isn’t an exact science but Freelap data certainly helps so use it to your advantage.
We only jump 1x week for each event. Typically we do long jump and triple jump work on the same day so you would only be jumping 1x for the week. A good day to do approach work would be on a fly day. I will let the jumpers do 2 out of the 3 flies and then they will head over to the runway. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t do any more than 2 or 3 full speed approaches for long jump and triple jump in a practice. If it is just a technique day for long jump or triple jump, I can pair that with any day in Feed the Cats other than our lactate work. I always try to jump early in the week to maximize recovery before a meet. The entire sprint workout and jumps practice takes an hour and 15 minutes. Lactate day is the perfect day to pull my high jumpers out of the workout to do technique work. I find high jumpers to be the laziest cats out of the bunch and with those amazing mats to nap on, it makes sense. Lactate workouts are quick which means if you have space constraints like us, it really opens things up to allow you to get some work in for high jump.
My practices for long jump and triple jump take 15-20 minutes max. I only have my jumpers do 2 drills for each. I think there are lots of great long jump drills but pick ones that focus on the most important things such as takeoff mechanics, posture, penultimate, etc. For long jump, we do what I call the “Mario drill” and a half approach take-off drill. The “Mario drill” is just a simple penultimate drill (first video below). The half approach take-off drill (second video below) is just working on the penultimate and really focusing on take-off mechanics and posture. In triple jump, the 2 drills we do are a standing triple jump and a half approach going through phases without landing. The standing triple jump drill we really focus on pushing out initially and pushing force into the ground through the phases. The half approach drill I look at posture, foot positions, etc. Simple is better. I video nearly everything and make sure that the athletes don’t get tired. My favorite thing to do is have everyone do a drill and then we get together as a group and I let them analyse it. It is a beautiful thing to watch. I very rarely cue any sort of changes to what they do in the air and how they land. I don’t teach hitch kick or hang glide. I focus on the essentials.
With my high jumpers, I do a few more drills than with long jump or triple jump but nothing complicated. I do a lot of 5-step jumps at lower heights because we are forced to jump on a slick gym floor. Every jump is more individualized drill wise for high jump. For some, I may play the numbers game, others may work on knee drive, whatever one error I think is most vital to getting them to jump higher is where we spend our time. I give the most mat time to my best high jumpers but that doesn’t mean my other high jumpers aren’t learning. They are active participants in the video analysis and at meets, if I’m over at long jump, they coach whoever is high jumping. I never let my high jumpers jump tired in practice.
Tim Winder, pole vault coach at North Central College, gave me some wise advice regarding cueing athletes in practice. I find that a lot of coaches overcue their athletes. I love to observe good coaches in action and I like listening to how they talk to their athletes. Coach Winder told me for a regular athlete, give them no more than one cue, for a good athlete, you can give them two and for a truly elite athlete, you can give them three cues. How many of you have watched one of your guys jump and then told them about 5 things they did wrong? Instead of telling my athletes what they did wrong, I like telling my athletes what they did right, especially in a meet environment. Nothing good comes from making an athlete overthink something.
One of the most important components in Feed the Cats is creating a culture. It’s no different when it comes to the jumps. We call ourselves “Flight Club.” I make Flight Club t-shirts that only the jumpers get. We have a GroupMe jumpers chat which I use to communicate the gameplan, send videos of jumps I see on places like Instagram or Twitter, post what our competition jumps at meets, etc. After every meet, it is mandatory for them to reflect on something positive about their performance in the group chat. Last year, we had the majority of early season outdoor meets get canceled so we put on our own in-house long jump competition. We had a Bluetooth speaker blasting music, everyone got a clap when they jumped and the atmosphere was absolutely electric. We had 11 guys jump over 18 feet, myself included, and 7 guys set new personal records. Flight Club had never had a better day.
Feed the Cats for Jumpers works unbelievably well and I can attest to that in so many ways. It allows your athletes to sprint as fast as possible as often as possible while staying as fresh as possible while still getting in the necessary technical component of the jumps. Stop beating your jumpers up with unnecessary volume and instead take a minimal approach with maximal effort. Use video, give your athletes full recovery and only do what is most important. Your jumpers will be happier, less injured, able to complete all sprint work and they will perform like true cats in the jumps.