This kid who wore leg braces and is the clumsiest person you will ever meet was given the assignment of Head Coach of the Bonner Springs High School Women’s Track Team – amazing. I had been the Assistant Coach the year before and I had a stop watch and whistle. Most importantly, I was blessed with some amazing young women.
Cheryl was 5’10” and had a delightful personality. I coached her in basketball and she had that unique ability to be extremely intense while playing her sport and then wonderfully relaxed when the competition was over. Her height and slight build made her look like all arms and legs and elbows and knees. During the track season, she was a quarter miler (more about that another day) and a long jumper.
Long jumping is an interesting sport. It requires focus, speed, acceleration, springing, and body control. Cheryl had all of those, but was having a tough time using every single skill during one jump. Instead, she would focus and ignore speed, or spring well and not control her body. The results were abysmal. At 5’10”, she was jumping only a little over 9’; shoot, she could almost fall forward that far.
We worked on every single element. I was hoping that muscle memory would kick in and it did – the wrong way. She kept getting worse, doing the wrong things over and over. At the first meet of the year, she was out of competition immediately after the event started. I worked with her; my assistant coach worked with her. Nothing worked. And so I called Ken, a coaching friend of mine who knew Cheryl.
He had one suggestion – make her jump from the men’s board.
Long jumping starts with a long runway (at least 131 feet) that has boards embedded before the end of the runway. Jumpers measure carefully where they will begin their sprint down the runway so that they hit the board, launch their jump, and land in a soft-surface pit. The board has a mark; take off after that mark and you are disqualified. Because men often jump farther than women in high school, there are two boards used for the launch. The “men’s board” is farther back than that of the women, ensuring that both groups will land safely in the pit.
It was our next meet and Cheryl and I were measuring her take off mark. It was then that I told her of the change that we would be making. I set the tape on the men’s board and not the women’s board. I explained to her (in the hearing of the other competitors) that I was concerned that the recent training she had done would cause her to jump so much farther that we needed the extra pit space to keep her safe. Cheryl didn’t say anything, but gave me the look of “I have no clue what you are doing, but I trust you – sort of.” I pulled out the measuring tape and we started the work of putting small pieces of plastic tape on the runway, marking her start and acceleration points.
After we were done I stepped away from the long jump area, but kept close watch on Cheryl. She sat alone, stretching, looking at the runway and her marks. Several times, she walked the length of her planned run, jumping, pulling her knees up to her chest. This was the most intense period that she and I had in four years together. I kept my assistant coach away from her. He talked too much to athletes, whispering suggestions in their ear. His approach was often helpful, but not today.
And, then Cheryl’s name was called. She pulled off her sweats, did her practice hops into the air, walked off the runway distance once last time and took her place next to the piece of tape we had placed earlier. She was starting farther back than any of the other women jumpers. She looked up and looked down, pulled her arms into position and started her slow run down the runway. Her speed picked up and I could see her body look longer and stronger than it had looked all season. She hit the men’s board, about two inches behind the mark (not good), and then she flew. Her body was doing all it could do to stay in the air. She landed in the pit and jumped up quickly.
No one else in the stands noticed, it was early in the day of competition. But, Cheryl and I knew and we both punched the air with our fists. It was over. She jumped better every meet that season and ended up setting a school record the next year.
Sometimes we fear hitting the hard ground and we pull back. When we pull back, our performance gets worse and the fear grows. As the fear grows, we pull back more. It is a vicious cycle.
Today: Go for broke. Fly.
I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself. (I Corinthians 9:26-27)