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For many domestic athletes, the British Champs (European trials) are the primary aim of their season. Although the upper echelons of UK athletes should be looking beyond the weekend and onto Berlin for the Europeans, for or many more, the “Champs” will be their major goal.
Numerous coaches and athletes from all over the country will converge on Birmingham. The heart and lungs of our sport, the clubs, will be proudly represented and their club colours will be on show - along with GB and home nation national vests - it’s a requirement to wear such vests at the Champs.
Those athlete who have achieved UKA’s Berlin standards will be relishing the chance (albeit nervously) to rub shoulders with the likes of Laura Muir, CJ Ujah, Lorraine Ugen, Jasmin Sawyers and the rest i.e. - those who regularly make major championship teams. As a coach I had four athletes across the four horizontal jumps in Birmingham. You can see how they got on in the accompanying video. One Jonathan Ilori, in coming third in the triple, has a chance of selction for the Europeans, if he can jump 16.60 (the qualifying standard).
I like many other coaches cross all events will have been targeting this meeting from when we started training back in the autumn - and that’s important as it has to have a meaning. It has to instill in the athlete a want to do well in it. This will help them mentally “get up” for the competition.
I’ve been going through some specific mental preparation with some of the group - talking through scenarios, for example, that may arise. In the horizontal jumps, you have the small matter of hitting the board at optimum speed. A board that is only 20cm wide, less than the size of your foot. From a physical preparation point of view, I’ve hopefully planned training to get the athletes into the best possible shape. Triple jumper Jonathan had a no-jump issue at the south of England champs - he only got two of six jumps in. Had there been more than eight competitors he’d have not got through to the fourth round, as he did three no-jumps in rounds one-to-three. So, prior to the trials we more or less did nothing but run-ups, and as you’ll see in the video it seemed to work as he registered 15.98 in the first round and then 16.25 in the second which was good enough for third. We really worked on getting the foot down in the correct position, staying under control and not letting emotions and adrenaline take over too much. It’s a thin line in the horizontal jumps (literally) between trying too hard and fouling or messing up the take-off set-up to hitting that take-off sweet spot.
It was interesting to see at the trials in the women’s long jump how adrenaline certainly played a part, so much so that it looked to me as if Lorraine Ugen - who won with a world leading jump of 7.05m - changed her technique. She used a truncated hitch-kick to control a much quicker take-off and the greater push off the board that resulted. Her normal technique is a hang - and she’s been plagued with the issue of dropping a leg early on landing and losing vital distance. I’d long thought that a hitch-kick might work better for her - it will be interesting to see whether she will now make a change to this technique.
Learning to hit the board and control nerves and adrenaline can only be practiced to a certain extent in training as the demands of the competition arena are very different. And this is where some form of mental training can help. If you’ve competed in the same venue then you will have a great idea of what to expect and you can work on visualising yourself in that arena and jumping well (this can still be done if you haven’t – search for videos on-line and talk to people who have).
Dealing with different wind conditions (you should also vary the wind direction in training run-ups too); dealing with long gaps between jumps (something else that can be worked on in training); and having a game plan i.e. a strategy that you intend to follow that will enable you to get the optimum performance from you. What do I mean by the latter? Well, you can construct a script of “advice” perhaps with your coach, as to what to do and how to compete and what to really focus on for your jumps. Write and repeat. The idea being that these “aide memories” will come to mind in the heat of the moment in competition. A word of advice you need to really focus on them in training - and I say training, as the mental side of it should be approached with the same commitment as the physical.
Getting the most out of the most important competitions of the year must be a continual process and goals and preparations must be focused toward that end. Athlete and coach need to work together to be as prepared as possible - but on the day, in competition, the athlete has to feel that expectation to do well and have as much confidence in their mental and physical prostrations that they will do so.