I will not catch you. It’s not that I want you to falter, but letting go is the only way to make sure you learn how to support yourself.
The Falling Start is a metaphor to life. While this is not a discussion on speed development, I often employ this exercise to help athletes understand start technique. Specifically, this drill permits the sprinter to descend into a running position that ends with the hips ahead of the heels, staging a lower shin angle during the initial drive out. This position optimizes the transference of force to the ground through an aggressive “down and back” foot-strike. If executed properly, the athlete will experience improved acceleration tactics.
As in life, most athletes initially struggle in the descent. Negotiating a fall, or even failure, is never easy; especially when you are aware that it must be done alone. Feeling your arms slip out of the coach’s hands only serves to build the anticipation.
For those who are new to this sprint drill, the anticipation often leads to a premature and deliberate attempt to thwart the fall. Naturally, the beginner will hasten the unpleasant sensation by casting out their swing leg, reaching for a temporary solution, only to find that this type of “defensive-driving” has significantly decreased their forward progress. In other words, the fear of losing control leads to a rushed judgment and/or a less-aggressive approach that culminates in poor sprint posture and running speeds.
Curtailing this, I usually borrow cues from the real world. Before letting go, I remind the athlete to “stay tall through the fall” hoping to prevent them from “caving in” on impact. From here, we work to enhance a more action-oriented mindset by asking the sprinters to punch themselves through- and out of the initial impact. Placing the emphasis on strong foot-strikes is a deliberate attempt to move concentration away from the fall and into the solution.
Emphasizing the steps required to overcome and outlast the fall enables the athlete to “roll with the punches”. Punches that should not be prevented; rather, used as evidence of one’s ability to withstand impact. An impact that can positively direct self-trust if one is taught how to stay tall through the fall. And coaches, you cannot tell someone to trust they will rise, if you cannot trust them enough to let go.