Substance in the Style


Aries Merritt reminds me of Paul Desmond, of the Dave Brubeck days. Light, airy, shy, with a certain creativeness tinged with humor.

-Brooks Johnson

The Brooks Johnson blog is a good read, and sometimes he covers through observation, some wonderful analogies and visual summaries. I was listening to one speaker one weekend and he explained that sometimes substance in the style. We often think that style is only ornamental and has no purpose or meaning behind it. I believe that many styles are driven by coaches and athletes when they pair up. Is David Oliver aggressive like a linebacker because he is an American Hurdler? Is Guy Drut a finesse hurdler because he is European or does the impact of Calvessi still resonating with Western Europe? Does Wilbur Ross still create influence or does Winckler and other coaches bleed over to current coaches like those at the college ranks? Should a coach encourage self expression or be more engineering? When does the science ruin the art? I have no clue. What I do know that each athlete has signatures that are unique but often risky. It’s nice to get out of the average models and do something different, but that type of risk better have the reward. When is something just artistic and when is something effective?

If we look at all of the hurdlers it’s important to know their coaches and some of their physical details such as body type and training approaches with speed and power. Without knowing the intimate information, we can misinterpret why they are doing something and copy what could be the issue that is holding them back. We all heard the story of the American coach copying the soviet athlete in order to beat them in one of the jumping events, only to find out that they felt it was a limitation! We need to separate all of the styles such as arm action, take off position, lead leg touch down, and even step pattern into both physics and motor learning (art). I see a range of techniques but really just and expression of the constraints of hurdling. Each athlete has to adapt their bodies to the set-up of the event and that requires some expression of the challenge. some will find success of different strategies and it’s important to see what is coachable (cognitive) and what are just reflexes from cerebellum rich activities. I have not broken down the event yet as I see very little EMG studies on hurdles and anyone going 8m per second or faster will see how surface EMG will fly off without tape. I think Dartfish has really done a wonderful job of creating real tools to break down the event and compare. Unlike jumps that have one athlete at a time, very little meet video shows all of the athletes in sprints and hurdles because they are racing side by side. Practices are important times to critique the style and see why athletes are doing things. This is likely best done during lunch or video session, because not all athletes are conscious of what they are doing. Did they watch a hurdling great and found that their style was something to be emulated? With youtube now we have a lot of athletes looking at the greats and cherry picking different qualities. Music has influences and so does technique. In the future I think we will see why each athlete chooses a specific style and we will then be able to nurture those unique and individual expressions.

Carl Valle

Carl Valle

Track & Field Coach
Carl is an expert coach who has produced champions in swimming, track and numerous other sports. He is one of the foremost experts in the fields of nutrition and restoration.
Carl Valle

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