Shayla Balentine progression

SJVSC Central Coastal

Shayla Balentine's rise to the National HS record....a coaches perspective.

By Jan Johnson


Shayla Balentine began pole vaulting last March. In the past 14 months she has gone from beginner to the Nationa HS record holder at 13'8". Here is a short history of her amazing progression. She is approximately 5'7", 130 pounds. The Morro Bay HS coach, Greg Wilson tried to get her to try vaulting for over a year before she actually did. She played rec league soccer , and did a little bit of gymnastics as a kid. She also played HS softball, until she went out for track as a sophmore. She has run the 100 meters in 12.2, and long jumped approximately 18'. However, I really don't think either of those marks indicate her true explosiveness, and ability to learn technique.

She jumped 10' in her first month or so. During this time frame we simply learned how to vault with no bend in the pole from 5 lefts. Most of our emphasis was on high hands at take-off, jumping up on to the pole, and sweeping the legs from behind the hips to the top of the pole. Early in the summer she jumped 10'8 at the Beach Vault in Santa Barbara from 5 or 6 lefts (slightly bending a 13' 140). At this point in her development she was having trouble with her turn, and kind of sitting over the bar. So we worked on swing up drills trying to tuck the bottom hand elbow inside the pole and trying to avoid spinning. By the end of summer she had cleared 11'8 from a 7 left run on a 13' 150.

During the summer we rope vaulted everyday. At first she was kind of scared of rope vaulting, but soon she became very proficient. I am certain that this portion of her training was very important in developing her ability to swing quickly and efficiently, and helped her un-canny ability to go "up the pole". During the months of September and October we did no pole vaulting at all. We began fall training in early November doing lots of running, hurdling, and weight lifting. Also, during this phase we would set aside 10 or 15 minuets each session to do some vaulting drills. Mainly we would slide box, and swing ups from 3 lefts.Occasionally, we would do some short runs from 5 lefts, in flats over low heights .

For recruiting purposes, we decided to try and get an early mark at the Summit, so we began vaulting seriously in late November. Most of this jumping was done from a short run of 5 lefts. During this phase she was clearing 11' and 11'6 on a regular basis. Around the middle of December we switched to 7 lefts and started moving up poles. However, during this transition she started shifting her hands up one step too early on her plant. My preception was she was moving so fast down the runway, she felt she needed more time to raise her hands. So we began doing lots of pole runs and slide box from long runs (7L) to correct the problem.

During this same time frame (Dec-Jan) she cleared 12'6 and 13' bungee a few times (gripping 12'8 on 13'6 145&150) from her seven. However, she was very erratic, often times landing near the edges of the pads, or coming up short. Most of her problems seemed more related to inconsistent steps, and tucking right off the ground, than early planting. These types of jumps almost always would produce too much bend and not enough pole speed. So we spent time on jump-off drills learning how to "stay down" better. In addition, we lowered her grip, and went to smaller bending type jumps. Using this method we went to the Reno Summit and vaulted 12'4 easily and nearly made 12'10, gripping a 13'160 at 12'3 from a seven left approach. We continued with this method of jumping until late April. During this time frame she made 12'6, 12'7, 12'8, 12'9, 12'10, and 13' in meets. Most of these marks came gripping approximately 12'4-12'6. It was also during this same time frame, that she corrected her early hand shift problems.

By the first of May she really seemed to be in a very good technical groove, so we decide to make an effort to raise her grip. During the next 4 weeks at every safe opportunity, we did so. As we raised the grip we also went to stiffer poles. This helped us avoid the pit falls and dangers of over-bending type jumps. At this point in the season we also moved her short run back one left to a 6, and her long run back one left, to an 8. During this phase, her long and short runs seemed to become mirror images of one another. As a result, she cleared 13' approximately 30-40 times in meets or practices from both her short and long runs.By the end of May she was gripping 12'9 on a 13'165 from her 6, and 13'3 on a 13'6 160 from her 8.

The last two weeks before the record were simply incredible: In one practice she made 12'6, 13', 13'3, 13'6, and 13'9 never taking more than two jumps to clear a height. Then the last practice prior to the record: she took a couple of short run jumps, then went to the 8 and smoked 13' and 13'6 on her first attempts.We then moved up a pole and had two real good tries at 14'.

At the California state meet the conditions were perfect. It was warm and a light tail wind. In warm-ups I became very concerned when she was running so fast she blew through every pole in her bag, except for a 13'6 160 Carbon 18.3 that Jill Starkey loaned us. I was worried we were under-poled under such good conditions, and we had never been up on the 160. She cleared 11'8 and 12'2 by wide margins on blow-through type jumps. At 12'9 she missed badly on her 13'6 155 18.8 so we went to the 18.3 for her second attempt. She took-off and got huge height but just missed the pocket. On her third attempt our entire group of some 30 parents and vaulters sitting together in the stands, held our collective breath as she roared down the runway and smoked 12'9 by 18". Then she easily cleared 13'1, and 13' 51/2" on first attempts. At 13'8 she was getting tired, but still had enough left for a third attempt clearance. The crowd was chanting 14! 14! 14!. So I think she felt obligated to try it. But she told me she was tired, so we elected to drop back down a pole, and just give it a couple decent shots.

Our plan now is to rest for a couple of weeks, then resume training later in June. We have worked 4-6 days per week for a year straight, and simply need some down time. Then later in the summer we will try to chase a higher mark.

~jan johnson~
national director