Coach's corner: What the 'Fosbury Flop' can teach us all

  • Jon Cohn

    Jon Cohn

Updated 4/7/2021 8:05 PM

It may have been Sigmund Freud who rightly said, "Man is a routine-oriented species." And if that isn't enough to make the point, I think Maslow (did he have a first name?) somewhere in his famed Hierarchy Of Needs listed "routine" as a basic human need.

The point is well taken. We all get used to doing things a certain way, and sometimes -- maybe to a fault -- we just accept tradition and find comfort in the "sameness."


That was not the case, however, for famous Olympic high jumper Dick Fosbury. He must have missed the Freud, Maslow psychology lesson, because way back in 1968 he broke tradition in dramatic fashion by completely changing the technique used for the sport of high jumping.

Stick with me here, as we will bring this back to our local sports scene, but the Fosbury story needs background.

Prior to him coming along, all high jumpers around the world used one of two methods for high jumping. One was called the scissors kick, which involved approaching the bar from the side, then standing straight up while shooting one leg over the bar, followed by the other (scissors like).

The second was called the Western Roll, where you would throw your body over the bar sideways and then roll over it.

Both were very effective and commonly accepted, until, that is, Dick Fosbury came around. He developed a completely new technique, which at first looked silly and ineffective, but proved to be highly advantageous.

Fosbury threw his body over the bar back first and then, rather ungracefully, would flip both legs over at the same time, somehow getting his entire body over the bar without knocking it over.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service

People laughed at this new look and made fun of him.

But as he perfected the technique and he started winning meets with record high jumps, the laughing subsided. He got better and better at it, and finally made the United States Olympic team. He ended up shocking the athletic world by winning a gold medal with the technique that is now known as "The Fosbury Flop."

Fast forward to today, and most of the top jumpers around the world use that same technique. The one everyone thought was crazy.

So, it got me thinking, what are we doing today that maybe could be done completely different and more effectively if someone would just dare try it?

The mind boggles at some bizarre possibilities, and you may rightfully laugh at some of these, but here are a few I came up with:

• Football: use multiple quarterbacks at the same time. With all the great athletes today, why do we just automatically have one quarterback with set running backs and receivers. Could we mix up the skill position players so that they can "do it all" and use a series of pitch outs, laterals and backward passes to incorporate more than one quarterback on the field at a time? Completely new offensive look for sure, but misery personified for defensive coaches.

• Basketball: The Heave Ho-And Go offense. Forget all the set offensive plays, strategies and formations and just have the player dribble over half court -- with no passing -- and shoot a long distance shot. Then send all the players in for the rebound. Let rebounding be your offense. No turnovers, no 5-second calls, no charging calls, and, in case you haven't noticed, kids can make that long distance shot more often than you think. Horrible from a basketball purist standpoint, yes, but it could be just as effective as all the intricate offensive schemes.


• In soccer, eliminate the offsides rule. Man, that is one "routine" I would love to say goodbye to. The game would be much better off with, say, a 3-foot cushion allowed, and even further once inside the centerline. The soccer traditionists would cry foul and say no way. I say let 'em cry. Players and spectators would enjoy the game much more. They can Google Dick Fosbury.

• Change physical education in the grade schools and junior high. Forget the units of softball, gymnastics, basketball, flag football and whatever else is coming up next, and just use the 30-minute period to exercise. Have the kids run, jump, slide, agility drills, push-ups, situps and any other of the myriad potential workouts available. Anything to get them in shape and moving. The sweat could make for some "swampy odors" in the classroom, agreed, but a healthy, vibrant student body is well worth the trade off.

• Volleyball: Pay close attention here as I reveal one of my time-tested secrets I used in the Glenview Park District B Division recreational volleyball league, and it worked like a charm. When going up for the spike, fake and follow through with your power arm and then, on the way down, just tap it over the net with the opposite arm. I've had tremendous success with this at the lowest levels of adult recreational volleyball.

• Girls softball. Change the game drastically and go to modified pitch. Pitchers can only bring their arm back to shoulder length, thus eliminating the dominant windmill style. And NO, I am not babying the game for the girls! Exactly the opposite. The ball would be put in play 10 times more than it is now, and fielders would be in constant action, allowing them to display their athletic skills. The way the game is now, an outfielder is lucky if they get one or two balls hit to them the entire game. Now everyone is moving -- hitters, runners, fielders. Better game for players, and definitely better for fans.

• Tennis: The jump serve? Volleyball players adapted this technique a number of years ago. Leaping and then timing the jump to deliver extra power on the serve. Have any tennis players ever tried this? Just saying ...

• Bowling. Use a two-handed technique instead of the traditional one. Oh, wait, someone already tried this, had great success and now the top players are all following.

• Baseball. Use four outfielders against a particularly powerful hitter. Send one of the infielders into the outfield to cover all the gaps. I used to do this on occasion in youth baseball, and you would think I committed some cardinal sin of America's great game the way parents, opponents and even my own team complained. Crazy? Maybe, but it worked more often than not.

I could go on, but I am sure you have had more than enough at this point. The key point here is not whether you like my suggestions or think I am completely out of my sports obsessed mind, but instead that we should try things outside the norm. Some possibly ranging into the bizarre.

Dick Fosbury did that and his reward was Olympic gold and a technique named after him. For you, it just might be a better way to do something.

• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and prep sports fan. To contact him with comments or story ideas, email

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.