My dad, Tim Winder, had a rule at his pole vaulting camp that he ran at North Central College for 25 years.  It was actually the number one rule, and to him the most important rule of them all.  That rule was “No Talking on the Pit”.  It was developed after an unruly teenager, that later became my high school coach and my brother Luke’s high school coach as well (how ironic), would not stop opening his mouth on the pole vault pit after every vault he took.  I’m not sure if it was profanity, excuses, negativity, or what, but my dad had enough of it, so he implemented the rule of no talking on the pit, with the only exception being celebrations.  So, this may seem sort of dictatorish, but the deeper you dive into the reasoning behind the “No Talking on the Pit” rule, the more you will see that it is just another part of the system of instruction that he used.  It is a part of the system that could arguably be the most important, being that it focused on the ability to develop control over the mind, through developing control of your tongue, and after that skill is developed, it can be used to gain control over other aspects of your vault and life.  

I really do believe in the power of spoken word.  I don’t know why, but I have always been fascinated with speaking things into the universe.  I know this sounds very “out there”.  I am aware that this concept may not have the backing of scientific studies (maybe it does, and I would love to see them), but I do know that this concept has worked for me and countless other pole vaulters we have worked with over the years.  I am not talking about speaking things into existence, or manifesting things through spoken word.  I have thought about that a lot, and I know that it is popular in certain circles, but I’m just not sure how me saying that I want a Telsa Plaid every morning is going to put that thing in my garage.  I’m not ruling it out, but I do have my doubts and don’t want you to misunderstand what I am talking about. 

I think that there is power in speaking a goal out loud.  I don’t know if I quite believe in shouting goals from the rooftops and telling everyone, although telling someone that you are going to accomplish something does light a different kind of fire under you.  I have always found value in putting my goals into the universe by speaking them out loud, even if it is just a whisper to myself.  I feel like spoken affirmations or prayers can be very powerful as well, and I often speak these things out loud instead of just saying them in my head.  There is something different about speaking the words out loud compared to just saying them in your head.  I think that writing these things down has power as well, and I would encourage you to write down goals and affirmations, but there is just something that hits different when they are spoken out loud.  Speaking your goals, affirmations, PV CUES,coach and athlete relationship or positive encouragements out loud, and into the universe, has always signified a defined start to a goal or provided an extra level of focus when speaking vaulting cues.  Maybe the sound vibrations going out into the universe are a cheat code or something…Sorry…too deep on that one.  In Episode 22 of the One More Jump Podcast with gold medalist Tim Mack, we talked about him standing at the end of the runway and speaking his cues out loud before running down the runway on his gold medal vault in Athens.  I have always practiced this, and been caught several times talking to myself and receiving very odd looks, but I don’t care because I know I am only slightly crazy.  

If you have hung with me this long, you must also see some value in spoken word, but there are two sides to this coin.  If you believe that speaking positive things into the universe is a thing, you could see how speaking negative words into the universe could be pretty detrimental.  You are asking yourself now, “He still hasn’t told me why I can’t talk on the pit”.  My dad created this rule a long time ago because he had the realization that the overwhelming majority of words spoken on the pole vault pit are…NEGATIVE.  Really stop reading for a second and think about what words you generally say when you talk on the pit.  Outside of celebrations, which are the only allowable words to be spoken on the pole vault pit under this rule, you are probably either swearing, saying negative things, or making excuses.  “I was under, thats why that happened” – Excuse.  “The pole twisted” – Excuse.  “There was a headwind” – I hate to tell you…Excuse.  “Dang it!” – Negativity. “(Insert swear word)” – Swearing, which is mostly negative.  If you are honest with yourself, you are generally doing one of these three things when you are talking on the pit.  I’m not saying that those things above are not real things that happen to pole vaulters, but at the end of the day, they are excuses.  You will not get a re-jump if you tell the official any of those things.  All of these words are just releasing negativity into the universe and are taking your workout or meet into the gutter.  You are creating the ideal environment for a bad workout or meet to brew.  When you hit the pit after a bad vault and you instantly start letting your words fly, all the coach and other people around the pole vault pit see is an insecure pole vaulter.  I was a pole vaulter and I know what it feels like to do an embarrassingly bad vault, it SUCKS!!!  It feels terrible to know that everyone just saw you do that, and it is even worse when you are one of the best and everyone is expecting more out of you than what you just did.  Who cares though?  Let it go.  By letting your mouth go off, you are just screaming insecurity and feeding the wrong wolf.  The beautiful thing is that you can control this by implementing the rule of not talking on the pit.  We have found that if you are able to control your words while you are on the pole vault pit, by the time you have walked off of the pit, you have given yourself enough time to let those thoughts pass and you probably will not say them anymore.  You have given your mind a second to regroup and stop the momentum of that bad vault effecting the rest of your workout or meet.  It is hard to implement at first, but you are a collection of your habits, and if you are diligent about creating this new habit of not talking while you are on the pole vault pit, you will not even realize you are doing it after a while.  It just takes…discipline.

The discipline of your tongue can be a key to open the doors in your development as a pole vaulter.  One of my favorite quotes of all time is, “Discipline = Freedom” by Jako Wilink. Through disciplining your tongue, you can free yourself of the terrible habits of making excuses and negative self talk.  My dad always preached that the discipline of your tongue is the first step in disciplining other aspects of your vault.  Your mind is the biggest bottleneck restricting your improvement in the pole vault, and a simple way to start learning to control your mind is to control the words that come out of your mouth.  Let’s say that in order for you to vault higher you need to grip higher on a bigger pole (duh).  Well in order to significantly raise your grip, you are going to have to get comfortable taking off further away from the pit.  Have you ever tried to take off further away from the pit?  It’s scary!!!!!  The only way that you are going to be able to overcome this fear is by overriding the scary feeling of being too far away from the pit and executing.  If you can’t control your mind enough to stop talking while you are on the pole vault pit, how do you expect yourself to have enough control over your mind to do something as scary as taking off further away from the pit?  Controlling your words is so much easier than controlling fear, so why not just start by learning to discipline your tongue?

Any time that you speak, there is energy either created or lost.  When you are at the back of the runway and you are speaking your cues to yourself, I think that this is positive energy going into your vault.  It is reinforcing the goal of the vault and gearing your mind up for what is about to come.  This is creating positive energy that will help you.  When you just hit a huge PR and the joy explodes from your mouth without any control of it, this is positive energy that will help you.  In these two examples, I believe energy is being added to the system.  Now think about when you are speaking excuses and negativity after you land on the pit.  Do you think that energy is being added or taken away from you?  Do you think that your excuse for messing the vault up is adding value to your experience, or is it depleting you of critical energy that could be put into your next vault?  I think we all know the answer to those questions.  My dad always use to say that anytime an athlete gets chatty, it would make him nervous.  Too much chatty, get ready for the baddy.  Now, I am in no way suggesting that you become some sort of recluse that never talks to anyone at a meet or workout, but I am asking you to think about times that you may have been covering up insecurity with chatter.  When someone is ready to pop (have a really good day), they are generally relaxed, poised, and have the perfect amount of pleasant chatter.  They also generally get off the pit, with no excuses, and go to their coach for their adjustment.  Simple as that.  All of that energy that could have been expelled by making excuses is stored in their battery and is used to make the next vault better.  I know that these concepts seem “out there”, but try it out.  See if you don’t feel like you have better control and more energy when you discipline your tongue.  A journey of a thousand miles starts with one single step, and your first step to disciplining the most difficult aspects of the pole vault could begin with the simple task of not talking while you are on the pit.

The coach and athlete relationship is a two way street.  There is energy between a coach and an athlete that needs to be protected at all costs.  If the vibe is off between the coach and athlete, it is difficult to have productive workouts and meets.  A coach’s job is to motivate an athlete to get better and provide them with instruction to do so.  An athlete’s job is to apply the instructions of the coach, and through applying the instructions given by the coach, the athlete should get better, thus motivating the coach.  Do you see how this cycle works?  Again, coach instructs and motivates athlete, athlete uses instruction to get better, coach sees improvement, coach becomes motivated, and the cycle continues.  This is what Jim Collins calls the Flywheel Concept.  Each component of the flywheel works off the previous and the momentum of the flywheel builds.  If you can turn the flywheel enough, successes can start compounding and creating very substantial improvement for both the coach and athlete without a ton of effort.  Unfortunately, there are things that can interrupt the momentum of the flywheel and even cause it to stall.  One of those things is the chemistry between a coach and athlete.  If the coach is not motivating the athlete, the flywheel slows, and visa verse.  So, how does this apply to talking on the pit?  When an athlete hits the pit after a tough jump and pops up with a disgusted look on their face and negativity flying out of their mouth, the flywheel can start to slow.  Even worse is a pit layer, which is an athlete that just lays in the pit holding up the practice and belly aches about how bad the jump was (please don’t be a pit layer).  If the negativity and excuses continue to persist jump, after jump, after jump, it can really start to effect the coach’s motivation, which effects the ability for the flywheel to turn and the athlete to continue to progress.  Controlling your words and actions while you are on the pole vault pit can help the flywheel to continue spinning.

If your attitude is effecting the coaches ability to instruct you, this is not a great environment for improvement, but it only effects you right?  Wrong!!!  You may not realize it, but you effect the other people around you more than you think.  Tell me that you have never been in a workout and had it ruined by someone having a bad vault day.  The athlete has a bad vault, they get into it with the coach, the coach gets pissed, then the coach can’t think about anything but the frustration of that person, and then the other athletes are neglected.  Your negativity throws off the vibe of the workout and can have a profound effect on the energy of the training group.  You may have heard these people described as PV CUES, toxic teammates” and its for good reason, because they poison not only themselves but everyone else who is trying to get better.  The poison is released via the mouth, and the majority of the poison is dispersed while the athlete is on the pole vault pit.  I think that implementing the “No Talking on the Pit” rule can help reduce the risk of an athlete poisoning a practice and effecting others.  As a coach gets further in their career, they are able to spot these situations much quicker and detoxify the practice before it spreads to everyone else, but it all starts with a few negative words or excuses from an athlete, and nine out of ten times those toxic words are spoken on the pit.  

I can still hear my dad on day one of our pole vaulting camps at North Central College saying, “Rule number one is no talking on the pit”.  I really didn’t see much value in it back then, but I was one of those insecure pole vaulters that was addicted to hitting the pit and making excuses for myself.  As I started to implement it in my own career, it slowly started to make sense.  Controlling my words was the first domino that caused the rest to fall.  After I gained control of my mouth, it was much easier to control other aspects of my vault, and a bonus was that I didn’t piss my dad off as much!!!  I also became a person that people wanted to be around at practice.  Everyone knows someone who can single handedly destroy a practice, but if you are lucky, you have experienced an athlete that can do the opposite.  Hopefully you have been around a person that brings everyone up around them.  Isn’t that the person that you want to be?  What will your legacy be?  Will you be the insecure excuse maker, or will you be the athlete with quite confidence adding value to any situation they are involve with?  Which one of those people are college coaches looking to bring onto their team?  Which one of those people are companies looking for to endorse their brand?  Why not take the first step to becoming that person and disciplining your tongue while you are on the pit?  What have you got to lose? 

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