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The Relay Start, Baton Exchanges, and Techniques

Warm-Up Relays, developing fitness
Skill Development Guidelines for relays, starting with the baton, baton exchange, exchange technique (visual exchange)
Wrap-Up Game Olympic relay
Cool Down Light jog, static stretching
Prinatble PDF of this session


Relays (5-10 minutes)

You will need cones and a stopwatch. Divide team into even groups two yards apart from one another on a line. Each group stands opposite a cone 10 to 50 yards away (depending on the level of the group). Relay legs can include sprints, side steps, high knees, butt kicks, two-legged jumping, and hopping. Teams should tag each other on the hand at the changeover. This can serve as dynamic stretching at the same time.

Developing Fitness (5-10 minutes)

Lead athletes in fitness exercises.

See the Supplementary Topic on Aerobic Capacity for appropriate activities.

Guidelines for Relays

In relays, individual runners come together as a team. Use this event as an opportunity to discuss teamwork and good sportsmanship. Official relays are run on the track and consist of four legs, each run by a different runner. During practice sessions you can add more legs and do different drills as noted below. The goal of a relay team is to move the baton around the track as quickly as possible. Athletes must move at a fast pace whenever they have the baton.

Starting With the Baton

You will need cones and relay batons. For younger groups, the starting runner can use the standing start with the baton grasped between all fingers in one hand. An older student can use the crouched start, gripping the baton with the middle, ring, and pinkie fingers and placing the thumb and forefinger behind the starting line. Depending on their level, athletes should practice both starts.

Baton Exchange

  • The Exchange Zone: The baton must be passed in a 20-meter exchange zone. Either runner may be outside of the zone during the exchange, but the baton must be inside the zone.
  • Holding the Baton: The baton should be held at the bottom end for the easiest exchange.
  • Timing: Two subsequent legs must match their speeds during the exchange. This requires the outgoing runners to start running when the incoming runner is 5 to 6 meters away.

Exchange Technique

Except for the first leg, relay runners use a modified start. There are two types of baton exchanges: the Visual Exchange and the Blind Exchange.  (See the Relays-Further Development for Blind Exchange.)

Visual Exchange

The most effective starting position for the Visual Exchange is the crouch start. The outgoing runner's body should face forward with their left hand extended behind them—they can turn their head to look over their left shoulder (they will see the baton go into their hand). It is the responsibility of the incoming runner to place the baton in the outgoing runner's left hand (they then switch it to their right hand while running). Remind students to always receive with the left hand and pass with the right. The incoming runner must keep running at full speed until the outgoing runner has secured the baton in their hand.

Have athletes practice in pairs for five to 10 minutes for 50 to 100 meters and then in teams of four for five to 10 minutes.

Wrap-up Game

Olympic Relays

You will need cones and a stopwatch. Divide runners into teams and have each one choose a country to represent. Make each station a different strength-training exercise (jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, etc.). Runners go from one station to the next doing a set of repetitions. You can have each runner do the entire course, or assign them "legs."

For a more difficult relay, add more stations or require more repetitions at each station. Please refer to the Supplementary Sessions for more station options.

Cool Down

Light Jog (2-5 minutes)

Lead the group on a light jog.

Static Stretching (3-5 minutes)

Have students form a circle around you and lead them in static stretches.

Please see the Supplementary Session on Stretching for additional stretches.

Youth and Schools

New York Road Runners Mission