In this Q&A series, Dr. Paula Quatromoni (DSc, RD) answers some of the biggest questions coaches and athletic staff have to better prevent and assist athletes who may be struggling with eating disorders.
Q: Is it appropriate for coaches to weigh pole vaulters for equipment safety reasons?
PQ: Yes, the weighing protocol specific to pole vault athletes is unique and altogether different from a weighing protocol applied to other athletes in track and field, cross-country, or other competitive sports. In pole vault, there are issues of safety, injury prevention, and liability involved in selecting the piece of equipment that the athlete needs to safely perform their event. In this context, the athlete’s body weight is central to the selection of the right pole, and specific protocols are in place to ensure safety.
We consulted with some coaches and equipment managers to more fully inform our response to this question. What we learned is that every pole has a weight rating that should be greater than or equal to the athlete’s body weight. If the athlete’s body weight is more than the rating on the pole, this is one of several factors that could contribute to the risk of the pole breaking during the jump attempt. Athletes who vault with a pole that is rated below their actual weight risk serious injury.
Several coaches said that they allow their athletes to self-report their weight for pole selection during training. Coaches mentioned the importance of having private conversations with athletes to discern this information and to discreetly monitor any changes in weight over the course of the season. On competition day, the pole vaulter’s weight is typically taken as part of the event registration, often requiring verification by a coach. Sometimes, there is a scale right next to the jumps pit so that weight is taken prior to the event, again, to enforce safety precautions when choosing poles.
This “controlled-use” of athlete weighing protocols for the strict purpose of selecting the right pole based on the day-of-competition weight is entirely different from mandated or ongoing weigh-ins and monitoring of athletes’ weight that can contribute to a diet culture inside of sport that endorses weight loss and risks the development of disordered eating and/or overtraining. Coaches reported the importance of explaining to pole vault athletes the purpose of these weigh-ins as a safety issue. When athletes understand this, it tends to alleviate concerns by disassociating this practice from body image or size monitoring. Everyone wants to avoid pole breaks and injuries at all costs. “Vault on the correct pole for your weight,” is a message that’s endorsed in this sporting event.
Still, as we heard from coaches themselves, it is important to maintain the privacy of the athlete’s weight data and to ensure that it is not public, compared, misused, or used for any other purpose.
Paula Quatromoni is a senior consultant for Walden Behavioral Care, a registered dietitian, and one of the leading experts for eating disorders in athletes. She has published several papers on both clinical experiences and qualitative research on recovery experiences of athletes. Dr. Quatromoni is the Department Chair of Health Sciences and a tenured associate professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Boston University where she maintains an active, funded research program. In 2004, she pioneered the sports nutrition consult service for student-athletes at Boston University. Dr. Quatromoni was named a 2016 Outstanding Dietetics Educator from the Nutrition and Dietetic Educators and Preceptors (NDEP) Council. She earned her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Nutrition from the University of Maine at Orono and her Doctorate in Epidemiology from the Boston University School of Public Health.