A Relay Primer: Elementary 4x100 metre relay
There is a standard method for 4x100 relay. Although it is invariably followed at the Olympic, varsity and high school levels, it is often not taught at the elementary level. The intention of this 'primer' is to describe the standard method and explain the logic behind it. The generic singular "they" has been used instead of he/she.
Hand sequence: "Start right"
The correct sequence is: right, left, right, left. The lead runner "starts the race right" with the baton in the right hand and keeps to the inside of the lane to minimize the number of strides.
Runner #2 should be looking over their left shoulder, ready to receive with the left hand. The lead runner should be hugging the inside of their lane so #2 should keep to the outside/right of the lane so as not to impede the lead runner.
Runner #3 should be looking over their right shoulder, ready to receive with the right hand. Runners #3 should keep to the left of their lane for two good reasons: to make room for the incoming runner and to minimize the number of strides around the upcoming curve.
Runner #4/Anchor should keep to the outside of the lane at first, watching the #3 runners and ready to receive with the left hand. Most anchors will keep the baton in their left hand but some right-handed runners (most notably Usain Bolt) will switch the baton to the right hand during the first few strides after receiving the baton. Since the anchor has no-one to pass to, switching hands should be the anchor's choice.
Underhand vs overhand
Although most higher-level (high school, varsity and Olympic) runners use overhand passes there are several advantages to having younger students use underhand passes. Receivers need to remember to "give a target" for the passer by keeping their receiving hand in a steady, consistent position and leave a wide space between their thumb and fingers, thus providing an obvious target for the baton.
The major challenge of relays is during the exchanges. Clear communication is helpful and the incoming runner should feel free to verbally direct the receiver on whether to speed up or slow down, etc. Responsibility for the handoff rests with the passer so the receiver should indicate when the baton has been received by saying "Got it" or something similar so that the passer knows that the responsibility is no longer theirs.
"Popping" the baton
The lead runner should hold the baton at the bottom in order to maximize the 'grabbable' surface for #2. A common problem is that the baton gets 'shortened' with each exchange and #3 may have only a stub available. Creative runners will sometimes rotate the baton underhand to offer the longer portion when they realize that their teammate can't grasp the short end.
This problem is easily solved by #2 and #3 'popping' the base of the baton against their torso in order to move their hand to the bottom of the baton. They should do this once they are securely in possession and not wait until the next hand-off is imminent.
Each of the three corners has a pair of lines for each lane to indicate the exchange zone. The handoff must occur within this 20 metre zone: early or late exchanges mean disqualification. Students often think that the first line is their 'start line' and that they must stay behind it as in other races. This is not the case and Atom runners may want to play it safe and stand inside the zone especially if they are prone to forgetting to run ahead of the incoming runner. It's the location of the baton, not runners' positions, that determines whether a handoff is acceptable. Rules are described here:
Older students may want to experiment with the 10 metre acceleration zone that precedes each exchange zone but this is often better left until high school.
Order of runners
A common practice is to place the team's fastest runner at anchor and the second-fastest at lead. #2 carries left so it may make sense to put a 'lefty' in this position.
Another strategy that may work with older students who are willing to practice it is this: place the fastest runner at #2 and have them receive the baton early in the first zone and release it late in the second exchange zone. This allows #2 to carry the baton for 110 metres or more, almost entirely on a straight-away. This practice is discouraged by some:
It's helpful to walk (almost literally) new teams through the sequence once their positions are agreed upon. Explain that the hand sequence is RLRL, each runner needs to be offset a bit in order to share the lane during the handoff, receivers need to give a steady target and let the passer know when the baton has been safely received. Passers need to ensure that they don't swerve or otherwise interfere after the handoff.
Once the team has the sequence figured out they can gradually increase the distance between them as well as their speed. In order to build endurance [kids really enjoy this] they can run a continuous loop around the track with each runner advancing to the next corner. The anchor (carrying left) hands off to the lead (carrying right) to start the next rotation. Since they rest three times as long as they run, kids can keep this up for quite a while.
The first 1:30 of this 4:45 video are not instructive but the final two minutes include slow-motion close-ups of Jamaica's very steady handoffs.
Questions? Rick Munroe (firstname.lastname@example.org). Have funů.