Archive for October 2008

Priority #1 – Teach Body Positions!

October 30, 2008

In all of the gyms (and there’s a lot of them…) that I’ve visited and/or worked in, I’d say that in 98% of them, I see the same deficiency…their gymnasts cannot hold the right body position at the right time.  Everybody maintains some sort of body position, but in gymnastics it is crucial to be able to transition effective between the big “3” at the right time – arch, straight, and hollow.  This is probably most critical on the uneven bars.

Whenever I walk into a meet and see a really good gymnast on vault, beam, or floor, I immediately wait to see bars to determine if she’s the product of good coaching or just the product of choosing the right parents (i.e. great genetics).  Once on bars, if kids have not been taught and/or trained with good body positioning from the early stages of their development, it’s pretty obvious.  At that point, I have my answer…good coaching or great genes?

With the little developmental and future team gymnasts, it is imperative that they are taught shaping from a very early age.  Time needs to be spent on this everyday and it needs to be reinforced on every event.  Set up situations in which the gymnast can achieve the right body position.  For instance, when developing a RO, spend a lot of time going downhill early on and always emphasize the landing shape.  Don’t let kids pike down.  If they are not turning over well enough, then spend more time doing drills like cartwheel with a late step-in and emphasize getting off of the hands with the chest hollowing and the bottom tucking under.  Or, if you’re doing actual round-offs, maybe perform the skill from slightly higher mats to enable the gymnast to hit the right position.

The bottom line is that it is imperative to create situations where the gymnast can perform the right shapes.  Good fundamental technique offers greater efficiency of movement through optimal utilization of muscle firing patterns and ultimately results in a lower energy demand.  More practically speaking, it saves you a heck of a lot of time on the back end of a gymnast’s career.  Instead of having to go back and spend 85-90% of your time fixing technique, you can simply do daily maintenance (i.e. complexes of basic skills on each event) and spend the bulk of your time on new skill development.

Makes sense to me.  Why doesn’t it to everyone else?  It seems like most gymnastics coaches are far too impatient and in a hurry to rush to the next big trick.  Don’t live in the “here” and “now.”  You’ll be far more successful as a coach and your gymnasts will be far more successful if you look further down the road.  Take your time, teach some body shapes, and you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration.

“Stop Throwing Your Head!!”

October 30, 2008

I hear this comment so often in many gyms.  Then, I watch the kid(s) in question as they tumble across the floor and quickly recognize how they’re taking off the floor for their salto.  Many times they are not landing their back handspring properly.  Their bottom is sticking out (piked), the chest is down/forward, and their body is segmented as they prepare to take-off (i.e. “set”).  So, I ask you this – “What other choice do they have?”  To make the required rotation, they must ‘throw their head’ or somehow fling their upper torso into the salto. 

So, what’s the point of this post?  Well, it’s really two-fold.  First of all, analyze your athlete’s take-off position a little more closely and observe the position that they are landing in out of the back handspring.  Secondly, spend more time drilling the take-off and the back handspring finishing position.  Drills like RO-BHS up to stack mats and BHS to a hollow, open-shoulder “push-up” position are a couple of good drills to use.

Now, there are definitely gymnasts who do legitimately “throw their head” back.  I’m not suggesting that the latter is all-inclusive.  But, I think that coaches need to look more for the disease versus just highlighting the symptom.

Drills v. Progressions…

October 8, 2008

What is a drill?

What is a progression?  Are they the same?

To me, a drill is a tool that is utilized to refine or fix a previously learned skill or movement that has become faulty with respect to its mechanical execution.  In contrast, a progression is a drill that is part of a system of drills to actually teach a skill.

I don’t think that a lot of coaches are able to distinguish between the two, unfortunately.  I’ve worked in a lot of gyms over the years and I observe coaches who return from a clinic or coaching congress with all of these new drills and ideas.  Immediately, they start implementing them.  Sounds great?  Unfortunately, they implement everything they learned with little rhyme or reason for what they’re doing and there’s no logical format to what they’re doing.  In the end, they don’t get the results that they’re looking for and they abandon the drill altogether.

It is imperative to develop a system.  While there are a lot of great drills, the coach must select a few and devise a logical teaching progression with them.  Once the skill is developed and consistent then variation of drills is more important.  Varying drills that work on the same aspects of a skill will help to keep the gymnast interested and challenged.  Of course, some drills will always remain in the forefront because of their proven success.  So, don’t be afraid to stay on drills for a while, either.  You have to give the gymnast the chance to master it otherwise you’ve accomplished very little.