Priority #1 – Teach Body Positions!
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.