Girls Peeling off the Bar on a Tap Swing!!!

So, during this season, I have seen about 12-15 gymnasts fly off of the bar backward while doing tap swings during a meet or the warm-up for a meet.  In 2 of those cases, an ambulance was necessary.  One of these gymnasts actually landed on her belly on the low bar and was, thankfully, okay.  Three to five of these girls were slowed down by their coaches as the coaches were standing in between the bars as these gymnasts were performing tap swings (two of these were ours).  The rest were extremely lucky in my opinion, not to get hurt.  I speak from bad experience myself with this situation as I had a gymnast break her arm many years ago when she peeled off of the bar in the back of the tap swing.  It was after this experience that I made sure that I stood there whenever my gymnasts were performing tap swings.

This, to me, is one of the most obvious cases of preventable injury that we have in our sport.  Let me first say that there are probably not many people who are bigger fans of the tap swing being included in the level 5 and 6 bar routines.  I think that the tap swing is simply, the best part of the compulsory routines on any of the four events.  Having said that, it is impossible, in my opinion, to eliminate the risk of the girls peeling off of the bar.  In fact, the better and bigger the gymnast swings, the more likely it is that the result will be a severe injury when she does peel.  The height of the swing is what puts them in that perilous position of “no man’s land”, halfway between landing on their feet and being able to flip over to their backs.  It is NOT about technique, in my opinion, but the size of the girls’ hands in comparison to the size of the rails.  I have seen plenty of girls with great shapes in the back of their swings and excellent “tapping” technique slip off just as much as (probably more than) girls with horrible technique.

For me, this is not a question of an individual gymnast’s ability level.  In my experience, the odds of this happening are the same for all of the gymnasts.  On any given day, it is just as likely to happen to the girl who has done 300 sets of tap swings and never “peeled” as it is for the gymnast who peels off once a month, in my opinion. 

I would like to note that I am not judging any coaches as I am writing this, and I don’t think negatively of people who have not stood in between the bars during tap swings.  However, I think it is time that we, as professionals who care about our gymnasts’ well-being, really start to rally around the idea of standing in between the bars for every set of tap swings that our kids do.  I know that there will be coaches who argue (Bill Sands comes to mind) about the idea of rescue spotting and reaction time, etc.  The way that our bar coach does it however (and the way I did it when I coached bars), diminishes that argument in the fact that he stands with his outside shoulder (in proximity to the athlete) right beside the low bar, and he stands as close to her as possible.  What this does is to place him pretty much behind the gymnast.  If she does peel, she is basically flying “into” the coach.  Again, the idea here is not to necessarily “catch” the gymnast in mid-air (which is what the studies about reaction time are about), but to slow her down and prevent the catastrophic injury.  Our gymnasts never do tap swings on a regular set of unevens without a coach standing in this position.  When they are in practice, we have a bar that is set up with a mat stack behind it and two wedges stacked up against that mat stack for the girls to do their tap swings.  This way, if they do peel, the elevated surface helps them to be able to land more safely.

I would really like for as many blogs and websites as possible to put this on their pages, or to at least discuss this topic.  Many of these gymnasts will never compete again in the greatest sport in the world  because of these injuries, and all we have to do is “stand in” on tap swings.

If it is not enough for a coach to do this because of the reasons I have already mentioned, it might help to think of the legal aspects as well.  When one of these girls’ parents decides to sue because of this injury, the attorneys for this family are going to investigate what other gyms are doing.  There are many gyms that already “stand in”, and therefore the attorney will want to know why this particular coach was not doing the same.  The second part of this is that when they are trying to prove negligence, the effort will be to prove that the accident could have been prevented by less of a burden than what the risk would be.  In other words, standing in between the bars is a very small effort in comparison to the many, many gymnasts who are injured on this skill every season. 

Aside from all of the legal mumbo-jumbo though, I always try to think of it in this simple way.  If this happened to one of my gymnasts and the parents or the attorney asked me why I wasn’t standing there like that other coach was, what could I possibly say?

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19 Comments on “Girls Peeling off the Bar on a Tap Swing!!!”

  1. Just Another Opinion Says:

    This just occurred to me: I assume there’s been a movement or an appeal or something, in the history of JO compulsory routines, to make not standing in a deductible requirement. For example, if not pulling the board is a deduction, why not also make a deduction for not standing in? 2 points off for not standing in: one line of text, a thousand saved arms.

    Come to think of it, if I ever judge bars again at a non-sanctioned meet, I’ll give fair warning to the coaches at the coaches’ meeting that I’m taking 2 points off if they don’t stand in between the bars on a tap swing. The first 6.5 routine they get and they’ll learn wicked fast. And if they still don’t do it after a couple kids, then I’ll just stop them from competing bars.

  2. I’m with JAO: I think a stand-in requirement would be an excellent idea — in fact, I’m not sure why it isn’t already. It is on the men’s side, and it seems that it is, if anything, MORE important for girls (smaller hands, bigger bar, low bar behind them, etc).

    I think the current rules (unless it’s changed since last I checked, there is a DEDUCTION if a coach stands between the bars for routine) are idiotic.

  3. […] in back of swing (reposting from thegymcoach) Girls Peeling off the Bar on a Tap Swing!!! Coaching Gymnastics in the New Millenium Excellent article. In my opinion, there should be a deduction if a coach is not present to spot […]

  4. Troy Says:

    There used to be a deduction, Geoffrey, but there is no deduction now.

  5. O. pinion Says:

    I believe this is an excellent article and needs to be more widespread throughout the gymnastics community. Since I began coaching I have always stood between the bar to ensure the childrens’ safety. Even though I have endured injuries myself by catching the child I would much rather it be me that has a slight injury than a child having a severe injury due the lack of performing my job to the best of my ability. As a professional I take a safety certification test that acknowledges that I know of the safety procedures when coaching a gymnast. I don’t remember if it is included in the safety certification test but I think that the issue of standing between the bars needs to be stated somewhere on the test. I think that it is a great idea to state in the JO Code of Points for it to be a deduction for not having a coach stand inbetween the bars. After all if there is a deduction for not moving the board for safety reasons isn’t a double negative for not having a deduction for standing between the bars which is a preventable injury. I think as professionals we need to all be better aware of the best ways to keep our gymnasts safe.

  6. Curious George Says:

    I just have a question, and was hoping someone could clarify. Is the “stand-in” idea for Level 5/6 only, or optionals as well? I agree it should be enforced for compulsories, but am unsure about the necessity of “stand-in” idea for optional level athletes. I would appreciate some clarification.
    Thank you!

  7. Liz Says:

    George- For optional the rule is the coach cannot remain there for the entire exercise, but can pop in for a skill or combination (ie pak salto, bail-handstand, etc)

  8. Troy Says:

    In my article, I am just addressing the compulsory level tap swings.

  9. Susan Says:

    Thanks for this article. I just did a search on the internet and this was the first article I pulled up. My 7 year old daughter broke her arm on April 22nd doing a tap swing drill. The break was very bad. She was taken by ambulance to Texas Children’s Hospital where she had surgery and pins put in. Thanks for getting the word out.

  10. Rebbeca Says:

    Off topic question:
    During a recreational (and even competitive) class should we be stretching at the begining during warm up? I have heard that it isn’t needed and is a waste of time. But I see it done often enough. Just wondering what you think.
    Sorry for posting this here, I didn’t know where I could ask a question.

  11. Apart from the technique I think these girls need to be careful while performing such difficult stunts…

  12. Blake Says:

    The few times I have seen girls peel off in the back of their tap swings are the ones who don’t use grips or have a lot of “rips” on their hands and are not hanging on the bar how they normally would (finger tips). I require all my team girls to use dowel grips, starting level 4 because of the size of the rail and how small some of their hands are. Dowel grips solve the problem of hands being too small when the girls learn how to hold on using the dowels.

    As far as stretching question; perform some type of exercises to get the blood pumping through the body; floor laps, jumping jacks, something active; several minutes then stretch. I also follow up with stretching at the end of practice. Stretching at the end will release lactic acid and prevent soreness as well as the muscles being more ‘flexibile’ after having been activly used.

    If you don’t stretch muscles before intense activity (like gymnastics) you have a greater risk of injury.

  13. Danny Says:

    Ok…so this is a problem. I used to coach boys and now coach girls. I was at a meet and was actually told NOT to step in by the head coach while the gymnast was practicing the skill as it could “freak out” the gymnast. Needless to say, this puzzled me because I always remembered it for guys and the habit just came over. There does need to be more awareness of the danger and liability. I will definitely train my new group to be comfortable with this potentially career-saving practice.

  14. Concerned parent Says:

    In our gym alone, in one year’s time, we have had three significant falls on the backswing during tap swing (levels 5 and 6): two girls with broken arms that required surgery (one of those broke both arms), and one who landed on her neck (she was brought to hospital via ambulance, but thankfully was OK). Not all of our coaches spot. However, the girl who landed on her neck did have a coach that was on the side – it just happened so quickly. We have two sets of uneven bars that face each other. Often two girls are going at once if both aren’t doing full dismounts. The coach didn’t even notice when one of the girls fell off and broke her arms. Is this a problem? Any suggestions on how I as a parent can do something to reduce the risks without offending coaches?

    We also witnessed a broken arm during backswing of tap swing at a meet last year

  15. Hi there i am kavin, its my first occasion to commenting anyplace, when i
    read this piece of writing i thought i could also make comment due to this brilliant post.

  16. Ariel Edesess Says:

    Hello, I just wanted to make one comment regarding what you said about the technique not making a difference. I think this is absolutely not true. Good technique includes the gymnast constantly having pressure on the bar at the back and using their hands as “hooks”. I have some very very small gymnasts whose hands do have trouble fitting around the bar but I’ve worked with them to have more of their hand gripping the bar (almost at their wrists). On the other hand, I have much older gymnasts with larger hands who peel often and I see two reasons for this: lack of grip strength, and a shape on the bar the promotes a bigger “drop” under the bar and if the grip strength is not stronger than the downward force, they peel. I am not saying that correct technique will totally prevent the girls from peeling, just that it does play a large factor in it.

  17. David Says:

    I do not quite agree with this article. As a coach, I think it sets a dangerous precedent when a coach is always standing there to catch a fall. We are not vigilant 100 percent of the time and we do not have the reaction speed of superman. If you are not standing there, and your kid gets hurt because they fell, you would be less liable then if you were standing there and they fell and you were not fast enough or unable for some reason to catch them. If I stand there, it is to spot, or for the first few times a kid is doing a skill alone, but I tell them after that I will not stand there unless it is to spot. I do not trust myself to be in the vigilant mode every time they wish me to stand there. And if anyone here says they stand there every time for a skill and they are vigilant every single time…well, either they have some kind of amazing focus that most of us don’t have, or they are wrong.
    Girls peel for two reasons; because their bar is often bigger than their hands, unlike boys, and because of form issues in their tap.I agree that more should be done to stop girls peeling on bars, but to me, the issue is coaches not teaching correct technique. If you have a pit high bar, please use it for tap swings every day, even my optionals are required to do them. If not, yes, stand there at first to help spot and teach correct technique. We teach many aspects to prevent this kind of stuff. Teach shaping, spot and shape their first couple hundred swings, teach trampoline drills on back and stomach to get air awareness and teach them how to fall without hurting themselves.
    But when you go to a meet, your gymnast should be physically and mentally prepared to do whatever skills she is performing. I see girls at meets performing terrible arched scorpion like swings and wonder how a coach in good conscience could have taught that to their kid. The same goes for a lot of other skills, mostly flipping skills, that some coaches have their kids do at meets when they are clearly not ready. I’m not saying don’t stand there, but don’t expect standing there to be a catch all that makes your gymnasts suddenly safe. And if you are standing there,, like I said, you better be ready to catch, because if you are there and you aren’t fast enough or strong enough to catch, then you are a lot more likely to be blamed then if you aren’t standing there.
    I know there are some gymnastics gyms that don’t let their coaches spot period for fear of the kid still getting injured and it being blamed directly on the coach. I don’t agree with this, but I know that I’m not making it up that you are more liable if you are there to protect the kid and they still get hurt. Now am I saying liability is more important than the gymnast, no, but its just something to think about.
    Also, something to consider, do you stand there for all of your kids back tumbling passes. I have seen, at meets and at practice, many seasoned kids all of a sudden freak out and not go for a skill like a back tuck and land on their back or neck. Thankfully no one has been hurt that I’ve seen. Do you stand there for every yurchenko? My point is that gymnastics is an inherently dangerous sport. Teach things right and you minimize that risk, but its always there. If you stand there ready to save a kid on every skill, then they will never really have to fully trust themselves.
    Sorry for the long ramblings.

  18. Lauren Says:

    I coach a high school team, I’m 5’4 and a 115 pounds, I can spot over vault, on beam, blocks and floor, but standing in between a gymnast peeling out and the mats designed for a fall just makes me a giant target. I once got knocked in the noggin and felt it for weeks catching a slip off bars from a basket, but I that was with a JO team I coached. I wouldn’t dare get behind one of my high school girls. Perhaps these organizations should consider training someone to be available for the gyms with smaller coaches like myself. Any suggestions? I too always worry about the girls peeling, or slipping but that brings up another problem, the minimum requirements for padding under the bars isn’t enough! There needs to be a softer surface, especially between the high and low bar where the only landing happening is accidental!

  19. Lauren Vegas Says:

    I completely agree with David. Teaching the skills correctly and using appropriate matting is the only way to truly minimize risk. Yes, a spot is appropriate sometimes, but slow progression and correct technique is the only way to build confidence and avoid accidents.

    I’ve noticed that the kids who are peeling at competitions have incorrect technique. Spotting should not be the first plan of action. Not to mention, having this kind of fall can destroy confidence and take the child out of the sport permanently. If you care about the athlete or the business, you’d make a priority to have correct technique, matting, and have somebody standing there as a LAST resort.

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