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?