Archive for the ‘Balance Beam’ category

“If You Don’t Have Time To Do It Right, When Do You Find Time To Do It Over?”

January 29, 2010

I have a pretty extensive video library of gymnastics training videos that I’ve either bought, recorded myself, or copied from other coaches.  So, I pulled several excerpts from one of my favorite videos – “Double This, Double That.” This is a video that was distributed by the former USAIGC and is a lecture put on by Dave Adlard around 1996.

Dave has a video available through GymSmarts called Cool Games & Fun Warm-Ups.  Go check it out!

Dave and his wife also host a big meet out in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho called the Great West Gym Fest.

This lecture is not only entertaining and informative, but it has been very instrumental in shaping a lot of my philosophy and ideology on gymnastics training.  If you are still not convinced about the importance of sound basics in a developing gymnast, hopefully if we continue to “beat a dead horse into the ground,” we can convince you!

Maybe those of you who read this blog are convinced.  Fantastic!  Unfortunately, every time I walk into a meet, I constantly see the same stuff – sloppy, poor technique and it all stems from neglected basics. So, it’s pretty obvious to me that not everybody gets it.  Oh, they all “talk the talk,” but I see so few who “walk the walk.”

Here are two excerpts from the video.  The first video talks about training gymnasts right the first time and the second excerpt explains how practice is permanent.

Again, these excerpts were taken from a VHS video using Dazzle software.  If the sound quality is poor, I apologize.  You should be able to hear fine if you turn up your speakers or plug in your headphones.

Basics, Basics, Basics!!!—The Training of a Handstand.

January 14, 2010

One of the issues that I find the most frustrating when watching people coach in the sport is the lack of work done on the basics.  I know that there are many reasons for this.  Obviously, there are those coaches out there who are just lazy.  Most of them wouldn’t be reading a blog about gymnastics anyway, so I am not talking to them right now.  I think there is a very large group of coaches out there who really want to do the right thing when it comes to teaching basics, but just don’t have the practical experience with these basics to, in turn, trust the process enough to really spend the right amount of time on them.  In other words, these coaches are semi-trapped in the world of “If my gymnast is going to compete a hyperthingamajiggy, then I need to have them doing more hyperthingamajiggys”.  This is understandable, as that seems to be the common sense of it.  I think there is a perception in all sports that, when pursuing greatness, the best plan would be to do the thing that you want to be great at 9 gazillion times.  I would think that most of the people who will read this are aware that this is not the case, and that true success lies in the “breakdown” of these complicated skills and furthermore, the preparation along the way for these skills.

This idea is important all the way down to the simplest of actual skills.  I would like to first discuss the handstand and then proceed to other skills in the coming weeks.  I hope that this helps all of you.  I know it is rather long, but I wanted to really get into detail with my progressions for this “most important of all skills”. 

At first glance, a handstand seems to be a fairly simple skill.  But, I would argue that, even the handstand is a complex skill in terms of all of the things that need to happen to create a perfect (or as perfect as the particular body will allow) handstand, and therefore, strong skills down the road that involve the handstand (and we all know there are tons of these).  Some of the key points to a handstand:

  • It needs to be as straight as possible
  • The ears should be nearly or completely covered while still allowing the gymnast to see her hands, but not her fingertips
  • The weight should be more on the fingertips than the heel of the hand (or at least feel that way)
  • The shoulders should be extended (shrugged up)
  • There should be muscle tension throughout the body, so that, if the coach tried to push a part of the body out of line, it would be difficult to do so

So, as you can see, there is a lot to accomplish in this “simple” skill.  None of this even includes the lunge, or the lever into, or out of, the handstand.  If we add those things, you would probably agree that it is not likely that a human being could concentrate on all of these things in one attempt at a handstand.  Because of this, we need to breakdown this skill so that we can make it easier to accomplish one or two of these things at a time before moving on to other corrections in the handstand.

The way that I most always approach the handstand is by doing two to three different drills in conjunction with each other to achieve the best handstand possible.

The Lunge – – – We work on lots of lunges!  In this position:

  • The knee should be on top of the toes
  • The feet should turn out just slightly
  • The hips should be square by stressing to the gymnast that she squeezes the thigh (quadriceps) of her back leg toward the hamstring of her front leg 
  • The arms should be up and covering the ears (but, at first, I have them do the lunge with their hands on their hips to just focus on the legs)
  • The head should be neutral   
  • The ribs should be in, so that the lower back is not arched
  • The tummy should be tight  

One of the things you can do with a lunge is to do one with the front toes against a wall and then push the knee to the wall, or do the same with a stack of pit blocks.  Walking around and pushing down on the gymnasts arms or palms to see if their cores give in is a good idea, as well.  Just don’t push too hard until you know they are engaging those muscles.

The Body Tension – – – One of the first and best ways of creating better body tension in the gymnast is to have them lay down on their backs and then the coach picks up their feet.  As her feet are lifted she should learn to squeeze her bottom so that her body is straight as the coach holds her feet up at about 45 degrees.  At first, we have to teach the athlete to squeeze in this position after we have lifted her feet.  As we progress with this, she should learn to squeeze before we lift her, so that the body tension is there from the beginning.  This is a great way to get them to understand how tight they need to be in a handstand.  Another body tension drill is to have the gymnast lay across a gap of mats (two panel mats work fine), so that her shoulders are on one mat and her heels are on the other.  She then squeezes her bottom and tightens her body so that she creates a straight line over that gap.  We have to watch to make sure that she is not arching and pushing her hips up too high beyond the straight position.  There are lots of ways to accomplish this body tension, so be creative!

The handstand against a wall – – – I start these by doing what are called “wall-walkers”, and then progressing from there.  The “wall-walker” is done by having the gymnast place her back against a wall, and then bend over to place her hands on the floor.  She then walks her feet up the wall to arrive in a handstand.  At this point, she should walk her hands in a little closer to the wall to get as close to vertical as she can get without falling.  The goal here is for her to hold this position herself, and then have the coach poke and pull on her to get her to use her body tension to hold the handstand.  Ideally, only her toes and maybe her chin should touch the wall.  At this point, I always stress to the gymnast to grow as tall as she can, or as a friend of mine says “Grow another inch”.  There are lots of variations to this drill, including turning around and kicking up so that the back is against the wall, or doing a handstand under a bar so that the gymnast has to “grow” just to touch her toes against the front side of the bar to be able to balance herself there.  Again, be creative.

Bridges, bridges, and other shoulder flexibility – – – Remember that an ideal handstand is perfectly straight.  It is impossible to get a gymnast’s body into a straight line if she is not flexible in her shoulders.  The work must be done to create this shoulder flexibility, so that she has the opportunity to get her body into a straight line.  One easy way to do this is by having the gymnast do bridges and try to get her shoulders out past her hands.  I almost always have the gymnast do these with her feet on something that is at least as tall as her shoulders when she is in a bridge.  This takes the stress off of the lower back and puts it where it is supposed to be: the shoulders.  We also place a mat or block or something out in front of the gymnast’s chest, so that she can push up against that to stretch the shoulders.  As she becomes more accomplished at this, we move it a little further away. 

Build strength in the right places – – – I am a big believer in the fact that a gymnast can build plenty of strength just by doing a handstand and repeating it.  The potential problem with this, though, is that the gymnast can build strength in the wrong places if this handstand is repeated over and over in the wrong position.  I am reminded of one of the favorite quotes of myself and several coaches I have great respect for, “Practice does not make perfect…Practice makes permanent.”  If a gymnast repeats something over and over again, she will become incredible at WHATEVER she is practicing.  If she is practicing a bad handstand, and does it a trillion times, she will be able to hold the nastiest handstand for longer than anyone else (and we have all had this gymnast).  I am sure that you would agree that getting this gymnast to fix this problem after that much repetition is one of the most difficult things possible.  It is because she has developed strength in the wrong places for a correct handstand.  So, every time that a gymnast is doing a handstand, I am thinking to myself, “What strength is she creating right now?  Should I slow her down and have her do the handstand with a spot or against a wall, etc. to make sure she is getting the proper strength work from that handstand?”  This helps me to be more diligent about the correct strength training for the handstand.

The single leg handstand – – – This is my favorite drill for a handstand, because I think it is the most effective for getting the gymnast in the right position on her fingertips.  I have the gymnasts, when doing handstands from a lunge, do these almost exclusively when they are not doing them with a spot.  If a gymnast can “lever” up to a split (a small split) handstand, and hold that, then bringing the legs together and holding that is much easier.  My goal with these is to have the gymnast get the back leg to go up to just a little bit past vertical, and then try to balance that.  We work really hard at maintaining square hips all the way through the skill, by squeezing the same muscles as we did during the lunge.  This drill is important also, in the fact that there are too many times that gymnasts try to put their feet together too soon, and therefore never achieve vertical.  Doing the split handstand helps to guarantee that they will get the back leg through vertical first.  I continue to do these all the way up through our system (as a warm-up), including with my level 9s and 10s.  In my opinion, it makes no sense to proceed to handstands with feet together until they can master this, and hold it for 3-5 seconds nearly every time they attempt it.  After they have this mastered, I will have them still hold the split handstand for 1-2 seconds before bringing the feet together in the handstand.  I have used these progressions in the past for balance beam as well.  I’m sure that we have all felt the misery of trying to get a gymnast to get all the way up to handstand on the beam.  It is probably a little naive’ to think that they will do that if they haven’t even learned to get all the way to vertical with a split handstand first.  We must remember, I think, that bringing the feet together is, in essence, the end of the progress toward vertical.  Once they bring their feet together, they are not likely to go any higher toward complete vertical.  At that point, it is what it is.

Later on…After working these drills for a while, when moving on to doing handstands with feet together, I have another technique I use to help them learn to get their weight on their fingertips.  It involves having them get into a habit of making the handstand fall the opposite direction than the turn prior to it, if the handstand is not held for at least 5 seconds.  In other words, if a gymnast kicks up and closes her feet together and then comes back down to a lunge before holding the handstand for 5 seconds, I make sure that she understands that the next one must go over to a roll or bridge, and vice-versa.  If she continues to train with this mentality, she will eventually “find” her balance point, and have more success with holding this handstand.

This is a drill I have been doing with our level 5 gymnasts:

So, these are my ideas for training a handstand.  Please let me know what you do to help your gymnasts with this skill, or ask any questions about anything that I have written.  I promise you that all I am doing is relaying things that I have learned along the way from coaches that were kind enough to share their experience with me.  I hope to pass on that tradition through this blog.  Thank you for your time in reading this.   


Cause and Effect-Standing Tuck Full

January 4, 2010

In my opinion, the same general rules apply for a standing tuck full as apply to a standing back tuck with a 1/2.  So, to find out more about the cause and effect of that skill, be sure to read the article written on it.

I will remind everyone about Paul E.’s comment about strength, before I go on.  None of what I am going to write about now will matter if your athlete is not physically capable of doing such a skill.  I am going to address the technical aspects of the skill itself, however.

To answer the concerns of Debbie S., I think the main reason that athletes are a little “out of control” on the landing of the tuck with a full, is the same as under-rotating the tuck with a 1/2.  A lot of times, in my experience, the athletes that attempt this skill are fairly adept at the standing back tuck part.  Athletes at this level are also usually talented enough that twisting should be a fairly “effortless” movement.  For me though, I think that these athletes are usually almost automatic with the rotation of a tuck, but may sometimes “build-up” in their mind the challenge of adding a full twist to this tuck.    What this leads to, I believe, is that the athlete will try to twist earlier or more aggressively, because of her idea of how hard this skill is going to be.  The earlier the athlete twists, the later the twist will finish, which means that they are twisting when they land, sometimes causing this “out of control” scenario.  The science of this is that the closer an athlete can be to upside down when they actually initiate twisting, the less gravitational force she has to fight with the sides of her body, making the twist much quicker, thus being able to finish the twist earlier.  Obviously, when doing a standing tuck full, there is not a lot of time in the air (usually less than a second), so delaying the twist is difficult to do.  But, in my opinion, if the athlete can at least put her focus more on the flip, and therefore be more confident with the twist, then the likelihood of the twist being in the right place becomes greater. 

To help with the confidence of this twist, I think doing them off of a tumble-trak or springboard, or down to a resi or into the pit are all good ways of helping the athlete to worry less about the twist and more about doing the skill correctly.  Two ways that I can think of to have the athlete “check” herself:

  • Have the athlete do a standing tuck full on the trampoline, rebound straight up and down out of it and then “stick”.  This will insure that she is rotating the exact right amount and doing the twist in that “weightless area” of her flip.
  • Have the athlete work on sticking the skill off of the tumble trak to a level (with the t-trak) mat.  She can evaluate herself by whether she is falling one direction or the other.  What she will find, if she is not getting that ideal combination of flip and twist, is that her “twisting side” shoulder will continue to pull backward as she is landing.  This should help to alert her to be even more confident with her twisting and create an even better flip to make the twisting much more “effortless”, and therefore, hopefully, more “in control”.

As to the fear issue…well obviously, much has been written on this subject, and I am sure that all of us could add countless stories of fear issues with athletes.  So, for this particular issue, let’s assume that the athlete is not one of the irrationally afraid varieties of athletes, and assume that she is just afraid of this particular skill.  In that case, I always believe (or try to make myself remember, at least) that fear is a warning signal.  It, more often than not, is a tell-tale sign that something is not exactly right.  Now, in my experience, this warning signal is unique to the athlete.  Some athletes, who I would call “comfort athletes” (usually of the perfectionist type), are extremely sensitive to even the slightest variance in technique and therefore, will become a little fearful in these situations.  Again, I am not necessarily talking about the normally frightened athlete, but the one that is more aware of her mechanics than other athletes.  Another athlete may “chuck” a skill that has no possible chance of being made, because she is not as “in-tune” with her body’s actions in a particular skill.

In the “comfort athlete” zone all the way up through the “chucker” zone, the athlete who demonstrates fear, should be allowed (and even urged) to continue with the progressions that have led them up to this point of attempting this skill on the floor.  In my opinion, this is where the athlete will figure out the problems in the skill and through more work, the solution.

Again, these are just my opinions.  We are extremely interested in knowing all of yours, so please comment if you have other ideas.  Hope this helps you Debbie, and all, and thank you for the question.  Keep them coming, guys!

Another Thought on a Standing Back Tuck with a 1/2

December 30, 2009

Paul E. has responded to our Standing Back Tuck with a 1/2 dilemma with this comment.  I, personally, think this is dead-on.

Troy, I was thinking about one more thing that would hinder someone from this skill. This skill is commonly being taught to cheerleaders who have not had 10 years of gymnastics training before they try this skill. My point in this is not in the technique being used but in the athletes core strength. Usually at around 14 my boys decide to try these skills just playing around, as we have no event to use them on. I would have to say that 100 percent of the boys who have tried them learned them that day. They perform them really with no technique to speak of, but I think they are making them because of two things. First as you mentioned before they have a very strong understanding of a standing back, and secondly their core is strong, which helps them pull their knees through the twist. So to add to what you mentioned earlier, build the core muscles and I think you will get some great results.

I have to agree, as we don’t really use this skill much either, but when we do, it is usually with a gymnast that has already been doing standing back tucks and tumbling with multiple twisting for several years, and the results are similar to what Paul has mentioned.  Great point, Paul, and thanks for commenting!

Cause and Effect-Standing Tuck Full

December 30, 2009

Debbie S. has asked about a Standing Tuck with a full.  She wants to know whether the same general rules as the 1/2 apply.  She also says that some of the athletes that she has doing it are a little “out of control”.  She comments also that some of her athletes become fearful when attempting the skill on the floor after doing progressions up to this point.

Does anyone have any comments or ideas for Debbie on this?  Again, I will wait a couple of days before posting my ideas.  I would love to get everyone’s input on this first.

Also, I got a request from another person about very basic skills.  She felt that some people might be embarassed to ask about skills that are much more basic.  I think she is probably right about that, but I want to let everyone know that I, for one, am extremely interested in learning more about even the simplest of skills (those of you that know me would probably agree that this is true to the point of being obsessed).  So please, don’t be afraid to ask about any skill.  Just post it as a comment, and we will see what kind of feedback we can get.  Thanks everyone for all of the positive feedback so far.  This is fun!

Cause and Effect-Standing Back Tuck with 1/2: My Solution

December 25, 2009

Well, we haven’t had anyone chime in on this yet, so I will give you my ideas for the causes and solution to this fairly common problem with twisting.

So, to start out, let’s figure out what causes this symptom.  This is a good example, in my opinion, because it is a classic case of what I want to address with these “Cause and Effect” scenarios.  I think that it is very common that coaches and athletes with limited experience may look at this much differently than coaches and athletes with more experience.  In my explanation of this error, I am going to address a back tuck with a half that is done late in the flip.  There is a whole different dynamic to a standing Arabian (1/2 turn to front tuck), and if someone wants more information on that, then they can comment, and I will respond along with anyone else that has thoughts on that.  

I am going to begin by addressing the most likely cause, in my experience, and then I will move to what I consider a less likely, but still possible cause.

In a back tuck with a 1/2 turn, it is easy to assume that, “If I can do a good standing back tuck and make it every time, then falling on my butt when adding a half must mean that the half is causing me problems.”  On the contrary, I believe that it is the standing tuck that is the true cause of this problem, and to be more specific, it is a case of  “adding the cart before the horse”. 

There are a few scientific principles at work here, but the one that is most appropriate is that “a body in motion will stay in motion until acted upon by an outside force”.  Since we are assuming that no one is kicking you in the middle of the flip, and twisting is an “internal” force, we can be assured that the act of twisting itself, cannot change our pattern of flight.  In other words, twisting alone, cannot “knock” someone out of the air. 

What this really (usually) comes down to is the fact that the athlete does not initiate (or finish the act of) hip rotation in the flip before beginning to twist.  The athlete, when adding this twist, will usually “get ahead” of herself and put the majority of her focus on the twist, and therefore, not do the same back tuck that she has been consistently (we hope) doing already.  Because she does not initiate this rotation, the skill itself is destined to be under-rotated before even getting to the twist.  I always tell my athletes when this problem occurs on any kind of twisting, that, if they had not twisted at all with that rotation, they still would have landed on their hands and knees.  This usually makes sense to them, and can sometimes be enough to solve the problem.

If it does not solve the problem, then I take them back to the core skill (in this case a standing back tuck), and have them work on doing it with a little bit of over-rotation or up to a panel mat, etc.  Please take note, though, that I am not talking about tumbling and certain other aspects of twisting.  This is not necessarily the appropriate action for those situations due to other variables, including angles of take-off and the increase of rotation due to the shortening of the body when twisting, etc.  Those are things for later subjects probably, but in the standing back tuck scenario, I find that when the athlete reminds her body of this act of rotation, she will tend to initiate it more fully prior to adding the twist.

Another option for solving the problem (and I use this method for everything from tucked and piked or laid out and twisting yurchenkos to fulls on floor to release moves on bars) is to go back and forth between the core skill and the new skill.  The ratio can start at somewhere around 3:1 and then work toward 1:1 and then to just the new skill.  In other words, I would have them do 3 standing back tucks (most likely up to a panel mat or trapezoid block) and then 1 back tuck with a 1/2 (to the resi probably).  In this type of training, I only lower the ratios if the athlete starts having success with the new skill (usually making 3 or 4 in a row first).  If an athlete can do the back tuck to a panel mat and has done some work on twisting drills, then this should work at some point, unless she has a 2nd possible problem.

This 2nd possible problem is that the athlete is initiating rotation at the beginning (and this takes a lot of experience to be able to identify as a coach), but she “opens up” her body or comes out of the tuck position when she initiates the twist, which effectively stops the rotation that she had started earlier.  The reason for this, usually, is that the athlete is a little disoriented and trying to stand up the skill unaware of where she is.  This does happen, but I would caution that it is the easier answer, in my opinion.  It is the equivalent of an untrained eye assessing a double back tuck that under-rotates, and then telling the athlete to pull harder.  In my opinion, if you watch 20 athletes under-rotate a double back, maybe 1 or 2 of them need to “pull harder”.  The rest of them are committing errors way before that, and “pulling harder” would be like putting a band-aid around a dismembered finger.  The symptom is corrected, i.e. the finger may stay on, but the person won’t be using the finger anymore unless there is surgery done to re-attach it.

But I digress.  One solution to the “opening up” scenario is to have the athlete do the skill into the pit, and stress to her to stay in the tuck shape when she twists.  This way, the athlete doesn’t have to worry about standing the skill up and can focus on the other things that are going to lead to success.  Another option is to do the skill off of the end of the tumble-trak or on the trampoline or off of a springboard or mini-tramp to give more air time, and thereby more confidence, so the athlete doesn’t feel the need to open up out of the tuck shape.

I really hope this has been helpful.  I assure you that these are just things that have worked for me, and though I may sound very confident about what I am saying, I promise all of you that I am the type of coach who would change drills or training tomorrow if I found a better way.  So, please, add your opinions to this blog, as I am always interested in learning more.  Thanks again, Valentin for your help in kicking off this idea.

Cause and Effect-Standing Tuck with 1/2 Twist

December 23, 2009

So, we have our first challenge, everyone.  Valentin Uzunov gave us a hypothetical when he wrote,

“why is it that i can’t get around on a standing back with a half. I keep falling back onto my bum”

I am excited to see what everyone has to say about this!  Thank you so much, Valentin for starting us off!  Please leave a comment if you have some experience with this or some ideas on the causes for this and the solution.  I will give this a couple of days to hear everyone else’s ideas, and then offer my own.

I think this can be a great tool for everyone, so be sure and give us your challenges when you think of them!