Posted tagged ‘basics’

Some Compulsory Vault Drills I use

January 3, 2015

Basics, Basics, Basics!!! Training the Front Handspring on Floor – Part III

February 4, 2010

And now for the 3rd and final part of Training a Front Handspring on floor.

THE BLOCK OFF THE HANDS:  A lot of times, this action is under-appreciated and over-emphasized at the same time.  I know that sounds confusing, but I will try to explain.  In my opinion, in most situations, coaches try too hard to train their athletes to block a front handspring on floor (and even vault) when the athlete is not doing the things before this block to allow her to be able TO block.  As stated before, if the lunge leg doesn’t do its job, the center of gravity will be too low, and the athlete must bend her arms.  At this point, it is impossible to block off the floor, since the definition of blocking involves a “bounce” or “pop” type of action, and not a bending of the arms, where the energy is absorbed.  So, stressing on blocking without the pre-requisites of the techniques before this action is a huge waste of time, in my opinion (doing drills for blocking while still getting the rest in order is fine — it’s the expectation of a block without this prior technique that is the problem).

It is also my opinion that this action of blocking will become semi-automatic for the gymnast that does all of the technique before the block correctly.

The “under-appreciation aspect of this action is in the fact that, a lot of times, we are so busy trying to figure out why a gymnast is having trouble with the subsequent skill out of the front handspring that we may not look at how important the block is in the success of that second skill.  Many times, the failure of that second skill is due to the lack of angle out of the front handspring, because the gymnast did not block from their hands in the front handspring.

One of the drills for blocking that a lot of people use, that I am not such a big fan of is the handstand hop.  I like this drill (and variations of it) for front handsprings on vault, but not so much for floor.  It goes back to what I talked about earlier regarding the “kicking through” of the back leg.  When performing this handstand hop, we are, in my opinion, strengthening the action of bringing the feet together way too soon.  This is an action that is more natural in my experience than the other (kicking all the way through), so I personally, don’t want to do anything to make this action more dominant.  I feel like the gymnast can separate this technique more successfully when doing the drill for vault, so we do it there, but not on floor.  Call me paranoid, but it works for me.

One drill that I have them do for blocking involves doing the front handspring from a lunge going down to a resi, and then over-rotating to the belly on a couple of wedges.  This could also be done on the floor from a hurdle.  Here are some of our gymnasts doing these drills:

THE FINISH:  This is another very important aspect of the front handspring, as the position of the body and the angle of the body is crucial to the success of the skill that will eventually come after the front handspring

***A huge point about the landing of this skill is the risk to the back.  I am a firm believer that the majority of back injuries in our sport comes from the landing of front handsprings and other forward rotating skills.  The reality is that no matter how much work is done on these skills, gymnasts land many of them with their bodies considerably behind their feet.  This landing creates a great amount of force which is focussed on the vertebra of the lower back.  It is because of this fact that I believe we need to be very conservative with this skill.  We should do the best we can to keep our athletes from doing this skill on the floor until we know that they are capable of doing all of the above techniques efficiently enough to rotate this skill to the point of landing their bodies in front of their feet when the feet contact the floor.  It is also important to work with the athlete to get her to tighten her core, using a “bracing” system (tightening the lower abs, the glutes, etc.), so that the lower back is protected on impact.***

One of the drills that we do for this are included in this video (thanks to Tammy Biggs for another great drill):

So, there you go.  The training of a front handspring.  I have included a couple of videos to show the completed process.  The first is a video of our level 7s performing front handspring flysprings, and the second is of Ginny, one of our level 9s at Westerns last year performing her floor routine.  She does a very nice front hanspring in her second pass.

Thank you so much for your time in reading this series of articles!  I hope that it helps.  I look forward to any and all comments that you would like to make about any of this.

A Comment about Basics and Conditioning

February 2, 2010

Josh submitted this comment about basics and conditioning:

I love the philosophy and mindset that you have, I just wish that everyone thought the same way. I do have a couple questions though. I really like conditioning and love to do it at the end of class, however my classes are very short and there is not much time. What are some things that you can do during class to “make-up” for this? Another thing is how can you make the kids feel like they are not being punished? I try being upbeat about it, even join them every once in a while but they seem to still act like it’s because they have done something wrong. Thank you!

As to your first question – – – If you are coaching a class that is only 1 hour, it is very tough to get in any great amount of conditioning (especially if it is a tumbling or cheerleading type class with teenagers), so your options are limited.  One thing that I have done in the past is to try to come up with drills that involve much more strength, so that they get some conditioning as we are rotating through a circuit.  This can be as simple as doing a handstand against a wall for 30 seconds, or roll and jumps 12-15 times in a row, or jumps to the back on to a resi several times in a row.  The success in this comes from the fact that these are all things that the student understands to be important to their acquiring certain skills.  This is completely dependent, however, on how great a salesperson you are, which brings us to your second question…
How do you get the students to feel like they are not being punished by conditioning?  The answer to this is that you have to change their mindsets as to what conditioning is.  You have already done step 1 by being upbeat about it.  The next step is to continually re-enforce to them how great they are going to be at the skills they want if they continue to condition properly.  Your excitement and their belief in your sincerity are the big keys here. 
One of the things you can do to emphasize this importance and how successful it will be is to use examples among your students.  Find the kid in your group who is excelling at something and point out how her strength is helping her to this result.  Or, even better, find the student who is finally making a skill, and point out how her conditioning and strength has helped her to have this success.  Every time a student has success with a skill, it is an opportunity to promote your agenda.  This is true not only about conditioning, but drills, flexibility, mental dedication, hard work, etc.  Use the girls’ (or boys’) successes as a tool toward future successes for them and their classmates or teammates.  DO NOT POINT OUT ATHLETES WHO ARE FAILING BECAUSE OF A LACK OF STRENGTH!!  This does nothing but alienate that student and make her feel like giving up.  The stress should be on the success that can be had by all of the students by doing something as simple as consistently working hard at a few exercises.  Again, it is the “selling” of this idea that is the key.  Your challenge is to get the students to want to do conditioning because of how much they want a certain skill.
Also, a huge key to the students “buying in” to the idea of conditioning is your consistency with it.  If they know what is coming every week, then they start to prepare themselves for it, rather than having it tossed on to them randomly.  This is when it feels like punishment or just a coach trying to “push me around, because he can”.  There was a great quote last year (and very funny, I think) on the awesome show “Glee” by the cheerleading sponsor.  It is very extreme, but kind of sums up this idea:
I empower my Cheerios to live in a state of constant fear by creating an environment of irrational random terror.
Obviously, this is an exaggeration, but I think it makes the point that things that are random create questioning and uneasiness on the people who are targets of it.  Also, I just always wanted to share that quote with everyone, and so I took my opportunity.  A benefit of blogging, I guess.
So, be consistent, and be a great salesperson, and you will be fine.  Thanks for the great questions, Josh!  I hope this helped.

Basics, Basics, Basics!!! Training the Front Handspring on Floor – Part II

February 2, 2010

So, here is the 2nd part of Training a Front Handspring on floor:

***Please note that a lot of these drills are done with front handspring step-outs, and while the gymnast may sometimes tend to land behind her foot and create a little lower back arch (something we do other drills for as well), I believe that the real danger to the back is not necessarily in the arching of the lower back (we still try to avoid this), as much as it is in the impact of landing in this position on two feet at full speed.  I would love for my gymnasts to do these drills with less lower back arch, but we are still working toward making that better with these girls through spotting of these drills, CONDITIONING, other drills that are not shown, such as flysprings, etc., and through better flexibility.  Remember also, that these drills are shown to give you some ideas on how to help your athletes’ front handsprings, and that we do not just do hundreds of these on a daily basis.***

THE LEVER ACTION:  This is a big key to all tumbling, as this lever is what generates rotation and results in the body finishing past vertical, leading to momentum in the direction of the tumbling pass.  Many, many gymnasts struggle with their tumbling passes, because they land their front handsprings behind their feet, simply because of the lack of this lever action, or the “stopping” of the lever action before the rotation is initiated fully.  There are some lever drills on my “Handstand” post.  Here is one of the drills we use to try and increase the speed of this action:

The goal in this drill is for the gymnast to place her fingertips as close to the edge of the carpet square as possible and then try and get her foot to land as close to the carpet square as possible.  This is done by kicking the back leg through as aggressively as possible.

THE PUSH OF THE FRONT LEG:  This is definitely one of the most over-looked parts of tumbling.  So many gymnasts do not really understand the importance of this “lunge” leg.  All we have to do is think of this scenario, and we can get a much better understanding of the necessity of the front leg push:  A gymnast kicks the back leg as hard as she can over the top of a front handspring, but does not use the “lunge” leg at all.  What this leads to is a lack of rise of the center of gravity requiring the gymnast to bend her arms in the round-off or front handspring.  The second problem in this scenario is the loss of forward momentum, and the resulting “circling” action of that skill.  It almost changes the momentum to retreat toward where the athlete started, as a kind of “undercutting” situation.

So, we have to make sure that we are working drills toward maximizing this action of the front leg.  One way to develop this push of the front leg is a drill involving jumping across the floor with the lunge leg (do both to keep a good balance in strength in the legs) while holding on to a partner’s hands. Below are some gymnasts doing some of these (this was very new for these particular gymnasts) and another drill that I have found effective:

Another drill that we have found particularly effective is doing front handspring step-outs and cartwheel step-ins from the knee.  This creates a situation where the gymnast must “stand up” using the front leg to make this skill.  Here are some girls doing that drill:

 Watch for Part III in this series, which will cover the “Block off of the hands”, and the “Finish” of the Front Handspring on floor.

Why Spend More Time on Basics…part 2

January 28, 2010

The following is an excerpt from JAO‘s comment on the training of basics, and why some coaches don’t train them enough.  I think this is pretty accurate, and definitely something we should think about.

Coach A, maybe only even subconsciously, wants to prove to the world he’s an awesome coach. Why else would Coach A be coaching team? If Coach (A) *just* loved coaching, he could coach rec kids and not have to worry about levels and meets and stress and fears and injuries and crying and nagging parents (or at least not to the same degree). So, on SOME level, at SOME point, we’re all coaching competitive stuff because we like competing, and we like competing because we like winning.

So, we can probably agree Coach A wants to win, and accept that as a reasonable premise? Now, perhaps at some level, Coach A has begun to notice his kids aren’t winning at meets. That’s ok, Coach A thinks, because there are other ways of measuring how good his kids are, i.e., how good of a coach he is. Coach A can persuade his girls, his parents, and most importantly himself, that it’s ok not to win at meets, for any of a number of reasons (we don’t train for this level, we train for the next level, the other teams have older girls, second year girls, they only practice meet stuff and we work on next year stuff, etc.) And those are all plausible, believable, and even potentially valid reasons for why Coach A’s girls did not place very well at a meet. Indeed, there are effective gyms that train ahead, practice other things, and only compete at certain USAG level because they have to in order to move their girls up, etc. But that’s not Coach A, and Coach A doesn’t understand that.

Coach A’s problem may be that he subscribes to a very dangerous and sadly all too common perception of gymnastics, which incorrectly states: If Coach A and Coach B both have a girl competing the same skills in Level X, but Coach A’s girl is younger, then Coach A must be the better coach, because he got his gymnast to do Level X before Coach B.

For a million reasons, we know that’s not a true conclusion. But it is in Coach A’s mind, though Coach A might not even admit it out loud, it nonetheless exists on some level to some degree. We’ve all been guilty at some point of seeing a team with a dozen babies at whatever level and thought “holy cow, I wish I had that.” (Which is the sister perception, also incorrect: If Coach A has 10 kids in optional level X and Coach B has 5, Coach A is a better coach)

So, if this is an operational thought in Coach A’s mind, it’s going to affect his philosophy and approach toward coaching. Which means instead of trusting patience and discipline, he’s going to equate greatness with earliness, and if he’s in a large enough market or has even just a little bit of luck, there’s going to be a girl who moves through his program every once in a while (just frequently enough to convince him his approach is right) who is going to be able to pick things up at the speed at which he coaches. She’ll look narsty, (that’s intentional) but he either won’t care or won’t know. It will justify him to himself, and be reason to be upset with the other girls who aren’t picking things up.

So why would Coach A spend any more time on a handstand than is minimally necessary? He won’t, because he needs to feel like he’s a great coach, and, unfortunately for him, he thinks that means getting kids to do things before other people can get their kids to do things. If he slows down, he’s going to feel like he’s behind, like he’s losing the race, and like he’s a bad coach; and his kids, who have been raised on speed, will suddenly be resistant to this new type of slow coaching, which will create chaos, argument, etc., and he won’t have the courage to keep the foot down, the kids and parents will run over him, and he’ll be forced back into speed-coaching in a few months with nothing to show for it but a few angry quitters and some mean emails from parents accusing him of not knowing what he’s doing, which is every insecure coach’s nightmare.

I think the key here is that JAO‘s description of this type of coach is exactly the opposite mentality of what I wrote about on my post on “Why Spend More Time on Basics”.  Coach A is mostly concerned with his own ego and reputation.  Coaches who are more concerned about their athlete’s well-being and goals are much more likely to spend the time necessary on basics for ALL of their athletes to be more successful, and not just the ones who would be successful in any program. 

Thanks, JAO for an awesome comment!

A Question About Handstands

January 26, 2010

Pierre wrote this comment about handstands:

A question related to technique. I have been teaching gymnastics to adult beginners for many years and although I teach the lunge I have my students contact the ground with the shoulders in an extended position not with the arms by the ears. During the kick to handstand I have them flex the shoulders to finish in the straight body handstand. The shoulder action is similar to that seen in a cast to handstand or swing to handstand on the pbars. This approach has been quite sucessful with my beginners. comments would be appreciated.

I think this is okay for the group you are teaching.  I know that I probably did most of my handstands this way when I was younger.  The only problem with this technique is that it is not conducive to things that progress from the handstand.  In other words, front limbers, walkovers and front handsprings will be more difficult as these skills require a complete alignment of the body.  Any angles that are created in the body are potential for absorption of energy rather than transference of energy.  So, ideally, if we are thinking ahead, it is better to train the handstand with the lever action rather than the closing of the shoulders.

Thanks for the comment, Pierre, and keep them coming.

Why Spend More Time on Basics?

January 20, 2010

There were several comments on my handstand post about coaches not spending time on basics.  You can read these comments, and add to them if you would like, but I wanted to address the other end of it.

I think there are multiple reasons why coaches skip through the basics and jump into more advanced skills sooner than what might be beneficial to the gymnast.  What is important to remember, though, is just that – “what might be beneficial to the gymnast”.  I know that we all have personal goals with our coaching (I do for sure), but I think we have to start by really thinking about where we would like to see our gymnasts “end up”, and more importantly what they are getting from being involved in the sport.

Too many times, in my opinion, I see gymnasts competing “over their heads” and training skills that are beyond what they are physically ready for.  Whatever the reason for this, it is not, in most cases, what is best for the gymnast. 

If we are genuinely concerned with what is best for our athletes, and we really want to see them come out of the sport better prepared for life, then we must weigh all of these things before we start planning our training, etc. 

Some questions that I would ask myself first and foremost:

  • What lessons do I feel are important for my gymnasts to learn through their involvement in the sport?
  • How would I like them to feel about their experiences in the sport when they are through with it?
  • How do I want to be perceived by my gymnasts when they are done with the sport?
  • What is most important to me for my gymnasts: their self-worth, their accomplishments, my accomplishments, their opinions of me, or other coaches’/parents’ opinions of me?

I have always tried (not always succeeded however) to make sure that the decisions I make and the following actions are based on the athletes’ feeling of success in the end.  This does not mean that I do what will make them happy right now.  This is one of the things that leads to doing more advanced skills earlier than we should…it’s more fun for the gymnast and the coach.  I have never been about immediate satisfaction or temporary happiness.  I want to keep the “big picture” in my head.  How many times in our coaching careers have we seen the gymnast that feels like a failure because she can’t get that next skill?  Well, in my opinion, many times this gymnast is frustrated because the foundation wasn’t laid out correctly, and the result is that the next skill can’t be learned.  If we care about our athletes, then this is a very painful experience for us as well as the gymnast.  I don’t want to be a contributor to that frustration and therefore I try my hardest to follow the proper progressions.  I can’t stomach the possibility of my impatience leading to a girl’s thinking she is a failure.  This sometimes puts me into a “too slow” approach, but I have chosen that as an acceptable fault, at times.

I remember an old quote from David Adlard many years ago that I feel is very true, “Learning a double back can be just as easy as learning a cartwheel if the proper progressions are followed.”  I para-phrased this, so I’m sorry Dave, if this is not exactly how you worded it.  I am a firm believer in this, as I have seen it played out through the coaching of myself and others.  It’s not easy to stay dedicated to the basics and the mastery of step 1 before step 2, but it does lead to easier progression to the next skill.

It takes enthusiasm on the part of the coach to get the athlete excited about doing hollow body work or cartwheels from a lunge for the 100th time.  But, it is this commitment to the bigger picture that leads to the greatest success, and the greatest feeling of success in the mind of the athlete.

A few years ago, a coach asked me how we got our kids to be so excited and motivated to do conditioning.  It was funny, because I hadn’t really thought about it, as our kids have always been that way at a certain level.  The reason for this “excitement” by our gymnasts is that WE are excited about conditioning.  It has never been something that we do just because we have to, or a time for us to take a break and get a drink, etc.  It has always been, to us, the most important thing that our athletes will do, so we are very focused on it and excited about the way the kids do it.  We encourage them by telling them how strong they will be and how great they will be at their gymnastics because of it.  This conditions them mentally as well, to look at conditioning as a means to a greater end.  They have, in essence, “bought in” to the idea of conditioning, and are therefore excited about it.  Imagine what this will do for them in their lives later on, when they are done with the sport.  They won’t exercise because they have to, but because they look at it as the work necessary to achieve a desired goal.  Kids who learn and understand what proper progressions are, will also gain the lesson that life is not just about doing what you want when you want, but putting in the time to be able to get what you want down the road. 

Another favorite quote of mine is one I saw on the wall at a Jimmy John’s Sandwich Shop.  It said,

“If you do the things you need to do when you need to do them, then you will be able to do the things you want to do when you want to do them.”

This quote, in a nutshell, is what it is all about.  Thanks all.