The job of the coach entails many responsibilities in the development of their athletes. Program structure and developing class curriculums are among the first important aspects of creating a great program. But the most important responsibilities are what happens in the gym each day while training the athletes. This entails both the verbal communications of skill development and spotting the students on skill development. Although, both take a great deal of knowledge and experience to do effectively, the act of spotting skills is a serious issue and one that every coach needs to know and perform correctly.
There are two major purposes for spotting skills: One is for training the student in correct body movements and positions while training skills. The other is to protect the student from injury while performing skills. The safety factor, however, is the most important factor. Spotting not only prevents the athletes from injury, it is a great tool in helping to build confidence. When a student is learning a skill for the first time, there may be anxiety and/or fear. Through proper spotting, the student can quickly overcome this anxiety as they gain trust in the skill and coach. This will allow the student to aggressively pursue the new skill which can create a quicker result.
Spotting can have an extremely high-risk factor for both the athlete and coach if the coach does not have adequate experience with spotting. It is not uncommon to hear stories or see videos posted of athletes being dropped when being spotting. Many times, this is due to students being spotted on skills they are not ready or capable of learning at that time. For example, a student at the beginner tumbling level should not be introduced to a back handspring.
This is common in cheerleading where a back handspring is required to make a competitive squad (Tumbling and the Cheerleader). If the student is older and has no or very little tumbling experience, the risks are much higher for accidents. Even the most experienced spotters may be challenged in supporting some of these students. In this scenario, both the student and coach are at risk.
Our job as coaches and spotting skills is to protect the student at any cost. Many times, the coach must put themselves in harm’s way to ensure the safety of the student. If a student bails out of a back tuck or full on the floor, the coach needs to do everything possible to prevent serious injury to the student. Getting landed on, being kicked or whacked in the face are common scenario’s that coaches will suffer. In addition, pulled muscles, wrenched backs, etc. are also common. However, many of these situations can be prevented through proper training and progressive drills and steps (Injuries: Prevention and Repair).
I have experienced many physical injuries throughout my years as a gymnastics and tumbling coach – several were serious. Luckily, I have not had any serious student injuries or accidents in my programs. I take a lot of time training my staff on the correct technique of spotting skills – and there certainly is technique involved. This is a learned part of coaching and needs practice.
Coaches need to understand the dynamics of the skills, timing and placement of the skills, and common problems that may occur. Spotting a round-off, back handspring or an aerial, for example, is a complex combination for the spotter. The coach needs to be prepared for the unexpected: an early hurdle step may occur (the coach needs to be mobile – never initiate the spot from a kneeling position!!), the student may bail on the skill or some other issue can occur.
Spotting is a risky part of coaching and should be a major focus in coach’s training. It takes time, practice, and confidence to become a great spotter. It is a necessity for every coach who is responsible for the development of skills at all levels. We as coaches may need to sacrifice our own physical well-being for the safety of the students. If we fail in our job to protect the athlete, they may also fail. Failure is not fun!! Let’s be winners!!
I am in the process of creating a series of tumbling training videos and manuals for skill development and technique. I will keep you posted on that progress. If you or your student are having problems with a particular skill, feel free to send me a video so I can evaluate and help if I can. In addition, if you would like a personal training session with me, we can Skype a lesson. Private message me or email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org