Coaching, Confidence, Skill Development, Spotting

Why it is Important to Spot Skills

Skill development, even from the beginner stages, can be complex and difficult for many students. Not only are tumbling and gymnastics skills difficult, there is a risk element involved with almost every skill. In order for students to achieve skills effectively and safely, spotting is essential. It should be actively used in every training session. There is a point where the objective is to progress the students to a point where the spot is not needed. It is this transition that can be sensitive and important to understand.

When beginner or intermediate level students are introduced to skills for the first time, a spot may be required to help the student understand the mechanics and perform the skill effectively. In many cases, when students are attempting a skill for the first time without assistance, they struggle with performing it correctly. Even a skill as simple as a forward roll can be a challenge for students. If not done correctly, the student may even experience an injury.

As the skills become more advanced, they become more complex and the risk factor increases. How many times have you seen students struggle with a skill and they keep doing the same thing wrong at every attempt? It is apparent that the student is reinforcing the wrong technique which will become habit.

Having the student practice skill develolment using specific drills is a great way to focus on a single element. However, even drill training may require the coach to spot (however limited) to get the student to understand proper body positions and technique. The coach needs to physically mold the student into the correct position needed to perform the skill with proper technique. Once the coach feels that the student can perform correctly and safely, the spot should go away.

An important key for the coach to understand in every program is to acknowledge whether the student is confident or not in performing a skill without assistance. The fear factors can get intense for students learning such skills as the back handsprings, aerials, and so forth. One example, fear intensifies for those students in gymnastics who are learning skills on the balance beam. I have seen lots of tears from students terrified in attempting to perform a skill they are not confident with. This is a sure indication that the student is not ready for that transition.

When students attempt to perform skills without a spot, especially if they have not been consistently successful with a spot, there is a good chance for an accident. Many injuries can be prevented if the student is not permitted to perform skills solo when they are still in the developmental stages. This can be a serious problem if the student is forced to attempt the skill without a spot when it is apparent they are terrified. In these cases, the student is not focusing on mechanics of the skill – they are thinking about how bad it’s going to hurt when they land. Not a good thought!!

As I described in a previous post about the technique of spotting, coaches need to learn the techniques involved with spotting each skill. Just as athletes need to train consistently to learn skills, the coach needs to practice as well to learn how to spot. This is critical to the safety and productive progress of every student.

So, is it important to spot skills? Yes!! However with this stated, the objective is to get the student to perform skills without assistance. As the student progresses with their skills, the spot can fade away as confidence grows. This is a delicate part of training and development. Once an accident occurs, most athletes will lose their confidence creating a longer learning process. Let’s not let this happen.

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