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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Athletes, Coaching, Risks, Safety, Spotting, Training, Tumbling

Safety for Both the Athlete and Coach: Risks of Spotting

coach spotting dancer

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.

20180328_193239.jpg         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!!

Scott's headshot

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: