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

Safety for Both the Athlete and Coach: Risks of Spotting

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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.

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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!!

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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: scottjohnsongymnastics@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

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Benefits, Coaching, Communication, Evaluation, Skill Development, Training

A Coaches Guide to Seeking Help on Skill Development: How Do I Fix That?

 

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There are many articles, videos, pics and more that are designed to help athletes in skill development. The “how to’s” are posted everywhere on social media and other publications. These methods of training can be effective and is useful for many. However, what is needed more in training that is difficult to publish and define, is fixing the problem areas that athletes are challenged with.

The objective of the coach is to train the athlete in all areas of skill development. This starts with training each student from the ground up, so they can develop a strong foundation of basic elements to build upon. We see, in many cases, athletes who have missed learning the basics which results in many challenges in developing more advanced elements.  Without a strong foundation of basic elements, the student will have challenges learning more advanced skills.

A common problem we see in many gyms is that there may be several members of the coaching staff that do not have the experience and knowledge to teach skills with proper technique or fix a problem area that a student is struggling with.  We see this most in recreational programs where competitive gymnastics is not the major focus of the program.  However, many of the students who participate in these types of programs may have a desire to move up in the sport and try a competitive program.  When this occurs, the student will have challenges if they have not learned the proper basics with good technique.

I have seen many video clips posted to social media networks where coaches are requesting help in fixing a technical issue a student may be having.  I have seen clips of round-offs, back handsprings, front handsprings, and many more in tumbling.  There are also many clips requesting help for skills on the bars and balance beams.  These video clips are a great tool to assist the coach in fixing problem areas.

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I have found that on-line training is becoming more and more popular.  I have begun doing lessons via Skype and they have been extremely successful.  However, it does have limitations.  Although Skyping a training session is beneficial in helping with teaching proper technique, it will never be as good as the “hands-on” approach.  Especially if the student needs spotting to help improve the skill.

One of the biggest issues I have seen with posting video for corrective comments on group posts, is that the recipient may receive many comments from many different coaches.  Although it is great that so many are responding and attempting to assist with the problem, it can be somewhat overwhelming for the coach posting the video.  For example, if there are 30 responding comments on how to fix the problem, there may be 20 comments that have different views on how to fix the problem (i.e.: “too many chefs in the kitchen”).

Another concern is that many coaches have different opinions on how skills should be learned.  It’s not that different opinions are wrong, but what may work for one athlete may not work for another athlete (The Technique Controversy).  It is good to have several opinions to work with, but not to get overloaded.

An alternative to consider when looking for help with teaching or correcting a skill is to post and send to only a select few that you may have collaborated with previously or know has the knowledge you are seeking.  There are many experts out there that can be of great assistance.  Much depends on the skill you are needing help with.  Is it a tumbling skill?  Or a bars or beam skill?  You may even want to ask for referrals.

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The ultimate fix is for the coaches to become knowledgeable in the skills they are teaching.  For those programs that are lacking in this knowledge, it is beneficial to participate in local clinics and seminars.  If these are difficult to locate or not available in your area, you may consider bringing in a professional to run a coach’s clinic at your facility or program.

When coaches have the proper knowledge of skill development, not only will their athletes be more productive and successful, the entire program will benefit and be successful.

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I hope this article is helpful for those seeking training information.  I will soon be releasing a series of manuals and video’s that will be beneficial for many.  These will include skill development, safety and spotting, program development, training atmospheres, and many more subjects to enhance the development of coaches and athletes.

If you have concerns or need assistance with your training program, do not hesitate to contact me.  If you would like an on-line training session via Skype, please contact me for scheduling.

Email:   scottjohnsongymnastics@gmail.com

Coaching, Communication, Training

Consistent Communication Brings Positive Results: Corrective Coaching

When athletes are learning new skills, it is important to learn them correctly. From the beginner to the most advanced athlete, skill training needs to be done through corrective coaching. So, what is corrective coaching? It is the manner in which the coach communicates to the student throughout the training process. In this discussion, I will share my thoughts on the importance and consistency of Corrective Coaching.

There is much discussion on the importance of building a strong foundation of basic elements, so the athletes can progress in a positive manner (Tumbling: Importance of Building a Strong Foundation). Even the most basic elements need to be learned properly with good technique. When skills are learned with poor technique, the student will have challenges learning more advanced skills. In the sport of gymnastics and tumbling, all skills are somewhat related, so it is imperative to learn even these basic elements with proper technique.

For the student to learn the proper technique associated with each skill, the coach needs to communicate and explain the technique in detail. This communication needs to be done consistently to ensure the students are performing the skill with the correct technique at every attempt. This is how good habits are created.

If a student performs a skill with the wrong technique and they are not corrected, the student will continue to perform the skill the same way every time. Thus, creating a habit that will need to be corrected later. We all know that habits are difficult to break, and it takes time and consistency to fix these bad habits. The objective of every coach is to train the students properly, so bad habits are not created.

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I make it a point to try to make a correction to the student every time they perform a skill. No matter how small the correction may be, it is a process that is important for the student to understand what their body is doing while performing each skill. Through this type of communication, the students will begin to acknowledge and identify their own mistakes without being told. This can only happen if there is consistency in corrective coaching.

Of course, corrective coaching will not occur if the coach does not have the experience and knowledge of proper technique. Therefore, it is so important that the coaches are trained to instruct the skills at the level they are assigned to work with (Gymnastics: Training Your Staff). I train my staff by asking them what they saw that needs attention when a student performs a skill. A newer coach to the industry will probably not be able to recognize the mistakes. This is a great opportunity to train them on what to look for in skill development.

Since gymnastics and tumbling skills are so complex and are performed quickly, it is difficult to see every body angle and movement. The experienced coach has a trained eye to spot these mistakes, and this is what newer coaches must learn as well.

It is not uncommon to see students in a class where they are attempting their skills with no corrective instruction. It is difficult for a coach running a class with numerous students that are rotated through several stations. The problem we see with this structure is the coach is not able to watch every student as they rotate through the stations. As the coach is working one station, the other students basically work on their own as they perform their required curriculum on the other stations. Thus, they are not being corrected on wrong technique at every attempt.

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It is this scenario that brings to light the importance of class structure and controlled student to coach ratio’s. If the students are to learn in a constructive and productive environment, the class structure should be defined and completely controlled (Class Structure). In addition, the coach of each class needs to have the knowledge to not only know the technique of the skills, but to know how to run a productive class.

Training, training, training!! Not only for the students, but for the coaches as well. A well-trained coach in skill development and class management will have the tools to create and develop good athletes. In addition to the students learning their skills properly they will also be learning them safely. This creates an environment where the students can thrive and pursue their dreams and goals.

Athletes, Coaching, Mentor, Parent, Program Development

Someone Needs to be in Charge: Coaching Sports: Who is in Charge?

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All athletes who participate in sports, whether it be for recreational or competitive purposes need to have the guidance and support of a coach. Many sports have multiple coaches that participate and specialize in particular elements of the sport. For example, in the sport of Golf, the athlete may have a swing coach, a putting coach, and exercise coach. Even recreational youth sports programs may have multiple coaches. Basketball, football, soccer, gymnastics, etc. will have several coaches on the field or in the gym. There should always be a head coach that is responsible for the entire program and assistant coaches that specialize in particular fields. This process can get cloudy, however. Throw in the parents and it becomes a nightmare. In this discussion, I will share my thoughts on the role of the coach and how it relates to the athlete.

In sports that have multiple coaches, there needs to be a definitive hierarchy of responsiblity. If this is not defined, the training atmosphere is sure to be chaotic with ongoing conflict. We have heard of the term “to many chef’s in the kitchen ” and it is no different in the sports industry. When this occurs, who suffers? the athletes!!

Not only is it an objective of the coaches to train the athletes so they can improve their skill level, they should create a positive and exciting environment for the students to train. This type of environment will certainly help to motivate the students to put forth a strong effort for success (The Motivation Factor). If there is conflict between the coaching staff, it will affect the atmosphere and focus of the athletes which may result in a lack of progress.

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The coach has a huge impact over the development of their students both physically and emotionally. Young athletes look up to their coach and seek direction from them. In many cases, the coach has a stronger impact over the student than their parents, as many athletes spend more time training in their sport than they spend at home. The coach has such a strong influence over the student that he or she will be the person who is responsible for the success or failure of the student. This is a huge responsibility and one that every coach should recognize.

There are many methods and styles of coaching and it can be a challenge for the coach to find what works best for each individual athlete. Every athlete is different and what may work great to motivate one student may not work well with another student. The challenge becomes greater when the coach is working with a group of students at one time. It would not be possible to communicate to each individual in detail during a training session. The instruction is directed to the entire group and all students must react and perform as directed. In this situation, all students need to accept the style of coaching presented to them.

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So what style of communication should the coach use when working with students? There are many styles and each will have a different effect on each individual student. Some communicate in a stern and demanding manner, some use threats and negative consequences, while there are others who communicate with positive and constructive criticism (Coaching: The Communication Factor). I believe this last example should be the norm.

When an athlete is in an environment where there are several coaches training at once, there can often be confusion and conflict. The problem arises when different coaches are telling students different things on the same issue. For example, one coach may tell a student to run 10 laps while another tells that student to run 15 laps. This puts the student in a difficult situation. Which coach has priority in this case? It is this type of scenario that can cause a breakdown in productivity and positive environments.

Each coach participating in a program needs to have a specific set of objectives and be responsible for specific parts of training. Once defined, the coaches should not interfere in an area controlled by another coach. In the sport of gymnastics for example, there may be a coach responsible for training students on the Bars and Vault and a different coach responsible for the Floor and Balance Beam. Each will have their own set of objectives and training format for their students. This same concept applies to all sports that have multiple positions or events.

Parents on sidelines

A common problem in many sports, especially youth sports, are the parents. Of course, not only is the parent paying for their child to participate in the program, but they want their child to succeed. The problem arises when the parent takes it upon themselves to assist in the coaching of their child. There is nothing more frustrating for the coach then to have a parent try to coach their child from the sidelines (Coaching the Parents). This creates a huge disruption in the objectives the coaches are trying to achieve. It also distracts the student from focusing on what their coach is instructing. In this scenario, the student may be more concerned with what their parent is saying or thinking and ignoring what the coaches are saying.

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It is also common that a parent may approach the coach and attempt to dictate how their child should be coached. Are you kidding me?? Even if the parent has had experience in the sport, they have no business telling the coaches how to do their job. If the parent is not satisfied with how their child is being developed, it may be a good idea to terminate the participation and enroll in another program.

There are parents who may think the “grass is greener” at some other location or program and constantly moving their child. In gymnastics, we call this “gym hopping”. This only hurts the athlete and will usually slow down progress. It takes time for an athlete to thrive in an environment and gain confidence in their coaches. When students hop from program to program, this confidence is rarely accomplished.

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It is the coaches job to train and guide the athletes along their path to succeed. The “head coach” needs to make sure all aspects of the training environment are organized. They need to perform as a team and insure the athletes are getting the best training possible. When there is a strong positive relationship among the coaching staff, the athletes will be in an environment that should produce positive results.

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I would love to hear your comments on this subject. Also, if there are any subjects you would like me to cover, let me know and I will do my best to post my thoughts. Please Like and Share to all you believe will benefit from the information.

Coaching, Program Development, Skill Development, Training, Tumbling

Basics of Tumbling – From the Beginning

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Tumbling is seen and used in many activities in our society. Not only is it a competitive sport on its own but it is required as part of many other sports. It is needed in gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, martial arts, parkour, and others. It is, for most students, the most difficult of all activities to achieve. As with learning any type of activity, it is important to learn from the beginning. In this discussion, I will share my thoughts and experience in training the Basics of Tumbling.

The sport of tumbling is beneficial in many ways for enhancing performance in many activities. Not only is it the foundation in the sport of gymnastics, but it creates over-all physical development that will benefit the athlete in many areas. It teaches the athlete to be flexible, strong in all areas of the body, fast and physically explosive, coordination of motion, and much more. All these attributes are important for the success in most physical activities and sports.

As mentioned earlier, tumbling is one of the most difficult activities to learn. It is very complex and detailed. In addition, there is a certain amount of risks involved that must be acknowledged in skill development. Here, I will discuss the initial steps to consider in tumbling skill development.

As with most sports and activities, tumbling is a progressive sport meaning that each skill learned is a building block to learning the next skill. If the initial skills learned are not learned properly, the student will struggle with learning additional more advanced skills. The 3 major elements of tumbling are learning movements going forward, backward, and twisting. In this discussion, I will focus on the forward and backward tumbling elements. The twisting elements will be discussed in a following post.

Forward Tumbling;

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It is important to begin the development of tumbling skills from the most basic of elements. In forward tumbling, this starts with the forward roll. This fundamental skill is the beginnings of teaching the student to flip the body in a forward motion. Even this basic skill has a technique value that must be considered for accomplishment and safety. The forward roll may seem very simple and it is for many students. However, I have seen students struggle with this most basic element. Even this skill may need the assistance of a coach to spot the athlete to prevent any stress or injury to the neck or head.

 

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A variation of the forward roll is the straddle forward roll. This skill is very similar but more challenging as it entails more flexibility and strength. The bigger the straddle position, the easier it is for the student to push the bottom up for the roll. For this reason, a good stretching program should be the start of each training session. Again, this skill will, for most athletes, require a spot from a qualified coach.

With the successful development of these skills the student should be ready to learn the more aggressive front tumbling skills such as handstand, front limbers, walk-overs, front-handsprings and front flips – in that order. There are many drills in teaching each of these elements which will be discussed in future posts.

Note: The Bridge and Handstand are very important elements for both forward and backward tumbling that must be incorporated in each training session. Before these more advanced skills are trained, the student must have experience in these elements as many tumbling skills have these positions incorporated within the skill.

Backward Tumbling:

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Backward tumbling is more popular in this sport and one that is used most often in related sports. It also carries a higher risk factor which needs to be recognized. The initial fundamental skill to teach is the backward roll. This skill carries a higher risk factor than the forward roll. The back roll teaches the student the sensation of going backwards which is an unnatural motion in general movement.

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There are several methods used to teach this skill and both should require the coach to spot initially. Since there is body weight forced on the neck and head in performing this skill, the risk for an injury is common. All students learning this skill for the first time should have a coaches assistance. The coach needs to spot the skill by holding onto the hips and lift up as the student rolls back. This takes pressure off the neck. The two basic tools used to teach this skill is the wedge mat or two panel mats placed in a “V” position (this latter method is great for preschoolers and young ones).

The progressive skills following the backward rolls are generally: Back extension rolls, back limbers and walk-overs, back handsprings, back flips and it’s variations. These more advanced skills may take years for a student to develop. Not only is the technique in these skills more complicated, there is a strong emotional factor to consider. Due to the risk factors involved, students need to acquire a strong sense of confidence and mental strength.

The forward and backward rolls are not only fundamental requirements, but it teaches the student the awareness if flipping forward and backward which they will learn in future development. When the students acquire a strong foundation of basic elements, the time it takes to learn the more advanced skills may be faster than a student who skips these fundamental steps.

 

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It is common to have students who have not learned these basic elements struggle with learning the more advanced skills that their sport requires. Cheerleaders and dancers, for example, reach a level in their sport that require such skills. These may be the back walkovers, round-offs, aerials, and front and back handsprings. Without the development of basic training in tumbling skills, the athlete will more than likely struggle in their tumbling development.

As with any activity that is built upon progressive development, it is important to not skip steps along the way. Just as in our education system, students start off learning the basic methods of math such as adding and subtracting. Once this is understood, the student can progress to algebra, geometry, and more. It would be impossible for most students to be place and succeed in an algebra class without having the knowledge of simple math skills. The same applies to tumbling and other activities.

 

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Many tumbling coaches, including myself, are happy to assist these programs. I have attended many cheer and dance programs doing clinics and classes for their athletes. I respect the owners and head coaches of these program to seek out experts in this field to help their programs. Those programs who attempt to teach tumbling skills without the proper knowledge and experienced are putting their athletes in danger. The results will more than likely be negative and the program will suffer its consequences.

Program owners and coaches who need to have their athletes trained to perform tumbling skills need to understand the importance of proper development and technique. Especially for those programs where tumbling is not a regular part of their program.  Tumbling can be a fun and exciting part of any activity, but it needs to be introduced and trained in a manner that is positive and safe for the athlete.  Let’s make it a great experience!!

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I would love to hear your comments on this post and get your thoughts.  Please Like and Share to all you believe will benefit from the information.

For clinics, seminars, or special events, please contact me at: scottjohnsongymnastics@gmail.com             http://www.scottjohnsonstga.com

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