Coaching, Program Development, Skill Development, Training, Tumbling

Basics of Tumbling – From the Beginning

cartwheel on beach

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;


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.


straddle forward rolls

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:


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.


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.


scott spotting bhsp

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.



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!!

Tumble-Side by Side PNG

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:   

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Cheerleading and Tumbling, Coaching, Safety, Skill Development

Cheerleader and Tumbling


When I decided years ago to start my recreational tumbling program, I had no idea cheerleading had mushroomed beyond sideline cheerleading into a competition sport!  I came from a gymnastics background and didn’t realize the number of athletes involved in the sport of cheerleading was huge.  When the cheer programs and cheer parents in our community had heard that I started a tumbling program, my classes filled up quickly.  What I noticed immediately was that the majority of these athletes hadn’t been taught basic tumbling mechanics and technique.  It was then that I realized that I had something to offer that would benefit their skill development as athletes to not only be better, but safer tumblers.  In this discussion, I will share my thoughts on the importance of proper skill mechanics for the cheerleader.

I posted on this subject previously but wanted to elaborate on some progressions to consider when training the cheerleader in tumbling. The sport of cheerleading has had enormous growth throughout the world and continues to grow at a rapid pace. The number of athletes involved in cheerleading today is huge. Unfortunately too many of them are rushed to be part of a competition team and never receive proper instruction in tumbling technique.

In regard to tumbling, the sports of gymnastics and cheerleading share many parallel skill dynamics. In gymnastics, beginning students are immediately immersed in fundamental technique and proper mechanics as the initial step toward the development of basic tumbling skills.  This means the students are immediately learning about the different body positions and shapes that will be vital to the development of all tumbling skills. Why the focus on such detail?  Because these same beginning mechanics and technique will be the building blocks that will allow them to acquire more advanced tumbling skills down the road.

group lunge postition

To better understand why proper technique has such high priority in gymnastics vs. cheerleading, we simply need to look at the fundamental difference between their competition formats. Cheerleading is an all inclusive team sport where the team is evaluated based on performing in unison. So if an individual members skill technique is somewhat flawed it has little impact on the overall team score. In gymnastics, the athlete competes alone and is evaluated on the technical execution of each and every skill they perform throughout the routine. Talk about being under a microscope!

With that said, the required basic tumbling elements for both sports are essentially the same (The Technique Controversy). The real priority for us as coaches and instructors should be teaching proper technique not only to advance the athlete, but more importantly to minimize the risk of injury.

I have worked with many gymnasts and cheerleaders that have developed such bad habits in their tumbling skills that they have come to a dead-end and unable to move on to more advanced skills.  For most of the cheerleaders the result is due to the rush I mentioned earlier. In too many cases the athlete and/or the coach is in such a rush to get that one series of skills that proper technique is forfeited for the sake of time. In the end, this approach will prove to be detrimental to the athlete’s ability to build on their skill level.

The underlying concern in many cheer programs is that too many beginning tumbling instructors do not always have the inherited understanding of skill development progressions gained through years of exposure as a gymnast. They may be experts in stunting and cheer choreography, but may lack the basic technical understanding of tumbling skill progression. Teaching proper tumbling skill technique is very detailed and takes time.  Fully understanding tumbling skill mechanics and drill progressions takes years of experience, education, and in most cases actually doing.

Coaches conference
Coaches Training Conference

I highly suggest that cheer programs that do not have access to qualified tumbling instructors seek out gymnastic programs that offer tumbling for cheerleaders and set up a program for both athlete’s and instructors.

I have seen FB posts of video showing students performing a skill incorrectly with the coach asking for advice.  My initial reaction in many cases has been that they are not ready for that level of skill. Admittedly, in some cases, the safety of the student has been a concern. This is an example of the instructor not fully understanding the inherent risk associated in doing the skill improperly. In regard to the athlete, performing a skill poorly is an obvious sign that they do not have an understanding of the mechanics involved in the skill. This lack of understanding can and will result in a fear of the skill possibly to the point of a mental block, and that may very well keep them from ever owning the skill.

As I said earlier in this article, the real priority for us as coaches and instructors should be teaching proper technique not only to advance the athlete, but more importantly to minimize the risk of injury.

There are many cheerleading programs out there that do have a strong and structured tumbling program within their system.  All cheer programs should develop these systems for the positive development and safety of their athletes.  There are many resources that can be found to assist these gyms in developing a strong tumbling program.  I have worked with many cheer programs doing clinics for their students and coaches.  In addition, cheer conferences and clinics are a good way for the coaching staff to learn this knowledge.  Knowledge is power and power brings success!!

animated cheerleader with pompoms

I would love to hear your comments. 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.

For clinics, seminars, or special events, please contact me at:  

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Benefits, Gymnastics, Skill Development

Benefits of Gymnastics


For those of us who are familiar with the gymnastics as an activity or sport, we know that the teaching and learning curve can be very complex and complicated.  It takes strength, flexibility, coordination, and confidence to progress and advance through the various skill levels. Developing biomechanical skills is a slow process and it takes years of training for an athlete to reach the higher levels of gymnastics.  Over time it is truly amazing to see what these athletes are able to accomplish when they follow a designed plan.  In this discussion, I will reflect on how the sport of gymnastics can create great athleticism that will benefit an athlete in any sport.  This Post will benefit those parents who are contemplating what activities may be best for their children.

There are many different types of sports and each one has its own physical, technical, and mechanical demands necessary to achieve success in the sport.  Some sports are very aggressive and involve physical contact such as Football, Soccer, or Martial Arts. In contrast non-contact sports like Gymnastics, Track and Field, or Swimming and Diving are individual performance related with no physical contact. Both contact and non-contact sports can be just as physically, mentally, and technically demanding all requiring speed, strength, endurance, and most importantly total body control throughout the performance. Sports such as Golf, Archery, and Bowling may be less physically demanding, but still require a sharp mental focus and body control in training and competition.



Without ever participating in a particular sport it’s difficult to fully comprehend what is required physically and mentally to compete at a high level. Good athletes make incredible feats look easy, great athletes do it without even breaking a sweat. Watching a great athlete perform on TV can be deceptive. For example, have you watched a Major League pitcher throw a 95 MPH fastball over home plate? Most people are lucky if they can just get the ball to home plate.

My own personal awakening was an eye opener for me. Sports always came easy to me, but to my disbelief when I first tried to Golf, I was not very good.  As a successful athlete in gymnastics I had always thought that the sport of golf was more of an activity and should not be considered a sport.  I always thought it required little physical effort and would be easy to play, until I tried it!!  In 1984 the Olympic Gymnastics Trials were held in Jacksonville, FL and we were housed at The Ravines Golf and Tennis Resort.  One day, the resorts golf pro invited us all to a free round of golf.  This was my first attempt at this sport and I was blown away – I whiffed more times than I hit the ball. Here I was a world-class athlete in arguably the most difficult individual performance sports in the Olympic Games and I couldn’t hit a golf ball, much less make it go in the right direction.  It was this experience that I gained a new appreciation for the sport of Golf – and a sport I vowed to learn to play.

The sport of gymnastics is such a complex sport that in order to be successful the athlete needs to acquire a very high level athleticism.  It requires total body control where the entire body must perform in unison in order to complete each individual skill effectively and safely through a series of connected skills called a routine. It is a sport that requires speed and patience at the same time to allow continuation of energy into the next skill.  It requires complete mental focus and spatial awareness to have the confidence to literally release a piece of apparatus at high-speed and know it will be there when you reach to re-grab it.

Gymnastics and acrobatic skill development provides an excellent base for almost any sport. It teaches students to run correctly (it is very common that many people run incorrectly with small strides and poor body position), learn body control and to move their bodies through many different positions. They will learn to jump correctly, and most importantly learn how to absorb shock on landings. Gymnastics teaches how to use flexibility and strength together for body control, and how to overcome fear by focusing on technique to safely complete the skill.


multi sport collage

It is these attributes that athletes acquire in gymnastics that will benefit them in almost any sport or activity they pursue.  As I discussed in my previous blog (The Coach: Creating the Successful Athlete), participation in gymnastics drops off as the skill level increases due to extreme competition requirements. Athletes who choose to pursue other sports or activities after gymnastics have a great foundation to build upon. It’s common to see these athletes rely on the strength and conditioning they learned in gymnastics to improve their performance in a new sport. I have seen former students of mine become great volleyball players, soccer players, softball or baseball players, and much more.  Sports like diving are very similar to the sport of gymnastics and many former gymnasts may find success in a short period of time.  One great example is 1988 Olympic Bronze Medalist, Phoebe Mills.  After her gymnastics career, she participated and became successful in the sport of diving. The athleticism she learned in the sport of gymnastics was certainly a benefit in her diving career.

small child on rings

When a parent is exploring what activities their child should participate in, gymnastics should always be considered, especially for young children.  And it is not only for the girls, which seems to be a common perception.  Boys can benefit greatly from participating in the sport of gymnastics as it can enhance many attributes that almost every sport requires.  I often have parents enroll their child in our gymnastics program specifically for this reason.  Not only will the students acquire many physical skills, but the sport is fun and most that participate enjoy the experience.


To be successful as a competitive athlete requires a certain type of person with certain physical and emotional traits. Thus, genetics play an important part on whether an athlete will have the ability to achieve success.  For example, when I was young, I played football.  I loved this sport and I was pretty good.  One problem, I was too small to pursue it for very long – if I wanted to live a little longer. My height eliminated the possibility of a career in the NBA, so that was out. Conversely the reverse is also true as it’s very rare to see a six-foot tall gymnast. Fortunately children tend to be short, so gymnastics is a great way to develop motor skills at a young age that will stay with them through their sports career, no matter the sport.

Tumble-Side by Side PNG

The sport of gymnastics is a great sport and anyone and everyone can participate.  The skills they learn will certainly benefit them in any future activities they may pursue outside of gymnastics.  And who knows…  they may become an Olympic Champion!!

I would love to hear your comments. 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.

For clinics, seminars, or special events, please contact me at:                               

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