Athletes, Coaching, Confidence, Mental Training, Preparation, Safety, Skill Development

The True Asset in Skill Development: Building Confidence for New Skills


One of the biggest challenges students have when learning new skills, is getting over fear and gaining confidence. It is amazing how emotions take control of an individual when the time comes to perform a skill without assistance. In many cases, it takes much longer to build the confidence needed to perform the skill than the physical effort required to complete the skill. This can be frustrating for both the student and the coach, but it needs to be understood and approached cautiously.

It is amazing to see how well a skill is performed while the coach is providing a spot, even the slightest spot. It is obvious the student can perform the skill but it doesn’t happen. Why? Because they are terrified!! Although this is frustrating, it is completely normal. In fact, it is not uncommon for students to take weeks or even months before they are emotionally ready to go solo on a skill.

The coach plays a major role in helping the athlete gain confidence. This is done primarily by spotting the skills (The Art of Spotting) as the athlete progresses through the stages of development. As the athlete gains better understanding and awareness if the skill, the coach can begin to lighten the spot.


Although the objective is for the student to perform the skill without a spot, the coach needs to be aware of the emotions of the student. In many cases, when a student is attempting to do a skill without a spot for the first time, they are not thinking about how to do the skill, they are thinking about how bad it’s going to hurt when they crash. The coach should recognize the signs- if the student is stalling for a period of time, it is a good indication that they may not be ready. In this case, the coach should stand in to give emotional and physical support.

I have seen cases where students are forced to perform a skill without a spot, even if the student asks for one. This may be acceptable depending on the risk factor of the skill. For example, a front handspring has a much lower risk factor than a back handspring. If the risk factor of the skill is low, the student can be encouraged to “go for it”. If the student fails, there will likely be little physical or emotional consequences.

If the skill has a higher risk factor, however, the student may suffer an injury and possibly serious emotional consequences. The most sever is the “Mental Block”. When this occurs, it is a huge step back in progressive development.


It is our job as coaches to assist the athlete to grow in a positive direction. Every athlete is different both physically and emotionally. Some will have a low fear factor and others will have a much higher fear factor. This is why many students learn skills quicker than others. Patience is important and coaches need to work with the student to help build confidence. What’s even more important, is Safety. A coach should never put a student in a position where they are not comfortable or emotionally ready to perform a skill.  Let’s keep them safe, happy, and moving forward in a positive direction.


My Beginner Tumbling Training Guide is available and ready for all to use. This is a great training aid for any and all programs who offer tumbling training. If you would like to order your copy, follow this link:

My training manual for the Round-Off Back Handspring is also available. It is full of detailed progressions and technique that will allow for a positive and productive training. Follow the attached link to order your copy or e-book today!!

Scott Johnson is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Athletes, Communication, Parent, Sports, Stress, Success

Parent and Coach Influence on an Athlete's Success: To Push or Not Push

Happy child athletes

It is always great to see parents involved with their children’s activities. Not only do the children (younger children) love it when their parents watch and support their activities, many depend on it. However, there may come a time in an athlete’s development when the parent should take a step back and allow their child to develop more freely.

One challenge the parent may have in the development of their child’s sports activity, is not understanding the true emotional desires or feelings of the child. There are many cases where the child may not have the desire to participate in the activity. It is important that parents attempt to introduce several different activities, throughout the early years, to allow the child to determine what they like best.

As an athlete becomes more serious and involved with their sport, training will become more consistent and serious. They will learn many things that are important and pertinent to that sport which will allow them to grow both physically and emotionally. They will learn the specifics of every aspect of the sport – things that the parent may not be aware of or have knowledge of since they are not actively involved with the day to day training atmosphere.

There are many aspects of development in an athlete’s pursuit to succeed. The physical aspect is only one part of development. The emotional aspect is another part of development and can be considered the most important and sensitive. As an athlete grows in their sport and begins to participate in competitions, the emotional aspect intensifies. For many athletes, the competitive arena can be a scary one and it may take time for the athlete to understand how to deal with and control the stress in those environments.

parent with child athlete

I have many conversations with parents regarding their child’s development. One of the most common question and concern is the issue of ” to push or not to push”. This issue is different for every athlete but most common for athletes in early development. The parent should be able to recognize if their child is serious about the sport or activity and this will help guide whether to push the athlete for greater achievement.

I truly believe that a person will only be successful at something they love and desire. This comes from the heart, which is internal motivation The Motivation Factor. Athletes that have this type of attitude will usually have the motivation to push themselves without much outside influence. Throughout an athlete’s career, there will be ups and downs – there will be success and failure. There will be injuries and burn-out. All of which are factors that can influence an athletes drive to succeed. Patience is important to allow the athlete to work through all challenges. Achievement is a process that takes time, experience, and consistency.

woman stressed

When an athlete is pushed hard to train for success, it may result in the athlete having a negative attitude. Especially if there has been a series of failures. This could result in continued failure and eventually and end to a career. As an athlete grows in their sport and reaches higher levels of competition, pushing the athlete can be beneficial. All great athletes need a good push periodically. It is the younger, more inexperienced athlete that may be more sensitive to being “pushed” to succeed.

However, not pushing your athlete may result in a lack of motivation or cause a lack of interest. Younger students do not understand the process of commitment and sacrifice, so they must be guided through the process. It can be a sensitive issue and one that must be properly determined by the parent.

parents cheering runners

I believe that athletes should be pushed and encouraged in their pursuit of success. But how hard to push and when to push is the issue. Every child is different and what may be beneficial to one may not work for another. The parents and coaches need to recognize this in their children and students in order to positively affect the pursuit of their goals. We want the best for all children. Some will become Champions, and many will not, but every one of them are Stars!!

I am in the process of developing manuals and videos on tumbling skill development that will be useful in training. I will keep you posted on that progress. In addition, if you would like a personal training session or consultation with me, we can Skype a lesson. Private message me or email me at:



Athletes, Coaching, Skill Development, Uncategorized

An Approach to the Struggling Student: Coaching the Challenged Athlete

coach with athlete

The objective of the coach is to train their athletes to improve their abilities and performance level. For many coaches, and programs, this objective becomes extreme. It becomes an objective to not just improve the athlete but to create champions. But what about the athlete who doesn’t have what it takes to succeed in the sport? Are they tossed aside – forgotten, humiliated? This discussion will focus on training and developing the hopeful and challenged athlete.

All coaches have experienced the student who is very motivated and has a lot of determination, but unfortunately, struggles with learning even the most basic elements. Every person is built differently both physically and mentally. Many sports dictate what type of person is made to succeed in that sport. For example, to excel as a basketball player, the person will usually need to be tall; to excel in gymnastics, the person usually will be smaller and lighter. There are always exceptions to this dynamic but true in most cases. Thus, genetics play a major role in how successful one may be at sports.

The challenge many programs have is how to handle those students that will not progress to the point of becoming a competitive athlete. This is a sensitive issue and should be recognized so as not to damage a student’s confidence and self-esteem. Although in many cases, it is the parent who is pushing the issue of success without realizing the limitations their child may have. In these cases, parents will leave and explore other gym programs in an attempt to find the miracle program that will develop their child.


Many of these situations are students in recreational class programs (Programs for the Rec Student). All young athletes aspire to be champions one day. They have their own dreams of wanting to be just like their idols. I have had students state how they want to be in the Olympics someday – and they are serious!! And the coach should never tell the child that this is most likely an impossibility. No matter how awkward a student may be, they should never be treated any differently from the other students (Coaching: Lets Be Positive).

There will usually be a point in time when the student will realize their true potential. When they see some of their classmates moving up to higher levels, they wonder why they cannot move up as well. This is where the coaches need to communicate to the student and parent, in as positive manner as possible, that there are skill requirements that must be met to move to the next level. They need to be told what skills need to be accomplished and what they can do to meet those goals.

We want every participant to feel good about their sport experience. Even though a small percentage of athletes ever reach a highly competitive level, the skills and training they acquired will benefit them in other activities they choose to participate in.

As a gymnastics and tumbling coach, I have many students participate in our class program with aspirations to become great at the sport. All students are treated the same and follow the same curriculum of the other students at their same level. For the students that are struggling, the parent will usually approach me and ask to discuss their child’s progress. This is a great opportunity to explain the dynamics of the sport and the challenges facing the student (Coaching the Parents).


We want every child to have a great experience with their participation. It is important that children have hopes and dreams and set high goals for themselves. We should always support and encourage this attitude. It’s not all about winning or losing or becoming a champion. It is participation that is important to recognize. Every student should be regarded special and treated like a champion!!


Cheerleading and Tumbling, Coaching, Skill Development, Training

Tumbling and the Cheerleader


Cheerleading is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. It has evolved into a formal sport recognized world-wide and continuing to grow every year. We see cheerleading at almost every level: Pop Warner and other community little leagues, the public school systems from elementary schools through high schools, private schools, colleges, and the ever-growing competitive All-Star cheer gyms. It has become so popular on the world stage that some organizers are attempting to make it an Olympic sport.

This has become a very aggressive sport as well. There is a dance element that can be very complex, stunting: where the participants are creating pyramids and flying high doing acrobatics, and performing tumbling skills. All of these skills are requirements and the difficulty levels increase at higher levels of participation. As a result, as the participant grows in the sport, the risk factors become greater.


Unlike the sport of gymnastics where the industry is regulated by a comprehensive skill developmental program, the sport of cheerleading has specific skill requirements but no regulated developmental program for the coaches and students to follow to acquire those skills. Thus, the participants, in many cases, are lacking the fundamental basics that are essential in learning the higher level skills they are required to perform.

Tumbling is one of the most difficult parts that cheerleaders must learn to achieve in order to qualify for the team they are pursuing. For the younger age groups, these skills are pretty basic: cartwheels, back-walkovers, etc. However, at the higher All-Star levels and high school programs, these skill requirements are much higher. What is the main skill objective at these levels? The Back Handspring and Back Flip!!


What many students and parents do not completely understand is how difficult these skills are and the process and time it takes to achieve these skills. There is a certain amount of risks involved in learning to tumble and proper training can lower these risks. A great analogy is Mountain Climbing in understanding ones abilities and limitations – the shallower the climb, the easier it is to climb fast; as it gets steeper, the faster you try to climb the higher the chances of slipping and falling. The higher you are, the farther the fall and the greater the risks. I receive calls all throughout the year, and especially right before the cheer season try-outs, for students wanting private lessons to acquire their back handspring and they may only have a few weeks to learn it. Many of these students have not had formal tumbling training and do not have the basic skills required to pursue learning this skill.

training group

It is important that we educate the parents, students, and even coaches that tumbling skills are difficult to learn and the risk factors involved with training these skills. As I covered in a previous blog (Tumbling for Sport) coaches in the cheer industry should have the knowledge and experience to teach their students these skills. The instructor must be able to communicate to the student in a way they can understand every aspect of the skill they are learning. If they do not have this experience, they should bring someone in to help or refer their students to a gym that has the expertise in this area. In addition, it is important the facility or training environment has the correct tools to teach these skills safely i.e. skill shapes, mats, spotting apparatus, etc.

I have been to many cheer competitions as a coach, parent, and spectator and have witnessed many scary tumbling attempts that did not end up in a positive manner. I have seen many athletes attempting skills they have no business attempting. The results can be devastating – and may have been prevented. I have done many private lessons with students that have acquired a mental block and such a high fear factor due to a tumbling accident that they have lost almost all their tumbling skills. Many athletes who have experienced this tragedy never recover. With this said, however, this can happen to even the most advanced and experienced athlete but much more common to those athletes with little or no experience.


As the cheer industry continues to grow, more and more focus is being put on regulations and safety. Cheer programs are putting an emphasis on training their coaches and acquiring tumbling experts to assist with the growing needs of this issue. Although, all programs want to achieve positive results and win at their competitions, the primary focus should be on their participants achieving positive results in a safe and controlled environment.

What are the Do’s and Don’ts?

  • Do make sure the coaches who are teaching tumbling skills have the knowledge and experience to train their athletes in the skills they are attempting to learn.
  • Do make sure the athlete is at a level and has the basic skills needed to begin learning the more advanced skills.
  • Do make sure the athlete is training in an environment conducive in training these skills.

smart spotter

  • Do Not (for the coach) attempt to spot a skill if the coach is not an expert at spotting.
  • Do Not have another student attempt to spot the skills.
  • Do Not allow the athlete to attempt the skill without a spot if they are iffy on the result. (I have seen many times where a coach will tell their athlete to attempt a skill when they are not physically and/or emotionally ready to do it themselves. The result is usually negative)

The sport of cheerleading is a great sport and the athletes are great athletes. If you haven’t seen a competitive cheer competition, you really need to experience it. These athletes are doing phenomenal things!! I look forward to continuing my work with this industry and provide all the support and training possible for its growth and continued success.


Let’s help to keep this sport positive and keep these athletes smiling!!