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:





Cheerleading and Tumbling, Skill Development

The Art of Spotting

scott spotting bhsp

To become a great athlete, it take many years of training, focus and motivation.  Many hours are spent in the gym working on complicated skills – some with high risk factors.  Many gyms have all kinds of creative equipment to assist the athletes as they train and perform numerous drills to learn all the correct techniques. One of the essential aspects in developing skills is the role the coach plays and their ability to properly aid the athlete in the execution of the skill.  In this discussion, I will focus on the art of spotting and how this one factor can make or break the confidence and potential success of the athlete.

The art of spotting can be considered a sport in itself.  It is definitely a skill set that must be learned and practiced consistently to ensure success.  Coaches need to learn how to spot skills properly so as not to interfere with the athlete’s execution of the skill.  In all sports or activities that involve acrobatic skills, spotting is requisite to skill development.  From the most basic skills to the most advanced, spotting is used and important in the development and safety of the athlete.  Spotting entails complicated body movements, hand placements, coordination, and focus.  In addition, spotting takes strength!!  I have seen amazing spotting skills in gymnastics and it is apparent that these coaches are well-trained and experienced.  Spotting even the most basic skills need training.  When training my new coaches how to spot, they are always very sore the first few weeks of working classes.  It is definitely the most physical part of the coaching experience.


Learning to spot skills is a very important element in the development of athletes, whether it is for gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, or other sports where the athletes are learning to manipulate their bodies in motion.  What are the objectives of spotting?  First and foremost, Safety!!  But it’s also to assist the athlete in maintaining proper body position throughout the skill, and is the first stepping stone in building their confidence toward ultimately doing the skill unassisted.  At every level of sport, the athletes are learning skills that could potentially cause some type of bodily injury.  Even skills as simple as a forward and backward roll where the students are rolling over their heads, the instructor needs to know how to physically assist the students to prevent undue pressure on the body. As the skills become more difficult and complex, so must the spotting technique.

To provide this safety net in the athletes’ development, coaches need to have the skills necessary to spot correctly.  I have seen many cases where coaches are not spotting correctly or spotting someone they shouldn’t be spotting.  Many times resulting in a fall or accident.  The coach not only needs to know their limitations, but also to closely evaluate the student and their abilities before attempting a skill with a spot. This is why it is so important the coach has the knowledge to train their specific level (as discussed in my post The Technique Controversy).  For example, a student should not be trained on a back handspring if they have not mastered the basic elements leading up to that skill: ie, back limber or back walkover, handstand, etc.  In addition, the coach should not try to spot a student if they are not physically strong enough to support that student.  I have seen this often and it usually always results in a fall.  Students and parents need to be educated on the risks involved with attempting skills with an inexperienced spotter assisting them.  I have had students become injured because of their attempt at a skill at home and have a friend or teammate trying to spot them.  This is dangerous!!


The instructor’s job is to protect the athlete and minimize the possibility of an injury.  In doing so, however, there are risks to the instructor as well.  In some cases, the instructor must sacrifice their own physical well-being in order to save an athlete from physical harm.  Some common injuries include: ruptured or torn bicep tendons,  shoulder and back injuries, and broken noses.  I’ve actually had my nose broken so badly it required surgery.  These are risks the instructors are taking when developing athletes. If the instructor is timid or afraid of getting hurt themselves, then they should not be spotting the student.

Spotting skills do become necessary especially as the athlete is transitioning from drill training to performing the skill without the assistance of equipment training.  The coach needs to make sure the athlete is physically and emotionally ready for this transition.  In developing skills, the emotional factor can many times outweigh the physical factor.  Fear factors are a concern that must be dealt with in every athlete.  Some students have a very low fear factor and some students have extreme fear factors.  This should always be considered when training athletes.  In my programs, the coaches are not permitted to force a child to attempt a skill they are not emotionally ready to perform even if the student performs the skill perfectly with a “pretend spot” (the hand is there but not doing a thing).  We encourage, but do not force.  Trust is a major element in the relationship between athlete and spotter.  For the athlete to give 100% effort, they must completely trust that the spotter will protect them in the event of mental or execution mistake.  If the spotter fails in their attempt resulting in an injury,  all trust may be lost.

scott spotting on tramp

I have worked with many students who have developed a “mental block” with their skills.  This is a common and serious issue that if not overcome, may result in the end of a students athletic career.  There are many causes of mental blocks but one common reason is due to an accident the student suffered.  Many of these accidents may have been prevented if proper training and spotting was in effect.  An experienced instructor should know the limitations of their students which will highly reduce the risks of an accident.  In many programs, especially in the sport of gymnastics and cheerleading, there are difficulty requirements at each level.  Coaches should not place a student in a position to perform or attempt skills they have no t been trained to successfully perform.  When a student develops a serious mental block and the coach is not successful in repairing the issue, there are professional sports psychologists that are trained to evaluate and help these athletes overcome this problem.

There are many clinics, camps, and seminars held throughout the country that is designed to assist coaches and athletes in development.  Many of the discussions are based on skill technique, training methods, and class structure.  However, I have seen little attention to the training of how to actually spot skills.  This is an issue that should be addressed at every level, especially at the beginning and intermediate levels of sport as this supports the majority of sport participation.  I train all my staff on the correct way to spot skills.  As mentioned earlier, there is a technique to spotting every skill and the coach should be effective in this technique to protect the student from potential accidents.

smart spotter

Injury prevention should be at the for-front of every sports program.  In the development of skills, there are many different types of training equipment that is designed to assist the athlete in training.  For tumbling skills, there are matting shapes that are used for skill development.  Some are wedges, octagons, panel mats used in different manners, back handspring trainers like the Resilite Smarter Spotter.  Coaches need to utilize these tools as they train their athletes for the safety of the athletes and themselves.  Why physically spot back handsprings for a developing athlete when there are tools the athlete can use without the physical strain on the coach?  These tools should be used in a consistent manner.

Please let me know your thoughts on this subject and I would be glad to answer any questions or concerns you may have.  Please like and share with your groups and contacts as this post can be beneficial to many in sports, including coaches, athletes, and parents of athletes.