Athletes, Coaching, Communication, Evaluation, Skill Development, Training

Problem Solver vs Text Book Instruction

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It is great and rewarding to be a coach and know that I can have a positive impact on a person’s life. I had a passion for the sport of gymnastics as a competitor and now the same passion as a gymnastics and tumbling coach. Where does this passion come from? I honestly believe it is due to the challenges of succeeding in this sport – and I have always thrived on accomplishing challenges.

Learning new skills was always a thrill and even more so when they are accomplished successfully. Now, as a coach, I understand what the athletes go through as they work through their training sessions. I also get the same thrill when I see the excitement of my students when they accomplish their skills successfully.

coach spotting dancer    When introducing and training skills, there are typically a series of progressions and drills that are useful in skill development. However, the challenge for the athlete and coach is finding the proper methods for fixing problems and/or bad habits the student has created.

Problem solving for skills gone bad is not a text book fix. Since every athlete is different in so many ways, what may work to help one student may not work for another student. Many times, the coach may need to try many methods to find what works best for the specific element needing fixed.

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Fixing bad habits not only takes physical effort but it is a psychological game as well. You may have heard that great coaches are great psychologists as well (Confidence and the Mental Block). This is certainly true!! Especially in sports like gymnastics, tumbling, and cheer that carries with them a high degree of difficulty and risk.

When I get a new student, who has not learned proper technique in their skills, it can be frustrating for the student to focus and work on elements they do not think is important. Some students respond well to this change,especially if they see quick results, but others do not adjust well to this new focus.

For example, if a student enrolls specifically for the purpose of learning a back handspring, but do not have a strong foundation to build upon, it is imperative the student learn and accomplish the prerequisites first. This may include bridge kick-overs, handstands, round-off, etc.

It is this scenario that reinforces the fact that the student and parent become educated on how these skills are developed and learned (Coaching the Parents). Not only for the skill to be learned with good technique but more importantly, safely!!

It takes a lot of time and consistency to develop new skills and the same goes for fixing bad habits on already developed skills. If the student is serious about their development, then a strong effort to fix their problems will be taken. One-on-one lessons (private lessons) is a great way to isolate and train only on the problem areas. These lessons will certainly shorten the time it takes to fix the habit(s). Most importantly, however, for bad habits to be fixed, the coach needs to have the knowledge and experience in all issues of skill development and technique to find the best method of training for each individual.

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I am in the process of developing videos on 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 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, Round-Off, Training, Tumbling

A Technical View on Training the Round-Off: Tumbling: The Round-Off

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If there is one fundamental skill in gymnastics and tumbling that requires more attention than most others, it is the Round-Off. This skill is not only one of the most complex skills at the beginning stages of development, but one that must be learned with great technique and precision. In this discussion, I will go over the basics of this skill and some guidelines to follow (many coaches have their own methods and means to instruct this skill – this post describes the methods that have worked well in my program) (The Technique Controversy). To explain every detail of development, technique, and most of all, the drills and problem areas would take too much space for this post. I am in the process of writing training manuals and videos that will explain details of such skills.

People often ask why this skill is so important. It is a major skill in the development of connecting additional skills and the prerequisite of back tumbling, which is the most common performed type of tumbling in all sports.  Sports such as cheerleading and dance, in many cases, do not put a large emphasis in the development of the round-off. In these industries, the major focus is on the development of skills relating specifically to their sport. Tumbling skills are becoming more of a requirement so the emphasis on developing proper technique is crucial.

What is the purpose of the round-off? It is a method of changing forward momentum into backward momentum. Since backward tumbling is the most widely used type of tumbling, the round-off is required in all disciplines. It is used in preparation for the back handsprings and back flipping skills. If the round-off is not performed correctly, the following skills will suffer.

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We have often seen students perform a round-off back handspring where the student fails on the back handspring. The reason, in most cases, is the performance of a poor executed round-off prior to the back handspring. If the round-off is not performed correctly, it will not place the athlete in the proper position to perform a successful back handspring. This scenario is not only non-productive but dangerous as well.

Following are the major points we focus on when training the round-off for the beginner student:

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First and foremost, the student must have a correct run and hurdle step. For the beginner student, the run should be upright with long strides. A common problem is the student taking very small or “baby” steps on the run. The hurdle step should also be more upright with the arms lifted straight above the head. The hurdle or “hop” within the skill should be as long as possible. It is very common to see a very small hop in the hurdle. This may cause the student to “trip” while attempting the skill.

One drill that we use to enhance the hopping action is to have the students stand on their opposite leg from the lead leg and see how far they can hop forward on that leg. In most cases, they can hop much further from a static position than they do within the hurdle step.

Note: as the student becomes more advanced and aggressive with their skills, the run and hurdle step will take more of a forward lean on the approach.

 

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We begin to train the round-off from a lunge position. The arms should be straight above the head and remain in this position throughout the skill. It is important that the hips and torso are facing forward. As the student reaches out for the floor, the hips and torso should remain facing forward until just before the hands make contact with the floor.

A common mistake is that the students turn the body too early in the process which will create greater difficulty in getting the legs together and complete the 1/2 turn (when turning too early, the skill will require almost a 3/4 turn to complete the skill instead of a 1/2 turn). When you see students struggle with getting their legs together upon landing the skill, this may be the problem.

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As the arms reach the floor, ensure the first arm remains close to the head and reaches out in front of the lead leg. Many students will want to reach down and place the first hand close to the lead leg. The second arm is the most important arm in this skill. It is considered the “blocking” arm. It should remain straight to create a bouncing effect off the floor.

Hand Positioning

When teaching from the lunge position, we begin to train the students to turn their second hand so fingers are facing toward the first hand.  This is important for the student to push or “block” off the floor.  It is very common that students will have their second hand placed in the opposite direction.  Not only is it almost impossible to push off the floor, it may create wrist discomfort and problems.  We often use hand props or chalk prints on the floor as a visual for the student to make the proper hand placement.  In addition, we have the students place their hands in a linear position.  Practicing on a line helps with this motion.  Many students will place their second hand across the first hand.  In many cases, this may cause the student to tumble off line.

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Left Round-Off Hand Placement

 

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Right Round-Off Hand Placement

Just prior to the hands making contact with the floor, the body should make a 1/4 turn. Immediately following the handstand position within the skill, the body should complete another 1/4 turn as the legs snap together for the landing position.

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The landing position should be legs together, arms straight above the head and facing square in the opposite direction of where they started. For the beginner student, we have them land in an upright position with the legs slightly bent. This is the same position when initiating a connecting back handspring.  When the round-off finishes with a forward lean and the hands still close to the floor, the results of a connecting skill will be negative.  Most common is the “under cut” motion which prevents the student from jumping into the back handspring or other connecting skill (a bad habit that takes time to correct).

Many coaches teach a rebound after the round-off. A rebound is an action used for connecting skills like the back somersault. This is a more advanced action which we introduce when the student is at the level to begin training the back tucks and more.

As with many skills, the round-off is a skill that develops and enhances as the student becomes more advanced. Athletes at the advanced levels of tumbling can perform the round-off successfully running at faster speeds. This is usually not possible for the beginner or even intermediate level athletes. Just as in early childhood, they must learn to walk before learning to run.

As I mentioned earlier, this skill is a very complex skill that involves many physical attributes and dynamics. Some athletes catch on quickly while others take longer. Consistency, drill training, and following progressive training elements are the keys to learning this skill properly (Basics of Tumbling – From the Beginning).

I will be developing training videos on this skill and many others that will be useful in training these elements. I will keep you posted on that progress. 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

 

Front Tumbling, Skill Development, Training, Tumbling

The Difference Between Forward and Backward Tumbling Skills: The Dynamics of Front Tumbling

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The most common and most performed tumbling skills in sports that entail tumbling as part of their structure is back tumbling. This includes back handsprings and the many varieties of backward somersaults. Although front tumbling has grown as a major element in the gymnastics industry, it is not used as often in the cheer and dance industries. Front tumbling has an entirely different dynamic than back tumbling – and it is considered by many to be more difficult. In this discussion, I will share my thoughts on the dynamics, training, and development of front tumbling skills.

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Just as in back tumbling skills, front tumbling skills also build from a foundation of basic elements. Developing great technique in the basic elements of front tumbling, such as the forward rolls, handstands, front limbers and walkovers, will allow the students to progress more easily to the more difficult skills (Basics of Tumbling – From the Beginning).

One major difference between front and back tumbling is the emotional factors involved in each. For most athletes, front tumbling does not carry the same fear factor as back tumbling. Since we are accustomed to move in a forward motion throughout almost every activity, it is more natural and comfortable to move in this direction.

I have trained and worked with many athletes who are simply afraid to go backwards. Even through basic development, going backward is “scary” for many. It is rare to find an athlete with a mental block of tumbling forward, but very common in back tumbling. There is certainly a higher risk factor in back tumbling and, if not developed in a safe and experienced environment, accidents and injury can occur (Confidence and the Mental Block). This is, in most cases, the reason why mental blocks are created.

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Even though front tumbling may be less scary and have a lower risk factor, it is more difficult to perform correctly. For example, a standing back handspring and back truck are fundamental skills for the developed athlete. However, standing front handsprings and front tucks are very difficult and rarely performed. Most front tumbling skills, with the exception of the front limbers and walk-overs, require a certain amount of momentum in performing the skill.  Front handsprings, front aerials, and front somersaults all are typically performed with a run, hurdle prior to the skill.

Why is front tumbling so much more difficult? In my opinion, it is technically more complex and requires stronger body control and effort to accomplish. It may not be as scary, but it is more difficult to learn correctly.  For the skills to be performed correctly, the athletes must have acquired the correct body and arm positioning to progress though the skills.  In addition to strength and aggression, flexibility also plays a major role in several of the front tumbling elements.  For example, the front limbers, walk-overs, and front aerials require a great deal flexibility in the back and shoulders.

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Many athletes are simply born with this trait, but many others must work years to develop the type of flexibility required in these skills (Flexibility: A Benefit to Success).  I myself struggled with flexibility as it did not come naturally.  It took me many years to learn the splits and my back flexibility was never great.  In fact, I performed a back walk-over in a floor routine at one time and my coach told me to never do it again.  I guess it wasn’t that great!!

Front tumbling consists mostly of front walkovers, front handsprings (landing on two feet or step-out), and front somersaults of different varieties. Each industry has its own specific needs and requirements. In the gymnastics industry, the students must learn to develop the front handsprings landing on two feet. It is a required element in the compulsory routine and is necessary for connecting front somersault skills. However, in the cheer and dance industries, the front handspring is most commonly seen with a step-out.

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Much of this industry difference is due to the surface used in the training and performance process. In the gymnastics and all-star cheer industry, the athletes train and perform on a spring floor. In the dance programs and cheer community and school programs, the athletes perform on a non-spring floor. The differences are almost like night and day with the two floor types.

 

In the cheer and dance industries, the most common front tumbling skill is the front handspring step-out or front walk-over. Not only is this a progressive skill that leads to combination passes, it is also not as physically demanding on the body upon landing. It is also more conducive for tumbling on a non-spring floor or a wood or marley floor. The front handspring step-out is a great skill to use for combination passes. The athlete can proceed to connect other skills such as multiple front handsprings, round-offs, etc.

The well-rounded tumbler will have acquired both front and back tumbling skills. Both require their own set of training drills. These drills and elements should be a part of the training curriculum, especially at the beginner levels. As in all skill development, if the basics are learned correctly, the athlete will have a much greater chance of succeeding in progressing through the more advanced skills.

 

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.