Cheerleading and Tumbling, Gymnastics, Skill Development, Tumbling, Twisting

Preparing the Athlete on Advanced Movement: The Twisting Element

 

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In sports that entail acrobatic skills such as gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, diving, ski jumping, and more, the ultimate objective for the athletes is to learn skills that have both flipping and twisting elements. These skills are highly advanced and requires that the athlete has learned basic skills with great technique. In this discussion, I will take you through my thoughts on the development stages of learning to twist in tumbling skills.

As the students progress through the developmental stages of learning to tumble forward and backward, the next step is to learn how to incorporate twisting movements. These skills are much more complex and requires that the athletes have proper technique in their developmental skills in order to accomplish these twisting elements.

Shadow twisting

Body positioning and control is critical in allowing the athlete to twist while the body is in a forward or backward flipping motion. For example, to spin a pencil on its end is an easy task as the pencil is a solid, straight object. However, it is impossible to spin a shoe string as there is no solid control of the object. The same with our bodies, if the student has loose and limp body movements, it will be very challenging or impossible to twist. This is the reason why body position and body tightness is a major focus in training all skills.

I consider the cartwheel to be the initial movement learned that relates to twisting skills. A critical key to acknowledge, which is commonly overlooked, is to determine which direction the student needs to perform the skill. Why? because this is the direction that should be consistent throughout the entire lifetime of progressive skill development. So how do we determine which direction to go? It is irrelevant if the student is right hand or left hand dominate.

Cartwheel.jpgI have always believed that what ever feels most natural for the athlete is the direction they should pursue. In fact, a majority of athletes twist in the opposite direction of their dominate hand – it is more natural. Let me explain: when a right-handed person throws or kicks a ball, the body actually moves and turns to the left while performing the action. Thus, for many people, it is natural for the body to turn in this direction.

However, this rule does not apply to every athlete. When I have a beginner student learning a cartwheel for the first time, I will ask them to spin around. The direction of their spin is a good indication of what direction may come natural for them. So I have the student try this direction first. If they struggle, I have them try the other way. Trial and error seems to work best to figure out which way to go. And once it is determined, that way should stay permanent.

Once the athlete determines the direction of the cartwheel, either left or right, it is critical that all progressive skills follow the same direction. If the student is what we call a “righty” this means the right leg will lead in all skills. This includes lunge to handstands, round-offs, front walk-overs, front handsprings, etc. I have seen, on several occasions, an athlete perform their round-off with one leg leading, however, perform a front walkover and front handspring with the other leg. This will create a challenge for the student to connect tumbling elements.

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The round-off is the next progressive skill to learn following the cartwheel. This is a very complex element to learn and there is much discussion among coaches on the challenges of learning this skill properly. This skill must be accomplished correctly with great technique in order for the student to connect additional skills – like the back handspring. An entire post can be dedicated to this one skill.

What is the purpose of the round-off? It is the skill used to turn forward momentum into backward momentum. It is a twisting element where the body generates a half turn while in an upside down position. Some athletes catch on to this transition quickly, but others may take longer to accomplish.

It is important to recognize that whatever direction the round-off is initiated, either right or left, this is the direction the athlete needs to twist in their connected elements. When the round-off is completed, the movement of the body continues in that same direction which creates a natural smooth transition. For example, let’s look at the cartwheel on the balance beam. If the student is leading the cartwheel with the left leg, the skill will end with the left leg behind the right leg. In this position, the hips are turned slightly to the left creating a left twisting motion.

I have seen many athletes perform their round-offs in one direction and twist in another direction. Although this is not a factor that will create a barrier to excel in tumbling elements, it does have its challenges. For example, it is certainly a challenge and more difficult to learn a round-off to an Arabian front flip or a back full. Performing a back handspring in-between the skills would eliminate this transitional challenge.

drawing back full

As I mentioned earlier, in order for the body to perform a twisting motion, the body must be tight and straight. For back tumbling, this requires the athlete to have great technique in the back layout in order for the body to be able to twist. In order for this to occur, the athlete must have great technique in the round-off and back handspring. These elements set up the layout and twisting skills.

Back arch flip animThe most common problem that prevents the athlete from twisting is the arched position. If the athlete has an arched position in their layout, the twisting motion is very difficult to achieve. The body must remain in a tight and straight position for the twist to be effective.  This scenario goes back to the initial fundamental training for the athlete (Tumbling: Importance of Building a Strong Foundation).  With proper training and drills, the students have a greater chance to learn the body control needed to accomplish these skills.

We stress how important it is for the athletes to learn proper technique in all skills – starting from the most basic elements.  Since all skills in tumbling are generally related and tend to build upon another, the better the technique, the greater chance the athlete will succeed in learning the more advanced twisting tumbling skills.

ski jumper twisting

I am in the process of publishing my first training manual: “Beginner Tumbling Training”.  This will be a useful tool in training for all and any needing to learn proper technique and safety. Great for gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, martial arts, and more. 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: scottjohnsongymnastics@gmail.com

Cheerleading and Tumbling, Coaching, Safety, Skill Development

Cheerleader and Tumbling

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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:  scottjohnsongymnastics@gmail.com            http://www.scottjohnsonstga.com

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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.

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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!!

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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.