Athletes, Cheerleading and Tumbling, Learning the Basics, Preparation, Skill Development, Tumbling

Tumbling: “Learning the Basics”

It is very exciting to watch athletes perform and achieve great feats of athleticism that leads to victory and success. Especially for young athletes who have a dream to reach the same status. This is what drives young athletes to pursue a path for future growth – and this path is a long one!! For young, aspiring athletes to achieve success and reach the goals they dream about, they must learn from the beginning. Learning the Basics is one of the most important factors in the pursuit of success.

It is normal for an athlete to want and learn the more exciting and difficult skills early in a career. In sports, such as gymnastics and cheerleading, many students want to learn how to “flip” or perform other similar skills. Although these skills are exciting, there carries a huge risk factor that many, including coaches, do not recognize.

The Purpose of Basics

Learning the basics of tumbling skills is imparative for positive progression and safety. It is certainly a building block process. Like so many other actions in life – for example: learning to crawl before walking; learning to add and subtract before algebra, etc. If these prerequisites are not a part of the training process, failure is almost certain. Students must learn to roll (forward and backward) before learning to flip; they must learn a great cartwheel before learning an aerial, etc.

When we see students struggling with accomplishing particular skills, it may be a lack in having accomplished fundamental basics. Learning to achieve tumbling skills entails strength, flexibility, agility, and mental awareness of body in motion. All of these factors take time to achieve. Learning fundamental elements will give students the tools necessary to accomplish the more advanced and complex skills.

Tumbling skills are complex and it takes repetition and time to achieve the desired result. If the process is rushed and the student is not fully prepared – physically and emotionally, the risk factor highly increases. When injuries occur while performing tumbling skills, much of the cause may be due to the lack of preparation. For example, when a student fails on attempting a back handspring, in many cases, the student is not prepared to attempt the skill. Another common problem is the combo pass of the “round-off, back handspring”. It is common that this pass results in a failed back handspring. In many cases, it is not the back handspring that is the problem. It may be the Hurdle and/or Round-off that is poorly executed. In this event, the student will not be in a position to perform the back handspring successfully.

Results of Basic Element Training

Learning and achieving basic elements in tumbling skills will allow the athlete to progress in a positive and safe manner. In addition, it will help the athlete in obtaining the confidence needed to perform skills as they progress. In addition, this process will highly reduce the chances of a “Mental Block” (the-mental-block-nightmare). Once this occurs in an athlete, it is very difficult and timely to overcome.

Even the most successful athletes will often resort back to basic element training as part of their training regiment. As mentioned before, basic elements are the building blocks for advanced skill training. We see this in almost every sport. The stronger the foundation, the stronger and more productive the outcome.

Don’t skip steps in skill development!! Seek out true professionals who have the knowledge in training skills with the correct technique and progressions. This will greatly increase the potential in advancement and success.

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Scott Johnson
1984 Olympic Champion
1988 Olympic Team Captain

My Beginner Tumbling Training Guide is published 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:

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These neoprene wrist supports are the best for gymnasts and cheerleaders experiencing wrist pain. The neoprene provides support and warmth to the joint to help relieve pain discomfort.

This is the best syle of leotards for recreational gymnastics. Get yours today!!

Cheerleading and Tumbling, Coaching, Skill Development, Training, Tumbling

The Hurdle Step – The Key Ingredient

Learning how to tumble properly, safely, and in a manner where progression is desired, students need to learn many fundamental skills. There is a lot of focus on skills that are not only desired by the athlete, but also required by the sport or activity. This may include such skills as forward and back walkovers, cartwheels, aerials, and front and back handsprings. Several of these skills take a lot of time and training to achieve. In many cases, it may take years to learn how to accomplish these skills. But one skill that is overlooked and not a major focus of development is the Hurdle Step.

Although many may think this is a petty skill that should not need serious attention, it is actually a very important skill that must be trained and learned properly. The Hurdle Step precludes most tumbling skills that begin with a run or stepping motion. These will include the cartwheel, round-off, aerials, front handsprings, etc. If the hurdle is not proficient, it will affect the result of the following skills.

The hurdle step (skipping motion) is a combination of several different elements.  It begins with a run or jumping motion we call a power hurdle.  It also entails a hopping motion and ends in a lunging position.   All of these elements should be a focus on developing correctly for the hurdle to be proficient.

In the sport of tumbling and gymnastics, it is important that the athletes learn to run correctly.  It is very common to see many students not being able to run with proper technique.  Body position, stride length, and arm movements are elements that affect a proper run.  The most common problem athletes have is the stride length.  Many take small and very short strides while running.  This may cause the athlete to have more of a forward lean than necessary and could cause the athlete to “trip”.  When we see track and field athletes at the highest levels of participation, their stride lengths are incredibly long.  This not only produces speed for the run, but also more power.  When the run has short or small steps, it will make the hopping motion in the hurdle a challenge.

Within the hurdle, there is a hopping motion where the athlete hops on one foot.  In most cases, we see a very short hopping motion that may be less than foot long.  The hop should be long and travel several feet, as in the stride motion of the run.  A short hop will certainly create a tripping motion while the athlete initiates the following skill like the round-off or front handspring.  There will be almost no control in the connecting skill.  I will often break this down and have the students train on that hopping motion.  In almost every case (with the exception of advanced tumblers), students can hop further from a static position than from a running motion.  The most common reason for this short hop is the steps of the run prior to the hop.  If the athlete has too much of a forward lean in the run, the hop will likely be short.

The finish of the hurdle step should end in a lunge position.  This position will vary depending on the level of the athlete.  In more advanced levels, this lunge position will have more of a forward lean and a very large stride position.  This is due to higher speed and aggression of the tumbling pass.  At the lower levels, the lunge should be more of an upright position.  This will allow the athlete to control their arms and body positions while preparing for the next skill.

In many cases, when we see a student struggling with performing skills such as the  round-off, front handsprings, or aerials, it is not the actual skill that needs to be fixed.  It may be the preceding skill that needs attention.  Focusing on and correcting the run and hurdle step is typically and easy fix How Do I Fix That?  It just needs to be isolated so the student can change and create a better habit.  It is amazing how such a simple correction can enhance the performance of a skill.  Another easy fix, which is so important in most skills including the hurdle step, is the arm position.  Tight and straight arms extended up above the head while performing such skills can make a huge difference.  When a student has loose and floppy arm and body movements, there is little control and creates slower and weaker movements.  This should be a major focus.

More time should be spent on correcting these little things.  The simple elements that are often overlooked can make the biggest differences on development and improvement.

I am developing manuals and videos on tumbling skill development that will be useful in training for all and any needing to learn proper technique and safety. 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:

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:

These neoprene wrist supports are the best for gymnasts and cheerleaders experiencing wrist pain. The neoprene provides support and warmth to the joint to help relieve pain discomfort.

This is the best syle of leotards for recreational gymnastics. Get yours today!!

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:





Coaching, Round-Off, Training, Tumbling

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

round-off anim 2

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.

bad back handspring

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:


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.



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.

round off reach

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.

Left Round-Off Hand Placement


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.


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:


Coaching, Dance, Safety, Training, Tumbling

Acquiring Tumbling Skills in the Dance Industry: Tumbling and the Dancer

dancer handstand

We have mentioned many times of how the sport of tumbling has become a requirement in sports. Of course, tumbling is a major part of gymnastics and cheerleading, but the requirements in Dance is growing rapidly. Each sports discipline has its own specific requirements for tumbling exercises. The skills that are popular in each sport varies. In this discussion, I will share my thoughts on how the sport of tumbling is incorporated in the dance industry.

There are several different types of dance disciplines that the dancer can participate in: jazz, lyrical, ballet, and more, but one discipline that is not seen as often is Acro. In the acro discipline, students combine tumbling skills into the dance choreography. These skills can range from very basic tumbling movements to more complex and advanced skills. The more advanced the dance student, the more advanced the tumbling elements. One of the biggest challenges for many dancers and dance programs needing to incorporate tumbling skills is proper training and development of these skills.

All disciplines of dance are very complex and students must commit many hours each week to develop the skills required in dance elements. In addition, many dancers on Company participate in several dance disciplines. Similar to gymnastics where the athletes participate in all the events, dancers may participate in Jazz, Lyrical, Ballet, Hip Hop, and more. This leaves little time for training the necessary tumbling skills the students would like to learn. The problem many dancers are faced with is that acquiring tumbling skills also takes many hours of consistent training to develop the skills (Tumbling: Importance of Building a Strong Foundation).

dancer back walkover

In the dance industry, the tumbling skills that are most popular are the front and back walkovers, front handsprings, aerial cartwheels, front aerials, and back handsprings. There are other skills that are seen but these are usually the major focus. The aerials and handsprings are considered the more advanced skills. These skills have a higher risk factor and takes, in most cases, years to accomplish.

dancer arial 2

Not only are tumbling skills required in the discipline of Acro, many of the other disciplines of dance are incorporating tumbling elements within their choreography. It seems the popularity of performing these tumbling skills is growing in the dance industry. This requires a higher demand of training to learn the skills that the students need to incorporate in their training schedule. Finding the time to train these skills is a big challenge for the students and program. In addition, most dance studio’s are also challenged with finding experienced tumbling instructors to train the students.

Since tumbling is not the primary objective in the dance industry, most dance studio’s have a challenge in hiring a full-time tumbling instructor for their program. This makes it difficult in finding a qualified instructor to commit to working with the program for the little hours allowed for this training. I am often asked by local dance programs to assist with training their students on a weekly basis. However, since my full time position is running my own gymnastics and tumbling programs, I simply to not have the time to accommodate them. This is the same scenario for many of the gymnastics and tumbling instructors in local communities.

coach spotting dancer      For those dance programs who are challenged with acquiring a tumbling instructor, there are several options they can explore. One option is to bring in an instructor periodically to do tumbling clinics for the students. There are many tumbling coaches throughout most communities that are employed at local gymnastics programs that would love to assist in this area. Another option is to have the dancers either join a weekly tumbling class at a gymnastics gym or explore one-on-one private lessons.

The most important reason to seek out professional and experienced tumbling coaches is due to the risks involved with learning tumbling skills. An experienced tumbling coach knows the proper technique of the skills and the particular drills used to assist the athlete with learning the skills in a non-threatening or dangerous manner (The Technique Controversy).

In addition to learning the skills properly, spotting the skills is essential to help the athlete gain confidence and protection from injury. This is especially important in learning the aerials and back handsprings (The Art of Spotting). Many times when athletes attempt these skills without an experienced spotter, while still in the developmental stages of learning the skill, accidents may occur. The result could create such a fear, the athlete may get a serious “mental block”. When this occurs, it may take a long time to overcome – and some athletes will never overcome the block. This scenario needs to be recognized so it can be prevented.

dancer handstand 2

One big difference the dance industry has compared to the other sports that incorporate tumbling, is that the dancers need to perform their skills on a wood or Marley surface. No matting is allowed. This certainly creates a higher risk to the dancer and intensifies the fear factor. This landing surface is much harder than the typical tumbling mats used in other industries. Not only is it a much harder surface, it can also be a slippery surface. It is needed for dancers to spin and pirouette, but creates a challenge for tumbling skills. This is another reason why the dancer needs to have their tumbling skills perfected prior to attempting on this type of surface.

We are getting an increased number of dance students either join our tumbling classes or taking private training lessons. Due to this increase in dance participants, we have started offering monthly Aerial clinics. These have been so popular that we usually reach capacity. The most common statement I hear from the dance parents is that their dance studio does not have the proper instruction to teach tumbling skills. Many dance programs that offer an acro class has an instructor but they lack the knowledge and experience in technique and spotting of the skills.


It is exciting to see tumbling skills incorporated in dance choreography. Many of the skills like the walkovers and aerials are elegant in their presentation and fits well within the dance routines. Let’s ensure the students learn these skills properly and safely. Through good technique, tumbling skills add a positive dynamic to the program. However, if the skills are performed poorly with bad technique, it will certainly have a negative effect in the presentation.

Please let me know what you think on this subject. 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.

If you would like me put on a special clinic for your program, please contact me at the information below. 

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

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