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Flyaway from the Bar

I recently put up a flyaway gymnastics minute on youtube.  A minute is a pretty short time to talk about a flyaway so I am going to discuss it a bit here.First and foremost the gymnast must be doing a good basic swing.  By now most everyone understands that the basic swing is a pike or hollow on the way down, an arch in the shoulders and upper back in the bottom and a pike or hollow in the front.The thing that many people do not completely understand is the relaxation at the bottom of the swing. During the downward swing the gymnast must push away from the bar to eliminate any shoulder angle going into the bottom.  Once the shoulder angle has been eliminated the gymnast can completely relax through the bottom of the swing.  This is extremely important and if the gymnast doesn’t do this it will change the point of release.After the gymnast has achieved a bottom free of any tension in the shoulders there will be a natural kick that comes as a result of the arch in the bottom.  Once the gymnast becomes used to what the natural kick feels like he or she can help that kick which will in turn create much more power into the point of release.  It is important to note that when the gymnast kicks there may be a tendency to use the shoulders.  This will create a shoulder angle and can result in the gymnast traveling back toward the bar.  Therefore, during the kick the gymnast should be encouraged to maintain an open shoulder position.When doing a tuck flyaway the gymnast should bend the legs at the end of the kick and look for his or her knees.  If the head is kept in a neutral position and the gymnast waits to see the knees that can be the cue to let go of the bar.  When doing a layout the gymnast should wait to see his or her toes and then let go of the bar.  Hopefully, the cue of looking for the knees on a tuck and the toes on a layout will make the point of release consistent.Note: when the gymnast wants more rotation in the case of a double somersault the kick of the knees at the end of the swing will be more vigorous and could result in a slight closure of the shoulders.  This will increase rotation greatly.  It is just important that the gymnast does not close the shoulders a lot since that will result in going back toward the bar.  Consequently, I do not emphasize closing the shoulders at all when talking to the gymnast.  I am just aware that it is taking place and if the gymnast starts to come close to the bar, I encourage the gymnast to keep the shoulders more open at the point of release.Good Luck

Tuck Back Somersault

I recently did a Gymnastic Minute indicating three important tips on executing a Tuck Back Somersault.  I would like to clarify a couple of things with regard to this skill.  First and most important, I NEVER said anything about throwing the head back much less “chucking” it.The tip again was:  1. throw the arms up past the ears2.  bring the knees up while keeping the arms up3.  grab the knees and “look back”There is a huge difference between looking back for the landing and throwing one’s head back.Please note that the three part tip above is meant to be done in precisely that order: arms, knees, head.  If you do the first two with a tight body, by the time you do number 3 you are past vertical and no matter what you do with your head (which weighs only approx. 5 lbs.) it will not influence the somersault in any way other than to provide you with an opportunity to visually prepare for the landing.I appreciate your comments on my minute and realize that everyone is entitled to an opinion.

Men’s JO Program

What is wrong with the new optional system for the junior program?  I will tell you one thing that I find very wrong.  There is absolutely no development in the developmental program.  In other words, there is no incentive whatsoever to have boys go through the various levels.  As most coaches and gymnasts have figured out by now, one can take the level 6 routines on each event and modify them very slightly and compete level 9.  Now logic tells me that this is not the best thing for the gymnast and that one should follow level 7 and 8 prior to becoming a 9.  However,  every coach and gymnast’s goal is to compete in the national championship.  Therefore, the big reward in skipping level 7 and 8 is that anyone who was a competent level 6 can make it to nationals without doing real gymnastics.  Should we reward a young gymnast with a trip to nationals if he can only do a shoulderstand on the rings?  Should a shoulderstand even be considered a move at the optional level?  It is because it is a “recognizable gymnastic movement”  which is used in the junior program.  Should a back uprise to “L” be a move without deduction on P-bars?  There are many of these examples.

To qualify to nationals as a level 9 a gymnast needed to score 72.0.  How difficult is that to do by modifying the level 6 routines.  I am not going to go into each one of the level 6 routines but if you take the time to do that you will find that a 12.0 on each event is very realistic.  P-bars is a good example:  the glide kip fulfills the long hang category, the support swing fulfills the support category, the Moy to upper arms fulfills the upper arm category and the wendy is a partial dismount.  Therefore, the gymnast receives 1.8 in the element groups.  There are at least 7 A moves which amounts to .7. So, the start value without any modifications is 12.5.  A handspring vault is worth 13.0 on vault and the other events are similiar.  It is probably realistic without modifying the routines at all to get an all around score of 72.0 or better!  But if you add a drop cast to P-bars and a layout half dismount on rings it is very simple to have very good start values and make going to nationals a realistic goal without doing real gymnastics.

Gentlemen, this system is broken and is in need of repair.  There must be guidelines and the JO program must become a developmental program.  I encourage your feedback.

I have noticed, of late, that there has been a tremendous misunderstanding when using the term “Hollow”.  Coaches seem to use this term as a catch all phase.  I am sure that if you do enough hollow body holds and rocks that the gymnasts understand what this position is.  However, do coaches truly understand the hollow position?  This is the topic that I would like to address.

I had the great fotune to meet Mr. Watanabe in 1970 when he first came to this country and started the “Hollow” phase which we are now in.  And I think that, as many things do, the term “Hollow” has been misinterpreted.  It is true that we want our gymnasts to achieve the most beautiful body positions and hollow is one of them.  However, how often do we emphasize the tight arch position?  Well in the beginning the concept was that the hollow position is no good without the arch position.  That everything is a play on opposites.  The yin and yang as it were.  Anyway, what we should really be emphasizing is the contrast and power that can be achieved by using the hollow with the arch effectively.

I will give you an example:

Layout Back Somersault - the most common place where this concept is misunderstood is on the back layout on tumbling.  Most coaches emphasize a hollow push off the hands on the back handspring which is good.  However,  how many try to get the gymnast to push the hips forward and open the chest with the arms past the ears on the takeoff?  By the  way, this would be a tight arch position.  Once this body position is achieved the gymnast should either remain in the tight arch for a layout or go back into a hollow body which prepares the gymnast to twist.

Many coaches suggest that when you push off the back handspring you should be hollow and you should take off in a hollow.  However, if you emphasize this I believe you will find your athletes doing a pike rather than a hollow layout position and usually piking because of under rotation.  If you use this technique to do a double back you will usually find the gymnast doing a double which under rotates with the head, more often than not, looking at the knees and creating counter rotation.

Therefore, remember that the preferred application of the “Hollow” is together, in contrast, with the arch.  You will obtain much greater power when this combination is applied properly.  Anyone who might like to have more specific applications discussed need only ask.  Mr. Watanabe himself is blogging on Gymsmarts community so there are lots of resources available.

For now “Good Coaching”.

 

Did you ever notice how many kids, boys and girls, kick when they try to do a kip?

This is a very common problem. 

 

When doing a kip, the ankles should be brought up to the bar and as the body swings back, the arms pull up and the legs extend.  However, when the legs are extended there is a tendency to want to kick.  This kick takes the legs away from the bar and makes it impossible to make the kip.  In order to make the kip, the legs need to extend and be kept right next to the bar.  Therefore, this is definitely not a kicking action. 

 

Sometimes we use the idea of “putting your pants on”.  This concept is easy to understand and relates to the gymnast that the legs need to travel up the bar and stay close to it.  If the gymnast is having a very difficult time making the kip it may be due to a lack of strength.  The strength involved in doing a kip is to fold: first, one must be able to pull himself to a support and second, bringing the legs to the bar requires a certain amount of stomach strength. 

 

In order to develop the strength involved in the kip it helps to do the following:  the strength to develop the pulling action can be developed by doing muscle ups with or without help from the coach, second, the strength to bring the ankles to the bar is developed by doing leg raises on the bar or preferably on stall bars.  By using the stall bars the use of the shoulders to facilitate the leg raise is minimized, therefore isolating the stomach muscles involved in bringing the ankles to the bar.

 

Last, but of great importance, the tap swing for the long hang kip and the glide action for a glide kip must also be developed and the coordination of the swing and the action described above takes time to develop.

 

One more thing, in an effort to isolate the kipping action, the drop kip will help.  The drop kip also requires timing and coordination.  However, there is no swinging movement to learn separately.  To accomplish the drop kip the gymnast begins in a support on the bar. With a very minimal cast the gymnast falls backwards, as if to do a back hip circle, brings the ankles to the bar, waits for the swing to go forward and then extends the legs along the bar while pulling him or herself to a support.  This additional skill will pay great dividends down the road.  I highly recommend you do this while learning the long hang tap swing and the glide swing.

 

Hope this helps with coaching the kip and remember “there is no kick in a kip”.

My question to any of you who may read this is, Is a front layout on floor really a layout?  After all in most cases going backward it seems everyone encourages a hollow body position.  Do you use a hollow body position to do a front layout?  It is my experience that a front layout is in an arch.  Does that make it another skill or is it just different from back tumbling? Another question is: when you twist backward you do a layout then twist, do you do the same going forward? I have some definite thoughts on these questions but I would like to get some feedback before I start giving my answers.  Anyone want to jump in?

Thanks to Valentine for a very astute response to my question.

In answer to Valentine, I agree that there are two types of layouts.  Unfortunately, most coaches think of only the arched whipping layout as a “layout”.  This becomes a drawback when trying to teach a full twisting layout.  In my opinion the whipping layout should be in almost the same body position as the layout that goes up.  In other words the gymnast’s take off is hollow followed by a tight arch.  The difference in whether one does a whip or goes up is in the front handspring.  To create the whipping action the front handspring must rotate faster and land more arched than the handspring that is used to go straight up.   Remember that the hollow takeoff must come from an arched position in order to create power.

So, there are two very distinct “Layout” front flips.  Please do not be confused by the term “layout” and think that the layout that whips is the only way to do this. As a matter of fact if you try to twist the whipping tight arched layout the gymnast wil have a very difficult time twisting beyond a full.  In order to efficiently twist the front somersault one must rotate the front handspring less in order to stand up taller on the take.  However, note that to create the power necessary to go up you must still land the handspring arched and snap to the hollow position.  The difference is that to twist you never drive the heels to create rotation.  The body stays in the hollow and you begin the twist at the top of the somersault which will increase the rotation and allow you to land on your feet. Good Luck.

When I went to coach at Bowling Green State University in 1996 I inherited 18 gymnasts and in turn 18 different ways to do a front handspring on floor.  I was amazed that we had just won the Olympics as a country in Atlanta yet these young ladies none of whom were below a Level 9 did not know how to do a good front handspring.  Below is a progression as to how we can all better teach the front handspring.

We are luckier today than in 1996 and before in that we have tumble traks to use to teach tumbling.  Unfortunately, the more advanced technology, at times, allows us to skip steps that are extremely important to a skill.  In this case kids can do many repetitions thinking they are being sucessful yet end up learning to do a front handspring finishing with the legs bent and or the head forward or arms forward or even down.

We must use basic concepts to teach these skills.  We should not lose sight of the fact that a front handspring is merely a front limber done quickly with a coordinated push off the ground with the arms through the shoulders.  And most of all it is important to emphasize the finish being with straight legs, in an arch, with arms overhead and head back.  This creates a slingshoot effect.  With the body acting as a bow bent and ready to release into the next skill. That skill would logically be a  front flip.

I have been judging high bar all year and I have some suggestions on Healys and Higgins.  Obviously, everyone needs to learn these skills since they are so important in todays world of gymnastics.  However, it is very important that these skills be done to a handstand and not just meet the minimum requirements of “within 15 degrees of a handstand”.  The following is my progression for teaching a healy and a higgins:

First of all, it is important to understand just how a regular pirouette needs to be performed.  The pirouette from a front giant to a back giant should arrive in a handstand which means that the pirouette must be initiated on the way up.  In order for that to be possible the gymnast must first be able to do a front giant without ANY shoulder angle whatsoever.  In addition there must be a tapping action similiar to that used for a hecht dismount.  The hecht tapping action is accomplished by stretching just prior to the bottom of the swing followed by a pike and then releasing the heels into a mild arch.  At the same time as the gymnast releases the heels he should intiate the turn for the pirouette.  This should result in the pirouette being completed in a handstand.

In order to learn a Healy I use a low bar and have the gymnast first do the pirouette as described above finishing in a handstand and falling to his stomach with all parts of the body landing simultaneously.  Next, I have the gymnast do the pirouette and reach over the pirouetting arm to a cross grip and again landing flat on the stomach.  Once the gymnast has accomplished this I have the gymnast reach a little farther on the cross arm phase and continue turning landing flat on the back instead of the stomach.

At this  point the Higgins plays a major part.  If you can visulalize the Higgins you can understand that the progression descibed above is a combination of a regular pirouette and a Higgins turn creating a Healy.  Now if we discuss and work on the Higgins at the same time there will be a definite carryover from the Higgins to the Healy.  Here is how that works:  most gymnasts perform the Higgins on the way down after completing a back giant or other backward movement such as a stalder or free hip.  I believe that actually a Higgins should be performed as a forward piouette from a back giant or other backward movement.  In order to do this you must stack the skill that preceeds the Higgins. In other words the back giant must be performed right to a handstand.  Again this requires a giant with NO shoulder angle. In order to get the athlete to perform the Higgins as a forward pirouette start with a floor bar.  Have the gymnast practice kicking up to a handstand with an overgrip and then do a forward pirouette. You will find that the gymnast is in a mixed elgrip or elgrip which is a Higgins.  This will allow the gymnast to do this movement to a handstand instead of on the way down.  Now remember that this is a pirouette and like any 1/2 pirouette, unlike the Healy, there must be a leaning action in order to move the center of gravity over the pivot hand.  It has been said that our gymnasts may not have the flextibility to perform these skills to a handstand.  I believe that we have just not been teaching them to use the correct mechanics.  If you can get a video of Dylan Carney from Stanford you will see the Healy being done directly to a handstand and he specifically uses the hecht tapping action to make that happen.  This should be the standard by which we measure our performance of these skills and then we will lead the world in this area on high bar.

I would love feedback on these ideas.  I hope they work and it helps us to perform these valuable skills better than anyone in the world.   GOOD LUCK

New Scoring System

I have been judging men’s gymnastics from Level 4 all the way up to the NCAA level this year and I have some very strong feelings about the new system.  Unfortunately, there is no longer any room for creativity.  If it is not in the code of points it is not gymnastics.  This seems pretty ridiculous since the Thomas Flair, for example, would not have been invented under the current rules.  Or it might have been evaluated and given a vaule by the FIG Technical committee and everyone would have been made aware of the skill in advance of it’s unveiling.  That was one of the great things about creativity.  We would go to a World Championship and hear about new skills being introduced for the first time.  In addition the emphasis on diffiuclty has created a compulsory effect.  Everyone seems to do the same skills in the same combinations in order to maximize the start score.  This clearly creates an atmosphere much like the old compulsories.  But at least when we had compulsories the next day we had optionals to look forward to.

Since the routines now need to be very long in order to, once again, maximize the start score, the gymnasts end up doing the skills that are easiest but have the highest difficulty level.  A typical example on floor exercise would be: round off back with a 1 1/2 twist, punch front 1/1 twist, punch 1 1/2 twist.  Next, there is an incredible amount of repetition.  For example, on high bar, most everyone does healys and higgins’ in various combinations several times. The rules read you can only get credit for four skills in any one category and both of these skills are in the same category.  However, watching any combination of four of these skills is boring.  Oh yea, by the way if the healy or higgins ends up in elgrip it is an elgrip skill and can count again.  So once again this is very boring.   Of course you add to all of this that the audience no longer understands what a good score is since the 10.0 has been taken out of the equation and you basically have a system that is not a good one.  The one positive thing which has come out of this effort is the change to execution deductions of: .1 for a small error, .3 for a medium error, .5 for a large error and .8 for a fall.  This does give the judge a better way to differentiate between competitors. This is not broken, it never worked in the first place.

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