Gymnastic Vault Moves: 6 Mistakes To Avoid

gymnastics vault moves

When it comes to vault coaching, it seems to be the one piece of apparatus that coaches either love or loathe! Personally, I’m drawn to the power, technical characteristics and variety gymnastic vault moves can offer.

Yes variety, vault doesn’t have to be boring!

Just as with other apparatus, it’s the bringing together of different constituents in your gymnast’s training programme that creates a great vault, not just the time spent on the runway.

I’ve been consulting extensively across Europe, sharing my expertise and model for vault development. As a Vault Expert for the UEG (European Union of Gymnastics) for 6 years, I’ve helped several national teams advance their gymnastic vault moves and strength prior to major championships and qualifications.

In this post, I list the 6 Biggest Mistakes I see coaches make (in my humble opinion) when coaching vault moves, and with a particular focus on vaulting at the foundation level.

  1. Not ensuring the vault height is relative to the gymnast

It’s painful to see young gymnasts try to vault when the table towers over their head. Vaulting effectively in this form is often unachievable for the gymnasts to fulfill, as well as understand the principle of vault: repulsion.

Vault put simply, requires the conversion of horizontal velocity into vertical velocity. To achieve this, the gymnast needs minimal ground contact time when running, board and vault contact.

If your gymnasts are executing a vault which is so high that they cannot make it without keeping their hands on the vault for a long period of time, you’re contradicting that message.

Stop.

Give them a vault height which enables them to bounce off their hands.

You wouldn’t ask a 12-year-old gymnast to hurdle over the same height as Jessica Ennis-Hill now would you? It’s not relative!

Vault is not only about making it over the top. It’s about how long you can spend in the air after repulsion.

Gymnastic vaults such as yurchenko’s, handsprings, kazamatsu’s etc, can and should be coached to young gymnasts at low vault heights, which are relative to their size, and which maximise their individual power and weight ratio.

Often, for young gymnasts to fully grasp and understand the principles of vault, you don’t even need the vault itself, which brings us onto the next point …

  1. Too much work on the vault itself

Vault is often considered boring when the coaching program sees gymnasts spend 40 minutes every lesson lining up at the end of the run, with a pile of mats behind the vault, executing the same uphill drills.

The beauty and intricacy of vault are that there are so many elements to it. In sequence these elements form a domino effect:

Run > Hurdle > Round off > Board Position > Flight onto Table > Repulsion > Flight Off Table > Landing

These elements make vault a diverse piece of equipment to coach, with a great deal of scope for variety. Here are just a few of the components that you can use for vault development:

  • Running drills
  • Speed, acceleration and power development
  • Trampoline spatial awareness and coordination work
  • ‘Mini trampoline’ drills
  • Somersaults over the vault to improve board positions and understanding of key positions
  • Specific landing exercises, drills, and games
  • Isolated drills for specific phases of the vault
  • Vaulting off low blocks and inclined surfaces

I’ve used as little as 25% of coaching time on the actual vault itself, even with gymnasts who execute double twisting Yurchenko’s on the international stage. It’s not necessary to perform hundreds of reps there. But I still get hundreds of reps done, albeit in different environments.

  1. Not respecting the importance of the run

Running and speed development is a technical skill in itself, with many physical benefits:

  • Strong running develops plyometric qualities, it is one of the most plyometric activities out there.
  • Strong running aids body alignment and posture.
  • Strong running increases body stiffness on ground contact.
  • Strong running is economical, reserving energy for the vault itself.

You won’t see many high-level vaults being executed without serious acceleration and effective speed in the approach to the table.

Young gymnasts (or those with a slight frame/build) who cannot muster as much force, need to learn to run effectively even more so than a senior gymnast, in order to depress the springboard.

Without board depression, there is no power.

Short steps, under striding and over striding are all ‘red flags’ for technique and risk injury. By investing a few minutes each vault session with some basic running drills, you could improve power and therefore the end result.

It’s important to remember that it takes a few sprints before the legs are warm enough to produce optimal force, so try to spend this time on drills rather than wasting technical turns when the body is ‘cold.’

  1. Using a springboard straight away for yurchenko’s

I’m sure you’ll agree, round off’s are one of the most frustrating basic elements that exist. I’ve spent hours and hours on remedial coaching, trying to ‘fix’ poor round off’s which are either crooked, too short or too long,  too slow or not smooth.

Executing them uphill onto a springboard only emphasises the problems further.

Knees rolling forward and collapsing, chest too low, feet on the edge, head backward. These are all common problems that may stymie the effective learning of a yurchenko vault.

Personally, I like to start the theory of yurchenko without a board, using just a floor and a block. In this environment, you are still able to teach the principle of executing the flick (back handspring) ‘uphill’ and the importance of lifting hips, keeping the head in line etc. without undergoing a poor springboard position or lack of tension.

  1. Not thinking long term

A tsukahara may be adequate in the short term, but looking at current trends, this will not provide much value long term. Your gymnasts will improve at whatever they spend their time on. If you’re spending most of your vault time on a pike tsuk with an eye on a quick competitive ‘D’ score, then that’s short sighted and may impede your gymnasts vaulting performance when it really counts.

I could say the same about coaching pike positions in yurchenko’s and tsuakhara’s, but that’s opening a whole other can of worms …

  1. Not respecting the importance that conditioning plays

I think you’ll agree that vault is about power and force development.

And we’ll also agree that without body tension, a high-level vault cannot be achieved.

Strength underpins power.

Strength, power, body tension and force development are all secondary products of physical preparation.

You are asking the gymnast to do something they are not physically strong enough to execute. Therefore it is better to invest time in physical preparation, rather than trying to draw blood from a stone on the vault itself. Yes, gymnasts will develop some enhanced strength improvement from executing repetitions, but not at the same level as under an optimised physical coaching programme.

Happy vaulting

Article by Nick Ruddock, Gymnastics Club Manager’s resident coaching expert and ex GB National Coach.

Gymnastics Lessons: Dealing With High Performers & The Overshadowed

gymnastics lessons

This may divide opinion a little, but I want you to think about the following scenario, which may be happening in your gymnastics lessons right now.

You have a top gymnast, who regularly outperforms the rest of the group/team.

You also have a gymnast who is second to your top performer in the way that they train and perform. They work hard, but may never reach their full potential, not as a result of a lack of promise, but because they are consistently overshadowed by their higher performing peer.

True?

I want you to consider this hypothetical scenario for me;

If your top gymnast moved on to another club, were injured or retired for any other reason, would your second best gymnast take their place?

Creating Favourites

It’s widely frowned upon to have ‘favourites’ when coaching, but higher performers do often receive greater attention than their lower performing peers. Something that is often seen as ‘favouritism’ by their rival teammates. If time was split equally for everybody, would the gymnasts with the highest potential reach optimum performance?

Probably not. And while that doesn’t seem fair, it might just be the truth.

So if your second tier gymnast suddenly became the top gymnast in the club, and therefore demanded more of your time, would they realise greater potential than if they were still in the shadow of their higher performing peer?

I’ve seen many cases where potentially great gymnasts are in the shadow of a higher performing team mate. Instead of being motivated and driven by their peers’ performances and results, they suffer a decline in their own self esteem and self worth.

They struggle with being in the shadow of somebody else’s spotlight. It’s not always motivating, and more often it’s demotivating for young gymnasts. They may not have the mental capacity to understand and cope with other people’s success.

The two types of mentality here are known as ‘scarcity’ and ‘abundance’.

A person with a ‘scarcity mindset’ will be threatened by another person’s success, as they believe that another’s achievements are depriving them of their own slice of success. Furthermore they believe there is only so much ‘success’ to go around.

On the otherhand, someone with an ‘abundance mentality’ is happy for others to succeed. They understand that their success does not threaten their own chances of success also. They believe there is room for everybody in life to be high achievers.

Healthy Competition?

Steven Covey, author of the legendary book the ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People‘, talks about the 5 emotional cancers that we should stay away from:

  • Complaining
  • Criticising
  • Competing
  • Contending
  • Comparing

Being competitive in a sporting setting is a key attribute for gymnasts and coaches to be internally driven to improve performance. Competition within a club can be exceptionally healthy and when in place, can ease the job of the coach when igniting the gymnasts’ self drive to perform better.

But a) wanting to beat somebody to ensure they don’t win, and b) wanting to beat somebody in order to be the best, are two contrary philosophies. Only one can result in sustained happiness, as the reality is everybody will be beaten at some point, and many will be beaten a lot.

The worst thing a coach can do when a coaching an overshadowed gymnast is publicly or openly compare them to their team mate, cementing in their mind their inferiority to their higher performing peer;

‘What are you doing, you don’t see ‘Katie’ performing like that do you?’

‘Katie can do these in her sleep, why are you struggling so much?’

‘If you want to be more like Katie you’re going to have to work harder.’

Feedback like this creates a self fulfilling prediction which is being cemented into the gymnasts’ belief system, breeding a mindset of jealousy (contending), bitterness (complaining/criticising) and lack of self esteem (comparing.)

Nick’s Tips To Improve Your Gymnastics Lessons

  • Praise progress. However small. It’s the small daily wins that amount to serious growth, and gymnasts of all abilities like to be informed of each positive step in the right direction.
  • Educate the gymnast to focus on bettering their own performance, and by benchmarking success against their own development, not always the results of others. Another gymnast’s performance is not in their control (always control the controllable.)
  • Educate the gymnast (all of them!) about the road to success, the trials and tribulations on the way and the pitfalls they will experience.
  • Educate the gymnasts that life is not fair, it never will be. Not in business, not in relationships, not in careers and not in sport. Nobody is entitled to anything. You achieve what you work for, but often in sport, it’s not always the hardest worker that wins. It’s just the way it is, get over it and get used to it.
  • As a coach, never speak to your gymnast about the lack of fairness in performances, scores or rankings. Your emotional intelligence and rational thinking is contagious, and I have seen several gymnasts adopt the bad attitudes of their coaches as they are conditioned by their influence.
  • Avoid comparing gymnasts performances to the whole group in a bid to try and create motivation. It is demotivating, lowers self esteem, and provides a false reference for their progress.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, your top gymnast will someday finish, get injured, lose interest or transfer to another club. The depth of your gymnastics programme is vital to sustained success.

Article by Nick Ruddock, Gymnastics Club Manager’s resident coaching expert and International Gymnastics Coach and Consultant.

Gymnastics Training Plan Failing? There’s More Than One Way To Skin A Cat!

gymnastics training plan

How often have you heard the phrase ‘there’s more than one way to skin a cat?’

Maybe, you hear it ALL the time in your sport, and maybe, (like me) you hate the saying!

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s value and reasoning behind it, and I am not against its principle, HOWEVER, all too often it is incorrectly used and taken out of context.

The saying, which can be traced back to the 1850’s, clearly refers to there being more than one way to do something. That is plain, and can’t really be disputed.

Yet I am often exasperated by it, and its prolific use within gymnastics; just because there are 10 different ways of teaching a skill, doesn’t mean you should use them all.

In fact, using them all is often counter-productive! Nothing is more complicated than trying to teach a gymnast a skill multiple ways, simultaneously.

It’s great to be experienced enough to be able to deploy multiple methods to deliver the teaching of a skill, and I would encourage gymnastic coaches to know as many different methods of teaching a skill as possible.

Problems arise however, when coaches shift from method to method without allowing them to run their course or permitting enough time for a gymnast to understand and learn a concept.

I’ve observed coaches undertake to teach a skill multiple ways within a single session, looking for assurance that the gymnast will pick one up. This is possible in training camp environments, when a number of coaches, working within a group, all attempt to teach a gymnast ‘their method,’ often resulting in a Feedback Frenzy.

An early sign of a gymnast performing a drill well isn’t always a sign that they can grasp the whole skill using that method. We must also remember that early adoption of skill learning can be harmful to the learning process.

Keep in mind, there are not many shortcuts in skill learning worth taking in gymnastics.

Adhering to a single method in which you have belief and confidence is NOT CLOSED MINDED. Presuming that you have considered alternative approaches, be aware that there may always be a better, faster, safer, more accurate way to teach a skill.

If for example, you’d been coaching at a high-performance level for a decade, teaching a particular skill multiple times, to multiple gymnasts and to an international standard, I would expect you to have great confidence in your approach and not want to move to other methods just because you can or because another coach tells you to.

That isn’t being closed minded, that’s having knowledge and belief in your current method.

BIG DIFFERENCE.

There are more ways to skin a cat, YES, but that shouldn’t mean you skin the cat 5 different ways at the same time.

Article by Nick Ruddock, Gymnastics Club Manager’s resident coaching expert and ex GB National Coach.

Gymnastics Training Plan: Inciting A Feedback Frenzy

Before we get into feedback and your gymnastics training plan, let’s begin with a golfing scenario!

You are standing at the driving range, with your golf club in hand and a few balls at your feet. Chances are unless you are in training for the next PGA Tour, you will spend the next 30 minutes or so just ‘hitting a few’. And that’s perfectly fine, but let’s assume you have a qualified professional coach by your side.

Someone who is determined you will master your driving shots and make good progress during each and every session you have with them. After all, that is what you are paying them for…

A return on that coaching investment is not a lot to ask for, so how much information would you expect to receive from them by way of feedback on how your game is (or isn’t) improving?

Probably a lot, right?

Feedback is a wonderful thing, but just as with a comedian playing to a tough crowd – delivery is everything. So would you expect that feedback to come all in one hit? Or in small, easy to digest pieces? Maybe you want constant feedback before, during and after each strike of the ball?

Finally, consider this – what if you received different feedback each and every time you hit a ball? It would be technically correct feedback, based on valid coaching points, but it would be something different each time.

How would that make you feel?

Adding Feedback To Your Gymnastics Training Plan

Let’s now move to a gymnastics training scenario, a Yurchenko vault. This is a skill that comprises several stages:

Run up > hurdle > round off > board position > 1st flight to table > strike > repulsion/flight phase > landing.

That’s a lot of technique to remember. But as with any skill like this, there can be a domino effect when changes are made to any of the phases. The net result being detrimental to subsequent phases of that skill.

From a coaching standpoint, the logical thing to do would be to tackle the skill from beginning to end. Make mastering the early stages of the skill a priority and the learning process for the latter stages will become easier.

However, in reality this is difficult to do and bad performance habits can become ingrained if the latter stages are being performed poorly.  

In the end, coaches resort to coaching all of it, all at once.

Let’s look at an example:

‘Lucy’ is performing the Yurchenko skill in training:

After Repetition 1 – It’s only the first rep and therefore she is not fully warmed up, but the gymnastics coach gives her feedback anyway to help her in the next vault: ‘don’t step across in your round off.’

Before Repetition 2 – Lucy is thinking about ‘not stepping across in the round off’ and performs the vault again. This time the coach provides different feedback: ‘your hurdle was too low, keep your chest up.’

Before Repetition 3 – Lucy is now thinking about the ‘hurdle’ as that was the last bit of feedback she remembers. But prior to performing Rep 3, her coach provides a different cue: ‘run faster.’

Let’s STOP for a moment.

Can you see the ‘feedback frenzy’ that is occurring? In just 3 repetitions, Lucy’s coach has offered several coaching points. While they are all relevant, they are also all different.

If Lucy is attempting to improve on these points one at a time, and it is unlikely she can concentrate on all of them at once, then she is in fact learning through repetition within certain conditions, and not necessarily the feedback itself.

On top of this, there is of course, an assumption the feedback being given is CORRECT. However, even if the feedback is not technically accurate, gymnasts are still able to improve their performance over time.

The Power of Practice Within Certain Conditions

These conditions are that:

  1. a) the gymnast is focused
  2. b) the coach has a high expectancy of the level of performance
  3. c) the drill/exercise is a logical progression being used to help the skill learning process.

Under these conditions both coach and gymnast have an eagerness for progress, and the gymnast can self-regulate their performance by repetition, as well as trial and error.

This is different to low-performance conditions. Here there is little emphasis on technique, or a patient step-by-step progression, or attention to detail/desire to improve.

Here are a few ‘guidelines’ to follow when providing feedback to gymnasts:

  1. Feedback = information. For information to be retained, it should be short, sticky (easy to remember) and understood. Feedback should be repeated and reinforced, and may be delivered in different ways. There is only so much information a gymnast can consume and retain, so it is vital they can retain the important bits. Consider giving ‘tweet’ length feedback – that is feedback in 140 characters or less!
  2. To ensure your gymnasts are listening to the feedback you give, ask them to explain their understanding of it back to YOU. If the response is a shrug and a blank look, you may need to deliver it in a different way.
  3. Always use language that is age-appropriate and in line with the technical expertise of the gymnast, to allow them to understand more of the feedback. It is not an opportunity to showcase your knowledge of science and biomechanics.
  4. You do not always have to provide feedback, especially within the first few repetitions of performing a skill. Let the gymnast warm up and get a feel for the skill first. If an error is obvious to both of you, is it necessary to say anything at all? Perhaps providing a ‘cue’ before their next performance is all that is needed (see point 6.)
  5. Gymnasts will feel far more empowered and powerful if they are aware of their technical faults themselves, rather than their coach telling them. Asking them for their feedback on where a skill could be further improved, is a good way to assess their understanding and focus.
  6. Providing a ‘cue’ (ahead of performance information) can be more helpful than feedback (after performance information), especially with a waiting/rest time between each rep. A ‘cue’ is a little bit of information which will remind the gymnast to think about a particular facet of the skill. For example, if you were to say ‘lift your hips’ just before performance of the skill, it is far more likely to be applied than if it was said 2 minutes earlier. By the time the performance start came around it may be lost after other discussions, or simply forgotten.
  7. Try working on a particular theme for the session, or break it into multiple themes. With the ‘Yurchenko’ example: Running warm up, followed by hurdle and round off development, followed by 2nd flight phase. This allows you to regulate feedback and not focus on too many aspects of the skill. Look at this as a way of ‘isolating’ the technical points of the skill into just one or two areas. Drills work on the same principle, here you can focus on one or two key aspects of a skill, repeated often to ingrain positive performance habits.
  8. Ask your gymnast ‘what are you thinking about on this turn?’ to ensure they are listening and focused for each and every rep.

Have you ever watched a movie for the first time, but not understand the plot until you watch it again a few months later?

Or consider a book you read a few months back – how much of it can you remember? Of a book with just 300 pages, it would be surprising if you could write just a couple of sides of A4 retelling whole the story.

The point? We can only retain so much information over time…

Make your feedback ‘sticky’ and obvious. Don’t speak unless it improves on silence.

Article by Nick Ruddock, Gymnastics Club Manager’s resident coaching expert and ex GB National Coach.

Gymnastics Coach Training: Are You A ‘Cotton Wool’ Coach?

gymnastics coach training

You are probably asking: just what is ‘cotton wool’ coaching?

Have you ever heard the expression: ‘she’s wrapped up in cotton wool’? It’s often applied to those people (usually children) who are perceived to be ‘overly protected’ by their parents.

In the same way, ‘cotton wool coaching’ could be applied to coaches who are overly protective of their gymnasts. It is often caused by a fear or reluctance to expose them to any potential failure or risk.

Let’s be clear: we are not talking about exposing gymnasts to DANGER here, instead we are referring to exposing them to failure and the potential learning opportunities failing can provide.

Gymnastics Coach Training Needs To Embrace Failure!

Failure is a fantastic opportunity to learn and improve. Perfection can only be achieved if we reflect on our past performances and learn from what went wrong – and things do go wrong! In this sense, failure is therefore critical to success – you cannot have one without the other.

So why seek to protect gymnasts from it?

Let’s look at some of the ways gymnastics coaches often use to protect gymnasts, without embracing the potential lessons and learning opportunities that could be applied:

  • Putting gymnasts into competitions that they could win easily or rank highly.
  • Avoiding providing honest feedback because of fear of upsetting the gymnast, even if that feedback could help them improve.
  • Not allowing gymnasts to train in pressurised training environments, because of fear it would upset mindset and disturb balance (exactly what it is intended to do!)
  • Avoiding fun competitions during training because it may upset those who lose.
  • Making excuses for gymnasts when things do not go to plan, instead of holding open, honest discussions to help improve future performance. The knock-on effect of making excuses for gymnasts is to develop gymnasts who make excuses for themselves. And that’s a bad place to end up.

The 100% Syndrome

Chances are you will have come across gymnasts who suffer from ‘100% syndrome’. These are gymnasts who simply cannot cope when performances go wrong, poorly or inconsistently.

Poor performances can lead gymnasts to become demoralised and develop low self-esteem. In turn this fuels distractive emotions and they find it difficult to focus on making the improvements needed.

Furthermore, coaches can add to this by themselves responding emotionally to poor performances, instead of rationally.

Putting these two things together makes for a dangerous combination.

Striving For Perfection

While not a bad thing, indeed it’s a great trait, gymnasts who strive for perfection need to understand that the path to success is not a linear process. Inevitably, they will encounter bumps, roadblocks and diversions along the way.

Such hurdles should be seen as a positive and that adversity helps develop resilience.

Resilience and grit are excellent qualities for gymnasts to possess. Both help develop the determination to persevere in adversity, and to confront their fears in uncomfortable situations.

Gymnasts who cannot cope under physical and mental stress have limited potential. A more important ability is durability.

Confronting Failure

Just as a gymnast is unlikely to perform a competent double back somersault without prior coaching from you, they are also unlikely to possess the mental tools to cope with and confront failure without your support and guidance. Failing is a scary prospect to children and adults alike!

Facing failure and adversity in a positive way requires mental strength and proactive coaching.

When coaching technical skills you will break them down into bitesize chunks which you deliver ‘little and often.’ The same technique applies here too. Drip feeding mental training is a daily part of your training sessions, added into the messages you give gymnasts, your review processes following competitions and your approach to facilitating failure in training.

Yes, … FACILITATING FAILURE.

In fact actively encouraging it, by creating an environment where failure is an inevitable, natural and importantly, acceptable part of every training session. Shouting at your gymnasts when they make a mistake is not accepting failure, but instead being critical of it. Such an action does not help your gymnasts, but rather increase their fears of poor performances and contribute to them developing ‘100% syndrome.’

You may be reading this and feel skeptical, maybe even curious about how you can maintain high standards and accept failure. It is important to understand that embracing failure is by no means lowering your standards – the bar remains high, the difference is in how you get there.

Let’s consider some fictional examples:

FICTIONAL EXAMPLE 1

You are working with a young gymnast and training them on a new skill; a ‘stalder’ on bars. The gymnast, (let’s call her ‘Lucy,’) falls three times in a row attempting the skill, yet she has performed it fine in previous training sessions. There appears to be no reason why she shouldn’t be able to perform the skill successfully on this day also.

Scenario/Coaching Response 1

‘Lucy this is ridiculous, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do this, drop your hips harder and snap faster under the bar.’

Scenario/Coaching Response 2

You ask Lucy a question;

‘Why don’t you think you are able to get around the bar?’

Together you have a conversation about it. She tells you her opinion. It isn’t the correct answer, but that doesn’t matter.

‘OK, what do you need to do to fix that?’

Lucy answers.

‘Great, give it a go and see if it works.’

It doesn’t work. She did what she said, but what she said wasn’t the correct answer.

‘OK, so that didn’t work, can you remember the coaching points that we were talking about the last few days?’

Lucy details the coaching points which she remembers and understands. She applies the points and successfully performs the skill.

Scenario 1 and 2 delivered the same result. Scenario 2 actually took longer BUT:

Scenario 1 motivated through fear and didn’t encourage her to think for herself. This is the worst kind of motivation.

Scenario 1 was critical of failure.

Scenario 2 empowers gymnasts to think and REFLECT for themselves, and holds them accountable for their decisions.

Scenario 2 builds the gymnast – coach relationship by talking to Lucy like an adult, and having a conversation with her.

Scenario 2 accepted failure as part of the process to get to the desired outcome. There was little consequence of failure.

Scenario 2 didn’t require a raised voice or harsh words.

Let’s look at another fictional scenario:

FICTIONAL EXAMPLE 2

Lucy has a major competition for her age group in a few weeks time and is performing her routines well in training. Consistent performances during training is building her confidence and her self-esteem.

Scenario 1

What you’re doing seems to be working and you don’t want to disrupt this so continue to train in exactly the same manner towards the competition.

Scenario 2

You understand that training within the confines of a home gym is vastly different than training in a pressurised or competition environment.

Lucy’s current performances are great, but you need to apply pressure and challenge her consistency to mimic competitive environments and stimulus which she will experience on competition day.

You decide to create a competition preparation strategy which intentionally puts Lucy out of her comfort zone, knowing that it will likely disrupt performance:

  • 1. The next practise competition will be performed in another local gym, on equipment and surroundings unfamiliar to Lucy.
  • 2. Lucy’s warm up length will be minimised prior to performing routines.
  • 3. It will be necessary to perform routines on consecutive days in the gym, even if Lucy is tired from her previous day’s performances.
  • 4. Her routines will be performed under different conditions, some in silence, some with a noisy environment, some without a warm up, some with a long wait.

Scenario 2 will result in several errors in Lucy’s competition routines and superficially this may appear to knock her self esteem and confidence towards the event, BUT in parallel to this strategy you are educating Lucy on WHY you are going through the process and what she and you should expect on its journey.

Lucy can benefit significantly from pressurised training scenarios, the benefits of which will present themselves when she performs her routines in an uncomfortable environment – competition day!

Sometimes, it is necessary to unwrap the cotton wool. And while it may be perceived as ‘tough love;’ being cruel to be kind, you shouldn’t think of it as being cruel. It’s ‘coaching’, and it’s your job  to prepare a gymnast physically, mentally, emotionally for their performances in and out of the gym.

The key to profiting from failure is in how you follow up from it. If you don’t reflect on losses or mistakes, you stand to learn little from them. You have to make a few wrong decisions to know what the right decisions are.

Or to put it another way – a little trial and error.

Are you educating your gymnasts to reflect and learn from their mistakes? Are you facilitating these discussions with them?

There are many high achieving gymnasts and individuals with stories of failure and adversity prior to achieving greatness. Exploit these and use them as fantastic examples of how even the world’s greats fail.

For instance this famous Michael Jordan quote:

‘I’ve missed over 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.’

Is that not a great quote to discuss with your gymnasts?

Fail and fail often.

Reflect.

Don’t make excuses, make progress.

Article by Nick Ruddock, Gymnastics Club Manager’s resident international gymnastics coach and consultant.

Gymnastics Coaching: Why It’s Time To ‘Own The Energy’

We’ve talked in previous posts about the key attributes the best gymnastics coaches have. Without a doubt, most or maybe that should be all, bring an infectious energy to their gymnastics coaching.

Coaches who have this ‘energy’, are typically more engaging, compelling and importantly – ‘present.’

They have an energy you can feel, hear and see right from the start, and a presence which commands your attention and focus. These gymnastics coaches have a far better chance to sustain their gymnasts concentration, making them far better motivators and engineers of the environment they coach in.

Simply put – when it comes to gymnastics coaching, if you don’t have energy, you can’t share it.

What Separates Good and Great Coaches

There are a great many coaches who have solid technical knowledge of gymnastics. It’s quick to learn, accessible and fairly simple to adopt. However, changing gymnastics coaching habits and behaviour requires self-awareness as well as drive and action.

Consider a comedian’s skill in using and manipulating language and body language to make something often seen as normal, absolutely hilarious. It’s less about the words used, but instead the compelling and humorous way they deliver the joke, that engages their audience.

This is both energy and engagement.

Attributes of Coaches Who Lack Energy and Engagement

Let’s look at some of the key attributes possessed by coaches who have low energy and engagement with their gymnasts. (This is not an exhaustive list, neither do these attributes indicate poor coaching or bad practice).

  • Monotone in their voice, never varying in tone, pitch or volume, often quiet
  • Closed body language
  • Standing distant from their gymnasts when coaching
  • Sitting down whilst coaching
  • Standing in the same place each and every time a gymnast visits an apparatus (most coaches always stand/sit in the same spot every session, do you?)
  • Using the same feedback methods, language and drills, never changing the stimulus for the gymnast
  • Does not set out clear goals for training
  • Appears generally lacking motivation

Qualities of a Compelling Coach

By contrast, this list shows the qualities of a compelling gymnastics coach who possesses a high level of energy and engagement:

  • Varied pitch, tonality and volume of their voice
  • Open, confident and approachable body language
  • Always standing, moving around and never in a predictable spot to watch training
  • A varied style of delivering feedback
  • Asks the gymnast questions to test their focus and understanding of their own performance (athlete empowerment)
  • Unpredictable, (yet still consistent) approach to their coaching methodology and progressions
  • Sets clear goals and objectives for the session so each gymnast is task orientated and practicing with purpose
  • Is proactive in their instructions, clearly leading the session as opposed to being reactive with feedback based on gymnast performance.

Energy and Persistence Conquer All Things

Energy can also be a byproduct of the environment you coach in – music choice for example, can be a key factor and when used in conjunction with a good warm-up session can really set the tone and energy for the whole session.

Owning the energy in your gymnastics training will help you command attention and motivate your gymnasts. Before you go, look at the above lists and see if you can identify one area to improve; perhaps you could try an alternative approach within your gymnastics coaching sessions and then evaluate the impact it had on your results.

Article by Nick Ruddock, Gymnastics Club Manager’s resident coaching expert and International Gymnastics Coach and Consultant.

Gymnastics Training Plan: Are You Creating Robots or Building Relationships?

Gymnastics Training Plan

We’ve often said that any gymnastics training plan should focus on building positive relationships, through communication, trust, and engagement.

In a previous blog post, we talked about how great gymnast-coach relationships do not happen organically. As with any other kind of relationship, they develop over time and often require work to make them great.

A love for the sport of gymnastics is what drives many coaches, along with valuing the time they spend with their young, budding gymnasts. Why? Because they discover coaching children is FUN! As the years go by many fond memories are linked to times of happiness and laughter with these gymnasts and not just when they have achieved something great or won medals.

This is why it can be hard to understand why some coaches choose to develop a gymnastics training plan which sees their gymnasts train like robots. It may not be a deliberate act, but is often inevitable under the coaching regime and conditions their training plan provides.

Let’s explain further….

The Robot-Building Gymnastics Training Plan

Just like their metal, sci-fi-born counterparts, robotic gymnasts give the impression of being devoid of emotion, lacking personality and often fear being expressive and creative in their routines.

Furthermore, they often lack the ability to properly communicate with their coaches.

One thing they can do well is follow instructions.

This may appeal to you and your coaching philosophy. But honestly, does the thought of spending countless hours with gymnasts who cannot be expressive or creative, or even fun, appeal?

By creating ‘robotic gymnasts’ you manufacture them to behave in a specific way and apply endless limitations, restraints, and rules. These gymnasts often lack self-esteem, simply because they cannot be themselves.

Fear of consequences also influences their behaviour, leaving them preferring the sterile-robot approach rather than risk getting into trouble.

And that’s just tragic.

Creativity Or A Lack Of Discipline?

Coaches also fall into the trap of associating creativity and fun, with a lack of discipline and carelessness. Many feel that if their coaching focused on creativity and having fun they would never get anything done.

Injecting fun, character, laughter, energy and happiness into your gymnastics training plan does not need to be to the detriment of structure, discipline, commitment and work ethic. Indeed the best gymnastics clubs manage to achieve the perfect balance of all of the above.

It is laughter, fun, and happiness that helps to build a gymnast’s confidence and strengthen their passion for the sport. In turn, this builds a strong desire to come back to each and every training session.

Morale Comes Before Medals

Building good morale helps build a positive environment and culture. In turn, this makes your gymnastics classes more enjoyable – and ultimately more productive.

To put it simply: Happy People Perform Better.

Surviving in the sport of gymnastics relies on many things, but one of the most important traits a gymnast should have is character. Few make it ‘all the way’ in this difficult sport, so it is vital they learn to embrace it positively.

If your young gymnasts are often miserable, prone to crying, lack expression or character, you could be missing a vital component in your training skills, or conversely, something needs to be removed.

It’s important therefore to encourage diversity, personality, and creativity in your gymnasts.

Before you go, consider the following questions:

  • How do you want your gymnasts to remember their training in years to come?
  • How do you want them to remember the time you spent with them?
  • Would they have positive memories or negative thoughts?
  • Are you suppressing character or allowing it to flourish?
  • Are you facilitating creativity or restricting it?
  • Do your gymnasts laugh and smile whilst training?
  • Are you having fun coaching them?
  • Do you enjoy the time spent with your gymnasts?
  • Do you regularly laugh and smile whilst training?
  • Most importantly, does the thought of spending another ten years in your current conditions and environment scare you or excite you?

Article by Nick Ruddock, Gymnastics Club Manager’s resident international gymnastics coach and consultant.

Gymnastics Coaching: Helping Gymnasts “Be More Confident”

Gymnastics Coaching

How good are you at giving your gymnasts feedback? It may sound like a strange question, but when it comes to gymnastics coaching, this is something I think about often…

…helping gymnasts “be more confident.”

On its own, telling a gymnast to be more confident is not going to magically flick a switch which will make them immediately feel competent enough to perform gymnastics skills they previously struggled with.

As a form of feedback, “be more confident” is pretty useless!

Tackling A Lack Of Self-Belief

By definition, confidence (or self-confidence in this case) is ‘belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities.’ Ask a gymnast to perform a skill they lack self-belief in, and their chances of performing it with ‘confidence’ are limited.

Could confidence be something a gymnast could fake? Could it be something they can simply ‘switch on’ when asked?

No.

Feedback to your gymnasts would need to be more appropriately communicated. For instance, “be more aggressive.” Aggression is something a gymnast can consciously adjust, be it performing harder, faster or just with more conviction. You could say that aggression can be interpreted as a byproduct of confidence.

Gymnastics Coaching That Develops And Nurtures

Confidence is something that develops over time, and when coupled with careful nurturing on your part, comes through a gradual progression of skill development and a positive training environment.

Of course, there are other factors that can influence levels of confidence in a gymnast when performing a particular skill. These include environment, equipment, mood, warm up techniques, your expectations and attitude as a coach, and your relationship with the gymnast.

Your job as a coach is to build an environment that helps breed and nurture confidence, raising gymnasts self-esteem and psychological stability.

Building Confident Kids

I asked professional stunt man, Richard Dwyer, for his view of ‘building confident kids,’ – a motto he employs in his company, Flair Gymnastics:

Being a confident person is your God given right and without confidence you will certainly NOT be performing, achieving or living, loving or being your best in life.

There are many opinions and definitions of what confidence is, so to keep things simple and for clarity of the word ‘confidence’ in this blog, when I use the word confidence I mean;

‘Complete and total belief in yourself and in your own powers and abilities’

Confidence truly is a state of mind.”

He goes on to say:

“When someone is in a position of authority, as a child you take their words as ‘gospel,’ believing them to be speaking the complete truth and their words can powerfully flatten that inner confidence that you were born with, so we end up having our minds poorly programmed.

Sports like gymnastics, where goal setting and reinforcement of positive behaviours is rewarded and celebrated, breeds a confident self. Correctly trained sports coaches who OWN their minds and love passing on their knowledge to others are trained to use confidence as a tool to help achieve goals and this becomes a positive feedback loop in the brain leading to more and more confidence and more and more goals being achieved.”

No surprise then that as coaches, our role is crucial for the development of gymnasts confidence. I asked Richard for his view on what is it that prevents gymnasts feeling confident when it comes to performance:

The one and only ‘thing’ that stops us from choosing to feel confident, or as I have heard some people say “I’ve lost my confidence” is the same thing that stops us from doing anything in our lives and that one thing is FEAR.

In summary, FEAR is a thought about a future event that may or may not happen.

It’s our mind working out the worst possible scenario of what the future looks like and then our minds meditating on (going over and over and over) that negative thought or event, that is actually unlikely to happen.”

So how do we grow, build and cement our confidence? I asked Richard …

“I believe the answer to this is simple, but it takes consistent practice – by achieving goals. And to go for our goal we must first eliminate fear and see failure as feedback.

Here is my simple confidence formula; Confidence is a MASSIVE contributor to happiness because progress = happiness.

Confidence is a by-product of achieving goals so you MUST first be able to overcome fear if you are to gain true inner confidence.”

Richard’s advice is truly valuable, especially when you consider how he himself has confronted fear as a high-level athlete, professional stunt man and now a business man.

Next time you feedback to a gymnast to ‘be more confident,’ think about how they are able to apply that feedback. More often than not, feedback needs to be more constructive and be part of a wider, smarter gymnastics training plan, which will build confidence more organically.

To see more great content from Flair Gymnastics CEO Richard Dwyer, head over to his blog by clicking HERE or follow him on Twitter @Richard_Dwyer

Article by Nick Ruddock, Gymnastics Club Manager’s resident coaching expert and International Gymnastics Coach and Consultant.

When Gymnastic Routines Don’t Go To Plan!

gymnastic routines

It’s safe to say, gymnastics is a complex sport, and things don’t always go to plan in either competition or practice. To deliver hit gymnastic routines in competition, it is likely, even necessary, for the gymnast to have failed in delivering the perfect performance many, many times in training.

The saying “practice makes perfect” is never more apt than when it comes to gymnastics!

It might seem obvious to say it, but practise is an inevitable part of any gymnastic routine. Gymnasts need to rehearse not just the elements of a new routine but build the physical and mental strength to deliver it from start to finish.

No Two Gymnastic Routines Are Ever The Same

This is particularly true in the case of BAR routines. Great importance needs to be attached to the construction, practise and performance of BAR routines, because of the long series of elements involved with competitive exercise.

No two routines are ever the same and as a coach, your role is to develop gymnasts who can adapt to these changes, and become comfortable with subtly different routines.  This may be a short upstart (kip) handstand or catching the bar too close (or far) during a flight element.

“By Any Means Necessary”

Many gymnasts will look to restart a routine following a mistake or failure. However, it is better to instill a ‘keep calm and carry on’ mindset and encourage your gymnasts to keep going to the end of the performance.

After all, they will not be allowed to start again in competition, so they shouldn’t look to do it in training. Enforcing a ‘get to the end by any means necessary’ rule will allow them to learn to get back on track if they fail a handstand or other movement.

Alternatively, you could be smart and develop great gymnastic routines which offer an escape route should something go wrong. This would allow gymnasts greater room for error, but would not be detrimental to the quality of the final performance and difficulty required.

Performing Persistence

It’s simple, if your gymnasts haven’t taken a persistent approach to practising a routine cleanly in training, then you cannot reasonably expect them to perform it in competition.

Desire, or should that be desperation, to perform a perfect routine, can be detrimental to a gymnasts mindset if they are not familiar with coping with such emotions. Alongside this, performing a longer routine is more physically demanding and needs to be prepared for.

Errors and failures happen at the highest levels of gymnastics but often go unnoticed. Disguising errors is second nature to experienced gymnasts, who are able to apply clever escape routes while continuing their performance – escape routes they will have practised many, many times in training!

Nick’s Top Tips: Preparing Gymnasts For Non-Perfect Gymnastic Routines:

  • If your gymnast fails during a routine, don’t let them start again! Gymnasts need to get into the habit of always continuing a routine from start to finish. They’ll soon learn it’s far easier to perform it clean than to keep stopping and starting. If they have the opportunity to start again too often, there is potential for them to perform the final parts of their routine significantly less than the those at the beginning.  
  • Practice basic elements which a gymnast can use as an escape ’strategy’. Useful elements include switch glides, swinging turns, handstand turns, and giants in both directions, and should be part of your gymnast’s basic repertoire.
  • Encourage your gymnasts to ‘fight’ to continue routines from start to finish at all times, and not simply give up if things don’t go as planned. Plan for the unpredictable, become comfortable being uncomfortable and prepare them to deliver the best possible gymnastic routines in the worst possible conditions.

Good luck!

Article by Nick Ruddock, Gymnastics Club Manager’s resident coaching expert and ex GB National Coach.

Teaching Gymnasts How To Fall

how to fall

In any sport, there is increased potential for accidents and injuries. Participation at any level carries risk, but in the world of performance gymnastics, this risk is heightened due to the very nature of the sport.

Gymnastics coaches work hard to reduce and manage the risk of accidents and injury, but it is impossible to protect gymnasts entirely. Although there has been a gradual methodology in developing technically accurate skills, improving the training environment and equipment, and in decision making, there still remains a high chance of an injury-causing scenario where a gymnast may fall or fail in a skill.

As coaches, we still cannot completely control what our gymnasts do.

Sometimes it’s just bad luck

While much of your coaching time will be spent teaching gymnasts how to do things right, with skill and accuracy, a portion of this time should be devoted to teaching them what to do when things go wrong.

And things will go wrong. Which is why gymnasts need to learn how to deal with it.

When a gymnast is performing a skill for the first time, ask yourself:

  • What will happen if this goes wrong?
  • What could go wrong here?
  • If the gymnast makes an error, can they escape without harm?
  • Are they coordinated enough?
  • Have they been trained to fall correctly?

Learning how to fall

One of the biggest causes of injury in the workplace is slip, trip and fall accidents. In the world of gymnastics, a significant number of injuries are caused by gymnasts not falling correctly. Just to be clear, when we talk about ‘falling’ we are not just talking about dropping safely from the beam or bars because of technical error. We are talking about gymnasts losing control or a lack of awareness in how they are moving, and then simply ‘falling over.’

Self-preservation is in our nature and it is instinctive to try and brace or break a fall with outstretched arms or hands. This action exposes in particular the shoulder, elbow and wrist joints to potential dislocations and fractures.

Any sport which challenges us through balance, stability and spatial awareness, such as skiing and skating, puts us at risk of falling. But we shouldn’t overlook everyday activities and the potential for tripping on an uneven surface or slipping on a wet floor.

So what can be done?

There are easy steps that can be taken to help improve your gymnasts ability to control falls. The critical element is to teach them how to roll safely when over rotating in the direction in which they are travelling.

Nick’s top tips:

  • Use drills: for skills involving rotations, twisting or carry a high risk of falling, use drills to teach your gymnasts how to fall safely. As a rule, gymnasts should NEVER USE THEIR ARMS OR HANDS to brace themselves, regardless of whether they are falling forwards, backwards or sideways.
  • Cross their arms: teach gymnasts to protect themselves in a backwards fall by crossing their arms over their chest. Alternatively, if over rotating then they should backwards roll.
  • If falling or over rotating forwards: teach your gymnasts to quickly turn on to their back before hitting the floor (with their arms crossed over their chest) or add a forward/diagonal shoulder roll. Both of these require excellent reactions and awareness.
  • If falling flat to the front: coach them to land with their arms outstretched flat. Their legs need to be flush to the floor and they should never land in a hands and knees position. This is especially important for the bars when gymnasts miss-release or catch elements. This is something you need to plan for – it will happen A LOT! Gymnasts may be ‘winded’ depending on the surface they land on, but this is nothing compared to breaking or dislocating a joint or bone.
  • Include regular drill exercises: improve the familiarity and general awareness of ‘safely’ falling with regular drill exercises in your coaching sessions. It may only require a few minutes a week but it will keep things fresh in the mind of your gymnasts.
  • Make gymnasts consciously aware: if a gymnast falls with ‘poor technique’ you need to make them aware of what they did wrong and emphasise the importance of falling correctly.
  • Recognise mental state and fatigue: if a gymnast is not focused,  or is fatigued, distracted, or unprepared, then you could be exposing them to a higher risk of making a mistake. (There may be times when you NEED the athlete to train fatigued, or under pressurised scenarios to develop mental and physical robustness, but these times must be CALCULATED, with appropriate measures taken to manage risk.)

Take a look at this video of MAG Vaulters. You can clearly see they are intentionally over rotating their warm-ups and using safe rolling technique throughout.

Training your gymnasts for just a few minutes a week on how to fall safely is a wise investment of time. Managing risk appropriately can save you weeks, if not months, and potentially a career.

Article by Nick Ruddock, Gymnastics Club Manager’s resident coaching expert and ex GB National Coach.