Why The Attraction of Drills Could Be Hindering Your Gymnastics Training Plan

Gymnastics Coaching

It can be said of many coaches, that they are magnetised by preps and drills. The proverbial moth to a flame. But why? You would think a press conference had just commenced each time a new drill is introduced to the gymnastics training plan – such is the buzz that ensues.

Don’t think me judgmental in my assessment, I do understand the appeal – I’m not averse to introducing a good drill too, even to the point of filming it for my archive. Yet I recognise that the inclusion of drills is just another ingredient in the training pot, that too often does not attract the attention or thought it deserves.

Less is Definitely More

There are many things we use to train our gymnasts that probably don’t matter, and I always look for ways to reduce the number of steps or processes used in training.

An example would be a caddy advising a golfer, the number of good options when it comes to which club to use next are often limited, especially when there aren’t many to pick from in the first place!

For context let’s use a back flick (or ‘back handspring’) as an example.

There are thousands of drills and exercises to choose from to teach a gymnast a flick. Some good, some fantastic.

So how many do you need?

In my experience you can teach most skills in just a handful of stages – 4-5 steps say, assuming the gymnast has refined the prerequisite skills already.

4-5 drills which include specific performance and learning benefits is sufficient to teach gymnastics skills. More than this and your training plan could actually hinder a gymnast’s rate of learning and retention.

Balancing Gymnasts ‘Needs’ With Your Own Desires

If we were to leave out the impressive or glamorous drills we spend hours searching for on YouTube, we can teach an exceptionally good ‘flick’ in just 4-5 drills, simply by focusing on teaching high quality, basic movement.

Yes, the internet is a great place to find ideas and to share content, but it lacks any form of quality control. This means before you charge ahead implementing a new idea into your gymnastics training plan, you should stop and consider the following first:

  • Is it what the gymnast needs?
  • Is it simple enough to implement?
  • Can my gymnast already perform the pre-requisites?
  • Is the video from a credible source, with someone of experience?
  • Do I know what the learning outcomes are of the drill?

What is important to remember is that what your gymnast needs, may be at odds with what we like the look of as coaches…

I like to think of it as ‘shiny object attraction.’ The new Galaxy S8 smartphone looks amazing, but my current ‘older model’ will still perform just as well for the tasks I want it to do – make calls, send emails, receive texts etc. Having the latest ‘thing’ is not necessarily going to improve performance and there are better things to spend money and time on.

There are often many better ways to improve performance than perhaps some of the drills and preps you might be coaching your gymnasts.

It’s All In The Details

It pains me to say that I’ve failed to see significant improvements in gymnasts coached by those who spend many hours each week scouring online for more drills and exercises to add to their training program. It’s safe to say the internet has not helped them at all – they should really have been looking for the best recipe, rather than the individual ingredients.

Techniques do not really change much over time, but innovation has. Gymnasts of 30 years ago were performing some of the highest complexity acrobatic elements we see today but without the luxury of modern day equipment.

How?

It all comes down to using simple methods and exercises, and concentrating on the attention to detail when it comes to technique. 30 years ago much of the innovation we enjoy was not there, and neither was the virality of sharing ideas and content.

Let’s use a chef baking a dessert as an analogy here.

How many recipes do you think an experienced chef could come up with given basic, quality ingredients such as sugar, eggs, flour, butter and chocolate.

I’m guessing it would be a pretty extensive list and one which, with the right love and attention, would include a masterpiece or two.

My point is that you don’t need lots of ingredients. You just need the right recipe and attention to detail.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t be obsessive in other areas. I often see the top performing coaches excel in these three areas:

  • Being PRODUCTIVE.
  • Being ACCOUNTABLE.
  • Having exceptionally HIGH STANDARDS.

No matter how awesome your drills are, without these 3 qualities, you will never progress in the high-performance world.

So before you start searching YouTube for more drills to use, take a moment to reflect on your gymnastics training plan and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are my gymnasts able to perform the current drills with great execution (if not then a new drill won’t suddenly help them to perform it better either.)
  2. Are the drills the problem, or is it the ratio of drills to practice?
  3. Do I have clarity on exactly what the finished skill should look like?
  4. Are the gymnasts physically prepared for the elements?

When you have the answers…then head off to YouTube 🙂

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

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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