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