Month: October 2011

Welcome…

I have been posting for a few days already on this blog site, but I plan on starting to broadcast it starting November 1st. I wanted a welcome post to be at the top, or close to the top, of the posts. So… welcome to the Blog of Matt Brinker.

I didn’t want to start promoting my blog when I first started posting because I wanted to get some initial content up for people to read. Now that I have some posts up, and a bunch of ideas cooking, I am ready to start broadcasting the blog. My wrists hurt, as does my brain. I have put a lot of effort into it so far and I plan on continuing to do so.

There are other posts highlighting why I started this blog and what I will be blogging about but I want to make sure it is up on this welcome post for all to read. First of all, I started this blog with the desire to share information, ideas, drills, and everything else I can think of. I feel like I have a lot to offer to the sport of gymnastics and my only intentions are to help make the sport better for everybody. I will be posting a lot about my opinions, thoughts, and ideas. The second big reason finally decided to start a blog was because of all the awesome experiences I have, and will have, as a coach. I have had a lot of great experiences as a young coach in gymnastics. I have sat through and taught many clinics on a variety of topics. I have been to several state, regional, and national congresses. I have worked at Woodward Gymnastics Camp for four summers and have learned from some of the most intelligent and successful people in gymnastics, not to mention all of the hundreds of different kids I have coached while there. I have been to sooo many great gymnastics meets with great coaches, teams, and athletes. I have been on both sides of winning and somewhere in the middle as well. I have been through an ugly break up with a gym and have helped to start a new one in the same town. I have been helped by so many wonderful people, more often than I could ever count. The two biggest reasons I decided to go ahead and start this blog were two trips I am taking in the near future. I am flying to Charlotte, North Carolina to work an optional camp at International Gymnastics in a couple weeks and I won a free trip to the Karolyi Ranch in Texas for the National TOPs camp several weeks later. I feel like these two experiences are (hopefully not) once in a lifetime and they should be shared with everybody.

I hope that my journey through life and gymnastics will be helpful to others. I remember being a young, hungry coach (oh wait… I still am) and not being able to find the information I desired so badly. Websites like gymnastike.org and gymnasticscoaching.com have helped to make me a smarter, better coach. I only hope that this will help make other coaches across the nation better. Most importantly I want to help SOGA, Ohio, and Region Five… but I will help anybody I can. Thank you for reading and I appreciate any feedback.

Blessings

As I sit here trying to think of topics and ideas to broadcast to the world… I can’t help but think how incredibly lucky I am. At the top of my list right now… I won a free trip to the Karolyi Ranch. How many people get to go there? How many people get an all expense paid trip to go there? I can’t even begin to express how excited I am for this trip. I get to go to the TOPs A camp and hang out. I don’t know for sure, but I believe USAG brings in the top coaches in the country to work with these little super kids. I get to listen and pick their brains. I can’t wait and I also can’t wait to share the experience with the world. This is something I have always hoped I would get to do, but was never really sure that I would get to.

Near the top is another trip I get to take that is coming up much faster. I am getting flown into Charlotte, NC and put up in a hotel. And somehow… I am also getting paid to work this camp. This is something I have always wanted to do but I never thought I would get an opportunity like this. I get to go to a great gym and work with great athletes. That is exciting enough as it is, let alone all of the other benefits I am getting.

I was asked to present at the Ohio Congress in August this summer. I was completely humbled and flattered. Of course I accepted. I put everything I had into the lectures that I presented. I nervously showed up at the gym ready to present and I started to get my thoughts together. One of the people in charge handed me a paper that had dollar signs on it. I was pretty confused because I thought I was just presenting for the benefit of the attendees. Obviously, I was super excited to find out I was getting paid but I was even more excited when I found out how much. Yet another thing I always wished I would get to do. I had no idea I would be paid for presenting at a congress.

I have had the opportunity to learn from some extremely intelligent and successful people while I spent time at Woodward Gymnastics Camp. I was allowed to work with gymnasts at camp that were higher levels than I had in my own gym and because of that I have been able to stay ahead of my athlete’s levels and skills. I owe a lot of the success that I have had so far to my time spent at Woodward. This last summer I was given the highest vote of confidence from the directors. I was allowed to be the master staff of the top group at camp. It was an honor to be allowed to take charge of these high level athletes. I will always be grateful to Woodward and the directors for everything they have done to help shape me. A side note, I owe a lot to a young lady who had faith in me when there weren’t a lot at the camp that did. She saw potential and she poked and prodded to get me put in situations that I could prove it. There will always be a job for you when you get done flipping around in college. You know who you are.

How about this for something to be thankful for. I had a gym opened for me. Yes… just for me and only for me. Just kidding. SOGA was primarily opened for the owner’s son to have a place to do gymnastics at a high level. I like to think it was opened so that I could have a place to coach gymnastics the way I wanted to. I know for certain it was opened so children could have a place to do real gymnastics and not the happy go lucky, crap gymnastics I see all the time. That is whole rant for another post, but I will just say this. I don’t believe it is difficult to teach children to do gymnastics well. Teaching them to do it amazing is very difficult, but teaching them to do compulsory or low level optional gymnastics is not really all that difficult in my opinion. Some of the stuff I see come out of gyms isn’t acceptable to me and I am not sure why people are okay with it. You can have your “fun gym.” I know for a fact that my athletes have fun working their asses off with me in the gym and doing well at competitions.

Something else I have been blessed with is athletes. There have been quite a few families that have switched over to SOGA in the recent past. I don’t really know how to explain what I feel when I know a family is trusting me to do a better job with their athlete than another gym did. It is humbling, yet it makes me proud and confident. It is scary, but it is also calming. I do know this… I have very thankful for those that switched and those that have been in the gym all along. Their trust is greatly appreciated. I am allowed to influence their children almost every day. They have made my life better and I hope that I have done the same for them.

I am surrounded with all sorts of wonderful people. Whether it be at home, at my gym, at meets, or basically anywhere else I go… I can’t stop running into these wonderful people. People that have gone out of their way to help me. People who have opened their doors to me. People who have taken their time to talk to me and teach me. People who graciously stay behind and hold down the gym while I get to go do other things like the North Carolina and the Texas trip. They are everywhere. I would never be where I am today without all of the people I have encountered in my short 24 years.

Anybody who knows me knows that I have aspirations of doing great things in this sport. I have been able to do things that I thought it would take much longer to do. I say this not because I think I am so great that I get to do all these things, but because I am pretty much completely unsure as to why I have been so blessed. Again… Karolyi Ranch? Twenty-four years old? Free trip? No way. Pinch me. I am getting flown to Charlotte, put in a hotel, and paid to work an optional camp? You are nuts. Punch me. I get paid to talk about gymnastics at a Ohio Congress? What the hell? This has to be a dream. Top group, master staff, and clinician at Woodward? A gym opened so I could be a head coach and do what I thought was right at age twenty-one? I could go on and on about this stuff. There are also so many more things for me to be thankful for, but that is all for now.

Thank you for suffering through this and thanks again to everybody who has helped make this life what it is.

Opinions

I wanted to make sure I stated this in a post by itself. I always open up presentations with this disclaimer. These are my opinions and they should be taken as such. These are things that have worked for me in the past. I do take my time and carefully consider things before I broadcast them. I try to never say or do things that don’t make sense to me. But… I am constantly learning and growing. I have been wrong before and I will be wrong again. I do not know it all and I never will… but I will always be fighting to do so.

So… again. Just opinions. I hope they help because that is my goal. I would appreciate if any feedback was respectful. And thank you for taking the time to read my opinions.

About Spotting

Spotting is both one of my favorite and least favorite parts of being a gymnastics coach. The only time it is my least favorite is when you have the kid that depends on you for assistance. Those “will you just stand there” or “will you just touch me” kids. Thankfully, I only have to deal with that in my gym rarely, if ever. I tell my kids this… I will spot you and make sure you have the right feelings and the skills are safe. I will ease off the spot as you get better and when I tell you it is ready I will be absolutely sure and I will expect you to do it. I will not tell you to do something that I don’t believe in, such as… yeah you can do your back handspring. Do it by yourself. I try to spot them ’till their mistakes are still safe. Like the back handspring… I want to make sure they at least know how to rotate and flip over before I ever consider letting them do it solo. Their bad turns with spot should still be safe. Another thing I always tell the kids that has virtually eliminated all balking is this… would it be okay with you if I tell you I am going to spot you on your double layout and I just decide that I am scared or nervous or I just don’t feel like spotting you? They all think for a second to understand the question and then say… no? Of course not! Their life is in my hands and I would never just decide to not do my job for any reason. I then proceed to tell them that it isn’t okay with me for them to decide to not do their job because they are scared or nervous or just don’t feel like it. I believe that we don’t have problems with the “just touch me” kids because we take our time and make sure to help the kids to the best of our ability. Any of the “just stand there” problems have come when the coaches have been in a hurry. I also believe we don’t have any balking issues because the kids are confident that I would never tell them to do something that I didn’t believe in and they know I will do my job and I expect them to to theirs. Furthermore, I make sure I let the kids know that a lot of times their lives are in my hands. I take that very seriously and they trust me. Their health, happiness, and success are the most important things to me, in that order.

So that is why I don’t like spotting sometimes, but like I said… we don’t have much of a problem with those issues at this point. So why do I love it so much? There is no really manly way to put it, but that doesn’t bother me. Spotting is a dance, an art form. There is science behind it, but the execution of a spot is art. Like a painter using different brush strokes to achieve the perfect painting, the spotter must use different methods to achieve different results. The reason I call it a dance is because you have a partner that you must key on, react to, and communicate with. A quick side note… it should always be a partner and not an unsuspecting, scared victim. Back on track, I love spotting and shaping gymnastics skills and gymnasts because it is always a new challenge every time. You must be trained, confident, and poised at all times when spotting dangerous skills. It is both very difficult and very simple. And to make sure I am clear and there is no confusion… I do not mean that you must always use completely different methods. I believe there are certain methods that work better than others, as I will discuss later. I mean that you will use different timing or pressure. You will adjust the amount of push with your left hand to help facilitate more rotation or you will put your right hand higher on the lower back to make sure that you can assist the athlete to block their angle and create lift.

Spotting skills can be extremely intimidating. I have a funny “don’t try this at home” story about the intimidation factor. While working at Woodward Gymnastics Camp in Pennsylvania I had a level ten high school senior ask me to spot her on pak salto. I said yes and put a small mat over the low bar and some spotting blocks in between the bars for me to stand on. We did probably ten or fifteen of the skills with some good success. She felt good about her progress, as did I, and she said she was done. She thanked me as she started to take her grips off. I gave her sort of a sheepish grin and a high five and said, “Thank you for being the first girl to let me spot her on pak saltos!” Her jaw dropped and she inquired, “You never spotted them before?” I shook my head no and continued smiling. She said, “Well… I couldn’t tell. Nice job!” Now… a couple things before I sound like a completely wreck less, possibly retarded coach. I had already spent a lot of time working on bar transitions like overshoots and straddle backs. I had watched this girl do probably fifty paks earlier in the week with another coach. While watching her attempt her very well executed paks with the other coach, I had been doing the mental gymnastics. I was seeing where the hands went and working on the timing. I was completely confident stepping up onto the block and spotting this athlete on her pak salto. A large reason for that was because at this point I had already been spotting for about eight years. I trusted myself and my instincts and I trusted the athlete after observing her the whole week. And just to make sure, I do not recommend this course of acting to anybody and I do not make it a habit. The point of this story is that even after all of the things I had spotted up to that point, after observing her do these skills all week, and after doing the mental gymnastics while watching… I was still nervous as hell. It was sort of the pre-game or pre-meet shaky, weak feeling. She had no idea that I had never spotted the skill before and I was hell bent on making sure that I didn’t tip her off. Spotting can be intimidating, nerve racking, and scary but you should always be aware of what you are telling your athletes through body language. I never want my athletes to know that I am nervous. In my own gym there have been tons of instances where I have felt this way but never showed it. Off the top of my head I can remember last year when I told my first athlete she was ready to do her flipping vault on her own. I knew she was ready because we went through all of the instruction, drills, and progressions to get there. I had spotted the vault standing on spotting blocks and on the ground to catch the landing. I knew she could do it but still… I was nervous as hell. What happens if this is the one she screws up? What if her nerves get the best of her and she doesn’t commit to flipping? What if this is the one she gets hurt on? All of these thoughts and more were racing through my head but I took a deep breath and made sure my body language wasn’t telling any stories. I calmly reminded her of a few cues that have made her successful and then I stood back and watched. Much to her relief and my own, she did the vault successfully. I can remember at least ten other instances from last year that I went through this. And never did I show what I was feeling inside. Too bad I hate poker, because I might be pretty good at it. My encouragement to coaches is… be aware of what you are saying to your kids with your non-verbal signals and try to control them as best you can.

Some other pointers I have from my experience spotting and teaching others to spot at home, at clinics, and at Woodward are to break it down if you are nervous to spot a skill. At Woodward we always presented multiple small, easy drills to break down the spot of a double back before letting the coaches spot a double for the first time. Use your imagination and have your kids do some drills with you so that you can train yourself to see and catch what you need to. You can gain a lot of experience and confidence from spotting drills that simulate the bigger skill in slow motion or in pieces. I have often told people that say they can’t spot that if they can see hips and catch hips then they can spot just about anything. Watch the hips and try to grab them. Sitting here right now the only time I can think of not doing so when I spot circling skills on bars like clear hips and giants. Get in a good lifting position when spotting anything. Bend your knees instead of leaning over to spot. Your back will thank you. Use the big muscles like your quads to help you bump or catch, instead of trying to do it all with your arms or your back. Get in close to the kids. You can’t be afraid of getting hit. Obviously, you can get too close… but most of the time the mistake is being too far away from the athlete to give them a proper bump, catch, or save when they make a mistake. You can never get in too early… unless you get in too early. I know that sounds very weird, but I couldn’t think of a different way to phrase it and have it read the way I want. I tell me kids on clear hips that you can’t start opening early enough unless you arch off and then you opened too early. So… to explain, I try to have my hands on the athlete’s lower back and hamstring before or as their feet are contacting the floor when I am spotting a skill out of a handspring. When I bump a double back I want to have my hands on them as they are finishing their handspring and before they are starting their double back takeoff. The too early part would be if I get in so early that their feet kick my arm, for example. My last sort of rapid fire tidbit is to work at it. Never give up. Never stop trying to be a better spotter. Never stop trying to spot new skills, unless it is too physically demanding. Never resign yourself to “I’m just not good at spotting” because everybody can get good at it if they want to.

For me, spotting is essential. I have no pits or resi landings. Everything is taught on the floor or with hand spot in the beginning. Often times I will still be spotting skills even after they have a mastery. Overshoots, for example. All it takes is that one time that they air mail the low bar and that kid is out with broken bones or worse. I know of some gyms that don’t spot and I don’t get it. The biggest benefit to spotting is the trust and the bond that you can build by working with your athletes. I need to qualify that, because I do know coaches that spot all the time and their kids hate it and fear their coach because of it. These are the coaches that impose their will upon the children with their muscles. They grab and yank them through the blind change instead of giving them gentle guidance. In my gym I am constantly spotting but never doing things for the kids unless they make a mistake that I need to cover up. I work with my athletes to make sure the skills are being done safely and properly. Often times I only touch the kids with fingertips and only grab them if they make a mistake or are falling. My kids trust me and I believe this is a big part of it. As for coaches that don’t spot because they rely on drills and progressions… it can be done, but my overwhelming feeling from the people I encounter is that they are just lazy and don’t want to do any work. But I could definitely be wrong about that. For me, spotting is part of the drills and progressions of every skill.

There are hundreds of ways to spot the simplest skills. You can spot a handstand about five thousand different ways… That was just a random number, but there are a lot. For skills as basic as a handstand or as advanced as a full in I believe there is one or two great ways to spot them. You should be versatile and be able to adjust, but you should think of the best and most efficient way to spot things. For example, I was shown to spot overshoots where they turn into you and I spotted them that way for a while. I always felt like there was a better way so I asked somebody and they said to spot where the kid turns away from you. I had to adjust and get used to the new side, but in reflection… I feel like that is the only way they should be spotted. It is way more efficient and effective, especially when an athlete makes a mistake. I am sure there are coaches that will swear by the athlete turning into you, but I must politely disagree. Another example is the tsukahara vault. I was initially taught to spot the tsuk where the athlete’s back is closest to me. You kind of catch their hips and throw them through the skill. I was then taught how to spot where their belly is towards with you and I have never really looked back. The only two drawbacks I can find to spotting this way is if the child’s legs go way around the side, it can create a problem. The other drawback is if the child goes very crooked away from you, it can be hard to reach over the table to spot them. My counter to those two problems is… if the kid is doing it that around the side or crooked then they probably shouldn’t be doing flipping vaults. Go back and work on really good front handsprings and then try again. The benefits of spotting a tsuk where the belly is into you are that I can be with the child as they leave the springboard, as they are on their hands, as they block off their hands, as they flip, and if I jump off the spotting block with them I can be there while they land also. Spotting the other way you basically are just chucking the kids and hoping they land. So… while I agree there are tons of different ways to spot skills I do also believe that you should seek out and find the best way to do it or at least the way that works best for you. I encourage anybody reading this to think all the scenarios through and think about the positions you are in and your athletes are in. What happens if they screw up? Are you in the best possible position to help them?

In closing, what is a good spot? One where the kid survives? One where the kid is successful? One where the kid does the skill well and is given the proper feelings at the proper time in the skill? I think it is the latter. Spotting should be used as a guiding force in the development of a skill but never a dominating one. I feel like I can’t reinforce this enough… never spot to do. Spot to assist. Spot to give them the proper feelings and spot to help make your athletes better. Spot to give them confidence. Spot to build trust and help secure the bond with your athletes. Be smart about it and be safe. Remember they should be your partner in the turn or attempt and not your unsuspecting victim of your desire to see how high they can fly on a back tuck.

I just remembered a small wise tidbit that I received from two coaches I respect greatly. The combination of an inexperienced coach and an inexperienced athlete can be deadly. I don’t mean actual death, but it can be bad. If you can, learn to spot on athletes that can already do the skill or at least have some kind of competency and not the kid that is trying it for the first time.

I really want to post this but I keep remembering other things to add. For male spotters working in Women’s Gymnastics. Be aware of the no zones and do everything in your power to avoid going near them. If you do accidentally brush them while spotting I believe you should acknowledge it. A simple “sorry, I will spot you better next time” will do. I feel like when the kid has to wonder whether or not it was intentional is when you could start to have problems. Just make sure you actually do spot them better the next time. I never want to have that seed planted in anybody’s head. As a male coach you have to constantly be aware of what you are doing and where your hands are when you are spotting. I have discussed this with quite a few female coaches over the years and they have all said that sometimes they feel sorry for the males because they do have to be so much more conscious of it.

I hope this post helps in some way. I am excited to keep trying to perfect the art form of spotting!

Things Every Coach Should Have

There are a couple suggestions I have for every coach. I will start with the cheapest thing, provided that you have a smart phone. Marvin Sharp showed me V1 Golf this summer at Woodward. My immediate thought was… why didn’t I think of that? Professional golfers and golf teachers use swing analysis software all the time to hone their swings. I had considered buying apps like V1 Golf to refine my own golf game, but never considered buying it to use in the gym. After a little demonstration, I was sold. Marvin had the app on his Android tablet. I bought it for my iPhone for $3.99, I believe. I am not sure if it is available for Blackberry or not. I used V1 Golf for several months and I loved it. You can record and play back skills or routines in slow motion, frame by frame, and draw lines or other shapes to show proper alignment to the children. The only thing I didn’t like was that, being a golf app, the folders were all golf titled. This didn’t bother me when I was using the app for my own game, but I couldn’t organize the videos of the children. I started looking into other apps for iPhone and iPad and found Golf Swing Plane, which I have been using for the last several months. You can create and rename folders and move all of the videos to keep them organized and easily accessible. I have found it more user friendly, except that I had to purchase a different version for my iPad when I bought it. V1 Golf is for both iPhone and iPad. There are tons of different apps that can be used. These are the two that I liked the most after purchasing several others. The things that you will be able to see frame by frame or even slow motion are amazing. Simply watching videos has helped train my eye and I see things with my naked eyes now that I never did before. My one caution is to be careful who you show the videos to and how often you do it. The kids will be able to see all the mistakes they make and they can easily get discouraged. But… it is a valuable tool if you don’t want to buy a camera or set up a TiVo system in your gym.

The next thing that I recommend to coaches I talk with is Championship Gymnastics: Biomechanical Techniques for Shaping Winners by Dr. Gerald George. You can order the book off of that website. I think I got my copy off of Amazon. Anyways, this book was exactly what I needed when I purchased it. It was an easy read and has tons and tons of pictures and illustrations to help make sense of all the complexities of gymnastics. At the time, there were things I saw in my gymnasts that I didn’t like, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly what it was that I was seeing. This book changed that for me. I could go on and on about the book and everything it helped me with and everything it talks about but it is best that I just link it and encourage you to buy it. It is well worth the money spent.

One more thing I think every coach should read is a book called Building the Gymnastic Body by Christopher Sommer. I could not order the book off of the website, even though it has a store, but I did order it off of Amazon. This website also has articles and videos on it about strength training. I believe all of it is geared towards Men’s Artistic Gymnastics, but I found it helpful with my girls also. I was really excited to get the book because it has all kinds of different strength training progressions. It has lists of the strength exercise and ways to increase the intensity. I was a little disappointed after reading the book because it is actually more of a self help training book. I do want a gymnastics body, myself, but I ordered the book to help me create better gymnastics bodies for my athletes. Regardless, it is full of ideas and progressions that I have used in the gym to help in our strength training.

The last thing, for now, are DVDs. I don’t know how many coaches across the nation create DVDs to sell, but we have two right here in Region Five that have a bunch of great DVDs. John Geddert sells DVDs from his website. He also blogs about all sorts of different topics there. It was refreshing to be able to hear what was going on in Tokyo, via John’s blog. I have almost all of his DVDs and I love them. There is A LOT of information on them and I encourage anybody who gets them to pick one or two things to implement at a time. I tried, very unsuccessfully, to add a ton of new drills, strength, and ideas all at once. I have had much more success doing one or two things at a time and stick with them. Enrique Trabanino sells DVDs also. I think if you contact him he will send them to you, but I don’t believe he has it set up like John does. His DVD’s are also great but I do not have very many of them. Like I said before… I am unaware of anybody else who sells DVDs. I believe Tom Forster might, but I do not know for sure. His lectures are always good also.

One more quick note… if you like YouTube and have some time there are a bunch of coaches that post informative videos on there. Mary Lee Tracy of CGA is the most well known that I can think of, but there are TONS of great videos. Just remember to think everything through, make sure it makes sense to you, and then apply it if you want to. Sometimes there are videos of drills or ideas that look like they could be great, but can be counter-productive. The “dead cow” drill comes to mind. That is another post all together.

Education is a must as a coach and especially in this sport. Never, ever stop pursuing information. No matter how long you have been coaching or what you have done or experienced, you should never stop trying to learn and grow and improve.

Choreographing Your Warm Up

This is something I feel very strongly about. It just so happens that the first year I had girls that were competing flipping vaults, I sat through a lecture that Dan Miller did at Region Five Congress. The lecture was titled “How To Get The Most Out Of Your Athletes.” There were tons and tons of things I got from this lecture and I might post something in the future about it. The number one resounding thing I picked up was what Dan said about vault warm ups.

How many times have you gone to a meet and witnessed either your athlete or another gym’s athlete do timer after timer after timer over the table? Maybe… just maybe they will do one flipping vault. Now it is competition time and they have to “chuck” their vault with zero confidence. I witnessed this situation in some form or fashion at nearly every meet I went to last year with my level eights. And by the way… level eight vaults are SCARY for the most part.

So what did Dan say about vault? Choreograph your warm ups. How many vaults do you get in warm ups? On average I would say three or four. You might, on a really lucky day, get five turns in. Dan said that in his gym they did one timer over the table and then they flipped after that. That is how they warmed up every day in their gym and that was what the kids were used to. The timer was used as a safe turn to make sure that the kids were comfortable before they did the more dangerous version of the skill.

With my compulsories I have always only allowed them three turns in warm ups because I never wanted them to think they could take tons of crappy turns before they competed, but the idea of the flipping vaults doing the same thing was new to me. I went home from Region Five Congress full of ideas and freshly motivated. I told my level nine and my two level eights that they would be allowed one timer every day in practice and then they would flip. Of course their eyes got pretty wide and you could tell they were nervous about this. Previously I had allowed them to do two or maybe three timers before they flipped. I explained the reasoning behind this decision and they all nodded and then agreed that it was the best course of action, at least verbally. After a couple of days they adjusted and started to do quite well under the new circumstances.

A couple of things I feel I should state to make sure everybody knows where I come from here. We have no pits. I spot EVERYTHING. Last year I required my level nine to do a double back on our floor three times by herself to prove that she could compete it. Every single other double she did was with me spotting. We went to meets, did a timer, flipped one with spot, did another without spot, and then competed without a problem all year. We have all hard landings in my gym and I would never forgive myself is I were lazy enough to tell one of my athletes to do something solo and then watch them land short and break an ankle or something else disastrous. This same thing applies for vault. I was required all of my athletes to show solo vaults before a meet, but only a couple and only because I was completely sure they would land or roll out backwards and not land short. I said I spot everything, and I do… I guess I should clarify that. Things like fly aways or front handspring vaults aren’t spotted after I am sure they are safe, unless I would like to use my hands to help shape the skill or make a change. Also, after the first few initial attempts I never spot to do a skill for a child. Spotting is for assistance. I spot to ensure safety and to make sure they children are doing the proper things at the proper time. Furthermore, if I had pits I would use them for initial learning and then get away from them as quickly as possible. For example, if I had a pit behind my vault table I would use it for the first several times flipping and then I would put mats in the pit and start building up the height. I would try to have them flip up as much as possible. Same thing is true for floor.

So here is how our year played out. Every day in practice the kids did one timer and then flipped a tuck the second time. The third attempt was their competitive vault and every vault after that was also. I would catch their vaults… not slap their butts as they roll past me and hopefully land on their feet… catch their vaults. Before meets I would require them to show me one or maybe two solo vaults, but not every meet. There were several times that the girls did a really horrible, I mean completely terrible, timer and I would allow them to do a second one before flipping. They didn’t flip just when their timers were perfect or when they were ready. We went to meets and followed the same routine. One time over, tuck, competitive vault, and then solo if they got a fourth turn. There were several times they were spotted and then had to compete their next two vaults. The kids were confident because I didn’t spot them to do the skill for them. I was only there as a safety net in case something went wrong. The kids knew this, because they could feel it, and I always communicated to them about how good it was and whether I needed to be there or not. The formula worked great for me, for the large part, because of the trust my athletes have in me. They always trusted me when I said it was good enough or it was right. They committed to what I asked them to do and they were almost always successful.

Another couple things about vault and/or double flipping in general. When you are being spotted, never try to stop a flip. There is nothing scarier to me than spotting the double back or the tucked yurchenko, for example, and having a kid hesitate and try to bail. I’m trying to make sure that they flip over and are safe and they are trying to stop. Now… I always clarify this with the kids. If you know in the round off handspring on floor or the round off on vault… I get it. Kill it while you can. If you are taking off for the double back or on your hands on the vault table… you best be trying to flip because that is what I am trying to do. I hate having to make a split second decision about whether to stop or add rotation. My reactions have gotten pretty good… but that isn’t what I want. It happened twice on round off handspring tucks in my gym this last week. The kids tried to stop their tuck after they had already started it. Luckily for both… they landed safely, but there is nothing scarier to me than watching it happen or having to make that split second decision. The other thing I tell the kids comes from a man I greatly respect, Greg Frew of Woodward. I once heard him say, “The dumb child blindly commits to the position because they want to make their coach happy. They know after they leave the floor that they aren’t going to make the double layout around safely, but their coach told them to do the double layout so they stay with it. The smart girl knows that she isn’t going to make her double layout around when she is leaving the floor and turns it into a tuck. This girl walks away from the turn and goes back in line to try again.” Everybody has heard the saying live to fight another day and this is preached to my athletes also. Yes… I said do the layout yurchenko. No… I am not happy that you did the layout to your face because you knew that the layout was going to be bad in your round off and you blindly committed to it anyways. I don’t want them to wimp out for no reason, but if the vault or the skill is bad and they know it they should tuck it around and live to fight another day.

A quick summary… One timer and then flip. You might only get three turns. Bill Belichick calls it “situational football”. I call it situational gymnastics. Teach the kids when they should or shouldn’t try to kill a flip. Teach them to be smart about going for skills. Yeah… everybody wants you to do this new thing, but nobody wants you to blindly commit to it because your coach and team mates are pumped up and screaming your name. I would much rather be momentarily disappointed that you didn’t do your double layout than completely upset that you broke both of your ankles going for a skill out of a bad round off handspring. Oh and… I use the same philosophies on bars and beam. Even boys gymnastics, trampoline and tumbling, or whatever you want! I hope this helped!

The Easy Practices

The easiest practices of the year are… meets. At least that is the way I approach things. What is in a meet? There is a thirty minute general warm up and stretching period, you have to warm up each event and compete, and there is usually a lot of down time in between events. What is in a practice? Well… we practice four hours. At the very least, fifty minutes of our practice is dedicated directly to strength work. Thirty minutes is dedicated to stretching and flexibility. We always do fifty minutes of bars and beam and thirty-five floor and vault or we flip flop that and do fifty minutes on floor and vault and thirty-five on bars and beam. Our athletes take tons of turns on each event. In a thirty-five minute vault workout the minimum amount of turns I can remember is probably ten. That does not include the two or three other stations I have them do. That is just over the table turns.

So… hard practices and easy meets. To me… that seems like a no brainer. I feel like I encounter so many gyms and athletes that do it the other way. That doesn’t make any sense to me.

I have preached to my kids since the beginning that they need to be the gym as much as possible and that I will make the practices difficult so that when they go to meets it will be easy. Another thing I have preached is the mind set. I want them to perform to the best of their ability in every practice that they can. I add pressure in any way possible to them to try and make sure that they are focused and that they treat the turn with the utmost importance. The reasoning for this is… the kids know meets are important. The more repetitions they can get under some kind of pressure, the easier the meets will feel when it comes time to compete.

Today was the first meet of the year for two of my kids. It was a small meet in a friend’s gym. My two little athletes competed very well. After the competition was finished we stayed and used the pits in the facility. We did a forty-five minute bar workout. If had asked, the girls would have stayed and worked out for as long as I wanted. In my opinion, this is because they hadn’t really expended any energy during their meet. I could tell that mentally and emotionally they were a little drained from the stresses of competition, so after we had accomplished our goals on bars we called it quits.

Another quick note… They warmed up their bar routines, did a touch routine, and competed. They did five successful routines, which isn’t a lot but could be enough for some girl’s hands to hurt or for them to rip. After the forty-five minute bar workout there were still no rips or even pain to speak of. I can’t say for certain, but the least amount of routines I have seen those two do in our bar workouts were probably fifteen. No rips, no pain, no complaining.

So… easy practices? Easy meets? What do you want? I, personally, would rather have difficult practices and easy meets. I think my kids will agree with me as well.

First Meet

Our first meet is tomorrow afternoon. It isn’t a full fledged meet, but it is still the first one of the year. My two little optionals are going to go to this meet to get their move up score so they can compete level eight the rest of the year. This will be a small meet with, I believe, just my two level sevens and the gymnasts of all levels from the gym that we are visiting. Much to my enjoyment, we don’t have to be there until one o’clock.

This is a great opportunity for my little ones to get their score. Both of them should be good level eights the rest of the year. This is just one of the many reasons I am excited for this season, but I am really happy that they are kicking off the year for me. I am hoping that we will be able to stay at the gym and train a little bit after the meet. The gym is much better than ours and I would love for both of them to work on some things into the pits at the gym. We will see how that goes.
This meet will kick off the fourth full competition season for SOGA. Every year has been better than the last and I am doing everything in my power to make sure that this year is the best yet. We are primed to do so, in my opinion.

After this weekend’s meet we have a meet for all of my athletes in our gym November 19th. Three weeks after that is our first big meet, the Region Five Cup hosted by Gym Nation. I am especially excited about it this year because my boys get to compete at it as well. I am really looking forward to this meet, but I have more than another month of hard work to get all of the kids ready to compete. I want a strong showing in the beginning of the year. Hopefully that will start tomorrow afternoon.

The possibilities are endless… and very exciting. It has been a wild four years but I wouldn’t change a thing.

Strength Plan

This is the way I think of and do strength work in my gym. We have four hour practices and at least fifty minutes of it is directly dedicated to strength work. First of all… strength is one of the most important things that the gymnasts do in the gym, in my opinion. The stronger the better, but it should be with their own body weight and I believe you should condition certain motions more than others. For example, pike ups, presses, casts, ect. The strength work that the TOPs program uses to test physical abilities are great, in my opinion.

For ease in my gym, and in my own mind, I have categorized different muscle groups to work. We do pushing, pulling, legs, and core. Examples of pushing muscles would be triceps, pectorals, and deltoids. Examples of pulling muscles would be biceps, latissimus dorsi, and the trapezius. Core muscles include the abdominals, lower back, and obliques. There are different ways the muscles can be worked but the main thing you should be trying to achieve is muscle contraction. Examples of different ways to work would be holds, sets, or a combination of set-hold-set or something of that nature. For the legs you should work on jumping and punching, or bouncing.

We follow a schedule in our gym. Monday is pulling, Tuesday is legs, Wednesday is pushing, Thursday is a combination of all three. Every day we work on core muscles. I try to incorporate exercises that include the abs as much as possible, such as a piked chin up hold or a piked support hold on beam. Two days a week the girls push five mats back and forth on the floor, twice each. Two days a week the girls do an upper body plyometric warm up on the tumble track. After the first rotation with me every day the group does ten minutes of strength also. They have two rope climbs, five half presses, five elevated jumping presses on the tumble track, five full straddle presses with a partner, ten half pike ups, ten full pike ups, and twenty five pike ups on the floor.

This is what we are currently doing for strength work each week. Number might vary, but they are usually what I will present.

Monday – Pulling
Fifteen chin up levers on a bar
Fifteen chin up pull overs on a bar
Fifteen levers on the floor
Fifteen assisted chin ups
Six twenty second piked chin up holds on rings
Two rope climbs

Tuesday – Legs
Two sets of fifty straight leg punches up and down on panel mats
Fifty switch lunges on each leg
Two sets of twenty-five pike ups on the floor
Fifty squat jumps up onto the tumble track
Fifty squat jumps
Two sets of twenty-five tuck ups on the floor
Fifty straight leg punches up and down on panel mets
Twenty-five squat jumps up onto the tumble track
Twenty-five squat jumps
Twenty-five arch ups on the floor
Twenty-five arch rocks

Wednesday – Pushing
Fifteen elevated jumping presses onto the tumble track
Fifteen half presses on the floor
Five sets of ten perfect push ups
Three thirty second pike holds on beam
Three thirty second tuck holds on beam
Five sets of ten perfect push ups
Two thirty second handstand holds

Thursday – Combination
Two sets of fifty straight leg punches up and down on panel mats
Fifty squat jumps up onto the tumble track
Ten elevated jumping presses onto the tumble track
Ten half presses on the floor
Five sets of ten perfect push ups
Ten chin up levers on a bar
Ten chin up pull overs on a bar
Ten levers
Twenty-five pike ups on the floor
Twenty-five tuck ups on the floor
Twenty-five arch ups on the floor
Twenty-five arch rocks

My wrist hurts just typing all of this out, as does my head trying to remember what we do and how many. I am completely sure that my athletes are hurting after they do all of this but there are a few things that help them along during the week. Number one is that I preach to the kids about the importance of their strength work. I always tell them that it would be easier for me to not work them very hard and then have to go to meets and fall on their faces because they aren’t conditioned properly. But I tell them after that I am giving them the gift of success. Of strong muscles and bodies. Because of the hard work they put in, the gymnastics is easier. They understand it now, but they didn’t always. Strength is success and they might not like it, but they are going to do it and do it properly and in a timely manner.

Another thing I preach to the kids is that strength, along with flexibility, keeps them healthy. Gymnastics is hard on the body and they take tons of pounding and abuse. Wrists, ankles, lower back, neck, and knees are common problem areas. I try to do as much pre-hab as possible. Wrists and ankles have been the most common problem areas for us, but low back has started to creep up now that my kids are starting to get older. So… as soon as I hear somebody complain I will implement some sort of strengthening exercises for those areas. We do what I call “rollers” for forearm strength and it has virtually eliminated the wrist pain in our gym. It is a pipe or stick with a rope attached and a five pound weight on the end. We do toe raises of every variation for calf strength to keep ankle pain out of the gym as well. And of course, the back muscles need to be strengthened as much as possible. Any time of arch rock or arch up will help to strengthen the back and should help with back pain some.

I said earlier that the main goal is muscle contraction. This is where we get the “tension” from. I teach the kids the names of their muscles and where they are and what they do. We also spend time here and there trying to flex certain muscles. I think just about everybody reading this will know how to flex their biceps or their quads, but do you know how to flex your triceps to lock the arm out? Do you know how to flex your lats? What are your lats even used for? These two, along with the abdominals, are the main muscles used in a kip. I try to make sure that the kids know things like this.

The kids learn how to contract their muscles and the names and all that, but the main goal of muscle contraction is during the exercises. Holds are a great way to ensure the muscles contract. We all want our kids to know different positions such as tucks, pikes, or hollows. I try to build in some of these into our workouts to make sure their muscles have the memory of these positions.

Second day soreness is something else I look for. There are all kind of physiological reasons why it happens that I won’t go into, partly because that class was a long time ago and you can simply look it up in a text book if you like. When a muscles or muscle groups are worked well they will swell and feel tight almost immediately. The next day they will be sore, but shouldn’t be super sore. The second day after the workout the muscles will be more sore than the first day. I am constantly communicating with the kids about how the muscles feel and their tight or soreness levels. I never want to hurt my athletes but I do want them to be the strongest they can possibly be. We communicate before, during, and after practices.

There is a lot that goes into your gymnastics program, but I believe that the strength, conditioning, and flexibility that you do in the gym are one of the most important things. There is a balance that must be struck, but you have to do it and you have to make sure that the kids are doing it to the best of their ability. I deal every week with the kid that thinks she can bend her legs on her chin levers. She is capable of doing them with straight legs… but they are just easier when she bends them. You have to stay on them, always. Once is a mistake, twice is a trend, and three times it is becoming a habit. Always watch them do their pre work out stretch, their strength, and their flexibility at the end of the workout.

I hope some of this helps, because that is my goal. Focus a some more of your effort into the details of your strength and flexibility and you will see the benefits.

Update 11/04/11
As we get ready for meets I was reminded that our plan changes the week of a meet. I want my athletes to be strong and fit, but not really sore. We adjust our numbers the week of a meet. Often times we half our numbers, but it just depends on what we are doing and where they are weak. A little soreness won’t hurt, but I don’t want them to be hurting a lot during a meet. Especially when it comes to legs. We tend to cut more of the leg strength and keep the same amount of upper body. When we cut legs, a lot of times we add more core and/or shaping work.

Crunch Time

Our meet season at SOGA is right around the corner. We have a in-house, or practice, meet every year in November. The purpose of this is to make sure the kids are ready before the meet season actually starts. The kids all know meets are important. They tend to listen better and put more focus into what they are doing before meets. I try to keep the motivation level as high as possible all the time, but it is just a natural thing for them to focus in more as the meets get closer, I believe. I want them to look good out on the floor at their first meet. The practice meet gives us a baseline to work from and adjust. There is a month between our practice meet and our first big meet so I have time to make the necessary adjustments and/or improvements.

I have spoken with other coaches that do the same type of thing. I like it a lot. Every major sport has a preseason where they play games that done really count. That’s kind of what we are doing. All of my kids are competitive. The want to do well, so it helps make my job as a motivator a little easier. It has worked for us and we will probably stick with it as long as it still shows the benefits I want.

As far as crunch time goes… I love it. I feel like I have worked my ass off all spring and summer to make sure these kids look great for the next season. I have spotted and corrected and instructed more than I ever want to and now is the time when I get to sit back and watch and give corrections most of the time. It is a little bit of a break for me physically because I don’t have to spot so much. However, mentally it is draining as hell. My gym is small, but there are so many different problems. This kid doesn’t do this right and the other one does this other thing wrong and just when you think they are doing good you notice that they are all bending their elbows on kips and casts! I am a perfectionist and I want the athletes I teach to do things as perfectly as possible, so I keep pushing. But again… I love it. This is when the skills start to come or improve. They start to look polished. They make adjustments on the first or second try instead of the third or fourth.

This year is a little scary for me, but super exciting. Last year was my first year coaching level eights or nines. This year I have three eights and two nines and I feel like all of them will be able to do well all year and into their post season meets also. I am hoping for my first trip to Level Nine Eastern Nationals. I don’t feel like I have done anything as a coach yet and I constantly want to prove to myself and everybody else that I can coach the best gymnasts in the nation and maybe someday in the world. I feel like I have some kids that could be really good this year.

I am still getting use to this whole putting my ideas on the blog. I’m sure my posts will get a lot more clean and clear. I was just thinking tonight about how much I love this time of the year. Crunch time is critical for the upcoming meet season. It is stressful but fun. Make the best of your crunch time.

I can’t wait to start meet season! Should be great!