The Old And The New

So… Here it is. Before I show everybody the new gym, I thought it would be more appropriate to show everybody the place that we have been in for the past five years.

And now… the new gym. It isn’t totally complete. I didn’t take pictures of the preschool area or the parent area, but I will. I need to install three more low rails and do some more maneuvering of equipment. It will be completely and totally finished very soon.

I want to say thank you to a lot of people. Thank you to the people in the gymnastics community in the state, region, and nation that have helped me to grow and develop as a coach. There are tons of you and I hope that all of you know who you are. ¬†Thanks to all of the parents and athletes. Without you all none of this would be possible. Thanks to all of my co-workers. I can’t do this alone and I know that. Thank you to my wife for not killing me over the years, and especially this week. Love you! Also… Thanks to everybody that has helped with this project. From the backers that put up the money for it to the people who have cleaned, moved, and helped the gym for the past six months.

Without all of you, this gym wouldn’t be possible. So thank you to everybody involved, near and far. All of you are greatly appreciated.

What’s New

Well… It’s been a long time. I haven’t been on here for several reasons. I was just down in Charlotte, North Carolina again last weekend for the camp at International Gymnastics and I had some good conversations with people down there that told me they still read my blog. I was surprised at that because I see the numbers, but it was encouraging to hear and made me want to start getting more information out. I also confessed to some people that I felt like nothing I did on here would ever be as important or relevant as what I was able to do in the wake of Andrea’s accident. Seventeen-thousand people viewed that blog post in about a week, which was incredible for me and for her friends and family. Not that I want to one-up that, but it just doesn’t feel as important.

I have also had my fair share of struggles recently. We have two level tens, two level nines, and a level eight boy. I have been working with several kids in the afternoons, which has kept me really busy. This is my first experience with having athletes at this level in my own gym and there has been some learning I have had to do. I have started to do TOPs with my kids and that has me pretty excited. My level eight boy finished third at Future Stars Regionals with a bad showing, but still qualified to Nationals in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He did well there, but ended up finishing just barely in the bottom half of his age group. On top of all of this… I have been devoting almost all of my free time to golfing. I have gotten to the point where I can shoot even par or several over just about every time I go play. The other big thing that has kept me busy is the best news of all. We purchased the building, property, and equipment from the other gym in town and we are in the process of renovating it to be a world class facility. It won’t be huge, but it will be laid out perfectly with pits and resi mats for every event, boys and girls. We will also have a trampoline into a pit and a resi mat, which I am excited about. I will hopefully get to flip again like I use to!

Here is a little bit of what we have been doing…

I haven’t done a very good job of videoing everything that I want to. The two nines have been doing well and so has my other ten after being out of the gym for another sport. The boy has been working on, and getting, a bunch of skills that will stick with him for the rest of his career. Tippelts, Yamawaki, Diamadov, Stutz, ect. It is an exciting time for me and for my gym. We have several youngsters that I am excited about and all of the kids have been working hard for the season. I have also begun to work every week with all of the coaches in the gym to share my knowledge and experience with them and try to make them better at what they do. We are going to continue to meet every week to try and make SOGA the best facility for gymnastics, tumbling, and cheerleading that it can possibly be.

I mentioned before that I was in North Carolina again… The camp was amazing. They added Alex Bard, a Canadian National Team coach and repeated Olympic coach, to the roster of great coaches this year. I met Alex several years ago at Woodward and he is amazing. Camp was great for all the kids and the coaches and I look forward to going back next year. The week before I was in Cincinnati at Gym Nation to work the Region Five Forward Progress camp. That was also great. The region looks strong and ready to do great things. It was wonderful to be able to work a high level camp with so many friends and I learned a lot from them while I was there. I am finally home for a couple weeks and then I get to go back down to the TOPs A camp at the Karolyi Ranch.

So… I am posting this and then I am going to work on bar changes and the tap swing in every flip, possibly some other posts. I know I have a lot to learn and I am extremely far from the best coach around, but I want to share what knowledge and experience I have with everybody. So… here goes. I guess since it is cold I have time to devote to this instead of golf.

Quick Thoughts

I have a ton of things I needed to get out of my head in out into the world. Here they are.

Education is not an option. It is a requirement. Not just gymnastics. Nutrition, psychology, kinesiology, exercise physiology, teaching, coaching, and everything else that is related to our sport. Can you ever get too smart? Can you ever know too much? Uhm… No! So keep looking for new information, training plans, ideas, and anything else you can find to help make you a better teacher, mentor, coach, and person.

Use your brain. Just because somebody said it or did it, doesn’t mean that it is best or right. Not all information is good information. You have to filter what you see and hear. For examples, I got a ton of information from a congress this summer and I set up a bunch of drills everyday. The kids did the drills really well, but I found that their vaults were getting worse. They were getting really good at doing all these drills and not at vaulting. I cut all the drills out and had them do their vaults and a couple drills that simulated the actual vaults. Since then, our vaults have gotten much better.

Organization is not a good idea. It is necessary. Every rotation, every day, every week, every month, every year, and even years down the road. You have to be organized. I don’t want my kids to get bored by doing the same thing, but I want them to know the plan for the event, day, and week. They should know what is expected of them and how they are going to get to where they need to be. My kids all know the rotations each day, the length of the rotations, and how we will work during the rotations. Most of my kids even know what the other groups are going to do as well. We are consistent and we are organized.

Having a plan isn’t something you do when you have time enough to think about it. Failing to plan is planning to fail. See above. Planning and organization make everything so much easier. Every kid, every skill, everything. It all needs to be planned. And after you have a plan, you need need to have a backup plan. And the backup should have a backup plan. There are so many uncertainties in this sport. Plan it out and then have backups. Follow your plan, but be flexible enough to adjust as needed.

Strength, flexibility, and basics are the most important thing in gymnastics. I believe that pain is weakness… If it hurts, it is weak and needs to be strengthened. Many injuries come from a lack of strength and/or flexibility. Every muscles and joint needs to be strong and flexible. Also… For me, bad basics is bad gymnastics. Period. Bad basics usually lead to some sort of injuries as well. Put a lot of time and effort into strength, flexibility, and basics and I am certain you will see better gymnasts and better gymnastics.

Scary gymnastics should result in at least a five point deduction. Coaches should be fined… Or maybe thrown out of the meet. I understand the occasional silly mistake, but kids should not be allowed to continually practice or compete scary gymnastics. For instance, I saw a girl do a really, really horrible tucked yurchenko vault. She nearly missed the landing mat entirely. Her next turn she did one of the prettiest layout full twisting yurchenkos I have seen. She messed up and it scared some people, but she obviously didn’t do scary gymnastics all the time. That same meet I had to tell my kids to turn away and not watch the other team warm up or compete their events. Scary doesn’t begin to describe what these girls were allowed to do. Dangerous comes to mind. Hideous does as well.

If you teach “chuck it” gymnastics, you should be chucked off a bridge. That is kind of harsh, but I really hate the whole “chuck it” mentality. There are a few “do it” skills in gymnastics, but there are no “chuck it” skills. For example, double fronts. Especially into pits. There have been many times that I have given kids instructions on how to do double fronts into a pit, what they will feel, and what they should avoid. I have then said… Do it and then we will talk about what you need to change and do better. These kids have all had the ability to do double fronts into a pit and they have always been successful on their first try, as well as every try after. I have always made sure to give them as much information as possible before they try it. “Space for your face” is a concept I always teach. I tell them to spread their knees a little bit so if they hit their feet first they don’t smash their face on their knees. I have never had a kid “chuck” a skill, but I have had them do some skills to get the fear and nerves out of the way. On a side note, I believe that pits and resi mats have helped to further the whole “chuck it” mentality.

I could be wrong, but I don’t see any of the best coaches in the world saying they don’t spot. Get your hands on the kids and work with them. I am really curious to see if I am wrong about this. Every great coach I have ever met or seen has spotted, or at least been able to spot. I believe it creates trust and helps create a bond with the kids. I don’t mean you should always spot or that is all that is important, but I do believe that it is a huge tool that should be in your tool box. I know a few coaches that don’t spot at all. I know a few coaches that don’t spot on certain events. I also know coaches that spot everything, all the time. I have a previous post about spotting that I think you should read if you are interested in spotting. Simply put… I believe you should know how to, when to, and why to spot. And be able to do it!

I don’t believe that injuries are okay, ever. Aside from the random freak, uncontrollable accident, most injuries can be prevented. I said before that strength, flexibility, and basics can prevent a lot of injuries. I believe that proper organization and planning can help as well. Knowing your kids, reading their body language, and communicating with them will help also. Chucking skills is never safe. Allowing scary gymnastics to be practiced or competed is asking for injuries. There is so much that goes into keeping your kids safe and healthy. I get really tired of hearing people say that it is just the sport or shrugging and saying… “What are you gonna do?” I do think that there are some random, freak accidents that will happen in this sport and any other sport. But if your athletes are strong, flexible, have good basics, are mentally conditioned and prepared… Don’t you think they will tend to be healthier?

Just because you have been coaching gymnastics forever or you coached one or two good kids, that does not mean you are good. I believe that you are only as good as your worst kids. I read that after winning a world all around title, a coach and athlete both said that they knew they were only as good as their next meet. I absolutely loved hearing that, especially after winning a world all around title. At the risk of over sharing my thoughts…. I want to have a kid sweep every event in all around and event finals in the Olympics. I want to have an entire Olympic team come from my gym. I have lofty goals and they are probably out of reach. If I ever do reach them… Then I have to repeat! My point is this. I have met tons of coaches that hang their hats on what they have done in the past. I have respect for previous accomplishments, but what have you done lately? Keep putting everything you have into your athletes and your staff. Always try to get better and make your athletes better. No matter what you have done in your career, there is always something more you can do.

If you are in this sport to make money, you are in it for the wrong reasons. I believe that you can make a good, maybe even great, living in this sport. If money and profits are the main concern, I don’t believe you will be successful. Focus on your plan, organization, and coaching the kids. I am willing to bet that you will start to see more profits when you have a good plan, organization, and good coaching.

I was told once that it didn’t matter what you said or did to kids as long as they made nationals. Take a second… Digest that. Think about what that statement really says. I can verbally, emotionally, or physically abuse kids as long as they make nationals? I can have them vault or tumble onto hard surfaces when they are exhausted, even though I think it is dangerous? I can have them do skills that they aren’t ready for or haven’t had proper instruction on? I can sit on my ass and drink coffee while three groups work unsupervised? No… Everything you do matters. Every day. Results are a product of the process. There are so many things wrong with that statement and that mentality.

I might just be young and naive. I might just be idealistic. It is entirely possible that I am way off the mark. But I believe that the status quo in this sport isn’t where it should be.

Weekend Observations

There were good kids in every group at camp and there were several stand out kids at the camp at different levels. The overall level of the athletes and groups was just not the same. I didn’t expect it to, but the camp did not have the same look or feel of a Region Five or even Ohio camp.

Before I get started with the details, I know that all of these things are not exclusive to this camp, state, or region. I see a ton of the same stuff at Woodward every summer from all kinds of other states and regions. I see the same problems at Region Five camps, Ohio camps, and even in my own gym. I seem to see less of in in my own state and region.

One of the biggest things I noticed immediately was form. On bars toe points were scarce, in particular. The body shaping was generally okay but it didn’t have the same look of the athletes I am use to seeing. There were a lot of flat backs with a pike and not the smooth, even round shapes I am use to seeing. I quickly spotted a couple Region Five girls on bars. You could just tell from the body shapes and the details.

I spent a lot of my time on vault, bars, and floor talking about the usual things that I do with kids at camps. On vault I talked a lot about being aggressive and actually sprinting, as well as long hurdles. For the yurchenko kids I talked a lot about being ready for the blocks and punches. So many kids would try to bend and push off the hand mat and then punch the board with their chests leaning forward. When they touched their hands they would bend and then try to push out again. I instructed a lot of kids to make sure they were anticipating the contact instead of reacting to it. Most of them got the idea. One other problem was kids doing layouts over the table. I know a lot of coaches explain yurchenkos as a layout over the table but I disagree. It is a whip. The athletes should be in a strong hollowed position when they contact the board and then transition quickly into a long, stretched arch position over the table. The bigger the athlete can change their shapes and remain tight, the more snap they will get off of the table. I told a lot of kids to open and stretch back over the table instead of doing a hollow layout. I had vault the second day and at the end of the day, so to be completely honest there was not a ton of productivity there. The kids did make some good, small corrections for me. A lot of the problems came from a lack of aggression, in my opinion. The kids weren’t attacking vault, they were hoping to survive vault.

On bars there were several things I came away thinking about. Number one, there were not very many good, strong clear hips or giants from the younger kids. I did a lot of talking about keeping the belly and hips away from the bar on clear hips and opening early and strong. They didn’t seem to want to do that. Clear hips seemed scary and hard and not something they got good at during their level six year and were working to perfect in their optional years. The usual early arch and early tap was ever present on giants, as well as girls not curling around the bar. Lots of giants were finishing before handstand in an arch and momentum was barely pulling them on around the bar. One huge problem was head position. Not the normal head back position, but chin on chest position. The kids couldn’t tap properly from that position so they kept doing glide swing giants and falling off the front of the bar. For the older kids there were a lot of overshoots and straddle backs and some releases. There were some girls working on pirouetting and dismounts as well. Those were all sort of the usual mistakes that were pretty easily identified and helped. One thing I kept telling girls was to make sure they were aggressive on their giant fulls. So many girls did tiny, wimpy taps into them and then hoped they would make it over the bar. A lot of times they would come up short and fall off or split their legs to try and help shift their weight and then end up falling into the second half of the full. In my opinion, a lot of problems can be solved by making sure the athlete knows to be aggressive on the tap swing into the blind or the giant full instead of trying to just make it barely into handstand. A lot of the weight shifting problems and form deductions started to disappear when the girls started to be aggressive.

I seemed to do a lot of twisting work on vault, bars, and floor. For all of the events, twisting was a big problem. I understand it on vault and on bars, somewhat, but on floor I don’t. I did a ton of talking on floor about actually throwing the arms up and out wide for front or back twisting. I explained to the kids that as you are punching forward or backward that you should be extending your arms upwards and out a little bit to set the flip. The reason for the out part was explained like this. If you spin in a chair with your arms and legs out and then bring them in tight, you spin faster. If the kids set the flip and initiate a little bit of their twist as they rise then the twist will accelerate much better as the arms come in high and tight to the chest. This is especially important when an athlete gets to double fulls and rudis. The flips almost have to stall out in the air and twist just a little on the way up before the athlete brings the arms back in to spin faster. This keeps them on their feet and helps them spin fast enough to finish the double full or the rudi before they contact the ground. There were so many kids that got so much better at twisting over the weekend. I changed arm positions and emphasized the arms throwing upward and forward or backward. I also emphasized the wide arms, but not too wide. I felt really good about all the twisting improvements. I even taught a few kinds how to deal with the twisties.

The other thing I found myself thinking over the weekend was… why is vault so damn hard? I don’t mean physically or mentally or even for the athletes. I mean… why do we have ten million board settings in one group and how do people arrive on these? Personally, I have two. All vault boards go two feet from the mat or table with the hand placement mat long ways against the board, except for yurchenkos. They go one foot away from the table with the long mat against. One quick side rant, there are two sides to a hand placement mat. The flat side is designed to fit against the front of the board and the angled side is designed to point towards the athletes so they don’t trip over the lip. Back on topic. The reason I have two feet as the setting for all vaults from dive rolls to tsuks and front-fronts is something I will explain more in depth in another post, but basically it is a happy medium so they don’t have to go straight up or straight out. I want those vaults to leave the board at basically a forty-five degree angle. The one foot setting for yurchenkos is because I want them contacting the table on the rise. I want their hips going straight up as their hands go back to the table. If it is too far away from the table for yurchenkos then the angles are all wrong and they contact on the way down. I don’t mind helping the kids on vault and working with them, but why the hell do we have short mat four inches away and the board at five foot, nine inches? Put the board at one foot, put the long mat in front (the proper way) so there is no gap, and see what happens. Another thing, the rectangular mat is three feet by four feet. The square mats are three by three. If I have the short mat six inches away from the board, why not just turn it long and put it up against the board? Take away the ability for them to miss their hands on the mat or for the mat to slide.

Another vault thing. We were vaulting into a pit. In previous posts I talked about how we do one timer and then flip. One of my athletes came over quickly to vault for her rotation. I set her board and said, “Flip the first one.” She confidently nodded and then easily did a very nice tuck yurchenko into the pit. The second turn was a pike, also done very well. The third and fourth turns were layout attempts. They were not done as well, but they were not bad. At this time, the rest of the group came wandering over and one girl asked what my athlete was doing. I told them that she had already taken four turns and they were just getting over there. The girls all kind of put their eyes down and then looked at each other. I tell this story because my athlete went on to take at least another ten or so turns and make significant strides on her vault, while the other girls only did probably one or two flipping vaults.

I got some great experience for my future as well down at camp. I got to work on tons of double twisting, double flipping, bar changes, pirouetting, and flipping vaults. There were a few full-ins done at camp that I got to work on, I got to help with some single rail releases, and I got to coach a lot of girls doing twisting vaults. I have had experience with all of those before but to me… the more the better!

All in all the camp was great. The form, the twisting, and all the millions of vault settings were the things that stuck out to me. In my opinion, those are all easily correctable things that need some focus. All of the problems I encountered at this camp had been encountered before at Woodward, Region Five, or Ohio camps. It just seemed to be a large concentration. I believe I helped the kids, as did all of the other coaches. I was impressed with those good kids and those standout kids I mentioned earlier.

Perspective was a common word used on Saturday between one of my new friends and myself. I mention this because that is the number one thing I am coming back with. I have a better perspective on what other gyms, states, and regions are doing. I see that these problems are all extremely common. I see that I am spoiled to have so many great athletes, coaches, and gyms in my state and region.

Again… thanks to everybody who helped make the weekend so great. It was a wonderful learning experience for me and I am coming back with more knowledge and a better perspective than before. If anybody has any questions or wants more details about the trip, feel free to contact me.

Weekend Recap

I was planning on doing live updates throughout the weekend, but I have been way too busy to do that. My flight into Charlotte was on time but everything was just sort of slow. I had to wait a while on my bag as well as the usual docking and unloading and all of that. Two of the Woodward directors picked me up at the airport. We used the ride to the gym to catch up on life and gymnastics. It was nice to see them and catch up. They have been part of my life for the last four years. We had to stop and grab food on the way to the gym and we arrived exactly at noon, when the camp was supposed to start.

I quickly rushed into the gym and changed into my athletic clothing to coach. I hate being on time and I hate being late even more. I am always early, but this situation was out of my control so I just let it go. I went into the gym and was greeting by lots of yells and smiling faces. I looked around for my athletes and quickly found them. I checked with them to make sure they were fine and ready to go for practice. I went around the gym and said hello to everybody that I knew and gave out high fives and hugs all around.

I had no idea what events I was coaching or how everything worked at camp so I found the camp director and got the necessary information. I started with bars for five straight rotations before our snack break. There were levels seven-ten at camp and I got to see almost all of them in the first morning of camp. I used the snack break to finally eat the food that we had purchased before camp started. I was starving. After the quick snack break I had another rotation of bars and then floor for the rest of the evening.

After the camp finished for the night I went back to find the camp director again to find out about my hotel and transportation information. I found out that I had a room mate and he would be my transportation as well. It was a new friend that I had made earlier in the day. I met a lot of great people down at camp this weekend including athletes and coaches. I got to meet some college coaches as well. After a little chit chat in the gym, my new friend and I headed over to the hotel and decided to go to grab a night cap and talk for a while. We talked for a good few hours about gymnastics, coaching, sports, and all sorts of other things.

Finally, bed time. I fell asleep later than I wanted to, but it wasn’t too late. The alarm came quickly and I rolled out of bed, noticing how sore I was from all the spotting the day before. My room mate and I got ready and then walked across the parking lot to grab some breakfast. We came back to the hotel and ate while we waited on two other coaches that were riding to the gym with us. Saturday morning brought rotations on bars, floor, and then a lot of vault. I had the level tens on floor and vault, which was really exciting for me. The only real hitch of the day was just how tired the kids were. They had done a lot of work the day before and they were all feeling it. It really caught up to the kids that were on vault for the final rotations. I had to give them some soft, easy drills to do to try and save their bodies. They appreciated it greatly. There was an open gym rotation at the end of the day that wasn’t as productive for my athletes as I had hoped, but we made due. They all went to beam and showed me what they were working on during the weekend and then we went to the tumble tracks and worked for quite a while on front and back twisting.

I made my girls stretch well and then we huddled up and talked. I told them I was proud of them. They worked hard all weekend and they did it with great attitudes. I got many compliments on the kids and I told them that. I asked how they felt about the weekend and they all gave me positive feedback. They accomplished just about everything I had hoped that they would during the weekend with some small misses here or there. All in all… great job. The parents took some pictures and we talked for a while. I thanked them again for bringing the kids down and then I headed back to the hotel.

Now the really fun part. The coaches all went to dinner at a nice bistro outside of Charlotte. The food was delicious, the drinks were strong, and the atmosphere was great. We were in a small side room all together. I have said before that I am always the youngest person around and yet again this was true. I took some gently teasing from everybody about this and other things, but like I always I laughed it off and tried to give it back. For me… sitting back, listening, and watching these veteran club coaches, college coaches, directors, and young aspiring coaches all talk and interact was the best part of my weekend. We sat and talked for something like five hours and I will never forget that small room in the bistro. I hope I will have the opportunity to do it again in the future.

Finally, my new friend and I went back to the hotel and went to bed too late again. And yet again, the alarm came way too early. The camp director picked myself and another coach up to take us to the airport and I found out I would be flying to Cleveland with this coach. We said our thanks and then headed into the airport. The trip back was completely uneventful for me, which is just the way I want my travels to be. The one great thing was being able to talk to the other coach on the plane. We spend the entire time talking about everything under the sun and it was great. We got into Cleveland and said our goodbyes there. I walked away from him feeling like I had a good friend for life and I will happily be seeing him at some meets this year.

So that’s what happened. Cut and dry. I come away from the weekend feeling like I have made some new great friends, some new connections, and bonded much more with the old friends that I have. I cannot remember ever having a more fun weekend and I can’t thank everybody enough for all of it. It is wonderful to be asked to come to a different state and region and be accepted by everybody. Especially by the old farts that have laid the groundwork for people like me.

I am going to type up a separate summary of my observations on the camp. Up soon!

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!