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.