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.

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!


Update 11/14/11
I stumbled upon an article on twisting that got me thinking about something that I had not emphasized before. The article mentioned the arms going a little bit wide when setting for a twist. Not horizontal wide, but maybe a little more than shoulder width. This instantly made sense to me because I often talk to the kids about increasing spin and rotation. I ask them if they have ever spun around in a chair with their arms and legs out and what happens when they pull them in tight. They all usually answer that they spin faster. I started to emphasize a high, wide arm position when taking off for twisting forward and backward. It has helped with the kids that like to twist early and it has also helped a lot with those tricky double fulls and rudis that like to fall backwards. Try it and see if it works for you!

Original Post
I have sat through so many lectures and had so many discussions on twisting that it can make my mind numb just thinking about them. There are sooo many different opinions about twisting. Which way? How do you determine which way? Is one way better than the other? Does anybody really have the answers?

My answer to that is… No. I don’t think anybody really has all the answers. Kids can be screwy sometimes when it comes to twisting. What matters most, in my opinion, is that the kids can twist and twist well.

Here are some of my thoughts about twisting. I will begin with the cartwheel, roundoff, and the usual level eight bar pirouette. All of these skills are change of direction skills and don’t count as twisting to me. Why do we do a roundoff? To turn around and tumble backwards. Why do we do a cast handstand pirouette on the low bar? To get your requirement and turn around so you can do your high bar. These skills are stand alone, in my opinion.

Now this is where things get confusing. Let’s use a round off for example. My left hand goes down first on the floor, which way did I twist? My belly turned to the right. It is technically a right twist. I know lots of coaches say that you should twist right because of this. I disagree. The round off is a skill to turn around, but I do use the hand placement to determine twisting direction. I want left handed round off children to turn left, front and back. The main reason I really have a preference is because of what the elites are doing now. The round off, one and a half, step out through to… You know what I mean. That pass is super common and I love it. You can do this type of connection with arabians, halves, and one and a half twists. If I round off left but twist right, I will have to do a right round off out of my twist so I can step out.

So for me, left round offs twist left and right round offs twist right. Forward and backward twisting should be the same in my opinion. You have to be really careful to train your eyes to see which direction the kids are twisting. Watch their bellies to see which way they turn. My background is in trampoline and tumbling and I did a lot of multiple flipping and twisting. It is easy enough to get lost when doing skills like this. I was fortunate to have a wise coach who made sure I learned to twist the proper directions and I didn’t have much of a problem when I did multiple flipping and twisting. I watched many other athletes struggle because they would get lost doing skills like half in, full outs or even half in, half outs. I know not all of our athletes will be able to do skills like this, but it made me more particular about twisting.

On to bars for now. I said the level eight pirouette was just a change of direction for me but some coaches use it to determine which way a child should do a blind change or a giant full. I have my left round off athletes pick up their left hand and turn and vice versa. That is for no huge particular reason other than I think kids tend to be a little stronger with that arm because it is on the ground first, and sometimes more violently, in round offs. I don’t have any hard facts to back that up, but I haven’t had a problem with left round off kids picking up their left hand and turning it for their level eight pirouettes. I mentioned that some coaches use the level eight pirouette to determine which way you should blind or giant full. The thought process is this. If I am use to picking up my left hand on the level eight pirouette then when I do a giant full you want to end up turning the last half on that same arm. This would mean I would giant full to the right, and blind change for that matter. For me… that’s too much. I know there are plenty of coaches that have had success doing this, but I don’t prefer it.

For me, blind changes are sort of layout arabians. Lefties go left and finish their twist before handstand. A giant full is like an early full twist. Lefties go left. To me… that makes things simple. The eight pirouette is basically a cartwheel, the blind is an arabian, and the giant full is a… full. I want twisting dismounts to twist the same direction, I want geingers to turn the same direction , and I want overshoots to turn the same direction. That is… lefties go left, righties go right.

So to recap. Everything goes the same direction, except the cast handstand pirouette and cartwheels and round offs. This is my perfect scenario. Right now in my gym, this is the way everybody does all their twisting and pirouetting. I, admittedly, stay away from the floor and beam dance, but I know that the girls do some different directions on their leap and jump connections. I don’t feel like that is a big deal because you aren’t inverting. That is when the kids can get crazy.

I feel like no twisting post would be complete without a how to. The most simple things I have ever heard have also been the most effective. Al Fong said, “Layout, land, jump half turn. Half, land, jump half turn…” He did this all the way to three and half twists. The other simple answer is a little bit more of a funny story. In 2008 I was able to attend National Congress in Philadelphia. Valeri Liukin was doing a lecture on bars and this was, of course, when Nastia was wowing everybody with her high flying and wonderful pirouettes. A lady raised a hand and stood up to ask a question. She said, “How did you teach Nastia to do all of those pirouettes?” Everybody seemed to hold their breath, waiting on the most insightful and amazing bit of information ever. Valeri stood there with sort of a funny look on his face and said, “On the floor.” I remember sitting back in my chair and thinking… well that’s too simple. He has to do more than that. But no. He went into his lecture and showed all of the pirouetting drills that he did on the floor and floor bars, against the wall, and on low bars or high bars with spot, eventually.

We adhere to these things pretty strictly in our gym. Bar pirouettes are taught on the floor or on the floor bar first, twisting is taught with a landing and then a jump half turn, and beam things are taught on the lines on the floor. If there are problems, we always go back to the floor and work on it. Simple is usually best. For example, learning to twist. A strong layout is a prerequisite, in my opinion. We start on the trampoline with layout, land with arms up, bounce half turn. Once they are comfortable we move on to trying to do the turn just before you land. If successful, we repeat. When they don’t do it right, they go back to land, bounce half turn. We keep going back and forth and then give them manageable advancements like back with a half, land with arms up, bounce a half turn. We do this for front and back twisting. The reason I like this is because it is really simple to determine which way is left and right when you are on your feet and it teaches them to turn late in the beginning. Tom Forster said it best, “When we teach them to do it late, it becomes early. When we teach them to do it early, it becomes earlier!”

The one small problem I have had with the land, bounce a half method is the double full. I have seen some issues with front double fulls also. That little tiny extra half can make things so much harder. I believe a huge problem is that kids get excited because you said to do a double and they go really hard, landing on their backs or faces depending on which way they are twisting. For these skills you need to teach the kids how to stall the flip. I like to teach my kids to try to set a really high, slow back layout with a quarter twist. I want them to set their arms a lot wider than normal as well. The reason for this is I want them to take care of the high, slow layout and initiate their twisting. The wide set is so when they wrap in tight they can accelerate even faster. Think about spinning in some sort of office chair with your arms and legs out really wide. What happens when you pull them in tight? You spin way faster. Same principle. I see a lot of double fulls that are still twisting as they are landing. They usually end up at the one and three-quarter point when they land. If you watch the twist, the full is really fast, the next half is pretty slow, and the last half doesn’t even make it around. That is why I want them to initiate the quarter, or half, twist as they set the high, slow layout. When they wrap from wide to narrow, they will spin fast and be able to finish their double full much quicker.

One very large common problem I see is the wrap itself. I see all these kids at meets or at camps nervously preparing to do their full and frantically practicing how hard they are going to throw their arms in crazy positions. The full is attempted and usually all they did was drop their shoulder back and down and do a scary full, landing with their chest down after piking it down. First of all this rehearsal drives me nuts and is non-productive. Second, go watch elite trampolinists. Their twists are with their arms locked at their sides. No crazy diving positions or windmill/hurricane arms. My personal thoughts are that the arms do nothing except accelerate the twist by helping the body become more narrow. The body does the twists, the arms assist. As I learned to twist I had a wise man teach me to do fulls and double fulls with my arms out straight to the sides, with my arms up above my head, with my arms locked to my sides, and even with my fingers in my ears. As scared as I was when I first attempted these twists… they were well worth it. I was never the model for athleticism or gymnastics ability, but I could twist quads front and back into pits without much of a problem when I was competing.

As for the arm position there are two people that have explained it really well that I liked a lot. Tom Forster said that you should teach kids to lift and pull in to twist. Think about standing on the ground with a rope in front of you. Reach up and grab the rope with two hands and pull yourself up to where your hands are. Your will stop pulling when your hands are at your chest. I hope this gives you the idea of what Tom meant. He demonstrated it during his clinic and it made sense when he showed it. Reach up and pull down into your chest. The other one was Marvin Sharp. He teaches his athletes to twist like a top. Stand on your feet, put your knuckles together and your elbows out to the side at shoulder height. The hands are in tight to the body and the elbows are out. What spins as good or better than anything? A top. Wide, but still tight, at the shoulders and elbows and narrow at the feet. Not that I count for anything as an athlete, but I twist this way and I have noticed that a lot of the best twisters twist this way also.

I think that the most simple way is the best way. I recommend teaching bar pirouettes on the floor and making sure that everything goes the same way, except the cast handstand pirouette. I recommend teaching front and back twisting with the land bounce half turn method and don’t be afraid to go back and forth in the steps until the kids are comfortable. I recommend that twisting be the same direction front and back, so keep a close eye on that. I also recommend having your left round off athletes twist left and vice versa. I DO NOT recommend trying to reteach somebody who has already been twisting for long while or who does it well. If you do decide to reteach twisting, you should find some creative way to make them think it is their idea to relearn how to twist. It will make the process a little easier.

If I can think of any other twisting information to add onto this I will, but that is all for now. Remember. Round offs are transition skills, as are the cast handstand pirouette. Neither are twisting. Everything else can, and should, go the same direction. That is… in my opinion, at least.