Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The sling shot theory

So I've had a few people ask me about this over the last week. If you have ever looked under the gymnastics tag on my front page you will see it seems to be unfinished. You are right. I never really got back to finishing that thought. This is an idea that I started trying to coach by, about four or five years ago.

For a lot of good coaches this is nothing new to you. I guess I have never really finished this thought because I figured this was a simple idea. But what I have found are a lot of people never really think about coaching this way. Also, I do not coach lower level athletes anymore, so I don't really get a chance to practice this theory. I have talked a little bit about it with some of my coaches, and for the most part we are all very much on the same page. So here it is.

My sling shot theory is basically that there are only a few skills in gymnastics that are really important to learn. These are pretty basic level skills for a level 8, 9, or 10 gymnast, but can take a while to get to. The theory works for learning these skills as well but for the most part I am talking about the skills listed next. They are a roundoff, back handspring, back handspring step out, a front handspring, and flyspring, a layout back flip, a giant, a tap swing fly away, and a cast handstand. These are the skills I feel you need; to be able to learn just about any other worth while skill in the sport. I am sure there are other ones that other people might feel you also need, and that is fine, this is just what I think.

If you think about a sling shot, you put a projectile in the rubber band and pull it back as far as you can. The farther back you pull it the faster that projectile is going to go when released. It will fly farther and straiter hitting the target instead of dying before. So what does that have to do with gymnastics? Imagine that the projectile is your athlete, and the amount you pull back on the rubber band is time, repetitions, and the work you do on any particular skill. So if I am working on a giant swing, all those drills, time, and strength I put into working that skill goes into pulling that imaginary rubber band farther and farther back. Once I determine that we have done all the work that needs to be done, I let it rip. The idea is; now I and the athlete have basically perfected this skill, and this makes it so that I don't have to spend time later on re-training this skill. So she would be able to go farther in her gymnastics without showing a weakness in her ability. I could add half, or full turns to that giant easily. Inbar skills are learned faster, all at a fraction of the time. If I had a gymnast that was rushed into a giant swing and had problems, it would show up when I wanted to train any new skills. Once I have to go back and re-train a skill, that is when the "projectile" stops. The athlete isn't getting better, they are stuck in one place relearning what should have been done right the first time. The ultimate goal would be that once the gymnast/projectile is let go, it would go on forever without ever having to reteach it.

All of the skill that I have mentioned are the ones that if an athlete can do very well you would see a fast learning curve later on in her career. It takes a combination of strength, flexibility, talent, and drive for a gymnast to do all of that. And to master these skills can take years to do, they are not particularly easy to do at the beginning. I believe that this is what all of the great coaches do and use to get their athlete's to the top of the sport. They might not call it what I do, but they know that there is a lot of extra crap out there that you don't need to do. And they know there isn't a lot of time you want to waste when training. So they spend a lot of time on the important basics, and that allows them to learn much more much faster.

The final hard part about the sling shot theory is what is a perfect, whatever? That is up to you. Again the good coaches know, and that is why they are good. Just because you know what skill you need to focus on, getting them perfected is the hard part. With a lot of studying, and determination it can be learned and done though. My last thought on this is kids will still have to do basics every day. But doing a good set of 5 giants or something like that isn't retraining, it is just making sure the muscles are all still remembering what they are supposed to be doing. Basics are the most important thing in our sport, in any sport I suspect. And skipping them will show up in a big way when you want to improve. It is like building a house with no foundation.

Can you see the similarity?
This Chinese gymnast most likely has some great basics, just used the pic for the crumbling.

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