Thursday, September 20, 2012

Coaching into the future

Gymnastics is a sport mainly coached by people who were athletes, or people who have a great desire to be involved in the sport. It helps to have a good idea about how the human body moves and the physics it takes to perform said skills. Over time coaches learn from past experience how to do certain things. And the better we get individually and as a sport, the faster we are able to teach these skills. For the most part however there is nothing that really quantitates why an athlete can do a skill, and another cannot. Most of the time good coaches can see why, too slow, too loose, just not good enough, but like I said there are no real numbers that say you could do this if you were this much faster, or this much tighter, or hit this much harder. In baseball a big league pitcher is going to be able to throw over 90 mph for the most part, hitters swing at a certain speed as well. Golfers are similar, pro golfers can swing a club at certain speeds, as well as hit fairways a very high percentage of the time. If you play football you can run the 40 in four seconds, and if you race bikes like I do, you know that 6 watts per kilogram over 20 min is a great number to have. But how fast does a gymnast run down the vault runway, or how fast is their giant swing? How hard do they hit the floor when they punch, and how quick do they get from the board to the vault?

In the olympics this year they did something that is pretty awesome. They took two of the best vaulters in the world, McKayla Maroney and Kohei Uchimura, and they put both of their vaults on the screen, one over the other. The awesome part was that the Mckayla went higher and farther than Kohei! Women are not supposed to be able to go higher and farther than men......? Years ago I tried to argue with a woman who was supposed to "teach me something" that our elite women could be as strong as our men when it came to power/weight ratios. I don't think she really understood what I was talking about, and she didn't agree with me at all. But this video that they showed on NBC at prime time just sort of proved it for me. The elite women's vault is set at a height of 1250 mm while the men's is set at 1350 mm. So not only did McKayla go higher, she also did it from a lower starting height. So this started me to think, what was her power to weight ratio on that vault, and what was Kohei's?

Now the gymnastics people out there might be thinking, what the crap is he talking about? Well I am bringing something from my hobby cycling, where everything that I do is measured and my power to weight is studied to determine if I am going to be able to compete or not. So if there was a way that I could measure some of what my gymnasts do, I could start to determine better what I need to do to help them improve, or even say, this might not be for you.

I have an idea, but I don't really know how to make it happen. It is going to take someone with a math background, someone who knows about computers, and strain gauges, and how to make it all go together. My idea has to do with vaulting, and would take a lot of testing on gymnasts who are already great vaulters, as well as getting an idea of what it takes to do vaults all the way down to a front handspring. I am thinking I could make a chart that could tell a coach that if you do A,B, and C, this athlete should be able to do this vault. I know there are people out there that think there are too many variations that would make this impossible, but that would be wrong. I think that things could really be made quite simple and could just tell people if they are even in the ball park. So if you really like gymnastics, and you think that it would be fun to figure this stuff out with me, and are way smarter than I am, let me know. I have a plan to make something that could be what power meters have been for cycling.


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