Friday, October 19, 2012

The similarity to vaulting in gymnastics and sprinting in a race.

I have always thought I was a sprinter in cycling. My background in gymnastics gave me a lot of fast muscles, as well as a lot of upper body weight. I am short and I like to squeeze though places others don't think you can go. The problem with sprinting in a race is it only happens once, or at least the big sprint that everyone cares about only happens once. And that is if your team can keep the whole thing together for you. My only two wins I have ever had have been out of break aways, but as the season wears on in the Cat 3 field it get to be very hard to hold a break as most of the riders are of the same strength and ability. So being able to sprint out of a field is a big plus. Since you only get a few chances you have to really try and get them right as many times as possible, understand what you did wrong if you failed, and never make that mistake again. The great thing about bike racing however is that you will rarely get the same exact situation twice. So you are always just trying to take previous knowledge and applying it to what you have learned, and making a very quick educated guess. Or if you are just stupid crazy strong just go fast.

Vault is a very different event compared to the rest of the gymnastics events. It lasts all of 4-5 seconds. And while there can be a lot of technique involved in it, a majority of deficiencies in technique can be overcome by sheer speed and quickness. Up until last year I struggled as a coach getting athletes to learn higher level vaults. In an effort to save athletes from the severe pounding that vault I limited the numbers of vaults that we did. This really limited what I was able to do with these girls. Up until recently I was also limited by some technical problems with our vaults as my oldest athletes were really a first generation of vaulters that the gym had started brining up in a new system. We all had been working hard to iron out kinks and we are really starting to hit our strides now.

So what would happen in my old system was we would only do hard vaulting a couple times a week. If an athlete had a bad vault day or missed a day from illness or school then we were down to just one day. Also we would go from maybe a complete day off from the gym to a hard vault day. I remember as an athlete that my first vault day of the week was always my worst, I was just always off. It was similar with many of my girls. Then I had the issue of high level athletes not understanding that meaning of basics. As an athlete progresses so do their basics. An entry level athlete's basics, like running, are not the same as a level 10's, I consider a 9.7 valued vault to be a basic for my level 10s. But as young girls grow they don't always allow their ideas to grow, but that is what we are there for as coaches, and or teachers.

So this year as a sprinter I knew that to get any better I needed more chances to sprint, and I needed some advice from those who knew how to do it best. I talked with my sponsors at Mesa Cycles Russ and Adrienne Murphy about what to think about. The first thing was positioning, this was something that I knew but could never get right. The rest of what they told me was what really started to show me big improvements in placing. If you want to know that though you might have to hire them as coaches.

This got me thinking about my athletes and the fact that I was just not giving them enough opportunities to learn their vaults, or should I say enough quality opportunities. The big change came with I re-arranged the days, and number of days that we vaulted. I had the girls spend a day preparing their bodies for vault, then we had a day of very hard vaulting doing their 10.0 or better start value vaults, and then one more day of basics. The other two days of the week were spent on creating speed in their runs, landings, and drills for learning new higher difficulty vaults.

This plan has shown huge improvements in what the girls are doing already in our training. And the improved vaulting seems to be contagious as our lower levels seem less intimidated by the aspect of doing harder vaults.

To me this in extremely comparable to sprinting in bike racing. The problem for me is that unlike vaulting it is hard to replicate sprints so that it becomes more instinctual. Great sprinters like Mark Cavendish are always in there for the sprint, not only because he has a great lead-out, but because he just knows where to be. It is instinct.

Mark's pure speed is a big help, but he is also an extremely smart sprinter.

Cameron is a freshman in high school and will compete her first year of level 10 this year with this 10.0 start value vault.

Michelle is a senior in high school and her 4th year as a level 10. This vault is worth more than a 10.0 and may help her place high at national championships.

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