Calling BS on Rampant Use of Keywords

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Subject: Using Keywords

I am just trying to figure out easy, simple progressions and good ways to teach tumbling and twisting. Any key words you use? Word examples I use are: standing back handsprings I say: “fall, bend, jump/extend.” Back flips is: “up, tuck, up” (“set, flip, finish”). Any suggestions would be appreciated.

I am concerned with your use of keywords and teaching your gymnasts to use them in this manner. I certainly do not advocate that you teach gymnasts to use keywords while doing every skill, to use them so prolifically or to use them in competition, like that. I know I could never advocate using three keywords per skill, using them on every skill or using them without any real problem or an apparent need to do so.

There are Legitimate (but Limited) Uses for Keywords

Gymnasts could properly use keywords for visualization, for evaluating and correcting specific problem skills in routines during practice (by having them use one correction keyword) or to focus on positive outcomes during a routine. It is counterproductive, however, to use them in the manner you have described. That is far too much conscious mind attempt at command and control over gymnastics skills, which are virtually done completely at the subconscious level, out of learned habits and not by directing them with the conscious mind.

Don’t Mess with Your Subconscious

You are messing with subconscious during skills, where a gymnast is flipping upside down, and trying to have the conscious mind control those physical skills directly. The conscious mind is incapable of doing that. The subconscious controls ALL physical activity, including tumbling, and having the conscious mind try to insert itself, into that process, will more likely interfere with smooth execution of skills than help. When first learning gymnastics (and all other physical) skills, the conscious mind must initially direct the subconscious mind as to how to move, until repetitive practice allows the subconscious to automate the action. That is why physical skills, in the beginning, being learned, are so awkward and uncoordinated – because the conscious mind is directing them, and it is not really capable of doing so smoothly, efficiently or for very long.

You Can Try to Use Keywords to Keep on Track on Beam

There may be some somewhat legitimate use of keywords to try to help gymnasts focus while they are on beam, and not to be distracted with negative thoughts. But I use much better and more effective methods to build focus, maintain concentration and be positive.

Too Many Conscious Mind Spoken Words Interfere with Gymnastics Focus

Just your example – back handsprings say: “fall, bend, jump/extend.” Back flips is: “up, tuck, up” (“set, flip, finish”)” starts to show how futile that system would be when actually doing tumbling and tumbling passes. Add in keywords for the whole tumbling pass, including the round-off and your gymnast’s mind is overwhelmed with having to remember and repeat all that stuff, instead of being in the zone and letting the subconscious control the skill from carefully built habits. Imagine all the words you would have to say to do full-in full-outs. OK, may be that is carrying the example a little far, but your use is already going too far.

Focus on the Stuck Landing

All gymnastics skills, combinations and tumbling passes are built in subconscious habits (good or bad). The conscious mind can focus on one thing at a time when tumbling. Lately, I have gymnasts focus only on the final finish, stick or landing position, of skills and combinations before they go, and that lets their subconscious free to get them there, to the end, without conscious mind distraction.

Real Keyword Success comes from Programming Them into the Subconscious

Keywords and cue words are like gymnastics drills. They should only be used very sparingly to solve problems, usually mental, otherwise they just interfere with being in the zone. Really, the best way to use keywords is to hypnotize gymnasts, so the best and most useful keywords are programmed into the gymnast’s subconscious and are triggered automatically without conscious thought. That works so much more effectively.

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One Response to “Calling BS on Rampant Use of Keywords”

  1. Gymnastics Zone November 9, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    If you want to read Dr. Bill Sands, the pre-eminent gymnastics scientific researcher in the United States attack pop gymnastics psychologist, Alison Arnold, read the comments section of this post on

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