Full Twists

Subject: Full Twists

My daughter is 11 and can do her running full twist by herself as long as her tumbling coach is standing there to make sure she doesn’t fall. She does a great job and it looks beautiful. But when she goes to her cheerleading gym she’s afraid to do it without him standing there to make sure she doesn’t fall. How do I get her over this fear? She won’t let anyone else spot her. Her cheer coaches really give her a hard time when she says she’s afraid. I have encouraged her by telling her she can do it and once she does it by herself it will be a piece of cake afterwards. She knows in her head and in her heart that she can do it. I hope you can help. No one else knows what to tell me. She wants to do it but doesn’t know how to stop being afraid.

Please help..

This is one of those situations where it is difficult to give advice without seeing the gymnast in action. However, your daughter’s situation is not uncommon and since we have seen practically every possible problem in our years of coaching, we can give you an idea of what is actually going on.

In advance, we offer our apologies to your current coaches and gyms for presuming to second-guess their teaching and training methods without seeing your daughter, seeing them coaching or seeing the facilities and equipment they have to work with.

On the other hand, we have enough tumbling coaching experience that there is little that we have not seen and few skills we have not already successfully taught before. And you asked for our opinion and apparently have not received the answers to your questions that you are looking for, so we have taken it upon ourselves to provide you with as complete an answer as possible from our distant perspective. We hope it helps.

First, we are going to assume that you are referring to doing Round-off, back handspring, back layout full twist. It is amazing how different the terminology for tumbling and gymnastics varies from gym to gym.

The first thing you and your daughter need to do is separate whether this is a function of fear or determine whether she is realistically analyzing her current capabilities and needs more work before she is really ready to do this skill by herself. Truthfully, our impression is that this is not a “fear” problem but simply that your daughter has not learned the skill in the most progressive manner to build maximum confidence. She may not yet have performed sufficient numbers of the skill successfully so intelligently she is hesitant to do it herself. And she may be twisting early, which is the most common error and most dangerous error.

We have to admit a prejudice for completely positive coaching. From the tone of your letter, we have to say we are not totally impressed with the attitude of your cheer coaches. If they were able to spot and teach fulls, you would likely not need to be taking tumbling at another gym in the first place. For them, then, to take a negative attitude toward your daughter’s supposed unjustified fear, progress or lack of it is unfair at best.

Second, we believe coaches should take responsibility for the success or lack of it in their athletes. If a tumbler is not learning and progressing and they are showing up at practice every day and doing their best, then it is likely the coach’s training and training system that is suspect, not the athlete. When coaches take credit for an athlete’s success, they must also take responsibility for problems and lack of progress.

Coaching should be a building process where coaches reinforce and praise what athletes are doing right because then they will most certainly repeat what has been positively reinforced. Catch them doing something right and praise it and they will do it right forever. Give them a “hard time” and that is just what you are doing, not coaching. (Sorry for that little philosophical sidebar but it had to be said).

You didn’t indicate how long she has been working on the skill, how long she has been doing it with a spot or what her consistency in landing the skill is. If she has only been working on the skill for a short period of time, if she has only been doing the skill for a short period of time with a spot or if she does not land the skill more than 90% of the time, then she is smart to be hesitant to do the skill only with a spot. If for example, while being spotted, the coach from time to time, needs to spot to “save her life” or save her from a bad fall, she really is not ready to do the skill by herself or with unproven spotters, so she is right to be hesitant.

We also are not able to evaluate the spotting capabilities of the coaches at the cheerleading gym. Tumblers often have a good concept of who can safely spot them and who cannot. They and you should know that it only takes one missed spot to cause a bad fall so they are right to be concerned. Unfortunately, not all coaches who say they can spot fulls can really do it safely when a tumbler unexpectedly does something wrong and tumblers are smart to be careful who they trust their safety to. All too often, coaches are able to spot fulls and other skills as long as the gymnast does most everything correctly, but miss the gymnast when they do something radically wrong and unexpectedly. Since this is when gymnasts really need a spot, coaches like this should not be saying they can spot fulls.

Another consideration in the transition from gymnastics to cheer gym is whether the floor on which they are performing is the same. Doing a full on a power rod floor or a spring gymnastics floor is way different on doing it on a basketball floor or just mats. Assuming that transition to a different floor is not the problem (which would require more power, better execution and more consistency and therefore more practice time), there are a number of other things that can be done and considered

The first thing to look at is how high, powerful and straight her layouts are. The basis for all twisting is a strong, straight layout somersault. One of the most common coaching errors is to start twisting before the layout is strong, straight and consistent. Twisting only occurs efficiently when the body is straight, not piked or arched, so her layouts must be straight from start to finish in order to be able to twist correctly.

Twisting requires a certain amount of air time. If her layout is not done at a minimum of chest to shoulder height, then she needs to work and improve her layout. Preferably, her layout should be done above her head height and ideally done above the height of her hands lifted straight above her head. If her layout is not all of these things, then she is not really ready for consistent twisting and is quite right to be hesitant.

The most common problem in twisting (and the source of much of the fear and trepidation) is twisting early. Anyone can jump straight up in the air and turn a full twist. Few can do a standing layout. This should indicate that a tumbler must first concentrate on doing a good layout and then twist.

Commonly, especially when first learning twisting, tumblers concentrate on the twist part. They twist early and use up the tumbling energy on the twist and do not have enough left over for completely rotating the layout. Suffice it to say that in doing a full, it is much better and safer to make all of the layout and some of the twist than to make all of the twist and only half of the layout somersault.

If a tumbler twists very early in a full, even occasionally, she is at risk to take a bad fall. Spotting until that risk is completely gone is the only logical and safe path for her to take using the spotting learning process.

That said, we believe that spotting is the old school method of teaching fulls. The primary reason you are going to a tumbling/gymnastics gym is that they should have a fully equipped facility including a pit for tumbling and an in-ground trampoline.

We no longer teach fulls by spotting. We teach all of our tumblers to tumble into the pit (in this case, doing round-off back handspring and then back somersaults, layouts and then 1/2 and full twists into the pit).

There is certainly some significant time necessary to learn to tumble consistently enough into the pit to learn twisting, but often that time is more than made up for by the time that is saved by not having gymnasts to transition from spotting to doing the skill themselves.

Additionally, learning tumbling skills into the pit means tumblers are never limited as to what they can learn because they are limited to the spotting level of their coaches. For us that limit may mean full outs (double back with full twist on the second back of the double back) or double twisting double backs. For your daughter it may mean that without tumbling into the pit, she may never learn double fulls, which are more and more common in cheer tumbling now.

These are two very different tumbling learning models. The spotting method of teaching, while necessary for gyms without pits and traditional from the time when pits were not readily available, creates just the problem you are talking about. It makes tumblers dependent on their spotter and the weaning process is often long and difficult. The spotting method of teaching tumbling also has difficulty limitations. Tumblers can never learn any tumbling skill their coaches cannot spot consistently and safely.

Tumbling into the pit takes some extra time initially in terms of learning to tumble safely and consistently into the pit. Once that is learned, however, gymnasts can learn virtually any skill in a very step by step manner with little to no spotting at all. They quickly learn what they can do by themselves and when they get a tumbling skill like a full onto a mat in the pit, they can easily go to doing that skill by themselves onto a mat on the regular floor and then the regular floor without any spotting necessary. This eliminates all of the time and problems that you are dealing with right now.

For gymnastics, where we must plan on teaching triple and now even perhaps quad twisting, learning twisting a half twist at a time is virtually essential to learn twisting from 2 & 1/2 twists and up. This is the level where spotting competence declines precipitously and where jumping up another full twist step of progressions without doing the half twist steps of progression just does not work at all in most cases. The only possible way to learn 2 & 1/2 to 4 twists is one half twist at a time and by tumbling into a pit. This is why, at least in gymnastics, spotting is an outdated model for learning twisting and any other difficult tumbling skills.

High level gymnastics and tumbling coaches now exclusively use tumbling into the pit (and tumbling into the pit off tumbling trampolines and trampolines) to teach tumbling. As is true with all gymnastics and tumbling programs, if you are training at a gym without a pit (or are not using the pit as it should be used), you and your daughter are at a tremendous disadvantage.

The next thing we would be interested to know is if your daughter learned twisting in the proper progression. If she is working on doing full twists, she should have theoretically already learned and be able to perform layout half twists on her own. If she did not learn this way, then it must be accepted that since she is attempting to jump progression two (or more) steps of progression that learning is going to take longer and consistency is going to be more elusive. Learning twisting by half twists in a step-by-step progression is the safest, most logical and eventually the fastest and best way to learn.

The next thing we emphasize in teaching twisting is the concept of late twisting. As we showed previously, doing a layout is the most important part of safely landing any twisting somersault. No somersault = crash and burn. We teach tumblers not to twist until they are certain they have successfully rotated their layout somersault. Make the layout and then twist. Incidentally, this is not a common method of teaching twisting with the spotting method because it is more difficult to spot a late twist than an early twist.

Even in a gym with no pit, this can be a logical and safe way to teach twisting. If you make the layout, no matter how much twist you make, you are going to land on your feet. This is a good thing. We go so far as to have gymnasts on tumbling and trampoline to do a layout and then jump and do the twist after they land the layout. We then gradually have them start to twist just before they land, and step by step they get to the point where they complete the twist before they land.

Of course, we do this first with a half twist. Then when they can consistently rotate and land a layout 1/2 twist on floor, we have them do that and add the jump 1/2 twist and the rest of the progression just as before. This progression ends up being the full twist you are seeking.

We use this same twisting learning progression on trampoline (we prefer in-ground trampolines for safety). Trampolines are the most time efficient method of learning and practicing. Why? Because you can easily do ten tumbling skills in one minute on trampoline. There is no way you could ever do that many fulls on floor in a similar amount of time. If your daughter is not also doing all of her tumbling skills and progressions on trampoline, she is going to learn much more slowly than necessary.

Our first impression from afar is that your daughter is not suffering from a problem with “fear.” This is not a case where she could already do the skill and now is afraid. She has never done this skill consistently, if ever, all by herself and so she is still in the normal leaning progression. The delays in her learning this skill are most likely a result of the variance from the way tumbling and twisting are being taught today at the very best tumbling, gymnastics and cheer facilities as we have described above.

To summarize your options for solving your twisting learning problem:

  • Make sure your layout is high enough, strong enough and straight enough first.
  • Learn to tumble into pit and learn your twisting into the pit without a spot.
  • Follow proper progression and learn twisting a half a twist at a time.
  • Learn twisting more quickly and safely by using the late twisting learning method.
  • Use trampoline to increase the number of tumbling skill progressions and tumbling skill repetitions that you can do in a standard practice time period.

or:

  • Simply continue with spotting

Depending on your situation, you may or may not be able to do all of the above. In our opinion, the more of the the above training techniques you do the sooner and better you are going to be doing your fulls. The alternative is to simply continue with spotting until she has done the approximately, say 500 – 1000 total repetitions on average, that it will take for her to get confident enough do it without a spot.

Good luck, and if there is anything else we can do for you, please let us know.

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