Distraction Training – Staying in the Gymnastics Zone

No Flash Photography

No Flash Photography

Virtually everyone who has been to a local gymnastics meet has heard the pronouncement, “There is no flash photography allowed during the meet.” I don’t know (or care) if this is an actual USA gymnastics rule or just a tradition (or superstition). The idea that something like a camera flash is enough to distract a properly trained gymnast, but all of the other distractions going on at a gymnastics meet does not, is actually ridiculous.

Stuff Happens – Camera Flashes Happen

Regardless of the number of announcements made at any meet, regarding the length of the prison term for taking a flash picture, there are invariably camera flashes going off during gymnastics meets. Likely most of the flashes are caused by a parent taking a picture, who just does not really know how to turn off the flash on their new complicated camera (or camera phone) and the flash is aimed at their own son or daughter.

Blind the Gymnast – Really?

Since parents are not on floor, the flash is at some distance from all of the gymnasts, not right up in their face enough to blind them. And professional photographers, who are on the floor, understand how to use their equipment and don’t need flash to get great pictures. The idea that a flash from a camera in the stands is going to distract a gymnast enough to fall and injure themselves, (and all of the other natural distractions of a meet will not) is hardly believable.

There are Plenty of “Legal” Distractions

What are common meet distractions? (for which no announcements are made):

  • Untrained score runners unexpectedly walking close by the equipment
  • Insanely loud cheering by some group or another
  • Movements in the crowd area (there are not crowd rules or traditions like in tennis)
  • Sudden explosions of loud sound from the FX music turned up too loud
  • Etc., etc., etc.

The worst distractions I have seen came from inexperienced coaches – one who walked across the end of the FX tumbling diagonal, on their way to setting their own gymnast’s vault board, and walked right under a gymnast doing a tumbling pass. The coach never even noticed what they had done. I have seen inexperienced coaches walk across the vault runway during a gymnast’s competition vault, coaches standing on a beam dismount mat, making a gymnast have to wait to dismount until someone woke up the offending coach. The litany of distractions at gymnastics competitions is endless.

Distraction Training

While distraction training and staying in the gymnastics mental zone are actually two different concepts, distraction training must be a part of being able to achieve getting and staying in the zone, while competing gymnastics. Distraction training is a training process, usually done well after gymnasts have already mastered their skills for routines to get them used to dealing with any possible distraction during competition, by exposing them to increasing levels of potential distraction during training. Distraction training is not safe and of no use to coaches who never get their gymnasts to the point of true skill and routine mastery. In an other sport example of distraction training, Tiger Wood’s father used distraction training in Tiger’s early golf training to obvious great success.

Distraction Training is a Type of Over-Training

Over-training is a type of athletic and sports training that is designed to train athletes to a higher level than will be required from them during competition. Over-training includes having gymnasts training skills more difficult than they are going to be competing, doing harder variation of competition skills, like one-arm skills, and distraction training, among others. For true gymnast safety, maximum gymnast confidence and consistent gymnastics competition performance, over-training, including distraction training is a must.

Distraction Training Methodologies

No one wants a gymnast to get injured from distractions. This is even more true during distraction training. Careful and well-thought out progression of distraction training is necessary by coaches. The primary areas of distraction training are teaching gymnasts to deal with noise, movement and light. After gymnasts have mastered their routines, they are progressively introduced to performing competition skills and routines with a variety of, and increasing amounts and combinations of distractions, like noises, people moving close to them and a variety of light conditions.

There is a Demonstrated Need for Distraction Training

At the Atlanta Summer Olympics in gymnastics, numerous foreign competitors complained of the “excessive” loud cheering of the partisan crowd for the American gymnasts, during performances of other gymnasts. At numerous local meets, there are groups of team parents who find it necessary to cheer insanely loud for gymnasts from their team, regardless of any effect on young gymnasts from the other teams. To not prepare gymnasts to deal with distractions is simply a sign of coaches failing to plan and train their gymnasts to deal with competition realities.

Distraction Training is Already Going On

High level coaches from around the world are already using distraction training. One example is Peggy Liddick, National Coach of the Australian National/Olympic gymnastics team. She uses distraction training methods like red and green lights, flashing strobe lights to simulate camera flashes, projection screens with different gymnasts performing gymnastics and floor music played while gymnasts are on vault, beam and bars. All of this is done in an attempt to immunize her gymnasts to distraction and allow them to get in the zone and compete at their best, regardless of anything that may happen during the most important of competitions.

Article about Hhow Australian National Gymnastics Team Coach Peggy Liddick uses distraction training with the Australian Women’s Olympic Gymnastic Team.

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