Dominant Skill Side in Competition

Subject: Dominant Skill Side in Competition

I have been wondering what kind of deduction is given in competition for switching from left to right during a routine? As a young gymnast shouldn’t the coach insist the child perform consistently on their dominant side?

In optional competition, obviously, there is no deduction for doing skills on either side, switching sides, etc. It is all optional, the gymnast’s choice. They and the coach will determine which way they do the skill most naturally and most consistently.

In compulsory competition, there is also no deduction for switching to left of right on the important major elements. Yes, the gymnast and coach must choose which way to do the routine and stick with that for the minor elements and moves of no value, but the major skills routine can be reversed.

Specifically, on both beam and floor in the J.O. Compulsory book, it states:
The routine may be reversed in its entirety; however, no single element may be reversed unless indicated by and asterisk.

The fact that the routine may be reversed in its entirety just allows gymnasts to do the routine either left of right. In the J.O. Compulsory book, the skills that have asterisks though are the major and more difficult skills.

For example, in the Level 6 beam routine, the skills that can be reversed are the mount, the back walkover and the dismount. The main skills that cannot be reversed are the split leap and the full turn. Those two skills must be in the same direction that the rest of the routine is. Thus, it only makes sense to pick which way you do the routines based on the leap and turn. If you leap with your right leg in front and turn to the right in your full turn, you would choose to do the routine right. And you could still then do the mount, the back walkover and the dismount either right or left.

On floor, there are even more skills that may be reversed. Again, for example, in the Level 6 routines, the skills that can be reversed on floor are the stretch jump, ½ turn, the back handspring step-out, both the front handspring pass and the round-off back handspring, back tuck pass, the back extension roll, the back walkover and even the running steps.

Again the leaps (and split on floor where your good side is going to be the same as your leap) and the full turn cannot be reversed and likely should determine which side you do the routine.

On both floor and beam, the J.O. Compulsory book either tells you what to do to reverse each skill or the gymnast just ends up with feet together and can continue the routine.

Incidentally, the routines in the Compulsory book are all written for doing the routine to the right. You must reverse them in your mind if you do the routines left. How hard would it have been to write and reverse the pictures and even the video describing the skills and showing them to both the right and left to make it easier for younger gymnasts to follow along in the book.

Which side gymnasts do skills to may be dependent on a wide variety of factors. Factors which may contribute may include leg flexibility, right or left handedness, leg preference, brain dominance, the way they were taught or learned first, etc.

USA Gymnastics is too safety/liability conscious to ever force gymnasts do skills to their bad side. Coaches should follow their lead.

There are certain skills that I define as control skills that I teach to gymnasts on both sides on floor, including cartwheels, walkovers, handstand step-downs, etc. By control skills, I mean skills that should be able to be performed and controlled doing them to either side. The teaching of these control skills precedes team training, however, in my training system.

Dance skills in dance school classes are taught to both sides, in case the dancers need to do them in a particular choreographed performance piece. In gymnastics training, because in optionals we are allowed to do skills either way, we are not as insistent on doing and practicing dance skills to both sides.

So, no, I don’t believe that coaches should insist on doing skills to an arbitrary side. Gymnasts should be allowed to test which way they do best and feel best about doing skills. In some cases, a coach may want a young gymnast to continue to practice skills to both sides if a dominant and/or preferred side has not yet become apparent. As proof for this, a study by Bill Sands showed that there was no real consistency to the side which Elite gymnasts did a wide variety of skills.

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