Gymnastics Coaching Styles – Profile vs. Encyclopedic Training

There are two distinct coaching styles in America today, the vertical progression profile method of coaching and the encyclopedic method of coaching, which is both vertical and horizontal progressions simultaneously. Actually one and this recommended style.

Narrow Training Is By Definition Not Broad-Based

The average coach in America trains only the skills and progressions directly and obviously for that year’s competition and to maximize the current code of points. There are actually two sub-types of this vertical-only progression consisting of those coaches who primarily only teach the compulsory skills to be used in that season’s competition and the results- hungry optional coach who has picked some particular high level skills and ignores everything but the immediate progressions to them.

Variety is The Spice of Gymnastics

This profile (narrow vertical training path) system of training invariably skips progressions, skill groups and results in a narrowly defined athlete with many gaps in their skills and technique. The same skills and skill groups are drilled over and over without significant variety. In this sense it is like nothing more than optional compulsories. This boring program leads to burnout and dropouts. Motivating athletes to do the same things over and over again is difficult. Practice is viewed as necessary drudgery.

Strength, Flexibility and High Level Skill Training

The former JEDP (Junior Elite Development Program) sponsored by the USAIGC was such a profile program. It turned out to be a tremendously successful program, in spite of its profiling limitations. It was successful, not because its limited range of target skills and progressions was the right way to train, but because of its heretofore-ignored emphasis on strength, flexibility and conditioning female athletes. It set a new standard for gymnastics strength and emphasis on high-level skill training in women’s gymnastics in America. It also succeeded because many of coaches used the system, not as their primary system of training, but as an adjunct training program.

The Successful Coaches Expanded the Program Themselves

What those coaches did was combine both vertical and horizontal methods of coaching into an encyclopedic method of coaching. They avoided the horizontal-only trap of compulsory only coaches. And they improved and expanded on the vertical only method by teaching their gymnasts every skill in the book.

Ignoring Was Not Bliss

Optional profile coaches were in a hurry to get high level skills and attempted to cut corners anywhere they could. Some JEDP gymnasts could not do basic skills that were outside the scope of the program. One of the most obvious errors in the long-term value of such a program was shown when front tumbling skills, consistently ignored in the JEDP program were given prominence and higher degrees of difficulty. JEDP-only gymnasts had to go back and start all over at the basics of front tumbling.

Expanding the Skill Menu Expands Progress Possibilities

Vertical-progression only training can also lead to frustration and de-motivation when there are many days in a row when the next large step of progression cannot be accomplished or progress is so subtle that it is not noticed by either the coach or the athlete. Small step progress and horizontal progress fill this gap.

Balance Training Time with Learning the Encyclopedia

The ultimate system of coaching seems to be, not surprisingly, a combination of all of gymnastics. Compulsory routines and competitions serve a purpose of providing early competition experience. That competition experience is critical to learn to deal with the vagaries and internal and external pressures inherent in competing.

Head for the Future

Vertical progressions and progressions targeted toward high level skills have a prominent place in training. It is necessary to set long-term skill goals and work at them for years to achieve the Elite levels of the sport. Without a focused effort to achieve high level skills, they may never be attained. They also serve as a motivating factor to gymnasts. When they know their coaches are training them to perform Elite and national level skills, they are reassured of and excited about their coaches’ confidence in them. As always people, including gymnasts, tend to rise to the level of expectations they perceive people important to them have.

Progress, Every Day – Progress

There are days when vertical progress is not possible with a particular gymnast or even the whole team, for a variety of reasons. The intelligent coach realizes when this is occurring and substitutes horizontal progress, in the form of perfecting basic technique and teaching corollary horizontal skills. The net result is still progress, even best possible progress, in the sport.

The Encyclopedic Safety Net

The encyclopedic method of coaching provides a wider experience base physically and kinesthetically, which must be an additional safety net for the gymnast. It also allows for the successful basic preparation for the whims of difficulty ratings and judge’s peculiar preferences, which vary over time.

Be Prepared for Any Future

The current awarding of skill ratings and bonus points to relatively easy front tumbling skills will not continue forever. Stalder moves on bars will come back strong. As in any fashion trend, wait long enough and anything and everything will come back in style. Consider the 8 – 12 year length of time a gymnast may be in training for the Elite International level, from age four or eight average beginning age in the sport to the now required eligibility age of 16 for World Championships and the Olympics. There will be a considerable variance in the fashionable trends, ratings and rule changes during that period of time. An encyclopedic system of training prepares the gymnast for any and all of them and that time period allows the time for it.


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