Tips and Tricks

The items below are just a handful of the things I've heard or learned over the years. I would love to expand this section, so if you have a tip that you think may be helpful, or if you'd like to see something listed here, post them in the forum and I'll add them.

Click on any of the items below:
  1. Handspring fulls on Vault
  2. How can I improve a handspring Vault?
  3. A tip on kips
  4. How to simulate the pressure of competition on Beam
  5. A couple of tips from a tumbler
  6. Getting started with floor routines

Handspring fulls on Vault


I struggled for years teaching handspring fulls. My biggest frustration was with talented kids who came in from clubs - so, too good to be just competing a handspring, but too scared (or weak or out of practice) to throw the tsuk they had been training in club. Despite their years and years of training in club, and experience twisting on other events, I found to my everlasting frustration that none of them could twist on Vault. I asked a local club coach about it once and she told me that handspring twisting Vaults in club are 'dead-end' Vaults. Kids these days go straight from a solid handspring to a tsuk, yurchenko or handspring front - they skip handspring twisting altogether. A level 9 joined my team a few years ago and she had never twisted a Vault...hard to imagine, but true. Well, here are some things I've found to be helpful:

  • Slow it down as much as you can. It's difficult in that split second when they're flying over the table to change their learned behavior and add something new. By the time they think about it, they're already on their feet. So give them more time to think about it. After 2 seasons of no progress, I forced a level 8 I had one year to do something between the handstand fall flat full twist drill that she did perfectly, and the entire handspring full which she'd never made. I gave her about a 1/4 of her normal run, with the table at competition height. She went over, but slowly because of the lack of run, and as she slowly descended, she wrapped and completed the full twist for the first time over the table. We slowly increased her run and speed until she had it figured out. She competed a handspring full at State that year.

  • Try layout fulls from the Vault board into a pit. That gives them plenty of time to learn the twist, without the stress of hitting the table first or worrying about the landing.
  • If you're looking for more basic twisting drills, here are a few:

    • Kick to handstand at the apex of a cheese mat. Fall flat at the top of the mat. Drop the arm closest to the lowest end of the mat, wrap and twist/roll down to the bottom of the mat.
    • Jump from the Vault board to handstand onto either a block or a port-a-pit. On the descent, do a half or full twist. I've found however, that my kids have a difficult time going from this drill to the entire handspring full over the table. If you know of a progression, post it in the forum. I would love to hear it.

How can I improve a handspring Vault?


We all know the basics of a good Vault: heel drive, tight body, run fast, etc. But have you have ever taken a good look at the length of the hurdle to the board? I don't remember the exact number, but I think my college coach told me that the average hurdle of an elite gymnast is somewhere around 12 feet in length (give or take a foot). Go ahead and measure that - it's almost the entire width of my living room! But if you watch high school gymnasts, you'll see that most of them run right up to the edge of the board and hurdle maybe 1 or 2 feet away from it, which effectively sucks all the power out of their Vault. OK, so they're not elite gymnasts and there's no way they're going to hurdle from 12 feet away and make it to the board, BUT if they've got a reasonable run and a solid handspring, they should be hurdling from at least 4 feet away. And the faster the run, the longer the hurdle should be. Do you have that one athlete who has a good run and plenty of strength and skill but a mysteriously slow handspring? Try lengthening the hurdle, I bet it'll make a difference.

Here are a few tips for lengthening the hurdle:

  • Beginners should always hurdle over something like a carpet square, to get them in the habit of hurdling over an object
  • As beginners become more comfortable, move the carpet square further from the board, or add another carpet square
  • Have intermediate Vaulters hurdle over a sting mat
  • Have advanced Vaulters hurdle over round off pads (used for yurchenkos), the larger ones are 3 feet by 4.5 feet

A tip on kips


Nothing will substitute for strength and technique on glide kips - sorry, this is not the magic wand that will make muscle and technique appear overnight. But, what I've found that helps expedite the process is having my gymnasts spot each other on kips. Not only are they building arm strength while spotting, they're also figuring out the mechanics of the skill, not to mention saving me the backbreaking work of spotting hundreds of kips a season. I hear them coaching each other, "Get your toes all the way to the bar..." which means they know what they should be doing, and that's half the battle.

Have a kip tip? Post it in the forum.

How to simulate the pressure of competition on Beam


The following tip is not for the feint of heart. If you're on the conservative side, you might want to skip this one. I can tell you from personal experience though, that it was highly effective.

One year I had plenty of skilled gymnasts who could make it through routines during practice no problem but consistently buckled under the pressure at meets. We did all sorts of activities to simulate the experience of being at a meet (showed routines one at a time, had mock meets and contests, etc.), but none of the activities, they told me, simulated the pressure of competing in front of a crowd and a judge. I was talking to a friend of mine about it and she told me that she'd seen a coach lay under the beam while one of her gymnasts did a routine. So at the next practice I had a few of my gymnasts lay under the beam while another gymnast did a routine. The combined pressure of having people staring up at them from below the beam, and not wanting to fall off on them, was disconcerting enough to generate some real nervousness. Our beam falls decreased by over 75% at the next meet.

If you want to try a safer version of this, just have one person lay under the beam length-wise (vs. perpendicular), that way if the gymnast does fall, the danger of falling onto someone else is minimized.

A couple of tips from a tumbler


One trick I like to use when trying to improve a gymnast's set is to make them more aware of where their arms are currently versus where they should be. Have them hold both arms straight out in front of them at horizontal and call that position, "1". Raise both arms approximately 4 inches and call that position, "2" and so on until the arms are straight up by the ears (I usually do 5 positions, so "5" would be arms straight up by the ears). Then after their next turn, have them tell you which position their arms were in. You should see some improvement almost immediately, as they will be focused on getting their arms to the correct position since they will have to report on it.

Getting started with floor routines


If you've never put together a floor routine, the idea can be daunting. I was intimidated too, until I watched a professional choreographer I'd hired one year crank out numerous routines all in one afternoon. Not to take away from her choreography, which was beautiful and creative, but I realized she had a trick up her sleeve: the layout of skills in every single routine was exactly the same, she just changed the dance in between as appropriate for each gymnast's music. Once I had the architecture of a routine figured out, putting a few dance moves in here and there to get from skill to skill wasn't so intimidating. I put together a floor routine map which shows this basic architecture. Click here to see it, and feel free to use it if it will help get you started with a floor routine.

Have your own floor routine tip? Post it in the forum.