Level 3 Coaching Review and Official Start To Cut

coach told yoSo it’s been a few coaching sessions since I finished my level 3 course and I can honestly say that it has changed the way I am coaching. Not only am I more aware of the shaping that we have been working on all year but more so the effect that shaping has on the forces created and returned during skills. I find myself able to explain some things easier to the kids due to the simple explanations Bill gave during the excellent sessions. My biggest takeaways from the course may be standard, may be a bit odd but have struck me as the following (off the top of my head):
The higher level athlete needs more coaching, not less. This was a real eye opener since we seem to give these advanced kids much more alone time to work on their skills and complete their programming.
At the minimum, you should understand the forces at play in all directions before you try to troubleshoot a broken or inadequate skill. I have been saying things as corrections for a long time without actually reverse-engineering the explanation to discover what it is that I am actually correcting. This will give you not one stick to beat a skill with but rather a quiver of arrows with which to pinpoint the exact issue.
Spotting is helpful for the athlete and the coach but the same as everything else has to have a progression and a completion.
Use progressions to save time. Doing progressions may seem like an extended route to a destination but in the end the more solid the foundation of the skill, the better it will be and the more likely the athlete is to reinforce it as time goes on.
Outside of physical / mechanical direction your best tool is trust. Build trust by showing knowledge and a capacity to adapt to your athletes. A trusting athlete is a happy and competent athlete.
Sweat the small stuff, and yes, it’s all small stuff. Gymnastics is a sport of miniscule differences and teaching the gross movements well will enable you to spend adequate time on programming for the finer details that make the difference between a good routine and a great routine.

On the personal front my back has mostly recovered from my scary episode in the hotel 13 days ago and although I have been back to the gym a couple of times for the most part I have been taking it easy in my home gym rather than limp around LA Fitness. I am very disappointed that it happened, and am still at a loss as to why, I just know that I was sore for a couple of weeks before hand so I should have seen it coming I suppose.

Related, I was supposed to start my cut a few weeks ago but postponed it so I could join in the Biggest Loser program I am running at work. If I win, which I should I will use the money to treat the other participants because to be honest I am far more prepared for what is to come than any of them.

It’s Good Friday tomorrow, I weighed in on Monday at 248 at work with my clothes on and I will be taking pictures and logging my weight to show how I look going from 245lbs of bulk to the 220 after the cut. I am interested to have some really good comparison pictures so I will try to take a comprehensive amount.



Level 3 Coaching Course Day 5 – The Presentation

Today was the day everyone was dreading except me. I really don’t have a problem speaking in front of smaller groups of people so the presentation really didn’t bother me. Not only that, I had chosen for my topic something that we were about to cover that morning anyway, Long Term Programming. For the morning we spent our time once more on a little biomechanics review and then on to planning of both short term and long term training. At this level the recommendation is that you are looking at a minimum yearly out to a 4 year plan which falls in with the Olympic cycle. Talking about planning and all the considerations that go into it reminded me of a few things that we need to start doing. We need to get moving on the star wall for major skill recognition. We should whiteboard the major goal for each athlete per event for each month giving them an “always there” reminder of what they are doing. We should rotate the workouts into 4 weekly cycles with the 4th week being a light week. Although we don’t condition for very long, this would give me a chance to program some yoga, flexibility and mobility training right into the scheduled time slots.
Several things we talked about worked right into the Skills Ladder we have developed and that was really great to see. It reinforced that we were absolutely right to put that program in place and that it should be implemented and mandated for all comp levels. It will need some refining as we go along but the overall structure is good. One benefit it provides is the same as the compulsory program provides, that is the ability to work hard at the mandated skills while having additional skills and progressions towards the next level that can be developed at the same time.

This brought us to the presentations and to be honest everyone did OK. One person lasted 3 minutes of the 5 but most people managed to get well beyond the minimum 5 minute time limit. I am unclear as to the purpose of the presentations if I am honest, I mean they are not on subjects that can be evaluated nor that are necessarily part of the course. And I am not sure that public speaking is a prerequisite for being an effective coach but it’s a great way to keep people engaged the day of the presentations 🙂

Level 3 Coaching Course Day 4

YurchenkoDay 4 – Rings and Vault and Parallel Bars

..or  how not to get hit in the face by rings while spotting.

We started with the familiar review of biomechanics a great way to start the day by the way, you should really try talking about spring actions and ground forces during breakfast it’s great 🙂 Our skill of the day on rings was press to handstand which we work on with the girls on the floor and it’s challenging, I was amazed at how the boys were able to control the rings enough to complete the progressions, never mind to do a free press without spot. We reviewed some of the basics of rings control none of which I was familiar with apart from when I have done ring dips at home and realized that it’s easier to brace yourself against the ring with your forearm which of course is cheating in the real world. We also touched on the notion that any conditioning that you do should be counterbalanced with conditioning for the antagonist group of muscles. In other words if you are doing shoulder work for the front of the shoulders be sure that you incorporate some rear shoulder work to balance the load and the work. This should go some way towards eliminating unbalanced development physically and the widening of strength gaps that tend to develop.

Ring specific mechanics for the handstand were covered including some drills and some spotting by controlling the rings while the handstand in in place but also swinging up to handstand and pressing to handstand. The thing about rings is the actual ring control since the athlete should already have the basics and in fact the advanced handstand skills before trying it on rings. We saw some demonstrations of higher level ring moves but the spot was restricted to press to handstand and swings. The swings are lethal, if you are head height with the rings during swings you are likely to get smashed in the face by the rings since they tend to move side to side as well as in and out which isn’t necessarily expected.

Vault, I thought we would be spotting vault a lot more than we did but instead we spent time working on double back timers and working towards the double back spot into the pit. We did talk about the run and the importance of velocity in the vault. Basically you can correct anything except lack of speed. We talked about early blocking, hands out blocking, Tsukahara drills and Yurchenko drills on both the vault table and the fast track. We covered twisting off the vault and the easy way to rotate the arm down and then back up for full twist. Sadly though we didn’t get the chance to spot Tsuks which would have been nice however we did enough work on progressions that spotting should be a formality but the time they try the skill.

A couple of interesting things to note. As the athlete becomes better at vaulting, the handspring vault becomes less of a benefit and more of a hinderance. Once advanced vaults are learned, the handspring should basically not be used at all. Teaching twisting off vault starts on the tramp, this emphasizes a late twist since the back drop position is already the boundary between quadrant 3 and 4. However the low risk and plentiful rotation time gives great assistance to the start of the rotation for beginners. For teaching both front and back tucks from vaults you can use resi to vault up to and then do the tuck off the rest to start teaching the tied in rotation. This can work for both FHS Full and yurchenko full. You could also use an angled resi to roll out of to reinforce the rotation after the handspring to connect the two pieces.

Tsukahara was covered a little which is good because we do have kids performing this vault. The progressions through the fast track to the table were good but mostly stuff we are already doing at our gym which was great to see.

Parallel Bars was more familiar after doing cast to HS on the women’s bar you get used to the swing spotting techniques. We covered swings and giants including some very interesting drills that basically ended up with the athlete swinging into a red mat face first. Boys gymnastics… gotta love it!
The interesting point about PBars for women is that it’s a transferable skill and there are things that can be trained without the hip bashing that comes with the low bar. This can allow for greater rep training and better efficiency of time once the female athlete gets used to the pendulum motion of the swing. As an aside, this also speaks a little to development of shoulder flexion for women and a benefit of the swing being the repetitive strengthening of the back support position.
Specifically for the men we covered the Diamadov, Stutz and the Felge to handstand. The twisting components here can be trained using blocks outside the frame of the PBars to rotate out to which I found innovative.

Level 3 Coaching Course – Day 2/3

lance_gymnastics_aotwDay 2 – Floor and Bars

Or as it should be known, OMG TWISTING!!

We started off with some more biomechanics of spring actions, taking a lot about the vault and turning over from the board using the opposing force of the floor. We touched a bit on torque twisting as a demonstration of opposing forces but the big take away from this was the vault and what happens on the beat board. We also got into a lot about double fronts after yesterday’s discussion about spotting double backs. The key to training double fronts apparently is the timing of the kickout and a good high kickout for single front is the best precursor for doing a double front.

Our discussion on twisting started with the statement that generally we don’t spot twisting which was a big relief to everyone… However we did touch on 3 kinds of twisting:

Tilt Twist
Cat Twist (Hula Hoop)

I think the cat twist got lost in the day somewhere and we didn’t really talk about the arm positioning for twisting as far as the mechanics of initiating the twist. I think I was expecting a big discussion around the straight arm lead, the cross body pull, the head turn twist or the hip drive twist none of which transpired. What we did talk about was directional twist, being able to tell which direction is which when going back and forward and how to determine what direction an athlete should be twisting. They sound always twist the same way front or back but this may or may not be the same as the way they roundoff.

The athlete should always turn according to the arm that is dropping and the acronym to remember the direction of twist is FLIP and BLAST.

Forward look in pit
Backwards look at shoulder tip

So depending on which way they twist they should maintain this direction front and back. Both front and back twisting should be taught together to make sure they are both standardized but it’s apparently the norm to correct a front twist not a back twist.

The reason, for those who are interested why there is not a discussion about the arms etc is because the set is really the most important part of the twist, a good shoulder lift off the floor or a great extension off the vault is what is really required, then dropping the arm or bringing the arms in tight for a quicker rotation is really a mute point. Like Bill said yesterday the most important part of twisting is the somersault. This makes it possible for all the twisting action to be performed in the top half of the rotation between 90 and 270 degrees leaving the first 90 and the last 90 for takeoff and landing.

HS Pirouette on floor should be enforced both ways but on the bar should obey the preferred twisting direction. There is a lot to know about twisting but the important thing is that it is enforced the proper way from the very start.

It’s Day 3.

Pommels. Yeah it looks pretty easy but let me tell you there’s more to it. Just learning the terminology requires a degree in lexicology and a mastery of international names. Plus the fact that they have the same name for several skills and several names for the same skill and it’s pretty much if you call something a half kahre or a Czech you will probably be at least half right. The first half of the day was taken up with pommel and I have to admit I was fascinated and learned a lot about the different conditioning elements used to create the right torsional movement to achieve the double leg circle. The afternoon was taken with our second part of bars coaching including pirouettes on bars and then on to free hip, Endo and Stalder circles. These advanced skills are not spottable but are the kind of skills that require extensive patterning with progressions and a little bravery on the behalf of the athlete the first time they are performed. The emphasis here was on the Understand / Teach model which is critical when the spotting piece is taken out of the equation. Being able to isolate the shaping and biomechanical forces and counter forces at work goes a huge way to understanding the appropriate conditioning and skill development that sometimes isn’t apparent to the casual observer.


Level 3 Coaching Course – Day 1

Day 1 – Intro and basics from Level 2 (Including the fact there isn’t a level 2 any more)

The system is changing, they are doing away with the 3 levels that are currently split between the MAG and WAG disciplines and making a new NCCP system on 6 levels as follows:

The NCCP for Gymnastics will Certify Coaches on 6 Levels:

  • Gymnastics Foundations
  • Level 2 – Competition Introduction (Beginning Competitive Gymnastics)
  • Level 2+ – Competition Introduction Advanced (Provincial Competitive Gymnastics)
  • Level 3 – Competition Development (Provincial/National Gymnastics)
  • Level 4 – Competition Development Advanced (High Performance Gymnastics)
  • Master Coach – Competition High Performance

This wasn’t quite how it sounded when we were told about the change but whatever, the upshot is we need to do our 3 requirements (theory, practical, technical) ASAP so we don’t get caught up in the new system.

As for the course, it’s a MAG based course with a one day WAG add on which is the opposite of how it’s usually done up at CAC with the single day being a MAG day and the rest being WAG. It’s going to be interesting getting so much exposure to MAG since it’s something I know practically nothing about.

We didn’t have any demo kids until the afternoon so we got rid of all the paper based stuff in the morning. This included the understand teach model whereby you can break a skill up into component parts and isolate conditioning for each part and then shaping and teaching for the progressions. Knowing how to do this is critical to understanding how to effectively coach complex skills not so much for the coach but to emphasis to the athlete that skills all have basic components that when mastered will fit together and make the complex skill easier. After lunch went straight into the basics of spotting tumbling with the near hand and far hand and both sides being heavily emphasized. Unfortunately I managed to put out my back this morning so I have a cane to walk with and a chip on my shoulder… We did some standing back tuck spotting, lots of back handspring multiples and combinations with tuck and layout. We talked a little bit about bailouts and falls which I think we need to revisit now that the kids are doing some advanced skills. Maybe adding rolls and break falls to the warmup for each event will prevent so much trepidation about falling on new skills. We did some front tumbling also, covering the sandwich spot and the near hand lead spot with the reach through catch and land at the end, there are so many variations to the spots and Bill isn’t worried so much about doing a certain type but rather that the kids are supported and feel safe.

We ended the day with discussions surrounding biomechanics and physical preparation / conditioning. Some discussions around the centre of mass and balance basics were included. It too lie an hour to drive home so I could finally get to the inversion table, get some medication and a heating pad.




Christmas Countdown Workouts – Bootcamp

At Christmas as the mood lightens I like to give my kids some fun things to do for conditioning which usually just means a 12 Days Of Christmas theme. This year is no exception so here you are, the next 3 days will contain my Christmas Cracker workouts. Merry early Christmas.

Christmas Cracker Bootcamp

Range Of Motion – Strength’s Holy Grail.

ROM memeSo, surprisingly I have found that I have some strength gaps or should I say skill gaps in my requirements for the movements I have been attempting. For the planche and lever I have found that my strength is not deploying in the right range of motion to achieve the holds I am trying. My strength is very much mid range strength and unfortunately the back lever in particular requires strength beyond the regular range. Front lever is far more dependent on core strength than I had anticipated so I am working on my sheer strength of core, not as a stabilizer but as a contracting force for my body alignment. Front planche is being hampered by my wrist pain but also by the fact that my balance sucks and my lower back is weak preventing me from keeping my body aligned. Handstand is the  most successful so far which only means I have actually done one. My balance seems nonexistent when I am upside down even though I have pretty good balance when I am upright. I know in the back of my mind that a lot of the “strength” that gymnasts exhibit is stabilizing strength coming from extremely powerful smaller muscle groups but I hadn’t really realized just how much ROM comes into play when trying to do these skills.

So for now I am back into strength development in order to facilitate better attempts at the skills. Full ROM strength development which is very hard to do because it’s the most painful way to work out along with top contraction hold and slow release. I am experiencing pain so something is changing but it was quite a wake up call to realize that as strong as I thought I was, it wasn’t enough.

I leg pressed 16 plates again yesterday just because my ROM workouts made me feel weak 🙂


Gym Skill Update

awesomeFor the record the handstands have happened on 2 occasions already. I am not claiming competence at this time but I didn’t pass out or throw up so I consider that to be ahead of the game at this point. I have to practice a little self belief at this point. What I am doing, given my status, is actually very difficult and will require a great deal of dedication and commitment so I am bound to congratulate myself for even starting. That’s why right now I am awesome! 🙂

The problem at the moment is that I am scared to come out of the handstand, because I am not particularly flexible coming out means I hit the ground with some velocity and being bent in half puts my spine in a very precarious position. I can hold myself up no problem against the wall but any control I think I may have while away from the wall is non existent. I thought I was immobile and stiff right way up, being inverted only seems to make things less mobile.

I have continued work on the front lever and doing dragon falls to try to work on my strength. I hate not being able to do stuff and exposing my weaknesses but if I don’t I will never know how to improve. My weight is up slightly but my % is actually down which makes little sense however I think I have managed to gain some of the muscle back that I lost during the cut because I feel bigger in places and I have been eating at a surplus for about 6 weeks now. That said, I am now back down to eating at maintenance so hopefully that little bit of fat that came with the new muscle will burn off in a hurry.

Unfortunately I am in a boring phase now. My achievements in the gymnastics skills department will be slow I am sure, and my diet being very static isn’t providing any entertainment either. I will try to push on and get my BF% down to under 15%. If I can do that I will truly be at the completion of my physical composition goal. I never thought I would get to 220 again so being there was a bit of a shock. I guess it’s time to see what happens if I push just a little further.