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Don’t believe all you read

There is a dearth of trampoline Literature despite what must seem like an endless stream of verbiage from yours truly in the pages of this publication (GymCraft).  Books about our sport are rare and those that exist tend to be out dated by the changes in equipment, rules, techniques and the knowledge emanating from the scientific community.  My own first jumps in 1963 were informed by “The Complete Book of Gymnastics.”  This volume was so “complete” that it covered the ten artistic pieces, acrobatics, hand balancing and chair tricks.  Oh, and there were four pages on trampolining which took the unsuspecting beginner from seat drop to full twisting back somersault!

As I was packing prior to a recent house move, I came across my copy of Denis Horne’s “Trampolining - A Complete handbook” which was published in the mid 60’s and is still the most comprehensive of its type with a fascinating section on the history of the sport in Britain.  When scanning the chapters on skill development I found a great deal of conventional wisdom, as relevant today as the day it was written.  This was overshadowed by the amount of outdated information which I fear has become embedded in current coaching practice.  I hasten to add that this is no criticism of the author who was simply passing on the benefit of his experience and giving the best advice available 40 years ago.  I know I shall look back on some of my own writing and discover that not only have knowledge and techniques moved on but my own points of view have shifted.  One can only give the best advice available at the time of writing.

In Denis’s book I read a piece of “conventional” wisdom which in itself represents good practice.  However I frequently observe the principles he recommends seriously inhibiting the performance of our gymnasts at all levels right up to World Class.  I refer to the recommendation that in routine construction it is desirable to follow a backward rotating skill with a forward one rather than linking back to back.  For example, back s/s - barani, or half in half out - half out.  What’s wrong with that? Nothing on the face of it and indeed I have been known to suggest facetiously on coaching courses that if Newton had introduced another law of motion it would have been “out of every back somersault there shall be a barani.”

The area which concerns me relates to Horne’s rationale for such a recommendation. He tells us that it is much easier when approaching the “touch down” (my words - he used “landing”) from a back somersault to see the bed and get ready to rotate forwards on the next skill rather than create the posture to enable another backward take off.  He goes on to encourage the gymnast to simply allow the forward rotation to take place as a natural consequence of the resultant posture and recoil of the bed.  Yes it works, but because of the ease of creating this combination, it is rare for gymnasts to maximise the potential to return the forward skill to the same height as the back somersault.  My observations from Grade One events up to World Championships suggest that whilst back to front combinations aid routine stability, they are the major cause of height loss.

The “ease” of making a back/front combination is, I fear, typical of the malaise affecting our discipline where it is possible for technically limited gymnasts to “learn” and perform skills and routines of remarkable complexity. Can you imagine the gymnast on the beam or the pommel horse being encouraged to perform certain combinations because they are easy?  On those two pieces of apparatus, a lack of sound basic technique is the ultimate block to progress.  I fear in trampolining, the nature of the apparatus is so forgiving that it is possible to perform skills and combinations badly thereby giving initial satisfaction but ultimately preventing progress to World Class level. This is why when my colleague John Beer and I produced the document “National Technical Priorities for Aspiring World Class Coaches and Trampoline Gymnasts”٭ we used the phrase “beam routine accuracy.” We are anxious to encourage the teaching of technical excellence in the basic skill of straight jumping, knowing that this is an essential ingredient in every subsequent trampoline skill.  We stated that all trampoline take offs are simply a modification of a straight jump.  It becomes clear that to simply topple into a forward take-off, even in the early learning stages, is contrary to that principle.

In my next article I will look in some detail at the technique involved in producing this back/front combination so it can be developed to the highest possible level.  I’ll have to take the risk that what I have written here will not be out of date by the next edition of GymCraft!  In the meantime please be assured that the content of the “National Technical Priorities” document represents our current thinking in every respect.

Next article.

© Jack Kelly

٭ This document is available on the downloads section of the BG website and is also here on this site.