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A fresh look at take-off

For my first article on trampolining I want to challenge coaches to take a closer look at the most fundamental aspect of the sport. My reason for starting with such a basic review is that my experience of working with trainee coaches at even the highest level, reveals a serious lack of understanding being passed on to many of our gifted young performers. Furthermore, much of the coaching literature on trampolining, including our own BG resources, tends to perpetuate this lack of understanding.

Have you noticed how every coaching manual shows the performer taking off from and landing on a flat surface? The following example from one of our resource packs is typical. Lest you think I am being unfair to the authors let me stress that I was involved in its production and had to recognize that time did not permit anything but a symbolic representation of each skill.

Fig 1

Illustrations like this are very misleading for they imply that there is an “instant” when the gymnast takes off. The trampoline bed simply does not work in this way. It is a flexible moving surface and the challenge for both gymnast and coach is to harness the power stored within it.

I continually hear coaches of all standards talking about “on” landing, “at” takeoff, “when” you land or “when” you take off. What on earth do they mean? When exactly is this instant of take-off or landing? Try to answer this question. When exactly has the trampolinist landed? How would you answer? Would you say:

  1. When the performer first touches the bed or,
  2. When the performer has fully depressed the bed.

Neither answer is totally right or wrong because the question can not be answered in such simple terms and to some extent it is a trick question! In reality there is a landing phase which starts with the first touch on the bed and continues until the bed is fully depressed. The same is true of the take-off. There is no such thing as “at” take-off: there is a take-off phase which starts at full depression and continues until contact with the bed is lost.

Fig 2

It is my experience that the majority of coaches work with the “at” take-off and “on” landing concept. Their coaching is therefore flawed, because even if they do fully understand the principle of landing and take-off, they often fail to pass this understanding on to their pupils.

A major focus of your coaching should be on developing the performers’ appreciation of the delay factor involved in the landing phase and the secondary delay which should be experienced during the take-off phase. The gymnasts’ posture and body angles during both these phases are crucial to the direction, height and speed of rotation in the resultant airborne movement.

Start by using the appropriate words which express exactly what you want your gymnast to do. Stop saying “on” landing or “when” you land. Change immediately to “when you first touch down” or “during your landing” or “when the bed is at the bottom”. Talk about “during your take-off” or “when the bed starts to rise”, or indeed “just as you leave the bed” and most importantly, work to give the pupil a full understanding of why you are now using this way of describing the process. I cannot think of another single factor that will have a greater impact on your coaching and your gymnast’s performances. If you already work in this way, then I know you will be producing a high standard of performance.

Perhaps you can recall the words of the old song “It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it, that’s what gets results!” This provides us with a very good coaching principle, but more important there is a subsequent verse which goes: “It ain’t what you do it’s the time that you do it, that’s what gets results!” This is precisely what I have been talking about, the ability to match the performer’s actions to the downward and upward motion of the bed.

There is no point in the coach exhorting the performer to produce more effort or to apply more power, when their movements may be badly timed in relation to the upward and downward movement of the bed. Coaches will already be aware that to produce an effective back cody, three distinct actions are involved:

Indeed, I have quoted these in the correct sequence to produce the best result. You may have tried coaching this move when the pupil is making all the required actions, yet is failing to produce a satisfactory result. It is highly likely that the actions are occurring in the wrong sequence. If you want to play or sing with a recognisable and melodic result, it is not only important to use all the right notes, but to produce them in the right order!

If we apply this principle to the application of power, consider how poorly a car engine performs when the firing sequence is mistimed. It does not matter how big or powerful the engine, if it is not working with precise timing the performance will be poor. We have too many trampolinists who have incredible power within them, but who fail to translate this into their work on the trampoline because of poor timing. I recall a leading performer of mine who was a natural athlete with an impressive standing vertical jump and an outstanding competitor on the half inch bed. When the beds changed to six millimetre webbing generating greater potential power, his timing was such that he never really managed to harness his natural athleticism using the new medium. (Name withheld to protect the guilty party).

The old half inch beds of my youth (early middle age actually) were so hard that the landing and take-off phases were unhelpfully brief, whilst the modern 6mm x 4mm equipment allows a delay factor more akin to the drawing back of an archery bow. Coaches must therefore focus their attention on the performer’s actions on the way down through the bed depression and again on the actions made as the bed recoils upwards. This is easier said than done but having established the basic principle I will develop it in future articles.

Next article.

 © Jack Kelly