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Some "Top" Tips

In the last issue of Gymcraft I highlighted the lessons trampolinists can learn from the game of golf and this time I want to borrow from the sport of athletics.  I believe that I have gained more insights into trampolining from my interest in, and knowledge of, other sports than I ever did from trampolining itself.  Indeed I would urge all ambitious coaches to widen their quest for knowledge by developing a mind which is open to ideas from the wider sporting world.

The gems of information sometimes fall into your lap and sometimes the connection with our sport is not so immediately obvious requiring some creative thinking to translate them into a useable format.

My theme for this article falls into the latter category, but once I had made the connection, it totally transformed my coaching focus and the quality of work my trampolinists were producing.  It remains my number one focus to this day!

While watching a nationally renowned sprint coach at work with his athletes, I was fascinated by the concept he was selling his top 100 metre sprinter during a particular session.  Briefly it involved the sprinter visualising the lane as a tunnel and not simply a two dimensional track.  The aim was to explode from the blocks and sprint for the daylight at the end of the tunnel.  It is not my intention to look critically at this concept in athletic terms but to indicate the profound effect it had on my thinking about performance on the trampoline.  Surely, I thought, the trampolinist aims to achieve the same as the sprinter but the tunnel is vertical rather than horizontal.  Clearly the aim is not to burst out of the tunnel but to reach its top on every jump.  I remembered the tall factory chimneys of my youth.  My trampolinists would be taught to visualise themselves working up and down inside the chimney aiming to hit the top, not only on each preliminary jump but on every skill in the routine.  Of course this was a tall order (pun intended) and only occasionally achieved, but it provided a clear goal for every take-off and as we know, without clear goals performance becomes ill directed and suffers as a result.  You may have heard the George Harrison song released after his death which sums up the principle beautifully.  “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there”

The Chimney Concept

Imagine a circle drawn around the centre cross and produce this upwards to create a three dimensional chimney-like structure. (Fig 1)

Fig 1

Fair enough you may say but how high is the chimney?  Well it’s as high as the trampolinist chooses to jump and if the performer sets the chimney height at a modest level in preliminary jumping, it will be easier to hit the top on the skills contained in the routine.  If the performer sets the height of the chimney too high, then it is somewhat unlikely that the top will be reached on subsequent skills involving varying degrees of rotation around the two main axes.  I think this is fairly obvious but forgive me if I elaborate. If the trampolinist is jumping at 100%, all their force is in a vertical direction. To then produce even a single tucked somersault there must be a loss of height (and marks) because some force has to be diverted around the somersault axis and is no longer available to provide the same vertical component. The coach and performer must therefore establish a realistic chimney top in the preliminary jumping and this is likely to be around 80 - 85% of maximum. It then becomes technically possible to hit the top of the chimney when performing a somersault. l say technically possible because there are several problems associated with the pupil’s physical and mental capabilities to be overcome before they can reach that goal.

In previous articles I have stated that the majority of trampolinists do not actually know what they do when jumping on the bed and indeed neither do many coaches because they have not considered it important. Here is another amazing assertion. Most trampolinists do not know when they reach the top of a straight jump. Why? Because they have never thought of it and neither have the majority of coaches considered it to be relevant. To me this seems to be a fundamental requirement in terms of awareness in the same way that a high jumper must become aware of the high point in each leap. It is a relatively easy awareness to develop but it does require work on some simple drills which are well worth the time spent. Without this fundamental awareness the performer’s potential is unlikely to be fulfilled.

Drill 1: The pupil performs a series of straight jumps strictly inside the chimney. The coach stands on the floor and relates the top of each jump to some visual marker on the wall behind. The head and shoulders are the best point to relate to. When the high point is reached on each jump and just before the start of the descent, the coach calls “top!

Drill 2: Having ascertained that the performer understands and agrees with the coach’s perception of the top, the drill is repeated with the pupil now calling “top” at the correct moment.

Drill 3: The trampolinist then attempts to perform a tuck jump after a series of lead-in jumps all within the chimney. The objective is to produce the tucked shape precisely at the top of the chimney, which will entail starting the drawing up of the knee just before the top has been reached. This drill has a high level of transfer to the skill of making somersaults appear to occur suddenly in mid air. I will return to this theme of optical illusion in a subsequent article. It is worth developing this drill to incorporate straddle and pike jumps as well as combining all three skills in swingtime combinations.

Drill 4: Now comes the real challenge! The trampolinist is asked to jump within the chimney at 80-85% maximum height calling “top” at the right moment in each jump. The coach counts the performer in and on jump 3 a tucked back somersault is performed. Using the visual marker on the wall, did the somersault hit the top of the chimney? Did the performer feel that the top was reached? It’s not enough for the coach to evaluate the result, the performer must feel whether or not the objective was reached. In my experience it is rare for the pupil to get it first time, and if they do, it often causes some alarm because the somersault has felt worryingly slow. In order to help develop the performer’s confidence in going for “top” a push-in mat may be helpful.

There are a number of reasons why a trampolinist may have difficulty with Drill 4.

Drill 4 is a most revealing exercise in exposing inefficient take-off technique and should be repeated using the tucked front somersault.

There is no doubt that working to achieve “top” with established performers who have well grooved but inefficient techniques takes a lot of time and commitment from both coach and performer. The ideal situation is to build “top” into your trampolinist from day one. The drills outlined above are totally suitable for pupils in the early stages of their development and I would go so far as to say that they are an essential part of the early teaching process.

Next article.

© Jack Kelly