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A twist in the Tale

I hope regular readers will forgive me indulging in some personal recollection, but the cautionary tale that follows taught me an important lesson. I would like to save other coaches the anguish of having to learn the hard way. One hazard of working as a National Coach is being asked “How good a trampolinist were you?” To which I have been known to reply “I’d have been a lot better but I had a lousy coach with no experience in the sport.” In fact I was self-taught!  I did have a little help from an American book called “The Complete Book of Gymnastics It was so “complete” that it attempted to cover all the Women’s and Men’s apparatus, Tumbling, hand balancing, Pairs Work and would you believe, chair tricks! It also dedicated four whole pages to Trampolining or as the author preferred to call it “rebound tumbling.”

In the mid 1960’s I went on my first coaching course having taught myself back somersaults, baranis, one and three quarter front, full back and Rudi. Full of enthusiasm and enjoying the benefit of being coached by someone who knew what they were doing, I acquired a half out and started work on half in half out. But now we come to the point of this little tale.  One of the coaches observed that my barani twisted to the right while the full and Rudi went to the Ieft.  To make matters worse, the newly acquired half out also twisted right. It was little wonder that my early attempts at half in half out started to the left and finished twisting to the right — big problem!

So it was back to the drawing board and the task of relearning the barani, barani ball out and half out twisting to the left.  To cut a long story short, although I relearned those skills and could now twist to the left or the right, I was never sure which one would occur — very disconcerting!  This was the moment I decided to commit myself to coaching others who would become a lot better than ever I could.  So the performing stopped and the coaching began.

It’s hardly surprising that I have always taken great care to ensure my performers develop all their twisting moves with a consistent twist direction.  Let me stress that by consistency I mean move to move but of course not all my gymnasts chose the same direction of twist.  To this day it is not unusual to find student coaches up to Senior Club level bringing their pupils on a course for me to discover that they have a twist direction problem.  This raises a number of issues that I would now like to discuss.

Firstly, and I know this from my own experience, the gymnast will believe that all their twists do go in the same direction.  They will feel comfortable with what they are doing and will take a lot of persuading that there is a problem.  Indeed the problem may not become a major handicap until the multiple twisting doubles.  The usual culprit is the barani and I will attempt to explain how this comes about.

When performing a roundoff on the floor leading with the left arm and leg, the gymnast can get the feeling that they are twisting to the left while in fact they are twisting right.  I rationalise this as follows (again through stressful personal experience).  If the gymnast imagines he/she is holding the handlebars of a bike and sets out to do a turn to the left, the feeling is not dissimilar to leading into a roundoff or cartwheel with a left side lead.  Hence the feeling of a twist to the left.  In the roundoff, cartwheel and barani the body is in fact rotating round the twist axis to the right.  Experienced coaches will recognise this as one of the classic coaching challenges where what the performer feels is at odds with what is actually happening.  Before the problem can be solved the performer must be convinced that despite leading with the left side of the body the chest is beginning to turn the opposite way.

I can trace my barani problem back to when I taught myself the move by adapting the roundoff on the floor to a two foot take off version on the tramp and gradually jumping too high to put my hands on the bed.  I led with my left side in the roundoff and grew to feel that the barani twisted to the left.  Only 100% wrong!  I told you I had a lousy coach!

With right and left handedness most people have a natural preference and so it is with twist direction.  There are some ambidextrous individuals however who are happy to twist left or right.  In such cases, it is essential to make a decision at the point of learning the half twist jump and sticking to it for the learning of all subsequent twisting skills.  Coaches need to be particularly vigilant with the ambidextrous beginner as they develop their range of twisting basics.

Many twist direction problems occur with gymnasts one might inherit from another club or class where there has been a lack of vigilance or even unawareness of the significance of twist direction.  It is always wise to check for consistent twist direction and dangerous to simply assume that all is weII.  The following procedure is effective in determining consistent twist direction without fear of confusion.

Let us assume the pupil has a full range of twist jumps and twists into and out of body landings.  Ask the pupil to perform each of their twisting moves in ascending order of difficulty (the coach can call them out in appropriate order).  Each move must be done singly and on each occasion the pupil is asked to start facing the same end of the trampoline, (otherwise, you can take it from me, it is very easy to become confused about rights and lefts).  If one adopts the process I have described there is no need to talk about left and right, one simply notes whether the chest or back is seen during the skill.  Of course we hope to see the same aspect of the body on each occasion thereby confirming consistent twist direction.

It is particularly important to revise this procedure prior to the learning of barani and I would strongly recommend teaching the barani by means of an aerial or late twist.  If the pupil has a strong gymnastics background it can be tempting to adapt their roundoff or even their floor barani to the trampoline.  If you do this without first running the check on twist direction described above, you do so at your peril. Forty years ago I had the excuse that I didn’t know any better.  What will yours be?

In summary therefore;

  1. Establish a consistent direction of twist from day one.
  2. Make it easy on yourself. Did you see back or chest?
  3. Beware the competent gymnast when teaching barani —check twist direction.
  4. Beware the ambidextrous pupil as they can change twist direction without being aware.
  5. If a twist direction problem exists, work to make the pupil aware of the relative feelings involved before trying to implement a correction.
  6. For further thoughts on twisting see “The Twist is the Easy Bit.” GymCraft (issue 19 Feb 2006).

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© Jack Kelly