How to transform beginners into champions
By Jeff T. Hennessy
The agenda that was followed for more than fifty years of coaching the sport of trampoline produced a number of world and national trampoline champions. This can be attributed to good rapport maintained between coach and athlete. For this relationship to grow, the coach should be familiar with the individual personality, ability or lack thereof, the capacity to learn, and the desire to succeed. In addition, there must be an inclination as to the perceived development of the sport as it progressed through the years. This knowledge is the forerunner to the development of a champion. A coach must be able to prepare an athlete mentally for learning new skills and to determine when a performer is prepared for this new skill. A determination as to the type of safety standards must be considered as well as the use of appropriate safety guidelines when needed.
What are the fundamental principles that come into play in the development of a champion in sport? What sets this individual apart from others, and what are the elements that engender this excellence? Is it strenuous work, persistence, self-discipline, inspiration, or is it a merging of these values integrated with other relationships that create a champion?
Perhaps, an examination of this concept will disclose those characteristics that create a champion. The ensuing presentation has been tried and tested over a period of more than 50 years with great success. It is hoped that a thorough examination and application of this course of action will lead others to a similar resolution It is not for one to conclude that this technique is the only path to success, but perhaps a portion of this presentation can be incorporated into an existing program that will strengthen the end results.
Mechanics on somersaulting, front and back
(Figure 1, from Jeff T. Hennessy, “Trampolining”.)
Figure 1. Body rotation around the lateral axis.Body rotation around the lateral axis (somersaulting) involves the application of many forces in a controlled environment. Forward rotation can be mastered in two different ways, depending on the location of the athlete on the trampoline bed as the skill begins and on the necessary amount of forward or backward travel, if any, that may be required.
A knowledge of the mechanics of somersaulting is essential for the coach and athlete to recognize. This knowledge is necessary for success in the execution of skills as well as for safety on the trampoline. This insight will enable the athlete to perform somersaulting skills and move to a new landing position on the trampoline bed when necessary.
Diagram no. 1. When forward rotation with forward travel is desired, it can be done by leaning forward so that the center of gravity of the body is in front of the base (feet) and in front of the line of force. (The line of force being the upward push of the trampoline bed.) As the trampoline bed pushes up, and because the center of gravity is forward and outside the base and in front of the application of force (downward push of the feet), forward rotation results. Knowing how hard the athlete must push to accomplish the desired amount of travel comes with experience.
On take-off, if the body is straight and upright, rotation around the lateral axis will not occur if the center of gravity is directly above the point of application of force and follows the line of force created by the upward lift of the trampoline bed.
Diagram no. 2. Forward rotation with backward travel is initiated by keeping the center of gravity within the base. As the trampoline bed lifts upward, the chest must be forward and over the base (feet) while the hips are flexed, back, and behind the base. The center of gravity is located outside the body but directly over the application of force. The greater the angle of forward push with the feet against the bed, the greater the amount of backward travel. The more perpendicular the push of the feet against the bed, the less the athlete will travel backward.
Diagrams nos. 3 & 4. Backward rotation and backward travel may be achieved by utilizing the same two principles described in diagrams 1 and 2, but in reverse. Somersaulting, when on a trampoline or on a tumbling mat, follows the same two principles described in diagrams 1, 2, 3, and 4.
These principles of somersaulting, when understood and applied as needed, will help in the development of outstanding athletes and coaches. To understand is to know why certain things happen during the course of somersaulting by the athlete. This understanding will lead to corrections and improvement.
Spotting is a multi-skilled procedure that is learned through instruction and should not be taken for granted. The best of spotting does not consistently deter accidents from occurring. There are a number of satisfactory techniques of spotting that may be used on a trampoline. By interpretation, “spotting” is the procedure, and the “spotter” is the individual executing the procedure.
Overhead belt spotting:
The overhead belt system is used to teach somersaults with or without twists. There are two types of spotting belts that can be used. One type is specifically for twisting and the other for non-twisting skills. When twisting somersault are being performed, the twisting belt allows the athlete to rotate around the lateral and horizontal axis simultaneously. The non-twisting belt is used primarily for skills that rotate around the lateral axis. The belt, twisting or non-twisting, is attached around the waist of the athlete in a firm manner to prevent slippage.
A single and a double pulley are suspended overhead from the ceiling. They are placed at a wide angle with one on each side of the trampoline. A suspension system of ropes is attached to the belt on each side of the athlete. The end of one the rope is inserted through the single pulley and transverses the space above between the two pulleys and is inserted through one side of the double pulley and extends down to the floor. A second rope, attached to the safety belt, is inserted through the empty side of the double pulley and down to the floor. The trampoline is centered between the pulleys and the spotter holds both ropes and stands beneath the double pulley. This system allows the spotter to support the athlete during the learning process. The spotter pulls down as the athlete springs up and feeds the support mechanism (rope) out as the athlete drops to the bed. It is important that proper timing be kept during this procedure.
Contrary to the belief that this method of spotting is without mishap is false. Without adequate training, this procedure can be risky.
Another spotting technique is done at bed level and can be accomplished in more than one way. One method requires the spotter to stand on the bed with both feet and holds the athlete in a suitable manner.(See figures 1 and 2). Hand contact is never lost during this procedure. The spotter’s knees are flexing with the landing of the athlete and a moderate downward push of the bed by the spotter enables the athlete to lift with less effort.
Figure 1. Forward somersault.
Figure 4. Full twisting front somersault.
The spotter must keep the rhythm of the bounces without “double bouncing” the athlete too high and must maintain control.
A second method of bed level spotting requires the spotter’s feet to leave and return to the bed with the athlete. With this technique, the spotter bounces with the athlete and becomes stationary on the bed when the skill is performed. Hand contact is maintained as in the previous method.
An additional technique of bed level spotting requires that one foot of the spotter be placed on the bed and the other on the side frame pad. As the athlete lands, the foot on the bed is removed and replaced when the athlete is airborne. The spotter then steps on the bed when assistance is needed. This strategy is used with the final learning phase of bed level spotting when the athlete has reached the stage that hand contact need not be maintained during the execution of the skill.
Belt spotting can be done at bed level. This requires two spotters, one standing on each side frame pad holding a rope attached to each side of the belt worn by the athlete. As the skill is performed, both spotters step onto the trampoline bed and support the athlete. This takes a great deal of strength by the spotters and should not be considered when working with a large or heavy athlete. It is not recommended for multiple somersaults.
A prearranged number of bounces must be agreed upon so that the spotter and athlete are aware of when the skill is to be performed. An audible count is made on each bounce by the spotter in order to prepared for the expected action. The number of preliminary bounces should not be prolonged as this induces a state of confusion and fatigue. Three or four preliminary bounces are adequate.
How to determine the direction of a twisting somersault.
Stand to the side of the athlete as the twisting skill is performed. When standing to the right side of the individual during the twisting action and you see the back first, then the stomach, the twist is right to left. If you see the stomach then the back, the twisting action is now left to right. The direction of the twist can be determined using the same technique without performing a somersault.
Developing a champion
A champion is the individual who has the ability to translate his/her mental perception of a skill into the actual performance of that skill in such a way as to be unmatched by others. Through a variety of personal qualities, coupled with proper instruction, this individual is proficient in the creation of an image of grace, beauty, and strength in the performance of physical skills. This portrait of uniqueness, displayed by a champion athlete, is acquired over a period of time. The development and progress of an athlete falls within the jurisdiction of a coach. Consequently, a champion – for the most part – is the product of superior coaching.
It is essential for athletes to execute skills or groups of skills in a manner that is compatible with their personality and refrain from modifying the performance to fit the skills. There is a pattern that should be observed in the development of a skills routine, and personal motivation must be allowed to dominate. When the routine has been developed, the athlete should perform this collection of skills frequently until it is a natural path to completion.
It is the responsibility of the coach to recognize and guide each performer in the development of this stimulus and to use it to the athletes’ best advantage. There is, of course, a basic mechanical and fundamental approach to the performance of each skill, but here too, athletes should perceive and execute skills using their own personal technique. Accordingly, one should not assume that there is only one way to accomplish a skill.
One should not feel that a point has been reached where learning is not possible from the performance of others. What one learns may be useful in that it confirms the theory, “this is the way it should be done”, or it may tell you, “this method is wrong”. It would be inappropriate to assume that a performance is incorrect since it was not done in a manner acceptable to you. Remember, it is important that when you discover a method superior to yours, have enough judgment to examine it and, if necessary, change. The ability to change is the mark of a champion, as well as a successful coach. (This does not imply to imitate, there is a difference.)
Form is important only after a skill has been learned. If the athlete must be concerned about form breaks while learning, learning will be tedious. Debilitating injuries are a very real possibility when highly complicated skills are being learned. With this in mind, there should be one major thought while learning a skill, that is to complete the skill without injury. In addition, a successful coach must have an eye for constructive analysis. The coach must possess the ability to evaluate and correct defects no matter how insignificant they may be, as this ability is essential in the development of a champion.
Execution of a skill or group of skills will vary from performer to performer. Aside from poor coaching techniques, there are a variety of justifications for these differences. In order to understand these variations one must be familiar with the background and personality of each performer. Therefore, when one becomes familiar with the personality of the performer in question, he/she – the coach – is better qualified to assist in the development of that individual or individuals. Each coach should recognize these differences and not insist on a rigid “one way attitude” toward the execution of any skill, as it is doubtful that success will be the end result.
The coach must have, and impart to the athlete, a mechanical knowledge of the skill that is to be realized. In addition, a knowledge of visual locations that are to be sighted during the execution of the skill must be communicated to the performing athlete. Much thought must be put into the execution of a skill, both by the coach and the performer. The work-up is both mental and physical – a great deal of discussion is needed, discussion which leads to confidence. These discussions should provide the correct approach for the treatment of each performer, as each has his/her own temperament.
The coach should know when anger is appropriate. Anger can be a strong motivator, but at no time should the athlete lose his/her temper during a workout or competition. This will not enhance the ability to perform. However, it is advantageous for the coach to use anger, in a controlled sense, for motivation during workouts. This method should never be used during competition, as it adds problems to those already at hand. Problems should be left where the workout sessions were held. It does not help the competitor’s frame of mind for a coach to exhibit anger prior to or during competition, but an attitude of understanding is important and should be displayed during that period of time. After the competition is completed, the scene may change and often does.
Sympathy is important, but only at the appropriate time, as is agreement and disagreement, along with encouragement for continued efforts to learn new skills. In the same light, the workout must be structured in such a manner that the athlete does not end the practice session with a failed skill. If the session ends in failure, tomorrow’s session will be difficult for continued work on that particular skill.
A spirit of positive thinking may be instilled in a performer by eliminating the word “try”. To try a skill is to indicate there is a possibility that it may not be completed. Hence, an element of danger exists. Never try a skill, do the skill! To do a skill is to never blunder. The word “try” is not in the vocabulary. With this premise, it follows that a skill may be altered but not abandoned midway during its execution or the creation of a disaster will be the outcome. Finish what is started, regardless of where you land. If one fails to follow through, the chances of injury are high. When a rotary skill is in progress, the rotation will continue while airborne. Deceleration may be achieved by extending the body parts. Termination of the skill occurs when a landing is realized.
The expression “can’t” is another remark that has no place in the vocabulary of an athlete. Because of the negative connotation realized from the use of this word, it is forbidden!
In the event a malfunction occurs during the execution of a skill, an analysis of the failure should follow, corrections implemented, and the skill performed again. Performers must be taught to have respect for difficult skills and not be pompous in their ability to perform. (Particularly a new skill!) At the same time, a coach should instill confidence. Overconfidence leads to ruin, while confidence is the path to success.
With the inclusion of more complicated skills in aerial sports, there has come a phenomenon that, to date, has not been explored to its fullest. This curiosity deals with the loss of a skill, and in some cases a group of skills. Through the years, this problem has become more prevalent and is the source of a great deal of controversy as to the cause and effect as well as its cure. There are more treatments and less cures than one can imagine. As this “disease” progresses, and it sometimes does, it engenders the unwanted apparition of fear. When fear raises its ugly head, execution of those skills involved comes to a halt and the possibility of injury becomes the issue. Fear is intimidating! During this period of apprehension, there are several avenues of treatment that may be explored to help the athlete continue to participate. It would appear that a short-circuit develops in the memory retention capabilities of those individuals unfortunate enough to experience this phenomenon. The athlete has no concept of how to perform a skill that has been done many times. There is no recall as to the direction of the twist, the number of somersaults, or any aspect of the execution of the skill or skills in question. In essence, there is a total lack of recall and the interpretation of the movement of the skill or skills has vanished and must be re-committed to memory.
The sequence of learning has been disrupted to the point that a new approach must be taken to reestablish the thinking process needed to provide an opportunity for success. Prior to the introduction of a potential remedy, a thorough discussion to determine the root of the anxiety should be addressed. To arrive at a cause is perplexing because the onset of this condition is not announced. The problem only becomes apparent when an attempt is made to perform a skill that has been performed many times and there is absolutely no recall. The feeling is one of confusion and exasperation. The following guidance is offered to assist in the unraveling of this dilemma. No guarantee of recovery, complete or otherwise, can be made as to the outcome of these suggestions.
1. Introduce a new approach to learning with little to no similarity to the original learning process.
2. When there are repeated failures, the passage of time has a way of healing.
3. Use appropriate spotting to protect the athlete.
4. When the skill in question can be rearranged, as in multiple somersaults with twists, make an
effort to so.
5. Eliminate the skill altogether.
6. Seek the origin of the problem through consultation with a qualified sports psychologist.
7. If nothing is successful, and fear dominates the effectiveness of the athlete, the time to consider retirement has arrived to prevent injury.
Levels of competition
In the process of advancing to a higher level the athlete may discover that they may no longer have the success obtained in their prior level. When this change comes about, a loss of confidence can be averted with proper guidance. Therefore, it is important that this change be made with the understanding that this situation may occur. The athlete should always exhibit a positive indication of accomplishment to the judges on completion of a competitive performance in the new level regardless of the presentation of the performance .
In their search for improvement, athletes will experience several plateaus of learning. Depression is often associated with these phases of learning which inevitably leads to problems. At this point-in-time, the athletes must be kept occupied with other aspects of the sport until improvement and/or the addition of a new skill, or combination of skills are mastered. It is this state of mind, a sense of “standing still”, that is the impetus which leads to the loss of many athletes. These individuals might have remained in the program had the coach handled the situation correctly.
A thorough evaluation of the outcome of a competition, along with the written results, should be treated in a way as to instill a desire to improve. This evaluation should foster a sense of confidence in all the team members. At the same time, a spirit of friendship must prevail. The coach should treat each winner or loser in a way as to maintain this relationship. Communicate to each individual the progress and improvement that can be realized from the experience of each competition.
The coach must be “one of the boys” yet command respect in terms of a coach-to-pupil relationship. This is a difficult and sometimes lonely and frustrating position. It is necessary however, because without this respect discipline is lost. It is difficult to maintain discipline and unreasonable to believe that a coach can communicate a point, in an authoritative manner, unless the participants have the utmost confidence and respect for his/her decisions. When and/if an athlete becomes a discipline problem and does not respond to appropriate measures, it may become necessary to expel that individual from the team. A sound environment can not be developed with individuals that are not contributing constructively to the overall program. If disciplinary problems are allowed to continue, the program will falter.
About drug abuse, there has been a great deal of conjecture in recent years on this topic. There are probably more solutions than there are situations. When an athlete becomes involved in drugs and is a participant in an aerial sport, the end result could be catastrophic. The ability to determine one’s position in space is impaired and the final outcome is the loss of spatial awareness. When this occurs, the performer develops vertigo and may believe the ceiling or sky to be the point of impact. Consequently, a catastrophic injury or death may be experienced on landing. Immediately on discovery of this drug problem, the athlete should not be allowed to participate and professional help should be obtained. The best solution to protect all concerned, is non-participation of the athlete in the program.
A successful coach is one who prepares each performer to accept the merits of victory and defeat. each defeat is a step forward, a step towards victory. Victory on the other hand, is an illusive reward that often corrupts when achieved. The corruption typically takes the form of conceit and is not a trait that a true champion desires. Proper discipline, understanding, communication, and guidance on the part of the coach should help mold a champion into a well respected and honorable person. Fortunately, this issue is not endemic.