4 Steps to Keep Your Gymnast SafeLet's face it, gymnastics can be a risky sport. However, there are ways to eliminate many of the risks in the sport and keep your gymnast safe. Safety should always be the number one priority. To ensure this is the case, make sure the program your daughter is in includes: progressions, conditioning, proper spotting, and staff education.
According to Merrium Webster's Dictionary, progression is the action or process of forward or onward movement (as to an objective or to a goal). Progressions are a very more important part of teaching gymnastics properly and safely. This process involves breaking the skill down into simple steps and teaching each step of the skill. For advanced skills, progressions need to start years before the gymnast attempts the whole skill. It can be tempting to skip steps and go straight to the skill, but it is not in the gymnast's best interest. Progressions are also very important when moving to the next level.
Gymnastics requires a great deal of strength. However, being strong is not enough to keep your gymnast safe. Gymnasts must build the correct strength, skill specific strength, in order to complete advanced skills. Gymnasts should go through shaping exercises to build muscle memory and strength. For example, a gymnast who is learning a double back off the bars should practice holding the proper tuck shape stationary, then with movement, next in drills, and finally your gymnast will be prepared to hold the shape while performing a skill.
Why do we spot a skill in gymnastics? There are two main reasons to spot:
1. To correct form - Often, coaches will spot a skill to help the gymnast feel the correct positions. For example, a gymnast who is learning a back handspring might need a spot to fix bent legs.
2. For safety - A gymnast may need a "safety" spot on an advanced skill, this is when the coach is there and ready to assist if needed.
A coach should never do the whole skill for the gymnast. While the coach might be capable of doing this it means that the proper progressions were skipped. A coach should also not need to spot the skills that lead up to the main skill. For example, a gymnast who is learning a round off back handspring, back tuck should be proficient at the back handspring and only need spot on the new skill. The coach should also be cautious of spotting due to fear, again this often means that there were steps that were skipped in the process. Confidence in gymnastics is necessary for success.
Lastly, coach education is extremely important. A well educated coach has studied the proper technique and progressions of each skill. They understand the timeline of learning advanced skills and the strength required. A well educated coach is always learning, reading, studying, and attending courses such as Congress.
Hannah Thomas, Program Director