I was recently talking to a parent that has a weekly group private lesson for her daughter and friend. She asked “how long will it take for the girls to get their back handspring.” That’s a loaded question, and any coach that can give you an exact date is lying to you. Every kid is different, both physically and mentally.
Let’s be clear. Diving backwards head first into the floor, bouncing off your hands and landing back on your feet is a stupid idea! And yet here I am making a living out of teaching kids how to safely accomplish this feat. It’s a terrifying skill to attempt, not to mention the technique involved to perform it safely. Repetition, repetition, REPETITION.
Just for a little perspective: My oldest son Cameron, who was an elite gymnast, and went on to compete in college, practiced 5 to 6 days a week for 5 to 6 hours a day. That’s 25 to 36 hours a week. I have your daughter 30 minutes to one hour per week. We have to build up technique, power, comfort with the skill, and confidence that she can perform it safely. Some of you can appreciate the saves my staff and I have made when your daughter thinks “No wait!” in the middle of a skill. Those are the ones that keep me young and in shape! On average, it takes about a year and a half to learn your back handspring, from the time you start tumbling. There are always exceptions to the rule. Some kids are more fearless than others, while some kids are a heck of a lot more cautious.
I told the parent: Let’s say that hypothetically, the girls could get their back handspring in 10 more private lessons. If that conversation took place October 1st, and they continued with one private per week, then that would put them roughly getting their handspring right before Christmas break. They chose to book two privates a week, and now that puts them roughly at the end of October to have the skill! For the record, I had already been working with these girls, and they were just about to accomplish their roundoff back handspring on the tumble track, with the two crash mats, by themselves at the time of the conversation. I made a guess on the 10 weeks, and it’s a pretty accurate guess so far, because they are now ready to try it on the floor, with a spot, after a couple of weeks.
We took the crash mats to the floor, and they are building their confidence there. In the next private or two, I’m going to walk away and let them do it by themselves. They will throw good ones and they will throw some bad ones. Eventually, they will be completely confident there.
Next step, is to take them off the crash mats and move them to the spring floor. If you think logically, the crash mats are 8″ tall, and squishy, so they absorb their power instead of giving them bounce. The crash mats are a great place to screw up, but they don’t help the girls make their back handspring easier (just safer). I will usually have them do a toe touch on the crash mat and then do one on the spring floor. The difference is obvious! They will have more power on the floor and it will be easier. They won’t feel safer though, so that’s the hard part.
After that,we move to trusting in the technique and not the spotter. The hardest part as a coach is trusting the kids to keep doing the same thing and not freak out. Freaking out can cause injuries and/or mental blocks. The hardest part for the kids is that leap of faith and trusting themselves, and believing that the biggest compliment my staff or I can give them is to walk away!
Please encourage your kids, but be careful pushing them. We will push them, we will encourage them, and we will motivate them. We will also be cautious. On occasion, we get those kids that want to try it by themselves, but we won’t let them because we are afraid they will hurt themselves.
What’s my point here?
If your child wants to get her back handspring for school cheer tryouts, then that window of opportunity is closing. You’d be amazed how many phone calls I get a few weeks before tryout where the parent says their daughter needs to get a back handspring for tryouts. The response I want to give, but bite my tongue is: “Do you believe in Jesus? Because I don’t do miracles.”
CLASSES vs PRIVATES
We make a lot of progress in our classes. The kids cheer each other on, and on occasion you get a little competition between kids that is a healthy motivator. “Well if she can do it, then I can do it!” Many kids are visual learners, and have to see the skill to understand it. They will also get a lot of repetition, drills, flexibility and strength work. It’s also a heck of a lot cheaper than a private lesson. On occasion, there will be those kids that are a distraction.
Some kids just don’t want to look bad in front of other kids, and would rather do private lessons. Yes, one on one time with a coach can accomplish LOTS in a short amount of time. It’s also all about her! There are no other kids to distract the coach. In a two or three person private, your child will get a little breathing time in between tumbling passes. They can motivate each other also. If you schedule a private, bring your child in early to warm up so that you don’t waste your time with the coach watching a warm up. Cram all you can in that private, get your money’s worth, and then after the private is over, stretch, work on skills off to the side, make the best of it!
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November and December are traditionally slower months. Take advantage of it and get some quality time with the coaches and more reps with the skills. January through March are the busiest times of year because of school cheer tryouts. I will continue to add more coaches as the classes get bigger.
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