Don’t Rush New Gymnastics Skills…

Learning a new gymnastics skill takes time, sometimes ALOT of time.
by Karen Goeller, CSCS

SuitisaTwistingBlkBackIt normally takes at least 6-12 months to get a skill. Unfortunately, some coaches and gymnasts think it should happen in a week. That is often impossible, depending upon the difficulty of the skill. Think about how long it took to learn a cartwheel. Gymnastics skills take coordination, strength, flexibility, speed, power, and the mental ability to think before and during the movement in order to complete it safely.

The science behind learning a new skill is more complicated than many realize. First the neurological system is involved. Literally the nervous system in the body is learning what it must do, learning the movement. That is why gymnastics drills for skills are necessary.  And that is why coaches often spot skills and literally shape the gymnasts during movement. The mind and nerves must learn the sequence of movements to perform the skill.

After the neurological system is on board, with practice, the muscular system eventually starts to become conditioned for the movement. More spotting may be needed from the coaches until the gymnast has the strength, speed, power, or flexibility to perform the skill efficiently.  Specific conditioning for the sport and drills for the skills are necessary.

Even after the neurological and muscular systems can perform their duties for the skill, the mind must be convinced that it is OK to try it. This psychological stage can be the longest. It is often when coaches and gymnasts become impatient with progress. Mental comfort with the skill is a big part of why repetition is necessary.  The mind must be convinced that the gymnast can perform the skill safely. And it is the phase where confidence is built. Without the confidence, there can be lack of focus and injury.

I had a rule in my gym that a skill must be performed one thousand times before it is competed. That was usually enough time to go through all three stages of learning the skill. In my gym it took an average of 6-7 months to perform 1000 repetitions of the skill, 6 days a week, minimum of ten repetitions each day.

And then after the skill is learned, it still must be performed in a routine. That again, changes the mindset and ability to perform the skill efficiently.  During routines the gymnast’s muscles and mind become tired and the skill once again becomes difficult. A gymnast must go through the three stages again for the routine. This time, muscle endurance becomes a factor in addition to the individual skill technique.

Sadly, some coaches and gymnasts do not realize the three steps it really takes to be able to perform a skill successfully and they rush to “get” the skill. This can cause unnecessary stress, fears, and often injuries. So be sure to condition specifically for the sport and skills, spend time doing drills, and take the small steps necessary (extra mats, spotting, low beams, etc). Go through the phases, plan for several months of training the skill, and successfully gain that skill. Take your time now, so it is not wasted later.

Let me know how I can help your gymnasts… I can come to your gym and help your gymnasts or you can send them to me for private training.

Karen Goeller, CSCS
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