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Monday, January 11, 2016

How to Win at Gymnastics Every Time

I coach my own kid. That arrangement has pros and cons, but one of the best parts is that being her coach gives me a better understanding of what success means for her in gymnastics.

It can be difficult for parents to understand how routines are judged, but I can assure you it's a very complex system that strives for maximum fairness. But you don't need to understand the judging rules if you're aware of what your child, personally, has been working on.

My kid loves gymnastics and it doesn't come easy for her. She works so hard and it's  frustrating for both of us when she struggles with skills that other kids master very quickly. A back that just won't bend, flat feet, and low muscle tone have made a roundoff back handspring an ongoing struggle for her, while her friends are performing that skill effortlessly with hardly a second thought.

But yesterday was different. Fueled by the adrenalin of competition, she finally performed that skill with the technique that allowed her rebound and finish properly, instead of landing tha-thump with hands still on the ground. I could see the excitement in her smile. When she came off the floor, grinning, she exclaimed, "It was so high! I felt like I was FLYING!"

And THAT is why your kid does gymnastics.

Don't underestimate kids by assuming that they're disappointed if they didn't win. Ask them what skill they love. What skill they want to achieve next. What's hardest, most fun, scariest, easiest. If you're in tune with what your kid is working on, what they're good at and what they struggle at, you'll have a better idea of what constitutes a "win" for them. Because most moments of exhilaration and joy and don't happen on the awards stand.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Can CrossFit save Men's Gymnastics?

Gymnasts and former gymnasts--raise your hand if you've gotten into CrossFit. Even if you haven't yet, you've probably already heard about how CrossFit draws heavily on gymnastics movements. If you're not in the know, I'll give you a quick rundown.

You'll get there, do a little warm up and stretching (this is where you wow them with the remnants of your flexibility, even if it's not what it used to be). You'll see some rings (no one told them those are only for the boys). You'll get an assignment (a WOD--workout of the day).

Toes to bar--that's leg lifts. But get this--they don't even care about straight legs and pointed toes!

Handstand pushups--just when you thought you'd never do those again. You can offer tips to the others about levering in!

Pull ups--another familiar one.  And don't worry about a dead hang--they're cool with whipping up! They'll tell you that's "kipping," but it's best not to get hung up on the details.

Box jumps--just go up and down, you don't even have to flip!

Rings--so as I mentioned, chicks do rings too. And what everyone tries to do is a muscle up--just go from a hang, up to a straight arm support. Funny thing is, that's not actually a skill in the Code of Points. But if you've never been on a set of rings before, wow, is it hard!

Here--watch David Durante use his gymnastics background to school a bunch of really good athletes.  (There's a whole series of these, and they're all great.)

So clearly this relates to gymnastics, but why is that important?

Because there are gymnastics programs across the country who can't even drum up enough interest to offer even one boys' gymnastics class. And now suddenly at thousands of CrossFit "boxes" there are salesmen and doctors and housewives and teachers who are utterly fixated on accomplishing one gymnastics task that isn't even an actual skill in the code of points.

As a gymnast, don't you feel sort of vindicated? Haven't you been telling everyone all along how gymnastics is the best sport ever, with the best athletes on the planet? People are taking notice! They want a gymnastics-style workout. A MEN'S gymnastics-style workout. And they're not even sticking around for the fun part. They just want conditioning!

So this is a good thing, right? But I have to wonder if USA Gymnastics, FIG, and NCAA gymnastics teams have put much thought into the correlation between the two sports. Because the obvious thing to do at this point is to figure out how gymnastics can capitalize on the public interest in CrossFit. Surely they've noticed that many great gymnasts are going on to be successful CrossFit athletes. Surely they've noticed that CrossFit is really Gymnastics' younger, flashier, more media-savvy cousin.

But it's not just about having a sport for former gymnasts to transition to. It's about riding the wave of CrossFit popularity to potentially rescue men's gymnastics from the brink of extinction!

Many gymnastics facilities already house CrossFit programs because gym owners understand the connection. Now we need to show these CrossFitters that they can use their athleticism to do the fun stuff. We need to lure them to events as spectators because they will be able to appreciate and relate the high difficulty level on display. If there were an official collaboration between the two sports, could CrossFit athletes and their families could fill the stands on discounted tickets and a promise of an open-gym meet-and-greet where they could come try out those rings right next to the guy that just won? Just a thought.

CrossFit people have kids! And they want their kids to grow up with an appreciation of health and fitness. Gymnastics is the perfect sport for the child of a CrossFit enthusiast--they'll acquire strength and discipline and all that good stuff. But kids need incentive. And the incentive, the payoff, is FUN TRICKS.

The recent Men's NCAA Gymnastics Championships attracted an audience of just over 2,560. The CrossFit Games, however, packs stadiums with tens of thousands of fans to watch a championship that been in existence for less than a decade. While colleges across the country are cutting men's gymnastics programs left and right, CrossFit champions are competing for millions of dollars in prize money and endorsements.

Maybe it's a little soon to know if CrossFit will have the staying power of other sports. But the numbers don't lie. Now it's up to the powers that be to seize the day. Carpe Diem, men's gymnastics. What can CrossFit do for you?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Your Daily Dose of Gymnastics: Laurie Hernandez

It's been a while since I saw a routine I really just wanted to watch on repeat.

Compare to Mykayla Skinner, whose fantastic tumbling gets a little overshadowed by less-than-pleasant music and "filler" choreography.

Knowing that Martha Karolyi has final say over the USA women's program, one would think that she would get every team member performing a routine of the same caliber as Hernandez. Who does her choreography? Can we get this person to do every US routine?

There is an outcry in the gymnastics community to bring back artistry. The US sets the tone for the world of gymnastics. Even if the code doesn't require artistry, why not lead the world in this trend because it's the best thing for the sport? Because we can.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Dialect quiz--What in the world is a tumble-set?

"What does the way you speak say about where you're from?" You've probably answered this question recently by responding to the dialect quiz that's been floating around Facebook. Saying "y'all may indicate that you're from the South, but if you're from New Orleans, nothing betrays your provenance more than a word or expression from the city's unique vernacular.

If you know what a neutral ground is, if you've ever made groceries, eaten a muffuletta, or used the word lagniappe; if you know a girl named Angelle (ahn-GEL, for everyone outside Louisiana) or regularly respond "yeah you right" or even better, if you just randomly spout that phrase, then you live in New Orleans. If you have no idea that people only like, 50 miles away don't use these words and expressions, then you've never left New Orleans.

What does this have to do with gymnastics?

Having been involved in gymnastics in various ways for nearly 30 years, having lived and worked in several different states, I've heard a lot of terminology. There are some variations, though many are generational differences: for instance, a back handspring is often called a flip flop, a flic flac, or just a flick. I call a skill a back bend, others may say bridge.

On an occasion I was teaching a preschool gymnastics class--in Mississippi--one little girl was trying the class for the first time and had a little separation anxiety. So Mama came out onto the floor to help, and during our obstacle course, encouraged her, "Come on, show me your tumble-set!"

To which I replied, "You must be from New Orleans." She was pretty impressed with my psychic abilities.

So, New Orleanians, of all the absurdly specific and wildly imaginative terminology you have no idea that you're using, you need to know this: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A TUMBLE-SET. 

Everyone from ANYWHERE ELSE is saying, "What the heck is a tumble-set?" While working in New Orleans along with several other coaches from various parts of the country, we all found out. Some folks may say somersault. In gymnastics we say forward roll. But the most basic acrobatic skill you can possibly do--put your hands on the ground, tuck into a ball and roll over to your back and then stand to your feet--is for some unknown reason, called a tumble-set in New Orleans.

New Orleans parents I've talked to are invariably surprised to find out that "tumble-set" isn't a real gymnastics term. I can only speculate as to why there would be a regional term for such a specific skill in a relatively uncommon sport, but I have a theory: perhaps local P.E. teachers, back in the day, were having children tumble in P.E. class and came up with that word?

It's one thing to have a special phrase for grocery shopping--everybody does that. It's not totally strange that you should call a median a neutral ground, because that's something you see every day. But consider: a) gymnastics is not very popular in New Orleans, and b) "set" would imply a group of skills, so using "tumble-set" to describe a single basic movement is nonsense in the first place. New Orleanians, if you have any insight on the etymology of the tumble-set, I'd be curious to know. Or, if you are NOT from New Orleans and you've heard this term, I'd also be curious to know. Now, everybody get out there and go practice your FORWARD ROLLS.

This is a forward roll, not a tumble-set. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Your daily dose of gymnastics: Jackie Bender

Jackie Bender of Canada was never a superstar in the gymnastics world, but her amazing handstands put her in a class all her own. I'd seen her remarkable one-arm handstand mount (with arch and rotation!) in clips before, but this footage of her doing every conceivable handstand skill in clinics and practice is mesmerizing. And creepy. The grainy TV! The uber-flexibility! The bluesy music!

At 5:29 in the video, I'm not sure I've ever seen faster press handstands. And as she mentions in this interesting interview, her record was 67 in a row. Also interesting: she says her back was not naturally flexible! I shudder to think of the stretching got her from inflexible to creepy-flexible.