I would argue that it is an athlete’s ability to understand and correctly perform a round off handspring tuck that will determine if they will go on to become a high level tumbler. It is the round off handspring tuck where athletes start to learn about proper blocking angles, hip rotation, and head positioning. Over my 23 years experience, athletes, parents and coaches continue making the same mistake over and over: SPOTTING! Before you blow up the comment section, let me explain.
Once an athlete can do a roundoff back handspring, they feel like it is time to be spotted on a tuck. So they go to their local gym and say “I need to work on my back handspring tuck!” The responsible tumbling instructor will take the athlete and perform a quick assessment where they notice that the athlete can do a beautiful round off handspring. After their excitement calms down, they immediately talk them through some techniques and start spotting the athlete on a tuck. Within two weeks, the athlete is running 100 yards to do a roundoff, whips themselves upside down, lands on their feet, and never touches the ground with their hands. There is a loud scream coming from the parent viewing room, where a happy mom is pounding on the glass, jumping up and down as if she just won the lottery. The athlete’s hands cover her mouth like she is amazed she just did it, and the tumbling coach is walking around the floor with their chest poked out, high fiving and hugging the athlete. Sounds amazing, correct?
While this makes the athlete happy, what this instructor has done is set the child up for failure. Because the skill was not broken down into small goals, the athlete does not understand all the components that are required to perform the tuck correctly. If the athlete has learned bad habits here, this will prevent them from doing [correct] layouts and fulls in the future. The reality is with proper training and equipment, a tuck should never have to be spotted.
At MGA Cheer Extreme, we break the tuck down into 3 major steps and never have to spot any of them.
Step 1 Blocking and Setting
The first step when learning a tuck is learning the proper foot placement. When blocking, the athlete wants to make sure the feet are slightly behind and head is in the neutral position. At MGA Cheer Extreme, we use this simple drill to make sure the athlete is learning this technique properly. This will ensure the athlete has the proper height required to perform the tuck.
Step 2 Teaching the Shape
The second step in the tuck process is teaching the proper shape, and how to use their core muscles to rotate. This is a great drill that can be done at home off your bed. Make sure to keep your head in and lift your hips, knees, and toes over your head and land on your feet.
Step 3 Keeping Your Chin in and Getting Your Hips Up
The third step in the tuck process is applying step 1 and 2 and teaching the athlete how to block at the correct angle, get arms up, and keep your head in a neutral position. By using a hands off approach the athlete learns properly, while learning to depend on themselves instead of a spot. This drill will also allow the instructor to see if the athlete has any strength deficiencies in their core muscles by isolating the shoulders, making it harder for the athlete to throw his/her head.
Step 4 Spotting the landing.
Using a pit will give the athletes the confidence to perform the skill by themselves, while learning to spot the floor for their landings. In this drill, the instructor will have the athlete say a word when they spot the floor. This will allow the instructor to know when the athlete is seeing the floor, as well as know they are tumbling with their eyes open. Once they have mastered this drill, we raise the landing height to help build the athlete’s confidence in the skill.
Step 5 Doing Tuck on Floor Not Using Hands
Once the athlete is comfortable with tumbling and landing on their own, we transition them to the floor, and then teach them how to tumble up to mats above the floor. It is important to teach them not to grab their legs so they learn to use their core muscles to rotate. During this whole process the instructor will stand in position for the safety of the athlete and only spot if the athlete gets into trouble.
All athletes learn skills at different rates based off of strength, speed, and confidence. (Click here for an article on how long it takes to get skills) At MGA Cheer Extreme, we have found, on average, when kids go through the proper progressions it will take them between 3-6 weeks before they are doing the tuck on the floor.
If you would like to learn more about our tumbling classes, we highly encourage you to stop into one of our facilities with your athlete. We’d be happy to give you a tour of the facility and allow you to take a peek into what tumbling classes at MGA Cheer Extreme are really like. Reach out now to learn more about our schedule or to choose a convenient time to stop by. We’ll see you soon!