Drills: Do more by doing less!

I’m lucky enough to have been part of the UK cheer community for 17 years. It also means I’m old enough to remember a time when we would spot each other’s back handsprings. Although, I think its fair to say that our spotting technique was more lifting and chucking, rather than safely spotting. In the end, we were doing more harm than good because we didn’t actually know what a skill was meant to feel like! We were so desperate to gain skills that we weren’t concerned about technique or safety, just that we could get over.

Over the last two decades a lot’s changed, particularly in the last five years where there’s been a clear movement away from heavy spotting to a more ‘hands-off’ approach. At the Ascension Eagles, the athletes that have made the fastest and most consistent improvements are the ones that rep the drills- regardless of whether they ‘have’ the skill, or not. This is good for a number of reasons.

Benefits for the coach:

It gives the coach the opportunity to break down skills. This way an athlete can master key components of a skill, before performing them together in a sequence. It also means the coach can stand back and watch. Being able to see everything the athlete is doing makes feedback more specific and meaningful because they can see everything the athlete is doing.

Benefits for athletes:

For athletes it creates a greater sense of responsibility. Coaches can often receive unnecessary pressure regarding skills. Drills give athletes a clear understanding of what they need to achieve before even considering when to attempt a skill. It’s good for motivation because short tasks that break down a skill means that athletes will gain a better understanding of the skill they’re working towards.

It also makes it easier for athletes to self correct. When they practice one part of a skill, they’re more likely to know where they’ve gone wrong. The most important thing they’ll get from the drill is the confidence that comes from muscle memory. Athletes are expected to do hundreds of reps. Why? The younger generation of athletes at AEC do not have a lot of experience with spotting, other than the occasional transitional spot. They don’t miss what they’ve never had. They’ve learned to trust in their ability and are able to identify if they’re ready, or not, to progress. Without drifting into Coach Caric’s territory too much, we’ve found that our younger athlete’s are less prone to anxiety, or the dreaded mental block. If they have a problem, we take it back to the appropriate drill and build up from there.

It’s the generation of spotted athletes where things become more difficult. More often than not, they have confidence in the person spotting them, rather than in themselves. This is where the problem lies. With drills however, athletes learn to rely on themselves.

Transitional spotting:

I’m not suggesting coaches don’t spot at all, just that we spot smarter. When I can see an athlete is ready to transition to the floor, they get their ‘transitional spot.’ They get three chances. If they’re not ready to perform the skill on their own after the third try, they go back to the relevant drill. As a result, I’ve found that athletes are more willing to attempt the skill on their own. Their muscle memory is so much better than that of an athlete I have to spot. Remember: it’s not the coach’s muscles that should be getting bigger as the result of a tumble class.

All in all, the transition to a ‘no hands’ approach in tumble development has been really good for us at AEC. Athletes are more aware of the skills they’re performing, and therefore more confident. Hopefully it will work for your athletes too!

It is a marathon, not a sprint. Initial progress is slow but after that, new skills are like buses.