Keeping it neutral: head positioning
Our bodies do what is logical and most likely to keep us safe. This is due, in part, to the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that triggers our emotional responses to certain situations. It also impacts the decisions we make to face them. For example, it has the ability to help us jump out of the way of a vehicle before it hits us, as well as making us freeze up before attempting a skill. Why? Because it’s logical. Do we want to be hit by a car… NO! so we get out of the way. Is it logical to drop to bridge, or back handspring… NO! so we decide not to do it, or take shortcuts to make it work.
The Head Throw:
This brings me to the head throw. Athletes throw their heads in anything from a Back walkover to a full twisting layout. They do it because a) they’re scared, or b) because they do not know how to correctly perform the skill. The result is often more dangerous, and harder to fix, than if they did the skill properly in the first place. If you’ve ever coached an athlete whose layout looks more like a whip, you’ll know what I mean.
Removing the head throw really does have its benefits; it also takes a lot of time investment. This season we’ve been a lot stricter on our youth athletes and how much they’re allowed to move their heads- we compromised at lifting our eyes to look for their fingers. This may seem a little radical but the results speak for themselves.
4 improvements that have come from limiting an athlete’s head movement:
- Confidence: because technique is nurtured through drills, athletes end up more secure because the movements they make to perform a skill become natural.
- Strength- athletes have greater strength because arms by ears, with head in neutral position, is stronger and more secure than if their head was thrown back. They are also able to extend and open their shoulders due to the increased flexibility the position gives them.
- Keeping the head neutral means coaches will have less of an issue as athletes progress. If athletes start bridges this way, they’re more likely to do it when back hand springing and tucking etc.
- Ultimately it gives athletes a greater sense of control and safety. Once they’ve mastered the natural urge to move their head and look for the floor and safety, they will be able to focus on performing the key components of the skill.
Dealing with Older athletes:
Older athletes will find this change a challenge. For many, their muscle memory dictates that they will throw their head back. So now, coaches and athletes are in a position where they’re trying to ‘correct’ a natural reflex. Difficult. This is where products like the chin block may come in useful because they have to physically hold them in place while performing a skill. However, I would venture to say that you could essentially do the same thing with a pair of socks. or a toilet roll.
Regardless, working to change the head positioning of athletes has huge benefits. Not only will it make athletes more competent tumblers, but they’re also likely to get a higher technical score for perfection of skills at competition alongside their difficulty score. With the way things are going in the UK cheer industry, and how slim the winning margins are, it’s definitely worth the effort.
Thanks for reading!