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Let's find the lost front somersault

In the last edition of GymCraft, I described the all too frequent problem of a gymnast losing the ability to perform a front somersault during the process of trying to learn a barani.  This disconcerting phenomenon, which can trigger all manner of other “lost move” scenarios, is entirely preventable if the coach is aware of the potential risk and works to develop the barani in the manner described in my last article. Of course coaches may ignore my recommendations and in many cases the problem will not arise but the situation is too frequent and distressing to ignore. Prevention is always better than cure!

Let me summarise what I believe to be the causes of losing the front somersault because if we are to rediscover the move it is essential that we understand what may have contributed to its loss:

  1. Careless shaping and unshaping in the somersault. (Normally tuck).
  2. Too many consecutive repetitions of the barani without revisiting the basic front somersault upon which it is based.
  3. The gymnast’s realisation that the landing from the barani involves seeing the bed thus making it an easier finish than the “blind” front somersault.

Now back to the trampolinist who can no longer do a front somersault and may well be panicking to the point of dreading taking off for any forward move in case it goes wrong.  Indeed it may well have moved on to a fear of backward somersaults and a full blown case of what I call “lost confidence syndrome,” as opposed to the more frequently described “lost move syndrome” (LMS).  That is to say the problem has become chronic.

Stage one in the remedial process is to stop all baranis until the ability to perform the front somersault has been firmly re established.  Equally, any attempts to perform the front somersault by simply “getting a grip” of the problem should stop because even if the odd success is achieved, every single unintentional barani will serve to deepen the performer’s anxiety.  This may well mean the withdrawal of the gymnast from all competition, because the pupil likely to be affected by this issue will almost certainly be having to perform a front somersault in the compulsory routine.

Stage two is to make the performer aware that their difficulty is not unique to them and that it can be cured with careful rebuilding.  An essential part of the process is to reassure the pupil that they are not being “silly” or “scared” or “disobedient” but simply demonstrating that the front somersault had not been sufficiently well learned in the first place.

Stage three involves the gymnast declaring a wholehearted commitment to the remedial process including an acceptance that there will be no “quick fix.”

Stage four takes gymnast and coach from the trampoline to the floor mats.  Here the pupil undertakes some rocking and rolling practices as in Fig 1. There are three essential coaching points to be established and performed without fail.

  1. Grasp firmly below the knees each time you rock forward to a tucked sitting position.
  2. Watch your knees as you make the tuck.
  3. See and feel that you are firmly grasping your legs.

Fig 1

Stage five develops the rocking and rolling into a forward roll from a crouched starting position. (Fig 2)  Again the three coaching points already insisted upon are rigorously applied.

Fig 2

Stage six returns to the trampoline where the strictly tucked forward roll is performed without any semblance of bounce.

Stage seven requires two qualified supporters each with a judo belt round the pupil’s waist and the first attempts at the “new” front somersault are undertaken. Although this step in the process is important, what is even more important is that the pupil becomes convinced they cannot twist when held equally by the two supporters and that they cannot twist and will not twist if they are grasping their legs in the tucked shape. Once again the coaching points from stage four must be rigidly applied. Watch your knees, see/feel your hands grasping your knees.

Stage eight progresses to one supporter and again the coaching points applied during the practice are more important than the practice itself. The pupil should by now be gaining confidence in the fact that if they grasp their knees and watch their knees they will not twist.  However with the absence of the second supporter the potential exists for twist to take place if the pupil becomes careless.  I hope it is obvious to the reader that the hand-to-hand method of support would be totally inappropriate and only a waist support where the gymnast has both hands free to grasp the knees can facilitate the required result.

Stage nine enters the familiar process of gradually reducing support until the gymnast has the confidence and capability to perform the front somersault unaided. At any stage from here the whole rebuild can be totally destroyed by one careless moment should the pupil or coach relax their absolute commitment to “grasp the knees/watch the knees.”

As with all step-by-step descriptions of a progressive learning method, the weakness lies in the fact that only the coach nursing the pupil through the process can determine when to move to the next stage or indeed when to go back a stage or two before moving on.  Frankly, the success of the method is entirely dependent on the judgement of the coach and it would be foolish to interpret the method described as guarantee of success.  In a rebuild like the one described which involves a strong psychological component, every step must be even more thoroughly established before progressing than might be the case when learning the skill from scratch.  The coach’s judgement must be informed by a regular dialogue with the pupil during the process and an “asking” as well as a “telling” style must be employed. Just one unguarded moment and the whole house of cards can collapse never to be rebuilt.

To summarise; Be aware of the underlying potential for this phenomenon to occur when teaching baranis and ensure a rigid adherence to correct shaping in the front somersault.  Avoid too many consecutive baranis without returning to the correctly shaped basic front somersault and the problem should never arise. Finally, having rediscovered the front somersault, STEER CLEAR OF THE BARANI FOR A PERIOD OF SEVERAL WEEKS BEFORE GRADUALLY REINTRODUCING THE MOVE FROM THE SOLID FOUNDATION OF A TECHNICALLY SOUND FRONT SOMERSAULT.

Next article.

© Jack Kelly