Back Spotting – in General
The job of Back Spotting is one of the trickiest in cheerleading. As their title implies, they are key to ensuring the safety of the Flyer. Like a Life Guard on the beach, the Back Spot must be constantly vigilant, carefully observing the Flyer’s shoulders and hips, looking for any clue that they might be leaning in any direction, and ready to do whatever it takes to stay between them and the ground in the event of a fall.
But in addition to this most obvious (and stressful) role, a Back Spot has many other duties. They assist the Flyer when loading in on 2 feet. They boost the Flyer up on 1-legged stunts. They stabilize the Flyer’s ankles. They usually have the responsibility for “calling” the counts for a stunt. They also should be responsible for lining up a stunt group in the proper spacing for a formation. When someone asks me what a Back Spot’s job is, I usually answer; “Whatever it takes.”
From a technique perspective, the Back Spot generally does not have to worry about being judged. They are frequently key to the legality or illegality of a stunt or transition (which we will get into in just a minute), but in terms of the execution score for stunts, Back Spots usually are not seen enough to impact very much (other than keeping the stunts in the air). About the only 2 execution errors I ever write down on score sheet related to Back Spots are if they are not watching their Flyer (ALWAYS keep your eyes on the flyer), or if they do not reach up high in the cradle. When it comes to most everything else (how to boost, footwork, grip, etc.) whatever works is usually fine.
For legality, Back Spotting is key! Also, as a coach, you absolutely have to be knowledgeable about your competition’s requirements for legal Back Spotting. For instance, some events make it illegal for a Back Spot to have a hand UNDER any part of the Flyer’s foot. You have to know if that is the case, and if so, you have to make sure the Back Spot know that. Things get even more specific and complicated when dealing with pyramids, transitions and single base stunting. I can’t go into all of these examples so just understand that legality requirements for the Bask Spot can be entirely different for every single stunt in your routine, and vary from one event to the next, so do not make the mistake of assuming anything. KNOW THE RULES.
As I referenced earlier, Back Spots are chiefly responsible for safety. Being safe in stunts is all about anticipating mistakes before they happen. As a Back Spot, you have to be watching every move your Flyer makes and how those moves will affect the stunt. You have to know that if her Liberty foot starts sliding down her straight leg her left hip is going to drop, followed by her left shoulder, and she will usually fall toward the side base. You have to act BEFORE the Flyer falls. If you react to the fall, you will be too late. That is the “art” of Back Spotting, knowing when to go from “saving the stunt,” to “saving the Flyer.” I am not trying to advocate giving up on stunts. After all, the safest way to finish a stunt is however it was choreographed. However, once a stunt has reached the point of no return and the Flyer is absolutely going down, the Back Spot (and the bases too!) need to release the Flyer’s foot, ankle or whatever else they have and catch her.
The safest way to catch, not only for the Flyer but also for the Back Spot, is to step in close to the flyer and catch high. I will explain both parts of this.
Stepping in sounds simple enough but is actually the most common mistake I see Back Spots make. When something (or someone) is falling at you, your instinct is to step away from it (or them). If you are stepping back, this puts you in a horrible position to catch a falling flyers. The first reason is that you have to extend your arms out, reaching away from your body, to catch. You have much more strength when your arms are in close to your body than when they are extended out away from your body. Also, by being in close, you can catch the Flyer with your body in the “bear hug” technique. This is basically what it sounds like and I’m running out of space so I won’t go into details. The last reason (and maybe biggest) is for your own safety. When a Flyer falls, they usually reach out with their arms. That is going to place fists, fingers, finger nails, and elbows all a couple of feet away from the Flyer’s body. These are the things that tend to send Back Spots to the Emergency Room for stitches. If you step back, you are right in the path of an elbow. However, if you step in, almost under the flyer, you might get a seat (that’s cheer-talk for butt) in your chest. You might get the back of the Flyer’s arm on your shoulder. You might even get an elbow on the top of your head. But you are not going to get hit in the eyes, nose or mouth. And if you get hit in any of those places, not only do you get hurt, you probably won’t be able to catch your Flyer, so they get dropped too.
Catching high is sort of a side effect of stepping in. There are a couple of very good reasons for catching high. The first is gravity. The longer something is falling, the faster it gets. The fast something is falling, the heavier it gets. So simply put, if you catch your Flyer higher and earlier, she will be lighter. Another reason is that the longer a Flyer is falling the more likely she will start to “freak out,” and start flailing. That’s when you might get that painful elbow on top of your head.
This rather long article has really only scratched the surface of the very complex task of Back Spotting. I hope all of you coaches (and Flyers!) really appreciate just how challenging their job is. I have always called the Back Spots the Quarterbacks of stunts, even though they rarely get the credit they deserve.