Archive for June 2011

Handstand Snap-Downs

June 29, 2011

Handstand snap-downs are one of the best, all-purpose tumbling drills to do practice if you want to improve your tumbling.  You don’t need a spotter.  You don’t need mats or equipment.  You don’t even need much space.  You can do lots and lots of them.  They’re safe.  And they help you to improve at everything from a cartwheel to a layout!  First, here is the “how to do” a handstand snap-down.

You start off with basic handstand technique.  Begin in a lunge, leading with whichever foot is your lead foot for a cartwheel.  Keep you arms stretched out, shoulder-width apart.  Your eyes should be looking on the floor about 3 or 4 feet out in front of your lead foot (which is where your hands are going to go).

Moving along, continue with the handspring technique.  Reach those hands out.  As your hands are touching the floor, you should be lifting up (kicking up) your back leg (not the lunge leg).  You should also be pushing off with your lunge leg.  As your legs rise up into a handstand, squeeze your legs together and point your toes. 

Here’s where it starts to get different than a handstand.  Instead of straightening your body all the way out into a nice, flat body position, as you begin to reach equalibrium, allow your back to arch slightly.  Your feet should be directly over your shoulders, or maybe even slightly in front of them.  Your hips will be behind your shoulders.

Also, allow your shoulders to “sag” somewhat.  This will allow you to push or “shrug” when the time comes.  Do not bend your arms at the elbow.

Since your hips are behind your shoulders, gravity will start to pull you down and out of your handstand in the direction that you just lunged from.  When you feel gravity grab hold of you, that is when you have to jump into action.

As your legs start to drop back towards the ground, use your ab

Question Authority

June 10, 2011

I’m a rule-follower.  I almost never question authority.  Don’t get me wrong, I check my receipt at the grocery to make sure my coupon rang up, and if it doesn’t, I point that out.  But for the most part, if an official tells me something is right, I tend to assume they know what they’re talking about and accept what they say.  This tendency of mine almost cost one of my teams (BIG TIME) at a large National Championship event. 

Here’s the quick back ground.  I was working as a tumbling instructor for a relatively new (3-year-old) high school cheerleading program.  The coach was a young lady who was a former all star student of mine.  Also, this was her first job as Head Coach and Advisor of a cheer program.  All of that being said, she asked me for advice quite a bit, and I was happy to give it to her.

Anyway, we were at Nationals.  In the preliminary round, we didn’t do so well.  We had a few tumbling touch downs and a stunt come down.  Our division was fairly tough, but I had seen a few other teams struggle as well.  According to the competition rules, at least 50% of the teams would advance to the semi-finals.  Based on our performance and the other teams that I saw, I figured it was going to be close.  I was right.

Now for some math.  There were 19 teams in the division.  Of those 19 teams, the top 4 were advanced straight to the finals, bi-passing the semi-finals.  Of the remaining 15 teams, 7 were selected to go on to the semi-finals.  We were ranked 8th, exactly 1 place shy of advancing.  By my math, the competition had advanced 11 teams out of 19, which is more than 50%, so I figured we were out of luck.

However, my young head coach could not accept that.  She said it just didn’t “feel right.”  Based on our team’s performance, she thought we “deserved” to make it out of the prelims.  Personally, I agreed that our routine was good enough to be finals-worthy.  However, being a judge, I know that judging can be highly subjective and sometimes people just have different opinions.  We re-added all of the numbers on our score sheets.  The math was right.  I didn’t think we could argue any of the specific scores we were given.  Again, I thought we were done.  But the coach wouldn’t let it go.  So she and I and the rest of our staff waited for 2 hours to speak to an official about the rankings.  Coach tried every appeal she could think of.  This guy was very nice and sympathetic, but he wasn’t budging.  He explained that he COULD have advanced us into semi’s, but he had to make a cut somewhere, and it just happened to be at 7.  He also explained that he cut it off there because there was a 4 point gap between 7th and 8th and only a 1 point gap between 8th and 9th.  Cutting at the largest score break is the industry standard, so again, I figured the issue was closed.

There was a little bit of crying.  Then we got on a bus and headed back to the hotel.  Me and staff were already talking about next year, tryouts and how we were going to definitely make it further.  The coach, on the other hand, was reading all of the fine print in the rule book.  By the way, she was doing this without any encouragement from the rest of us, who were all older and more experienced than she was.  In fact, we had each basically told her she was wasting her time.  And then, just as we were pulling into the hotel parking lot, she shouted out, “We should have advanced to semi’s!”

Coach explained that the rule book said at least 50% of the teams had to be advanced to the semi’s.  I said, “Yeah, and they did.  We had 19 in the division and 11 advanced.  That’s more than 50%.”  Coach replied, “Yeah, but only 7 advanced to semi’s.  The other 4 skipped semi’s and went all the way to finals.  And 7 is less than 50% of 19.  Even if you take out the 4 teams that went to finals and only count the division as 15 teams, 7 is still (barely) less than 50% of 15.”

This was brilliant.  She was absolutely right.  It might have been a loophole, but it was right there in the rule book, and I couldn’t think of a single argument against her.  We stayed on the bus and road back to the venue.

Once we got there, we waited another 2 hours to talk to the same official.  He was visibly unhappy to see us again.  I can’t say that I blamed him.  He was very busy running a major event.  Eventually, he sent someone else to talk to us.  We explained the math, just like I did a couple of paragraphs ago.  You could see her eyes light up when she understood the technicality that we brought up.  “I think you’re right.  I need to go check with someone.”  And she was gone.  About an hour later, and after several phone calls to the corporate office, she came back and told us they were advancing us and the 9th place team (because their score was so close to ours) into semi’s.  And there was much rejoicing!

Wrapping up the story, we competed the next day.  We performed much better, as did most teams in the division.  We moved up a couple of spots which felt pretty validating to the coaches and the team.  It was certainly a better feeling than we had when we thought we were out in the prelims.

Also, I want to give out some props to a couple of people for getting things right.  First, props to the competition officials.  Not only did they get it right, but they were very gracious about it.  They even thanked us and complimented us for “doing our job as coaches” and protecting our team’s interests.  We got in on a technicality, but how many times has a technicality (penalty for stepping on a sign or stepping out-of-bounds) cost a team a spot in semi’s.  It was nice to have a technicality work in our favor this time!  But mostly, a great big shout out to the coach who wouldn’t take no for an answer!  You trusted your feelings, you did the work and you got it fixed.

Make sure that when you take your teams to compete that you do what this coach did and study the rules back and forth.  It can really be the difference between ending your season on a high or a low note.

Easy to Judge = Higher Scores

June 9, 2011

Every competition is different and every judge is different so you have to take this advice with a grain of salt.  However, when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense.  Also, myself and every judge I’ve ever talked to feel this way, so maybe that says something.

Judging your routine has become a lot more objective than it used to be.  It wasn’t that long ago that judges had all the subjective discretion in the world to score the various categories on a score sheet.  One judge might feel like team Standing Tucks were a 10 out of 10.  Another judge might say that only gets 7 out of 10.  In a response to coaches’ demands for greater consistency, competitions have begun using “scoring grids.”  These grids spell out exactly what range you should score in for difficulty on each major category on the score sheet.  Usually the range only varies a couple of points, and where you score within that range is determined by execution, creativity, etc (which is where the subjectivity still fits in).  Long story short, a coach should be able to look at the grid and know almost exactly what score a routine should get.

That sounds like a great thing for judges, right?  After all, now judges don’t have to worry about coming up with their own scale for scoring.  Everything is spelled out for them.  However, this system has had one unfortunate side-effect. Since these grids are very “numbers-driven,” judges have to spend the majority of the routine trying to just count the skills they see until a team maxes out the category that judge is responsible for. 

I feel that this hurts teams that try to co-mingle several different elements in the same segment of the routine.  For instance, if you open with a basket toss, some standing tumbling, some running tumbling and maybe a stunt or two, this can be a very entertaining, dramatic start to your routine.  However, since you do not have 75% (or whatever % “the grid” asks for) of the team participating in any single category of the scoresheet, the judges for each category are now stuck waiting to see if will max out your category later in the routine.  In other words, instead of just sitting back and enjoying all of the creative, entertaining, difficult elements of your routine, they have to just focus on keeping a running tally in their head as to whether or not your team throws 15 more Toe Touch Backs to get the maximum Jump score.

You might be thinking, “That’s tough.  They are judges and that is their job.”  And you would be correct.  It is absolutely their job and they should get it right.  However, you have to understand that in the above scenario, a good judge is forced to either commit part of their concentration to remembering whatever number or cheerleaders participated in each element of that routine segment, OR they have to look down to their notes and write down what you just did so they don’t have to keep it in their head.  Either way, they are distracted from your performance.  If you are performing poorly, maybe that’s a good thing.  But since we all strive to perform well, you want the judges to be completely focused on your team’s every more so you can rack up as many points as possible.

So here is the solution.  Make it easy on the judges!  Especially in the toughest categories to keep track of, which are tumbling and stunts.

Here’s how you do that.  The first time you showcase your standing tumbling, make sure you are maxing out that score right then and there.  If you need 15 of your 20 girls throwing Tucks to max out, throw at least 15 on the spot.  Don’t throw 12 and have the other 8 girls in 2 stunt groups.  That puts your routine at 60% participation in standing tumbling and 40% participation in stunts.  Neither category has been maxed out and both the tumbling judge and the stunting judge are now busy doing math in their head instead of seeing how sharp your transition are and how clean your spacing is.  In other words, you are giving away points.

There is nothing a judge loves better than having their category maxed out in the first part of a routine.  There is nothing a judge hates more than the opposite.  Here is the worst case scenario for a tumbling judge.  In the opening, you have a small group (say 25% of the team) throw their standing tumbling.  That judge now has those numbers in their head.  Then, you do not put any other standing tumbling in the routine until the very end.  Throughout your performance, no matter how fun and enjoyable your performance is, that judge is stressed out worrying they might miss the other 75% of your standing tumbling.  They aren’t enjoying your performance and it is harder for them to give you high scores in the objective categories.

I tend to judge the Stunt category quite a bit.  I think it is because Stunts seem like a “guy” category to judge.  Anyway, to me, there is nothing better than a team going right into their elite stunt segment early in the routine and just maxing it out right there.  Once you have done that, I know that your range in stunts is between 8 and 10 and all I have to do now is watch your execution.  I am more relaxed.  I am noticing all of the little things you have choreographed that makes your routine special and memorable, and your scores are probably going up across the board.

I hope this makes some sense.  I think choreography is a very difficult task and I have much respect for those who do it and enjoy doing it.  When you choreograph your routines, try to keep the judges in mind.  The easier you make it on them, then probably, the easier they will make it on you at awards!

Stunt Safety

June 8, 2011

I have already written articles that touch on this subject.  I will probably have to repeat a few points but I will try not to be too redundant.  If you are interested in safe stunting I would highly recommend checking out the articles on Progressions and Communication, because they are both critical to safe stunt practices.

There is a vast amount of material that can be written about how to be safe while stunting.  I could never cover everything from a technical standpoint in just one article.  For that reason, I want to focus this article on personal habits that will help one to be safe while stunting.  But before I get into the meat of that material, I just want to reiterate the importance of following proper progressions.  The BEST way to be safe when stunting is to NEVER attempt any stunt if you have not previously mastered the fundamental techniques that lead up to that more advanced skill.  If you take your time in your progressions, you should always be safe in your stunts.

Moving on, one key habit of safe stunting is to be responsible for your physical readiness.  You wouldn’t drive a car if you had just pulled an all-nighter “studying” (or doing other stuff).  Obviously, this is because you would be physically and mentally impaired from a lack of rest.  The same is true of stunting.  You should not be flying in the air if you haven’t slept or eaten all day.  You should not be tossing teammates over your head if you are distracted from a death in the family or other tragedy.  You can not safely perform as a back spot if your ankle is being held together with tape and you can barely walk.  There are an infinite number of things that might affect your ability to focus on being safe in your stunts.  In general, you should only stunt if you are well physically, free of debilitating injury or illness, properly rested, and in a healthy mental state.  It is up to you (and/or your coach) to determine if you have some condition or circumstance that would prohibit you from stunting.  But if you are not sure, then you probably shouldn’t be stunting.

Be attentive.  This sort of goes along with the communication article.  You need to be paying attention so that you know exactly what stunt, transitions and/or dismounts you are supposed to be performing.  More injuries happen when someone thinks they are cradling when they are supposed to be stepping down than I care to think about.  But paying attention is also important throughout the stunt.  Bases should not be talking to each other about their day while basing, even if they think they are only performing a very basic stunt.  I have seen concussions out of shoulder sits and torn ACL’s come from thigh stands.  As soon as someone starts taking a stunt for granted, that is when it becomes the most dangerous.  Instead, everyone involved should be constantly watching for signs of a problem.  This will give you the best chance to make whatever adjustments you need to save a stunt (which is always safer than trying to catch a falling flyer).  It will also give you a chance to catch your flyer in the event of a fall.

Practice safe emergency dismounts so you know how to perform them when a stunt falls.  For the record, any time a stunt falls it is an emergency because you must act immediately and effectively or risk a serious injury to everyone involved in the stunt.  It is kind of like having fire drills.  You have to practice what to do when things go wrong or you will not have the muscle memory to jump into action and handle a problem.  Like a fire drill, everyone in a stunt should have an assigned duty if a stunt should fall.  Each base should know what direction of falling is their primary responsibility to cover.  Flyers should be taught to fall safely with their arms up and not kick or flail their arms or legs.  I also encourage stunt groups to practice “sweep” cradles from all of their stunts.  If a stunt is getting ready to fall, sometimes the safest way to dismount is for the back spot to call a sweep and for the flyer to be cradled in that way.

An important element of practicing safe emergency dismounts is correcting unsafe practices when they occur.  In most instances, someone can get away with relatively minor unsafe practices and not have an injury occur.  The bases can drop the flyer to her feet from the shoulder height and she will probably be okay.  Minor issues like this are usually the result of the group simply being in a hurry to move on to the next attempt.  Sometimes it is the result of laziness.  Either way, as a coach or teammate, when you see these lapses in safe technique it is important that you correct them every single time.  Safety is a habit, and so is the lack of safety.

The final point I will make about safety is to never be in a hurry.  When people rush, they make mistakes they would not ordinarily make.  If you start to feel like you are rushing, announce that it is time for a water break.  If you are coaching practice and you do not want to break (for instance you want to keep the team warm and their heart rate up), switch from stunting to jumps for a few minutes and then return to stunting.  Rushing during stunts is not the only time that it can be harmful.  You should not rush to get a new trick.  This is another progressions issue.  I mention it (again) because I frequently hear teams announce in August that they HAVE to get their Full-up Libs by Nationals (as an example).  My response to this is to ask, “Or what?”  The truth is, you do not HAVE to do so.  The world will keep turning if you don’t.  Your team will still compete.  The season will not end.  You should certainly work hard, but if you are rushing, you are quite possibly biting off more than you can chew.  This almost always lends itself to unsafe practices.  And remember that NOTHING slows down your progressions like a serious injury.

Stunt safety is something you have to be constantly aware of.  You must always practice correct and safe techniques so that they become habits.  But remember that the real key to safe stunting is to use good judgement!

Tick Tocks

June 7, 2011

There are a couple of moments from cheerleading that I will always remember.  For instance, I will always remember being amazed to the point of disbelief the first time I saw a Toss Cupie.  Over time I came to learn that this was not nearly as difficult as I thought, but as a cheerleading novice, I was floored by it.  Another one of those moments was when I was a first year cheerleader attending college camp and Pat Wedge demonstrated a Tick Tock.  For those that do not know, Pat had just won his second consecutive partner stunt title.  In his championship routine, he performed a left to right Heel Stretch Tick Tock (not Lib to Lib like we mostly see these days).  Seeing the inventor of the trick performing it live right in front of me was exceedingly impressive.  I have been somewhat fascinated with Ticks Tocks ever since.

There are many, many varieties of Tick Tocks.  They can be done as a coed stunt, or in an all-girl stunt group.  They can be done from right to left or left to right.  They can done from Stretch to Lib, from Arabesque to Stretch (one of my favorites!), or the more traditional Lib to Lib or Stretch to Stretch.  They can be done from the shoulder level up to an extended level (sometimes called a power press).  They can even be done from the ground up to the top (sometimes called a switch-up, or a giddy-up).  But with all of these variations, there are still a few techniques that you can count on to help you in every Tick Tock that you perform.

The first technique is the use of “air-time.”  I did an entire article about “air-time” and it is available under the Stunts tab, so I won’t go into too much detail.  But basically, how this relates to Tick Tocks is that you want the bases to release the flyer’s foot and re-establish their grip on the new foot while the flyer is still weightless.  That is at the point in the “pop” before the flyer really starts coming down again.  In other words, it is at the top of “pop.”  Again, please see the previous article for more explanation of this point.

Another technique is for the bases to only “pop” with their legs and by shrugging their shoulders.  They should never bend their arms to pop.  This is because you want your bases to catch the Tick Tock with locked out arms.  If they catch it with bent arms it is much harder to keep the stunt in the air.  The bases can absorb the shock of the catch with their legs, but should not do so with their arms.

One other point for bases is to try not to change their grips.  In coed stunts this is pretty simple.  You would only change your grip if the Tick Tock involved switching from an Arabesque grip to a Lib or Stretch grip.  But with all-girl stunt groups, we are accustomed to having a “main base grip” for the base that is on the side of the flyer’s locked out leg and a “side base grip” for the base on the other side.  During a Tick Tock, the flyer changes the leg she is standing on, so it seems intuitive that the bases might change their grips.  You can have your bases do so it you like, but all of that fumbling of hands makes it much harder than it needs to be.  I have found that it is much simpler to have the bases keep their hands in whatever grip positions they started in.

For the flyers, it is important to put your second foot in the exact same place that your first foot was.  A lot of flyers try to “step over” to the other base.  Remember that in a Tick Tock, you should not travel.  Also, your bases do not want to have to move to go get you.  They just want to pop you straight up, have you pick one foot up and put the other foot right back in the same place where the first foot was (and where their hands are waiting).

Another important issue for the flyers is to make sure your leg is locked out by the time you have your foot in the bases hands.  If the flyers leg is bent when the bases catch the foot, it will be a less stable stunt.  Also, when the flyer stands up on the bent leg, that will momentarily increase the weight on the bases and make it harder to support the flyer. 

If you are trying to learn a Tick Tock, there are several ways you can work up to it that might make it easier.  If you are doing extended Tick Tocks, start off with the flyer holding the hands of a “post” (or two) who is in an elevator (half).  Gradually have the post offer less and less support until the post is no longer needed.  Before I even get to that point, I like to teach the Switch-Up where the flyer loads into the bases on her left foot and switched to a right footed Lib on the way up to the top.  This gives the stunt group the feel of a Tick Tock but without having to balance a Lib before the transition to the second leg and without so much impact at the end of the trick.

Probably the most fundamental drill I use for Tick Tocks is simply having the flyer stand in a left Lib on a line on the floor and having her switch to her right Lib with her foot landing in the exact same spot on the line.  In doing this, the flyer is practicing landing in the same spot, landing with a locked out leg and performing the transition quickly enough to still be weightless if she had been “popped” in a real Tick Tock.

Most stunts, including Tick Tocks, are way too complicated to cover everything in just one article, so I am cutting this one off now.  Please feel free to post any specific issues or questions about Tick Tocks that I have not touched on (there are MANY), and I will try to post a useful reply.

Bad Attitudes

June 6, 2011

Dealing with different personalities is one of the most challenging aspects of any group activity.  It is also one of the  most potentially rewarding!  When personalities conflict, it seems that someone is always labeled as having a “bad” attitude.  Whether one attitude is good or bad is completely dependent on who is assigning the label.  A truly exceptional coach and teammate is able to find a way to motivate and work with any person, regardless of their attitude.  Having said that, here are a few common traits that are sometimes considered part of a bad attitude and what you might do to help yourself deal with them.

One of the hardest things to deal with is a lazy person.  Whether you area a coach or a teammate of a lazy person, it is frustrating.  You can only succeed in reaching your team goals if everyone is on the same page and moving in the same direction.  When you perceive someone to be lazy, it is important to first consider things from their point of view.  Ask yourself why they are not working as hard as you think they should.  Maybe they are dealing with some kind of disappointment in cheerleading, like not getting to stunt in the group that they wanted to be in.  Something like that can certainly be de-motivating.  Maybe they have some personal difficulties outside of the team.  Either way, it could be useful to find an appropriate time to ask them if something is distracting them.  Usually that will be the case.  And most people are more than willing to open up to someone who is sincerely interested in hearing about their troubles.  Once someone knows that another person cares about them, they will be more open to encouragement and motivation from that person.  I find that this works much better than certain other tactics like calling someone out in front of the team.  It might feel good when you do it, but it usually has the opposite effect of what is intended.  Embarrassing or angering someone with a bad attitude is only likely to make things worse, so try to avoid that approach.

Gossip, especially negative gossip, is another aspect of a bad attitude.  This is also something that surfaces from time to time with people that usually have good attitudes.  It is probably unrealistic to think you can ever completely get rid of all gossip, so keep your expectations reasonable.  A lot of people suggest dealing with gossip by simply walking away and not participating.  I like this high road approach.  However, if you are brave enough, I think confronting a gossip with what they are doing is even more effective.  Saying something like, “That person is my teammate and I am not comfortable talking behind their back like this,” will send the message very clearly that not only will you not participate in gossip but that you do not condone it. 

Another trait that may be hard to deal with is a cheerleader who never wants to share the spotlight.  This is a rather selfish attitude and it can quickly bring down the attitudes of everyone else.  Most teams have people of various skill and experience levels, so it is reasonable to expect some cheerleaders will be showcased more than others.  However, the same cheerleader should not be in the front and center of every formation.  If there really is THAT big of a talent gap between one cheerleader and everyone else then there might be a coaching problem to deal with.  Anyway, people that feel the need to always be in the front are usually dealing with some other insecurities.  As a teammate, it is best to just be patient and encouraging with those people.  It is also important to give plenty of praise and encouragement to other people on the team.  This not only lets the other cheerleaders know they are important, it lets the glory hound know that other people are important as well.  If it ever becomes to big of a problem, you should let your coach know about it.  As a coach, it is very important for your team’s success that you are utilizes everyone’s skills and abilities.  No matter how good one star might be, they will never outshine the whole team.

The last difficult trait I want to bring up is the teammate who thinks they are a coach.  They may just be trying to help, but it seems like they are constantly telling everyone else what they are doing wrong.  This can be a big problem and really alienate someone from the rest of the team.  As a coach, I have had to deal with this situation pretty often.  Sometimes I make a rule that only a coach is permitted to give criticism at practice.  However, not only does that rule usually get ignored, it isn’t even a good rule.  A team can improve much quicker if people are allowed to offer suggestions and help to their teammates.  Making blanket comments to the whole team to keep comments positive is another good idea that usually doesn’t work for long.  People just forget to reinforce the good and only want to point out mistakes.  If you notice a teammate constantly criticising other teammates or even yourself, you have to remember to be patient.  Tell them that you appreciate their suggestions.  Ask them if they have noticed things that you are doing correctly that they think you should continue to do.  This will act as a gentle reminder to them that they should reinforce the positive as well as pointing out problem areas.  And sometimes, you just have to let your coach know that it is bothering you.  As a coach, you have to be ready to tell such a cheerleader if and when they are crossing the line of a helpful teammate and becoming a bossy know-it-all. 

In general, none of the traits discussed above need to become major distractions to your team.  They can almost all be dealt with effectively by trying to understand what is causing the behavior.  Trying to be patient and offering positive behavior to replace the “bad” attitudes is a good step getting everyone on your team on the same page with a good attitude.

Back Head Springs

June 1, 2011

This article might repeat some of the advice in earlier tumbling articles.  You might want to go back and take a look at them for additional suggestions about tumbling and hand springs, specifically.

One of the cutest things at the cheer gym is the little Mini cheerleader throwing her series of back handsprings, bouncing her head off the spring floor each time, never missing a beat.  At that age, it is cute because they are too small to do any damage to themselves, AND because you know they will eventually learn how to straighten their arms and develop strong, accelerated back handsprings.  At least you hope they will.  Anyway, here are some tips to help you turn your HEADspring into a HANDspring.

First and foremost, lift up with your arms when you jump.  Do NOT just throw your hands back behind you and reach for the ground.  Doing that will cause you to undercut.  That is when your hands land only about a foot or so from where your feet took off from.  The shortness of the handspring is only a symptom of the problem.  The problem is that instead of using all of your strength to get off the ground and jump, you cut off almost all of your power by arching your back prior to jumping, causing you to take a backward nose dive into the ground behind you.

I wrote a whole article about accelerating handsprings that talks about how to jump correctly and avoid this undercutting.  I won’t repeat it all here, so feel free to go back and check it out if you need or want more details about it.

Here is something else to remember with your arms.  Once you have jumped up all the way and you start to arch and go over the top, keep stretching with your arms.  If you reach up hard when you jump, your shoulders will come up and touch your ears.  You have to keep stretching all the way over the top or your shoulders will reflexively relax and just fall back into place.  Your arms are still “up” but they are not fully extended.  Instead of being in line with your ears they are more in line with your eyes.  With your arms in this position, you will land in a push-up instead of in a handstand.  It takes a lot more effort to get to your feet from a push-up than a handstand, so do yourself a favor and don’t forget to keep stretching those arms!

My final bit of advice to stay off of your knees is not to crumble once you get to your hands.  A lot of people are able to get all the way to the handstand, but then they bend their elbows and land in a big heap on the floor.  To fix this, sometimes you have to go back and take a look at all of your handspring techniques, like sitting, jumping, reaching etc.  But sometimes, all you have to do is remember to keep your eyes open.  Seriously!  One of the first things I ask a student who is landing their handspring on their knees is, “What did you see right before you landed?”  The answer is almost always, “Nothing.”  Well that means you closed your eyes.  And if you closed your eyes, you were probably also flinching, tucking your head in, and anticipating the floor.  Basically, you were scared of hitting the floor hard on your hands and you relaxed to absorb the impact.

This is the exact WRONG thing to do.  When your hands contact the floor, you want your shoulders shrugged up by your ears, arms locked out and eyes looking right at your hands.  Maintaining this “rigid” frame with your upper body will cause you to bound right off of your hands, up and over, onto your feet.  If you look away and/or flinch, your bent arms and relaxed shoulders will absorb the impact, but you won’t bound anywhere.  Instead, you will stall in your handstand (or push up) and likely crumple to your knees.

If you are to the point that you can throw your back handspring safely on your own, but you are still landing on your knees, there are several things you can do to take the next step to improving.  First, I suggest video taping yourself tumbling.  You can learn a TON by watching yourself, and you will probably be surprised to see you are not doing what you think you are doing.  Also, try practicing on a cheese (wedge) mat.  If you can’t get into a gym, find a gentle grassy hill to tumble down.  Tumbling down a hill gives you a little more acceleration and a little more height to rotate, all of which help you get momentum to push over to your feet.  You can gradually work your way down the hill to smaller slopes until you are throwing and landing on a flat surface.

Finally, work on your conditioning.  A big part of rotating in tumbling is your core body strength.  That means working on your abs and your hip flexors.  Extra work on shotguns, crunches, leg lifts, etc. might be all you need to turn your HEADspring into a good HANDspring!