Youth and patience – two things that go together about as well as oil and water. And it doesn’t help that nowadays, instant gratification has become the norm; instant messaging, instant coffee, INSTAgram… it’s all now, now now!
It’s no wonder that athletes these days expect similar, instantaneous results when it comes to their tumbling. Unfortunately, many coaches have fallen victim to this mentality as well.
As such, you end up with athletes that step on the competition floor, ready to “throw” tumbling skills that they’re just not ready for. This is why injuries and mental blocks are so rampant in cheerleading, and it can set an athlete’s progress back by years.
So I decided to do something about it.
I wanted to create a system that helps athletes evolve their tumbling at the fastest possible pace, while still making sure that technique and safety are not compromised.
You see, competitive gymnastics & power tumbling programs have the technique and safety part down. But most of these athletes train anywhere from 15 to 20+ hours per week, which is not feasible to a large majority.
Cheerleaders have the speed thing down, but often at the cost of sloppy technique and safety (with the exception of retired gymnasts that go into cheer).
What I ended up with, was a system of coaching where there’s an intense focus on perfection before progression™. In fact, it boils down to 3 words…
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Each “P” represents an integral piece of the puzzle, and each is backed by proven training concepts. I’ll be going into greater detail into the whole system in just a moment. But before I do, let me take a second to explain why the perfection before progression philosophy, is something you should adopt.
Because I get it — when you’ve done something a certain way for years, it can be a hassle to make changes. But I promise you it’s worth it.
Athletes: Why You Should Care About Perfection Before Progression™
At the end of the day, I know that having fierce tumbling skills as soon as possible is all you really want. Skills that’ll put you in consideration for the last pass.
And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. Last passes in a routine have the most flare, and usually get the most attention.
But don’t forget that it’s a double edged sword — if you nail it, people will remember you. But if you bust, people will remember that as well. In fact, you might just become the next fail video superstar.
While on the surface it may seem like you’re spending more time on basics and drills than everyone else, the secret to nailing down perfection before progression, is that it acts like a savings account.
Think of it this way: it might suck when you have to save your cash as you watch other athletes your age blow it on shopping sprees, Chipotle and Starbucks every week. But if you stay disciplined, then in a year from now you’ll have the luxury to get something significant. Such as a car or a big trip to Cancun.
In a similar fashion, I’ve seen many athletes ignore my recommendations and go on to chuck skills such as layouts and fulls when they weren’t ready… only to see them struggling with the same skill 2 years later. They chose progression (buying lattes and fast food every day) instead of taking that little bit of extra time and pouring it into perfection (saving their money until it was ready to be spent).
But that’s not even the worst part. Those that rush skills have a higher chance of nagging injuries and possible mental blocks.
If that sounds about as un-fun as brushing your hair out after competition, you’d be correct!
I know athletes who barely had their back tuck 2 years ago, but because they trusted in perfection before progression philosophy, they’re now doing double fulls like it’s a walk in the park. I don’t know about you, but going from tucks to doubles in 2 years is actually a pretty awesome rate of progression. Most cheerleaders or gymnasts would kill for that!
The bottom line is this: while coaches can guide you, it’s ultimately your choice of which path you’d like to take. Just remember, today’s sacrifice will become tomorrow’s success.
Coaches: Why You Should Care About Perfection Before Progression™
Your job is to create a team that’s competitive. A team that’ll hold its own during competitions. A team that’ll bring home the win — because that’s what competitive sports is all about.
This means if 80% of your girls and/or boys need to have their full, then they have to get it by competition time, no matter what!
The problem is, whether you own a gym or not, it is also your job to do no harm. To develop athletes. To keep them as loyal, paying customers.
Sure, you can get an athlete who barely has a layout to cut corners and push them into learning a full. In fact, you can literally brute-forcing them into getting the skill. Many have done it, and the athlete may even land that skill at competition. But sooner or later there is a price to pay; mental blocks, stress related problems and injuries will come.
And when they do, you’ll be scrambling to replace them… usually at the last minute because the cheer gods, in their twisted sense of humor, have decided that’s just the way things should work.
What the Perfection before Progression philosophy does is build long term, reliable tumblers. It extends their life as athletes and thus, strengthens the team they’re on.
Plus, it gives you future team building opportunities! Let’s say a chunk of your level 5 cheerleaders aged out… now what?
Well, start an open team! Spread the word, advertise the tryouts and in a month you’ll have a whole new group of athletes and paying members. If your gym already has an open team, then that’s even better as the new group of kids can mean your open team just became a World’s contender.
And that’s never bad for business.
“Today’s sacrifice will become tomorrow’s success. Choose Perfection Before Progression™”
Phase 1: Practice
“Repetition is the mother of skill” – Tony Robbins
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once. But I fear the man who has practiced one kick, 10,000 times” – Bruce Lee
Before you can even consider being an elite tumbler, you should know that without actually spending time in the gym, you won’t get anywhere.
I know, quite the obvious statement right?
I thought so too… until I realized it wasn’t. I still find it crazy when athletes email me asking for tips on how they can be a level 5 tumbler, yet when I ask them about how often they train, it’s usually no more than one or two hours per week.
That’s just not enough volume for the circuits in your brain to build a strong connection to nail a skill. A more popular term for this is “muscle memory.” Regardless of what you want to call it, the only way to develop it is through doing countless repetitions.
While watching videos of others is helpful, visualization is beneficial, and reading articles will give you the right information, nothing can replace actually going through the motion of the skill you’re trying to accomplish.
That is why drills are so effective — they break down the skill into pieces, and you get to perfect each piece in a logical order. Then when you put these pieces together, viola! You have a new skill.
“Drills pay the bills,” as I like to say.
Before All Else, Increase Your VOT (Volume Of Training)
The foundation of Perfection before Progression depends on how much time you’re actually spending in the gym.
If things don’t seem to be working, the first step is to make sure your volume of training is adequate. About 3-5 hours per week of pure tumbling training is a good bare minimum number to aim for.
If you’re not currently training that much, are you willing to set aside this amount of time to have the skills you want? Because that’s what it’s going to take. I don’t know of any world class tumblers that got to the level they’re at today, by training only an hour or two a week.
But I know plenty that spent every waking moment they could going upside down, and the results speak for themselves.
“I don’t know of any world-class tumblers that got to where they are today, by training only one to two hours a week”
Phase 2: Perfection
This phase is where the majority of athletes (and even coaches) drop the ball. Favoring progression before the basics have been perfected is a rookie mistake.
Here are a few examples of the progression before everything else mentality that I encounter all too often:
- Parent: She learnt her round off, it’s only a level 1 skill. I think shes ready to try a back handspring now, please help make that happen.
- Athlete: OMG I just landed a back handspring. Next week I’m going to try two of them! Oh and I think I should also start doing some tucks.
- Coach: Hey nice layout you got there… it’s piked but let’s try twisting anyway. Don’t worry you can totally throw it. I’ll spot you.
Amateur hour at its finest. I’m telling you that in my class and clinics, there’s no place for it.
The Obvious Question: How exactly do you define “perfection”?
It’s a very valid question. For example, if an athlete is working layouts, at what point can you say “ok Suzy, I think you’re ready to start twisting” ?
Here are a few things I look for…
See If The Brain Is Ready To Handle It
First, we have to check to see if the skill being worked on has reached the 4th state of learning — unconscious competence. This is when someone is so good at a task, that they don’t have to think about it. Tying shoelaces is a great example.
So why should we check for unconscious competence first?
Because if an athlete is still thinking about the foundation level skill, what do you think will happen when you add more difficulty to it? They’ll bail, and most likely hurt themselves.
When someone is going for the layout full, the last thing I want them to be thinking about is stuff like:
- “Will my body be straight during the layout part?”
- “I wonder if my set will be low again. Gotta remember to get my arms up, toes behind, chest down if possible.”
- “My round off was a bit sideways that time, gotta lunge more.”
These corrections should’ve already been hammered into them, so the only thing on their mind should be the motor pattern for the full twist.
Remember this Golden Rule: the less stuff the brain has to process while the body is upside down, the greater the chance of successfully landing a skill. It’s just that simple.
Sidenote: The word “perfection” is a bit extreme since in reality, nothing is perfect. It’s more about mastery and the intent of wanting to be perfect, that makes this training philosophy so powerful for both athletes and coaches. Plus, “mastery before progression” doesn’t nearly roll off the tongue as well as “perfection before progression” …so there’s always that!
Making It vs. Doing It
One of my favorite mantras during coaching is “do it nice, or you gotta do it twice!”
My personal goal is to embed this phrase into their brains from the time they start their warm up, to the time they are doing drills, and working skills.
One of the biggest shifts you can make (either as a coach or athlete) is differentiating between making it, and just doing it.
Let’s say an athlete is learning how to do a RO BHS. One of the drills I’ll set up is a RO jump back station that’s at least hip height. Usually I’ll stack some foam blocks and get them to rebound over it, and land on a crash mat. Another drill that’s similar is to get them to rebound on a bunch of stacked crash mats.
Now what I don’t say is: “do 20 and move on” — because while 20 might seem like a productive number, there’s no guarantee that the work they did, produced the results I was looking for.
Instead, I’ll say “make 10 clean jump backs. It only counts if you don’t knock any over, and your arms are by your ears.”
Now, they not only have to keep working till it’s right (it may take 30 or even 50 tries) but they have clear markers of success. If they make it over the blocks but their arms are all over the place, the athlete knows it doesn’t count. There is no guesswork, no random skill throwing, and no room for a discussion. It just works. That’s how you use Perfection before Progression in a practical manner.
“The less the brain has to process while upside down, the greater the chance of successfully landing a skill”
That’s What She S.A.I.D
In case it wasn’t obvious, this training philosophy isn’t based on theory and guess work. Nor is it something I slapped together like a lunchtime sandwich. Each of the phases and the training concepts that I talk about are based on actual results achieved by athletes, along with research pulled from the field of sport science.
Which brings me to the SAID principle.
It stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand, and it’s one of the most important concepts for coaches and athletes to understand. It is literally the bedrock that Perfection is built on.
In simple terms, it means that when you place stress upon the body, it will start to adapt to these stresses so it can better deal with them in the future.
For example, a tennis player’s dominant arm will have stronger bones and larger muscles because it’s always moving at a high velocity and striking and object. The shinbones of a Muay Thai kickboxer can have a density rating higher than steel because they’re constantly striking with it. Gymnasts and Powerlifters develop clauses on their hands since they have to hold on to a bar and manage tremendous amounts of resistance (either from the body, or the weight plates).
I think you’re starting to get the picture. But what a lot of people tend to underestimate is the first word of this principle — Specific.
See, your body isn’t just adapting to stress, it’s trying to get better at exactly what you practice. So if you’re doing arched handstands, sloppy round offs and slow tucks, that is precisely what you’ll get good at.
The SAID principle echoes the belief that only perfect practice, makes perfect. The quality of every rep you do, counts. So progressing sloppy back walkovers leads to sloppy back handsprings. Progressing sloppy layouts leads to sloppy fulls. And if you keep progressing your sloppy skills to something harder, eventually one of two things will happen: Injury or mental blocks.
“Do it NICE, or you gotta do it TWICE!” – Coach Sahil
The Role Of Spotting
Do you remember the movie Hitch, with Will Smith? If not, go watch it. It’s hilarious dating/rom-com type movie. Fellas, don’t worry you’ll enjoy it as well.
Anyways, at one point Will was teaching Kevin James how to kiss a girl, and instructs him that he is to go only 90% of the way in…. and then wait.
Only the last 10% is to come from her.
Well as a spotter, you are that chick.
The point is, if you plan on spotting an athlete then you should only have to do the last 10-20% of the work. Athletes, if your spotter is literally carrying you through the attempted skill, you have no business trying it in the first place.
To be honest, I try and take it a step further and only spot when an athlete is 95% of the way there. There are a lot of benefits to this:
- Less physical work for me means I’m not exhausted in just a few hours.
- More confidence on the part of the athlete, since they’re doing most of the work.
- A hands-off approach forces you to implement a smooth progression structure that’s nearly fool proof.
- When the athlete can basically do the skill on their own, the safety of both the spotter and the athlete improves dramatically. Coaches don’t get limbs flying into their face, and athletes leave happy with a new skill; win-win.
- It reduces dependency on spotting, which is very key during competition warm ups. The last thing I want to do is spot an army of kids in a span of 3 minutes like a mad man while my face suffers an onslaught of glitter and hairspray. Been there, done that, and never again!
On top of that, my unwritten rule is that I generally don’t spot beyond a layout. Sometimes I’ll spot a layout full or standing full if it’s their very first time on floor, but none of my athletes have needed it. In fact, most of the time they’ll insist on trying it on their own — because they’re used to it.
And when it comes to double fulls? Well let’s just say that if an athlete ever needs to be spotted for this, they’re simply not ready to attempt it. Some of the best tumbling coaches I know, echo this belief. I’ve personally taught plenty of double fulls, and I’ve yet to spot a single one. Nor will I ever need to.
Sidenote: there is a small exception to the 90-10 rule, and that’s usually based on equipment/facility restrictions. If all you have is access to a sprung floor and nothing else, then spotting becomes essential. But you still have a choice as to what skill and/or progression to spot. I put on tumbling clinics for coaches and go over how to train athletes to a high level in under-equipped gyms. If you’re interested in these clinics, please go here to fill out an interest form and I’ll be in touch.
“The Perfection before Progression system builds long term, reliable tumblers. It extends their life as athletes and thus, strengthens the team they’re on”
Phase 3: Progression
When you follow the 3 P’s, an athlete not only develops a strong foundation for success, but the skill progressions become so smooth that they’ll instinctively know when they’ve earned the right to move on.
It’s like having the headlights on while driving at night. You may not be able to see your destination that is 30 miles away, but you can see a few hundred feet in front of you — enough to provide a good idea of where you’re going.
It is arguably the most exciting phase of the system because this is where all the hard work comes together, and new skills are landed.
This is where one back handspring turns into two, pikes become layouts, front tucks become arabians, and halfs turn into fulls.
But knowing the next logical step in a progression ladder, is where many drop the ball.
In fact, many don’t have a proper tumbling progression ladder to begin with. They just practice whatever. A good example is the back pike; it’s crazy to me how many athletes and coaches think that after mastering the tuck, layouts are next in line.
Nuh uh sister, the pike comes next!
The reason? It has similar mechanics to a tuck which the athlete is already used to (such as pulling the lower body over the head to initiate the rotation). But at the same time, it includes an element that they’re going to have to perfect and work at — keeping the legs dead straight by locking the knees while upside down.
Once a pike is mastered, what happens when you drive your hips through, and extend yourself straight? If you said “it becomes a layout”, you may move to the front of the class, grasshopper!
A Few Tried-N-True Progression Orders You Should Adopt
- RO BHS before standing BHS
- RO tuck or RO BHS tuck before standing tuck
- Pikes before layouts
- Halfs before fulls
- Layout double fulls before standing fulls
Obviously, there are many more progression orders that exist, but these are top 5 of the most misunderstood. In fact, when I run my Intensive Tumbling Clinic for Coaches, I cover each progression great detail, with video examples. If you’re interested in having a clinic like this take pace in your gym, please click here to fill out the interest form, and I’ll be in touch.
“The SAID principle echoes the belief that only perfect practice, makes perfect.”Tweet This
3 Strikes, And You’re Back To Basics!
Because tumbling is so complex, the training is never linear. This means that while the Perfection before Progression provides the closest thing we have to a “formula for success”, it’s never guaranteed.
The system can’t say that if you have X and Y that you’ll get Z right away. But what it CAN say is the following: if you master X and Y, there’s a very good chance that you’ll get Z while reducing your risk of injuries.
But sometimes, Z never happens. Example: an athlete may have a beautiful back tuck on the trampoline, the Tumble Trak and is pretty competent at all the drills you made them do. When it comes time to perform it on floor, they’re constantly under-rotating it. Not just once, but over and over.
If that’s the case, don’t force them to keep trying. My rule is if they failed 3 times in a row on a particular surface, we take a step back.
In the case of this athlete, I’ll usually set them up with a drill that helps speed up their tuck rotation, and a station that closely mimics the environment they failed at – such as doing it into a pit that’s been levelled off with crash mats. Once they make 5-10 successful attempts, we take it back to floor and try again.
Use Proven Markers Of Success
As I stated earlier, while this philosophy isn’t 100% foolproof, it is damn close. Over the years there are certain “markers of success” which I’ve relied on, to help athletes fast track the skills they wish to learn.
Below is a list of some of my most popular ones. If they are practiced to perfection, there’s a high chance they’ll achieve the results I’ve mentioned — all else being equal.
- Unassisted handstand – the longer they can hold it, the more it improves tightness in the BHS. Also pays dividends during layouts later on.
- High vertical jump – greatly improves chances of landing a standing tuck.
- Improving core strength – pretty much improves all aspects of tumbling.
- Better diet/nutrition – there’s no cheating physics; a lighter athlete with more energy and better muscular development will see tremendous gains in their tumbling. As a side effect, when they look better, they usually feel better about themselves. This boost in confidence carries over. Pick up a copy of The Cheer Diet if you’d like to learn more.
- Perfect layouts – shortens the time it takes for athletes to learn fulls, and they rotate much faster.
- Long BHS – allows athletes to pick up the concept of “blocking” much quicker, which gives them more height for end skills. And more height allows them to progress to fulls and doubles faster.
- Standing arabian – I’ve found it to be a beneficial prerequisite to standing fulls. It really shortens the learning curve for most athletes.
- Tumbling uphill – develops tremendous amounts of power when they step back on regular floor.
- Improving flexibility – reduces chances of injuries and helps clean up technique. However, athletes that are hypermobile (rhythmic gymnasts and dancers in particular) generally do not benefit. In fact, they are more susceptible to injuries because they have a hard time staying tight. Flexibility has a clear point of diminishing returns in the world of tumbling. If you’re hypermobile, spend extra time on conditioning and on holding important body shapes.
The Conditioning Phase
Over the years, I’ve really reduced the amount of time my cheerleaders spend on conditioning …(dramatic pause)… inside the gym.
Now before you think I’ve gone insane, hear me out.
There’s a very good reason this system works so damn quickly — because time in the gym is spent specifically on technique, drills and eventually, progressions.
As I stated before, most athletes I work with don’t have the luxury to train 20+ hours per week (and neither do I if I’m honest. Yes, Coach Sahil does have a life, shocking I know.)
This means that the time spent training has to be maximized.
Building strength is without a doubt, very important. Heck I even wrote an article on the correct type of conditioning you should be doing to improve your tumbling.
But you don’t need access to a sprung floor and a trampoline to do exercises like pushups, handstands, squats etc. All that can be done at home. Now if you’re not willing to spend time on such homework, then you obviously don’t want to tumble as badly as you thought.
Personally, I think conditioning homework is a helluva lot more fun than being forced to read Shakespeare. But that’s just me.
What I’ve done for my athletes is created a video, along with a complete training plan which they can follow outside the gym. All that’s needed is a yoga mat and a pair of dumbbells. Think of it like one of those workout DVD’s, minus the shockingly bad music.
Now most coaches, when they hear of this approach, usually have the following concern:
“But what if they don’t do their conditioning homework?”
Then you’ll know. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but it doesn’t take long to spot weakness when someone’s tumbling. It’s near impossible to hide (athletes, take note of this).
The upside of this approach is that you and your athletes can spend more time on actually learning and developing cheer and tumbling skills. What’s more, you can always default back to making them condition inside the gym, should you sense that there’s a whole bunch of slacking going on.
Where To Go From Here
The philosophy behind perfection before progression has been in development for a long time, and I’ve seen it produce some really stunning tumbling passes over the years. It is my sincere hope that you picked up a few things that you can apply to your own training (or your team).
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