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Safety must be primary concern in any tumbling program

This is an excerpt from Tumbling Basics by Kathleen Ortiz.

Increase mental discipline and self-esteem with
Tumbling Basics!


Safety is an extremely important aspect of any tumbling program. Therefore, it must be your primary concern when setting up your equipment. USA Gymnastics has a safety handbook (Gymnastics Risk Management, 2009 Edition) that covers many aspects of safety, some of which are included in this section. Remember to be careful of traffic patterns. I typically have my students rotate in a clockwise manner. They realize this quickly and then automatically know how to rotate. Students rotate on a signal to keep from developing bottlenecks, so they are not tempted to cause disturbances. Also, make sure to maintain clearance from walls and doorways, unless a wall is being used as a support for a specific skill or exercise. Do not alter mats in any way, and always use them for their intended purposes.

You should keep records of any unusual occurrences or injuries. If an injured student is old enough, I let the student read the incident report and sign it or add anything I may have omitted. Keep these records for a very long time. If a student has sustained an injury inside or outside of your class, make sure the student gives you a doctor's note stating that he or she is allowed to participate fully in your class.

For some reason kids love to dive onto their heads. Remind your students that they must always practice safe landing procedures, which includes landing on their feet, to help prevent injuries. Do not assume they know how to land. Check to see that your students understand to land first on the balls of the feet and then the heels, not flat footed or on the toes. They need to bend their knees a minimum of 45 degrees on landings (many students will land with their knees locked, which can result in serious injury). They also need to maintain a hollow position in the trunk (abdomen drawn in with the backs slightly rounded). The trunk should be stable on landings. (See figure 1.1.)

Encourage your students to keep their eyes open when performing skills. Many students will close their eyes when they go upside down, which can result in a lack of kinesthetic awareness. Ask your students if they saw a body part, the mat, or something else in the gym, if you think their eyes were closed. This will help them to focus on maintaining visual awareness. Each chapter contains references to some visual cues. Also stress the importance of keeping the tongue inside the mouth during all skills. It's common to stick the tongue out while concentrating on a new skill, which can result in biting it.

When teaching new tumbling skills, always remember to teach the basics first. Do not push the students to learn new skills too quickly. Take your time and teach the skills in stages. Extra matting is never a replacement for students' readiness (USA Gymnastics 2009). Try to teach skills on each side (left and right) so that students develop equal strength and flexibility on both sides of the body.

Starting Your Class

Students entering the gym should not be allowed on the equipment until you have prepared them for the day's activity. Once everyone is assembled and ready, every class should begin with a warm-up. This should consist of 5 to 10 minutes of aerobic-type movement, such as running, hopping, skipping, jumping, dancing, jumping jacks, or any other high-energy movement that involves the large muscle groups. Students need to raise their core body temperatures so that their muscles are prepared to respond efficiently. Students should follow the aerobic warm-up with stretching of all the major muscle areas to prepare the body for movement. Each circuit contains a suggestion for warming up your students.

In some of the warm-ups, you may want to play a game or an activity. Vary the activities and be creative to add excitement and enjoyment. There are several activities, but here are a few:

  • Stop and go. Use a locomotor skill like running, walking, skipping, hopping, crab walking, bear crawling, or jumping that you designate and demonstrate. Teach respect for personal space and spatial awareness by having them move without touching each other. When you say stop, they must stop; this reinforces listening skills.
  • Freeze dance. Play music; students may dance or perform designated movements. When the music stops, students freeze. This provides many of same benefits as stop and go.
  • Warm-up for young children:
  • Students jump with bunny ears and stomp like kangaroos, which teaches them the difference between landing on the balls of the feet and landing flat footed as well as landing light and landing heavy. Repeat several times, getting progressively faster.
  • Drop to prone position (face-down on belly). They can hiss like snakes, working the arms. You can use feelings here: Push up and say, “I'm mad. Do you know why I'm mad? I'm mad because it's raining outside.” Go back to prone, push back up. “I'm happy. Do you know why I'm happy? Because I got a new umbrella.” Down, up. “I'm sad. Do you know why I'm sad? I'm sad because I skinned my knee and it hurts.” Down, up. “I'm all better now because I have a cool neon bandage that glows in the dark.”
  • Straddle stretch. Ask students to give you colors to paint each leg of their straddle and to touch their noses to the floor mat in the middle, then go side to side with arms high to paint rainbows.
  • Pike stretch. Ask students what they would like on a sandwich. Place each sandwich item all the way down the piece of bread (legs), then put the other piece of bread (upper body) on top. This is a pike position. They can then eat their sandwiches.
  • Tabletop. Ask students to put a pretend bunny on their belly. They lift the bunny up by pushing to a tabletop. Wave to the bunny by lifting one hand, then the other. Now wave with each foot. Oh, bunny's getting tired! Now rock over feet and shoulders and rock the bunny to sleep.
  • Kneeling hamstring and flexor stretch. Students stand on one knee and place the other leg straight out in front. As they lean forward by bending the front leg in a kneeling lunge to stretch the flexors, they say, “Hello.” As they bend over the straightened front leg to stretch the hamstrings, they say, “Goodbye.”
  • Late for school:
  1. Students are in a prone position (facedown). The alarm goes off late and they have to get up quickly to dress, eat, and brush their teeth. Then they jog in place to school.
  2. They get ready to cross the street. They say, “Oh, my gosh, there's a big truck!” Run fast! Made it.
  3. Still jogging, they say, “Oh, no, there's a banana peel!” They pretend to slip and fall, get back up, and dust themselves off.
  4. Keep jogging. They hear a warning bell at school. “Hurry, run!” Get in a seat just before the late bell.
  5. Continue with a stretch.

I've seen many other games; if you can relate the games to what the students are studying in another class, it could serve as a reinforcement to their other studies.

After warm-up, take time at the beginning of class to practice landing drills, such as jumping forward, backward, and diagonally and jumping with turns of 90 to 360 degrees with safe body control and awareness. Discuss and practice falling forward to a modified push-up position, backward stressing either a cradle position or reaching back with the hands turned inward (not outward), and falling sideways to a side roll. These are fun ways to learn how to fall safely.


Sometimes it may be necessary to physically assist a student to safely and more accurately perform a skill. This is known as spotting the skill. Always be prepared for unusual occurrences and protect the student's head, neck, and back first and then other body parts. Remember to stand where the student is most likely to need assistance, usually while inverted, or during rolls when the student has pressure on the neck. Understanding the mechanics and body positions of the skill being taught will enable you to prepare for performance difficulties.

When spotting, set the area you are teaching in so that your back is never facing the class. Generally, your legs should be a little wider than shoulder-width apart for a good base of support. To protect your back, bend your knees when lifting the student , and try to spot the student near the body's center of gravity, a point in the body where the weight is evenly dispersed.

Spotting is a skill. If you are unsure about spotting, go to a local gymnastics club. Most coaches will work with you on your technique. Sometimes while spotting, you might accidentally touch a student inappropriately (that is, on the chest, buttocks, or crotch). Apologize quietly to reduce any embarrassment and make sure to make any necessary adjustments so that it does not happen again. Conversely, you may be struck by a student in an uncomfortable spot; do not make an issue of the incident.

Read more from Tumbling Basics, by Kathleen Ortiz.
More Excerpts From Tumbling Basics



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