Drills vs. Spotting

4 reasons why using drills will make you a better coach!
If you're an athlete, don't stop here - this knowledge will take your tumbling to the next level.


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Have you been spotting an athlete in their back walkover or back handspring for the last couple of months? And now after summer break, that kid is back, but still you keep on spotting the same skill without real progression? The reason might be the way we’ve been coaching tumbling in cheerleading for the last – let’s say 10 – years. We’ve been spotting when the smart way would have been using drills, and this blog post will explain why.

The #drillsforskills has exploded on social media in the last couple of months, suddenly, drills for tumbling are everywhere, on our social media feed, in facebook cheerleading groups and coaches ask us about them too. So why should we start using drills, instead of using the spotting technique we have been so vigorously “perfecting” over the last decade?

First things first: I’m not saying that spotting is bad per se. Yes, you should spot – BUT: only under certain circumstances and conditions. I will come back to those later, I promise. Right now, let’s take a closer look on spotting itself. You have stepped out of your comfort zone, let an athlete come right at you at high speed, you have spotted them, got hit in the face and probably saved them from injuries a couple of times. And yes, you should be proud of that. However, it is exactly this saving them from injuries part that we should be worried about. As coaches, we shouldn’t necessarily need to be saving athletes from injuries (not talking about stunting here – you should always spot stunting! <- let’s get into this in another blog article). And as athletes, we shouldn’t need to be worried about getting injured.

Drill BEFORE the skill - 4 reasons why

So now I’m asking you to step out of your comfort zone again and drill BEFORE the skill. Why? There are multiple reasons for preferring drills over spotting. Let’s start with the most obvious one. You as a coach can only partially critique or make improvements to a skill that you are standing so extremely close to – which of course you have to during spotting – so you will sometimes have to make suggestions on what you feel, not what you see. That can be a problem, as feeling something can sometimes be tricky, and seeing whether a skill is executed correctly or not is a lot easier. Of course, as a spotter, you can also recognize certain mistakes or aspects of the skill, however, seeing it from another perspective may help you improve the skill even more. So take a step back, let the athletes do their drills and correct them from what you see from the “outside” perspective.

Second of all, when you’re spotting, you are focusing on one person at a time. Doing drills will enable you to watch and correct multiple people who are doing the same drill. This will not only save you time, but it will make your practices so much more effective for everyone. Instead of waiting in line to be spotted, your athletes are working and doing useful drills and exercises to improve their tumbling skills. And working on drills and skills is always better than waiting in line, right?

Have you ever had this one athlete that has a bad tumbling habit or is simply doing a skill wrong and trying to fix it takes forever? Or sometimes it seems “unfixable”. A bad habit or bad technique can also be the result of being spotted too much.

There are two reasons for this: First, the athlete will rely too much on the spotter and will never build up the strength and correct technique to be able to throw the skill by themself – because the athlete has been lifted around by the spotter in the skill. And second, if the athlete is afraid to hit you – sometimes even if they are unaware of this – they will also lean (in back walkovers or front walkovers) or jump (in back handsprings or back tucks) away from the spotter, making their skill crooked and sideways. With drills you can teach them to focus on correct arm placement and movement throughout the skill.

Let’s get to the most important reason: With drills, your athlete will learn to practice and tumble independently and this independence will enable the athlete to be free. This freedom is not only relevant physically – that is, being able to work on something without being dependent on a spotter that has time for the athlete – but also mentally. This mental freedom will help the athlete have a better understanding for the “I am ready for this skill”-feeling and will help prevent mental blocks in the future.

In the beginning of this article I told you that a spot is a good thing under certain circumstances and that is true. When and if your athlete has been working consistently and with good technique on the drills necessary to throw the skill you should use spotting as another tool to help them achieve the skill. Then is the right time to give your athlete a light one time spot. If the technique you expect is not there, the athlete has trouble doing the skill and you had to do more than just a really light spot, your athlete may not be ready to do this skill. Realizing this when you spot – and this is absolutely normal and will probably happen – ask your athlete to repeat the relevant drills for this skill. This way you can help them be prepared for the next time they try to do the skill. However, if your athlete is ready and has mastered the “one time spot test”, your athlete should be fine by him-/herself and will probably be able to throw the skill no problem. And right there, your athlete is free – doing the drills, having only to be spotted one single time and being able to do the skill he/she has been working so hard for  – quite likely with beautiful technique – that is one of the best feelings in the world.

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