Players of all sports are knocked down, tripped or pushed to the ground. Learning the basic gymnastics movements will help you roll and dissipate the force of impact on many joints and surfaces rather than just one.
And it reduces the risk of injury and helps you get back into the game quickly.
Coaches are often reluctant to teach basic gymnastic movements due to perceived technical difficulty and risk of injury.
Young boys can also have a negative perception of gymnastics as something done with leotards.
But the routines demonstrated by Simone Biles are just amazing and beyond the reach of anyone in the world.
Simple movements and balances will help you become more agile, coordinated, stronger, and space aware. They can be incorporated into your warm-up or as part of your strength training program.
I used these ideas with soccer, rugby, basketball, and field hockey players, most of whom had little or no training in gymnastics.
Start from nothing
The idea of diving on the ground and rolling around is quite scary for people who don’t know it, especially tall people. Yet a 6’6 ” basketball player’s head is often more than eight feet in the air when struck and begins to fall.
So they have to get used to the idea of controlling the landing.
I always start with an athlete close to the ground for his safety and his own confidence.
You can see how I teach progressions from scratch that can be done in any field sport environment:
The principle behind any swinging or rolling activity is that you distribute the impact of the landing over the wide areas of your body and joints.
Rather than landing with an outstretched arm, where you risk breaking your wrist, elbow, or shoulder, you allow the joints to flex in sequence and then roll onto the shoulder.
You can feel how it works if you try to jump and land with your legs straight rather than bending your ankles, knees, and hips. If you don’t bend over, you can feel the impact rising up your back.
Spending the time helping athletes familiarize themselves with these movements is worth it at first. Little and often is better than trying to get them to master the movements in one sitting.
Two minutes in each session will develop their skills safely.
Once the athletes feel comfortable on the floor, they can move on from a standing position. I show how to split forward and to the side to lower their center of gravity. They can go from low and deep lunge to placing their hands on the ground and rolling.
You can see a soccer goalie practicing the side roll lunge below:
He goes fast because he is competent. Your athletes will move slowly at first, then speed up. The closer the legs are to the body in the folded position, the faster they will roll.
Once they are comfortable with this action, you can add a jump or a jump before they roll, which simulates a game situation.
Patience is the key.
Do not try to progress in progressions until the athlete is ready. It could take weeks. It is better that they gain confidence in the movement and learn at their own pace.
Coaches of awkward and gangly teenagers will know how uncoordinated they can be.
Hand balance is a great way to build wrist, elbow, shoulder, and core strength, which is actually fun. Athletes are more likely to train when something is fun.
If you inflict the board on your players for longer and longer durations, don’t be surprised if they revolt.
This video shows some basic progressions:
I always start in tucked back and gradually extend my legs or arms away from the body. It’s easier to control and a lot safer than trying to do a handstand by straightening up and hoping.
Balance requires strength and control, and by training in different positions you force the body to adapt in different ways. It helps players apply their strength in sport from different angles and positions.
The same principles of “little and often” and “safely and securely” apply to rolling actions that apply to balance training.
Gymnastics training for sports is not about learning new tricks for their own good. It is about developing movement and strength that can be applied in many different situations.
The more adaptable your players are, the safer they are. By adding these skill elements to your warm-up, you are ensuring that the players are not making the movements and instead are taking care of their bodies.