Understanding Hierarchical Sports.
I can teach you the Level One routine in just 10 minutes, but it will take you a Lifetime to master.
This quote above is actually a variation of a quote that exists from dance. We’ve adapted it to fit our view of Gymnastics & Trampoline life. The real quote is the following:
I can teach you the Feather Step in just 10 minutes, but it will take you a Lifetime to master.
For background knowledge, the feather step is one of the first moves that a ballroom student learns in the foxtrot, and on first appearance it looks quite easy. It is considered a novice skill. Two simple steps really: Quick-Quick. However, as the student becomes more adept they begin to realize that everything is not as it seems. Without any verbal cues, the Leader must learn how to signal to the Follower when the move is about to commence using body weight transfer and subtle rotational cues. On the other hand, Followers must be delicate and attentive enough to realize that what the Leader is asking her to do, and precisely when. This must be coordinated without speaking, which gives the illusion that both dancers are one unit, moving as a single mass.
This is analogous to studying the Level 1 Trampoline Routine. We often hear that students are bored of the routine, or they believe that the routine is not challenging enough. We hear this even from our most advanced athletes: “Not Level 1 again….” The truth is that Level 1 is your most important level, it also happens to be one of the most difficult levels. Yet almost anyone, toddler or adult, can get through the level 1 routine on the first day of practice. However, it takes a special individual to take that routine to the next level. Athlete’s should strive to master every single motion in their level 1 routines, right down to the positioning of the fingers, and the degrees of elbow bend in the seat-drop. Everything should be consciously performed in a systematical manner. And only in that method, will the student learn “how to approach the sport in a Scientific Manner”. There is no guess-work involved through this type of laborious practice.
In the first video (above), our athlete Sabine (dressed in black in the first video) has been studying the Level 1 for two years. And in the 2nd video (below), Sabine had been studying the Level One routine for just a year. Compare the two videos. Can you notice the difference in height, coordination, balance, and precision? She will continue to practice the Level 1 routine in this scientific manner for the rest of her career, and possibly her life. As a Coach, we need to be asking ourselves: “What will her routine look like at this time next year?” And if the routine looks the same, then we are not doing a good job teaching our students.
OKAY, this all sounds good….But why spend so much time studying the Level 1 routine when she is clearly not competing at Level 1 anymore? Why not spend more time training the other areas? Wouldn’t make sense to train the other routines more? Well, we do! We train the other areas plenty! For instance, Sabine regularly trains the Levels 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Plus unique routines that we’ve created, and even more advanced skills that are not in any of the levels at all. However, because Level 1 is always your first level, it should always be the one that is practiced the most frequently regardless of how advanced you become. Your Level 1 routine exists inside all your other movements, whether you realized it or not. But that does not really answer the question of: why practice Level 1 so diligently? The real answer: We believe that both Trampoline Gymnastics is a hierarchical sport.
What does it mean for a sport or art to be hierarchical? The best analogy, would be the school subject of Mathematics. The reason mathematics is considered so difficult by many, isn’t actually because it’s difficult. It’s considered difficult because it is a hierarchical subject, unlike English or Writing which are non-hierarchical subjects. For example, say you need to learn the multiplication in 2nd grade, let us say you happen to be out sick a lot that school-year, or you had to travel, or move, etc. Now due to that, you haven’t learned your multiplications very well. One year goes by and you’re now in 3rd grade, now the class is learning something called “order of operations”, which coincidentally involves plenty of multiplication. This spells bad news for you. Because you have not learned multiplication you struggle with the order of operations, barely getting by and not truly understanding the assignments. Now let us fast forward 8 years, you’re now in 11th Grade and in Calculus class. You’re teacher is trying to explain “Limits of a Function”, which involves heavy amounts of multiplication, orders of operations, fractions, and a many more things that never really understood! Now you see, Math is a topic that is entirely hierarchical, thus if you miss one topic, you will not be able to grasp the future topics. Now let us say that you weren’t actually sick in 3rd grade, but in actuality you had a terrible math teacher, and the entire class suffered from not learning the necessary material. This entire group of students would struggle for years to come because of that one instructor/coach, and through no fault of their own! This is an example of a hierarchical subject. Meaning, the subsequent topics require full mastery of the previous topics before one can sufficiently proceed to the next step. What’s an example of a non-hierarchical subject? English subject in school is a good example….let’s say you got lazy and decided not to read “Romeo & Juliet“; you would not score very high on the English exam for that class. However next year, you can still theoretically be able to read, understand, discuss, and write about any other book or topic. Your lack of knowledge in the specific Shakespearean Play does not cripple your future in learning how to read & write for subsequent years.
Gymnastics and Trampoline is hierarchical. Poor coaches will have you believing otherwise. A student who devotes their energy to mastering Level 1, will soon be well on their way to mastering all the subsequent levels. Those who rush through the curriculum will get frustrated with their own performance and may end up quitting. If you cannot perform Level 1 at 80% – 90% Perfection (assuming the concept of perfection exists), how can you realistically expect to perform harder routines at 80% – 90% range? That will never happen. We also use the Level 1 routine as a gauge of a student’s skill; it gives us an idea of how quickly an athlete is progressing. Furthermore, when we make corrections to a student’s Level 1 routine, it usually improves the athlete’s overall performance in all other levels as well, but the same is not always true in reverse.
And for a novice athlete, the first routine teaches so many obviously wonderful things:
- Balance and Control while in motion (dynamic balance)
- How to maintain Amplitude
- Leg and Toe tension
- Where to the eyes should be spotting
- Memory Overloading
- Soldier Position (training for “kick outs” for somersaults)
Why would you not devote time and energy to working on this routine?