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Summer Time Skill Selection

jgeddert's picture

Summer Time Skill Selection

John Geddert
USA World & Olympic Team Head Coach

             The competitive season has completed for a large majority of our athletes and as summer approaches most coaches shift their thoughts to what skills they should be working in order to be successful at the next level up. I was recently posed the question as to whether it would be better to introduce several skills in each requirement category or simply focus on one during the post season. This is an interesting question.

For excitement, variety and the sake of experimentation, I can see the benefit of widening the skill selection library. Athletes love to play with new skills and coaches love to experiment and so this strategy might very well serve a motivational purpose. Sampling different skills may also reveal a hidden aptitude, strength and or weakness that previously went unnoticed. So as to answer the question then, I guess there would be some benefit to this approach.

From a systematic approach and one based on efficiency I have always leaned more towards isolated skill selection. The idea being that you can generally make greater progress when the focus is on fewer items. This idea combined with the general philosophy of always attempting to train one level higher than we compete, creates a more effective time frame in which to teach with patience. In other words rather than waiting until you actually need a skill to advance, you implement a more long term, progressive approach allowing time and numbers to dictate the progress (rather than urgency).


These decisions can be overwhelming but are much easier to handle with a template coaching approach.  In a nutshell this method of organizing your training would take into consideration what skills need to be addressed 12-18 months in advance of needing them. This system is used starting at the developmental levels. Time is then allotted for working on these needed skills in addition to mastering the current competitive level skills. The work done in advance creates a much smoother transition to the next level.

Example: Uneven Bar Template

At Level 3: Need kips, tap swings, cast strength enhancement and shape development (true at all levels)

At Level 4: Need kip casting, circling elements, fly away progressions

At Level 5: Need handstand work, circling to handstand, giants and layout flyaway work.

At Level 7: Need pirouette skills, Refinement of swing and circling, upgrade dismount work.

At Level 8: Need transition release, double salto dismounts, front giant progressions, and blind change progressions.

At Level 9: Need major release, blind fulls, front giants, and refinement of the core dismount (tap, height, rotation). Those with elite aspirations can add additional release and transition release work as well as variations of the circling elements (inverts, full pirouettes from circling elements etc.).

At Level 10: Combine pirouetting into major release, circling into transition release and upgrade the dismount to twisting double, blind full to double tuck or double layout.

JO Routines: Keep it simple and clean. More is not better.

Elite Routines: Widen the skill categories to open the door to greater skill development. Start with a base structure and add difficulty in incremental doses. Too much all at once can be overwhelming for most athletes. This being said, top level elite routines are loaded with difficulty and intricate combinations.



   The clear hip is basically the only choice for most athletes in the compulsory program. It is the easiest to understand and handle for those athletes that have yet to develop adequate upper body strength. Since a basic level clear hip can be successful from a smaller cast, it is usually the skill of choice for most upper level compulsory athletes. Once the ability to cast improves, this opens the door to toe hands and stalders in that now the momentum of a proper drop (from above horizontal to near handstand casts) can facilitate the circling action. So to answer the question of which circling element to choose: We begin with clear hips but as soon as the athlete develops an appropriate amount of upper body strength, we immediately progress to toe hands and stalders. By the time athletes reach level 10/elite most circling elements fall into one of these families.



   As a matter of choice we start with the bail to handstand. Not only is it a D skill that can be put in combination easily but it is also a direction change. Although I love Pac Saltos, sometimes the deductions for height and getting turned around again outweigh the related wow factor. Those focused on the elite route will want to consider both as there is going to be a need for multiple transition releases eventually. The 3rd option (somewhat more advanced) is the Shaposhnikova/Maloney. This release is tough to introduce prior to having mastered a strong circling element (Stalder, Toe hand, Clear Hip) and thus usually are added later in development.



   The answer to this question may depend on the athlete and their swing preferences. Someone with a great front giant tap swing and front flip awareness may be a good candidate for a Jaeger.  Someone who has dynamic swing backward may do better with a Tcatchev. The 3rd most common choice is a Geinger, which would require someone with an excellent tap swing into a lifting fly away as well as great air awareness. I prefer the Tcatchev for our JO athletes and a Jaeger for our Elite bound athletes (a jaeger accomplishes 2 of the requirements on bars, i.e. a single bar release and a change of grips). Starting the drills and progressions as a Level 9 really helps the athlete develop a more concrete understanding of the actions involved. The patient approach will also create better amplitude, less anxiety and certainly less coaching frustration in the end.


   I want to wish everyone a productive and inspirational summer of training. Be sure to check out as a go to coaches educational resource as you look for more tools for your coaching toolbox. Enjoy!