Jack Kelly considers the Tiger Woods approach

The Tiger Woods Approach

Tiger Woods

I don’t know if Tiger Woods has ever been on a trampoline, but I do know that we can learn a great deal from both him and his sport.  Woods is famous for his power and accuracy, honed to a fine art from years of dedicated practice.  The game of golf is very much like a trampoline routine or should I say that a trampoline routine should be like a game of golf.  No I have not taken leave of my senses and all will become clear as you read on.

Let us first consider the issue of power and accuracy.  Tempting though it may be to unleash full power at a golf ball, any professional will tell you that it is essential to groove an accurate and consistent swing of the club before attempting to go for distance.  The same is true for jumping on the trampoline and regular readers will know that I have devoted the last five articles to the development of accurate fundamentals.  Too many coaches pursue skills requiring a level of power application which the performer has not yet learned to control.

Visualise this scenario; the trampolinist has just performed a half out fliffus and landed somewhat short.  The coaching advice I regularly hear is “You need more power in the half out”.  Whilst this is not necessarily untrue, what the pupil needs to know is how to achieve more power, at which phase of the skill the additional force must be applied and in what direction it should be channelled (upwards, backwards, forwards or around).  The solution is in the skilful and accurate application of force and not about power per sé.  The trampolinist must possess the ability to apply force in the right direction, at the right time and through the correct deployment of body parts in relation to the movement of the trampoline.  This must be learned through a gradual development of basic skills, just like the acquisition of the perfect golf swing.

At first sight trampolining and golf would appear to be as far apart as one could get in a sporting context, but now consider the golfer’s approach to the first hole.  The first shot, the drive, is made from a flat, short cropped teeing ground.  The player is allowed to place the ball on a tee peg which is set at the exact height to enable the ball to be struck with the greatest accuracy and power.  Furthermore the player can place the ball anywhere on the teeing ground to enable the best line of approach to the fairway.  Given these opportunities it would be foolish to simply throw the ball down at random in preparation for the all important first shot.  At the start of a competition routine the trampolinist is given almost the same opportunity to create a perfect beginning with no outside interference and everything within their own control.  An ideal “closed skill” situation one would think.  The majority of performers scorn this opportunity and undertake the trampoline equivalent of throwing the ball down at random.  They jump erratically hoping for the perfect take off position for the first move.  Imagine the additional stress created by not knowing when, and indeed if, the perfect jump will occur.  Consider the detrimental effect on heart rate, respiration rate and muscular endurance before the more serious demands of the routine proper begin to manifest themselves.  Poor performance in the second half of the routine is frequently caused by fatigue and mental stress induced before the routine has even started! How good a golf shot would Tiger play if he had to run 400 metres before striking the ball?

Continuing the golfing analogy, the accomplished player makes the first shot from a perfect set up to precisely the part of the fairway which enables a clear second shot towards the green.  A hook into the trees or long grass renders the second shot difficult or even impossible.  I hope the reader is now making the connection and visualising the trampolinist performing the first skill with less than 100% accuracy resulting in undue pressure on the second skill.  Regrettably we see this all too often and of course, once the damage has been done, the pressure on the third skill is all the greater.  Of course the experienced trampolinist must learn how to get out of trouble anywhere in the routine because mistakes will happen, as indeed Tiger Woods will produce wonderful shots from bunkers.  I fear however that escapology has become the norm in trampolining rather than the exception.

Earlier I drew attention to Woods having developed his ability to combine power and accuracy through years of dedicated practice.  No matter how “dedicated” the “practice” it will be ineffective and even counter productive unless coach and pupil are very clear about its precise purpose.  Take the national squad norm of 30 timed jumps for example.  What is the purpose of this? Do the coaches have a clear idea? Do the performers know and understand? Is it a test or a training drill? Is it an endurance test/drill? Is it an accuracy test/drill? Is it a power test/drill? It could be all of these or aimed at only one specific quality.  I have no argument with its use and applaud the high profile being given to straight jumping within the norms process, but without a clear focus on the desired outcome, the activity is in danger of becoming an end in itself.

Straight jumping is the teeing up process for the trampolinist which can make or break the first skill and therefore the whole routine.  Unlike the golfer who spends enormous amounts of time grooving the basic swing but finds teeing up the ball an easy procedure, in trampolining the basic skill is also the teeing up process and can only be grooved through regular and dedicated practice.  There follows a number of training drills I would recommend for developing a high level of accuracy and power in straight jumping.

Drill One: Imagine a circle drawn round the centre cross.

Fig 1

This is the target area.  The performer is allowed five consecutive jumps from a push start.  The drill starts on jump six.  Ten jumps are then performed with the coach or a helper counting aloud from one to ten.  Every jump totally within the target area scores one point resulting in a score out of ten.  Three faults gives a score of seven out of ten and this can easily be recorded as 70% jumping accuracy.  An ongoing record should be kept in the training diary and time limited goals set for improved performance.  Clearly 100% must be the long term goal.  The drill can be performed as 3 x ( 3 sets of 10 ) on each training session.  It is ridiculously easy to score 100% if the jumping is kept very low and the coach needs to ensure a balance between height and accuracy is maintained.  In order to reflect this an alternative scoring system can be used with the help of a stop watch.  For example, if a score of 10 is achieved at a jump time of 12 seconds the total is 22.  The same total can be gained with a score of 7 and an increased jump time of 15 seconds.  The objective is of course to increase height and maintain accuracy.  eg.  Score -7, Jump time -18 seconds = 25.  Score- 10, Jump time-18 seconds = 28.

Drill Two: Most performers do not jump on the cross to set up their routine so we now move drill one to a designated area on the bed which accords with the gymnast’s preferred starting point.  This can be area A or B as shown.

Fig 2

It will be noted that the target area in drill two is larger than when trying to jump directly on the cross.  This is because it is expedient to use the existing markings on the bed as the boundaries for the exercise.  I would recommend however that coaches do not accept this convenience and mark guidelines on the bed in coloured chalk so as to maintain a very tightly specified target area.  Scoring for this exercise is exactly as in drill one.

Drill Three: Here the trampolinist performs a simulated routine start.  Five preparatory jumps are made in the designated target area in order to establish initial height.  This is followed by an agreed number of jumps at the “working” height.  Let us say five jumps for the purpose of illustration.  An arm set is performed on the descent from jump five thus designating jump six as the take off jump.  The trampolinist calls “yes” or “no” depending on whether they believe they could have made a perfect start from that position.  The exercise is repeated over the weeks and months until 100% success can be guaranteed.  This exercise is, in my view, far more productive than any number of completed routines of variable quality, performed off a variable number of preparatory jumps where imbalance or poor bed position causes the take off to be postponed.  This exercise is a must during all training sessions.  I would recommend 3 sets of five of these simulated starts per session.

Drill Four: Repeat drill three with the first skill of the routine taking the place of the “yes.” If the trampolinist can not take off on the designated jump they must not be permitted to continue and the exercise is restarted.  Any leeway allowed by the coach renders the exercise useless, thus encouraging procrastination and reinforcing that it is ok to continue with a hit or miss philosophy.  It may interest readers to note that when Paul Luxon won the World Championship the first skill of his voluntary was performed off the sixth jump from a standing start! Already I hear some people say “but that was back in the old days, things were different then.” Yes they were, its actually easier now to be at full working height in six jumps and we don’t seem to have learned from the professionalism and thoroughness of preparation undertaken by Paul and his ground breaking coach Brian Moore.  Ignore these lessons at your peril!

The imaginative and creative coach will undoubtedly be able to develop other productive drills based on the ones suggested as they are by no means definitive, but remember that any drill is only as good as the focus and commitment applied to it.  It is merely a tool and not a magic wand.

The priority must be to achieve 100% accuracy in preparatory jumping and this area should be given a high priority in every training session, with progress monitored through regular testing.  So let’s tee it up and hit the centre of the fairway every time!

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© Jack Kelly