Players from all sports get knocked down, tripped, or pushed onto the floor. Learning basic gymnastics moves will help you roll and dissipate the force of impact across many joints and surfaces rather than just one.
And doing so reduces the chance of injury and helps you get back into the game quickly.
Coaches are often hesitant to teach basic gymnastics moves because of the perceived technical difficulty and risk of injury.
Young boys may also have a negative perception of gymnastics as something done in leotards.
But the routines demonstrated by Simone Biles are simply amazing and beyond the reach of anyone else in the world.
Simple moves and balances will help you become more agile, coordinated, stronger, and spatially aware. They can be incorporated into your warm-up or as part of your strength training routine.
I have used these ideas with soccer, rugby, basketball, and field hockey players, most of whom had little to no gymnastics training.
Starting From the Ground Up
The thought of diving onto the floor and rolling is quite scary for people unfamiliar with it, especially tall people. Yet a 6’6” basketball player’s head is often over eight feet up in the air when they get knocked and start to fall.
So, they need to become accustomed to the idea of controlling the landing.
I always start with an athlete close to the ground for their safety and own confidence.
You can see how I teach progressions from the ground up that can be done in any field sports environment:
The principle behind any rocking or rolling activity is that you’re spreading the impact of landing across the wide surfaces of your body and joints.
Rather than landing with the arm outstretched, where you risk breaking the wrist, elbow, or shoulder, you allow the joints to flex in sequence and then roll across the shoulder.
You can feel how this works if you try to jump up and land with straight legs compared to bending at the ankles, knees, and hips. If you don’t bend, you feel the impact shooting up your back.
Spending time helping athletes become comfortable with these movements is worthwhile at the beginning. Little and often is better than trying to get them to master the movements in one session.
Two minutes in every session will build up their skill safely and surely.
Once athletes feel comfortable on the floor, they can progress from standing. I show how to lunge forwards and sideways to lower their center of gravity. They can go from the low, deep lunge to placing their hands on the floor and rolling.
You can see a soccer goalkeeper practicing the side lunge into roll below:
He’s moving fast because he’s competent. Your athletes will move slowly at first and then quicken. The closer the legs are to the body in a tuck position, the faster they will roll.
Once they’re comfortable with this action, you can add a jump or a leap before they roll, which simulates a game situation.
Patience is the key.
Do not try to advance through the progressions before the athlete’s ready. This could take weeks. It’s better that they gain confidence with the movement and learns at their own pace.
Coaches of awkward, gangly teenagers will know how uncoordinated they can be.
Hand balances are a great way to develop wrist, elbow, shoulder, and core strength, which is actually fun. Athletes are more likely to practice when something is fun.
If you’re inflicting the plank on your players for ever-increasing lengths of time, don’t be surprised if they mutiny.
This video shows some basic progressions:
I always start in a tuck and gradually extend the legs or arms away from the body. It’s easier to control and a lot safer than trying to get into a handstand by kicking 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 the players apply their strength in sport from different angles and positions.
The same principles of ‘little and often’ and ‘safely and surely’ apply to the rolling actions apply to balance training.
Gymnastics training for sports is not about learning new tricks for their own sakes. 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 into your warm-up, you ensure that players do not go through the motions and instead take self-care of their bodies.