For Coaches Episode 2: I hate USAG girls compulsory vaults

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Geoffrey Taucer

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Back when I posted my thread about how I hate hollow casts, Rick McCharles posted about my post on his blog. A heated discussion followed in the comments section, in which I briefly touched on similar issues I have with the progression used by USAG to teach a front handspring vault. So I'm going to expand on that.

I HATE HOLLOW FRONT HANDSPRINGS/HANDSTAND FLATBACKS/ANY PROGRESSION TOWARDS A FRONT HANDSPRING VAULT THAT EMPHASIZES A HOLLOW SHAPE.

I think there is a very widespread mindset among a lot of coaches that hollow=tight and arch=loose; this certainly seems to be the philosophy driving a lot of the deductions at women's USAG compulsory levels. This mindset is also hopelessly wrong; an understanding of a tight arch is EVERY BIT AS IMPORTANT as an understanding of a tight hollow, and nowhere is this more evident than in teaching a front handspring vault.

In both the level 4 and 5 vaults, the emphasis is on a straight-hollow position with the head in. Now, compare this technique with the following picture, which shows one of the most powerful vaulters in the world contacting the table while doing a front handspring-type vault (specifically, a handspring double front pike)



Look at that tight hollow, look how he has his head in line with his body.... oh wait.

In order to generate the maximum possible height and rotation, a gymnast should hit a tight arch with the head out right after they leave the board, and maintain that heel drive until just after they leave the table. This technique is very obvious in.... well, pretty much anybody who does a front handspring type vault. Sacramone, Produnova, Dragulescu, Blanik, etc.

Now, let me say that I can completely understand where the mistaken perception that a hollow vault is ideal comes from; watch a very powerful vaulter warm up a simple front handspring, and you will find that most either do somewhat of a yamash ita or a hollow front handspring. However, it's important to understand why they do this: they do it to kill their power. THey do it because they are capable of generating the rotation necessary for a handspring front (or more), and they need to take deliberate steps to slow themselves down.

But by teaching a hollow shape right off the bat, such as seems to be the goal of the level 4 and 5 compulsory vaults, we are teaching girls to kill their power before they've even learned to generate that power.

I think this is a large part of the reason why you rarely see women in the USA doing front handspring style vaults; at the lower levels, the compulsory system encourages coaches to teach them so poorly that most gymnasts can never learn to add a flip, so they opt to do a tsuk or yurchenko instead. This is unnecessary; when properly taught, a front handspring front is not a difficult vault.

To clarify; I think the current boys compulsory vaults are pretty stupid as well -- but they're so obviously stupid that most boys coaches don't even bother spending much time on them, opting instead to use their own drills and progressions for vault. THe boys compulsory vaults are a whole different can of worms, which I may or may not open later.


EDIT:
me said:
Going through this thread again, I realize I did a very poor job of explaining my point, so I'm going to try again.

In a properly done front handspring, you do not have enough time to think about flying through the air in a hollow before hitting the table; the preflight should be lightning fast, and shouldn't give you enough time to do anything but get the heels up as fast as possible. If you are doing everything else correctly but taking the time to try to hit a hollow before hitting the table, you are not going to get the snap you need for higher level vaults.

This being the case, I first start by teaching my kids to aim for a tight, slight arch in preflight, and after that all I really worry about is getting them to turn over as fast as possible on the entry. The chest will naturally be hollow as they contact the board; that's something we rarely if ever have to actually teach; so once they learn to hit the board properly and then immediately think about driving the heels over, they will hit that tight arch JUST as their hands are comming off the table. Which is absolutely IDEAL for a handspring front.

My primary objection to the level 4 compulsory vault is that it scores all the wrong elements of the preflight n my opinion. Because there seems to be such an emphasis on the hollow shape, the easiest way to score well is to move the board way way back from the mat, causing a long, floaty, hollow preflight. A level 4 vault with a long floaty preflight will almost guaranteed score in the 9's, but such a vault has NOTHING to do with a correctly executed handspring vault.
 
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ACoach78

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Go read this study by Takei et al.

http://www.usa-gymnastics.org/home/publications/technique/2004/8/comparative.pdf

Look at the diagrams between low-scoring Roche vaults (Hand double front) and high-scoring Roche vaults. The low-scoring has a big arch upon horse contact whereas the higher scoring vaults are considerably straighter.

I agree that some people over-do the idea of "straight-hollow" and end up teaching a curvilinear hollow. And, a lot of folks teach the head to be in when in fact it should be looking at the hands and slightly out on contact. The text even says that the gymnast's eyes should be focused on the hands. So, yes, there should be an angle there.

But, to teach a big arch on contact and during the pre-flight is not optimal. The resultant vertical velocity will be better transmitted to the body with less segmentation and more rigidity. The key to a big post-flight is then trying to manipulate the angle of entry.

The reason that the Tsukahara and Yurchenko style vaults are more popular is because there is a mechanical advantage on the new table. The long table allows for the gymnast to make contact at a lower entry angle in those two vaulting styles. In contrast, it is much more difficult to contact at a low enough angle in the handspring front style of vaulting with the table as long as it is. You have to be very naturally powerful to pull this off. Most females are not that powerful and these other vaults offer better alternatives. It has little to do with training - women have different anthropometric profiles in general. Of course, there are always a few outliers like a Sacramone. But, those female athletes are few and far between.

The athlete in the picture that you have posted is actually a little high and that's why he's in a hard, tight arch because he's trying to gain rotation by shortening the body. Unfortunately, he's going to sacrifice height. If he focused on being a little straighter and trying to contact the table slightly lower, he'd have an even better post flight.

My suggestion is to stop comparing optimal technique to the idiosyncrasies of a few vaulters in the world and to go read some of the research that is available on vaulting to gain a better understanding of the mechanics behind it.
 

ryantroop

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While I cannot fully add anything to the conversation, I must say that picture certainly sums up your argument well..

I wish I could get my guys who do HS fronts to get that position...


However, I do think that some of the compulsory vaults are necessary for front entry.. the basic hollow handspring is the starting point of many of my vaults, front or side entry. Many of the vaults I am familliar with (the straight jump vault, etc..) tend to be the lead in for the HS, which builds later on...

Part of me thinks some of them are necessary for body development... I don't know all of the lower level vaults, though - so I may be way off base...
 

Geoffrey Taucer

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Go read this study by Takei et al.

http://www.usa-gymnastics.org/home/publications/technique/2004/8/comparative.pdf

Look at the diagrams between low-scoring Roche vaults (Hand double front) and high-scoring Roche vaults. The low-scoring has a big arch upon horse contact whereas the higher scoring vaults are considerably straighter.

I agree that some people over-do the idea of "straight-hollow" and end up teaching a curvilinear hollow. And, a lot of folks teach the head to be in when in fact it should be looking at the hands and slightly out on contact. The text even says that the gymnast's eyes should be focused on the hands. So, yes, there should be an angle there.

But, to teach a big arch on contact and during the pre-flight is not optimal. The resultant vertical velocity will be better transmitted to the body with less segmentation and more rigidity. The key to a big post-flight is then trying to manipulate the angle of entry.

The reason that the Tsukahara and Yurchenko style vaults are more popular is because there is a mechanical advantage on the new table. The long table allows for the gymnast to make contact at a lower entry angle in those two vaulting styles. In contrast, it is much more difficult to contact at a low enough angle in the handspring front style of vaulting with the table as long as it is. You have to be very naturally powerful to pull this off. Most females are not that powerful and these other vaults offer better alternatives. It has little to do with training - women have different anthropometric profiles in general. Of course, there are always a few outliers like a Sacramone. But, those female athletes are few and far between.

The athlete in the picture that you have posted is actually a little high and that's why he's in a hard, tight arch because he's trying to gain rotation by shortening the body. Unfortunately, he's going to sacrifice height. If he focused on being a little straighter and trying to contact the table slightly lower, he'd have an even better post flight.

My suggestion is to stop comparing optimal technique to the idiosyncrasies of a few vaulters in the world and to go read some of the research that is available on vaulting to gain a better understanding of the mechanics behind it.
To clarify; I would teach a tight, slight arch, and not shoot for one so big as Blanik's; his is more exaggerated than I would like. But my point is that the goal for a beginning vaulter should not be a hollow; it should be a tight arch.

I'll take a look at that study.

I think the level 4 girls vault would be a great way of introducing the front handspring IF the rules were rewritten to put less emphasis on a hollow shape and more emphasis on heel drive.
 
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ACoach78

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Let me add one more clarification to my original post.

"Straight Hollow" is poorly worded by the JO Committee and I may bring this up. People naturally associate "hollow" with a curvilinear hollow. However, a straight hollow position is simply a straight position with the sternum pulled in slightly so that the thoracic spine is not in extension (i.e. arched). However, the thoracic spine should not be in extreme kyphosis (i.e. rounding) either.

So, better wording for the coaching community would be "straight." And, that's what I advocate. I want my athletes straight and tight with the eyes looking at the hands. So, yes, the head is out a bit.

At that point, I really emphasize board position and entry angle to achieve my desired post-flight. Do you have to arch in a handspring front? Yes, to an extent. But, I want the arch that occurs to happen through hip extension, not thoracic extension. Furthermore, I want this to occur immediately after the athlete has left the table because they will have maximized the vertical velocity due to the reaction force from the table. So, their flight path is now set and any changes in body position (arching, etc.) simply changes the inertial parameters and the resulting rotational (angular) velocity.

In coaching terms, they have now maximized their height after table contact and if they need to flip faster, this is the time to alter body position to achieve such. Furthermore, if the body is straighter coming off of the table, the rotational speed will be greater when they tuck or change position because there was greater resistance (inertia) from the initial body position. I know that I'm wording this poorly, but hopefully it makes some sense. Think of rotating and changing position in the middle of the air from a layout to a tuck versus a layout to a pike. Which is going to spin faster? Certainly, the layout to the tuck because tucking in tightly reduces the resistance to rotation to a greater extent than changing from a layout to a pike.

So, if I'm arched really hard coming onto the table, my body is already shortened and the speed of rotation when I tuck or change into whatever body position will be less than if I were straighter. Furthermore, due to the arch at contact, my center of mass is lower and therefore I will not attain as much height off of the table. My flight path will be a lower and flatter parabola.

Your continual argument of it being a tight arch versus a loose arch is irrelevant. Certainly being tighter will assist you relative to the transmission of the reaction force from the table. But, the arch alters the position of the center-of-mass regardless of whether you're tight or loose. And, the position (angle) of the center-of-mass relative to the line of action of that reaction force is what plays an important role in flight path. The other variables of parabolic motion are take-off velocity (from the board and table) and the height of the center of mass from both the board and position on the table.

If there is still confusion, I'll elaborate more on this later.
 

Geoffrey Taucer

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I think I should clarify my view a bit more as well. When I say "tight arch," I mean a slight arch, where the heels are driven over slightly past a "striaght" position. I think we're saying more or less the same thing, but phrasing it differently.

I would like to read any elaboration you can give me on the idea of arching after leaving the table to generate rotation; it is my understanding that once the hands have left the table, your height and rotational power have pretty much been determined and cannot change; all you can do to rotate faster at this point is tuck/pike/bring the arms down/whatever you do to decrease your rotational radius. Even assuming a straight entry, wouldn't it make more sense for the arch to accur just prior to leaving the table?

Also, that arch doesn't seem to have hurt Blanik; he won the gold medal with that vault. And he's hardly an outlier; I have been unable to find a single video of a handspring double front that doesn't hit that hard arch.
 
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ryantroop

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Ill do my best to intelligently add to this conversation...


I think the issue is a little confusion between the "arch" and the "tight arch" postition...


Taking my own gymnasts into consideration, I played with body positions today for HS Fronts (thanks to this little thread), and worked with one guy who has been doing them arched hard through the beginning till now.

I watched carefully, and noticed that when he hits that position, there is actually an absorption of energy into his shoulders, which loses a good portion of the upward momentum, forcing muscular interaction on the table. He would consistently go a little flat on his HS Fronts, and land low or over-rotate.

Thanks to the article, I decided to play with opening the shoulders and stretching the hips - making the position similar to the stretch position for a layout jaeger.

The first one we did after drilling went so high he actually had time to stand upright on his landing.

There is definately something to the straighter position, feeling the drive upwards off the board. I think what we see from the HS Double is a bit of an illusion. We will see a huge acceleration off the board, which emphasizes a "tight arch" position, but as it rises for the reflection off the table, the rotation needs to be closer to a hollow to convert forward energy into upward energy.

I may be a bit out of my league in this conversation, but I am a total believer to the shape change over the table to a more hollow, open shoulder position, though the heels need to continue driving away from the board.
 

ACoach78

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I think I should clarify my view a bit more as well. When I say "tight arch," I mean a slight arch, where the heels are driven over slightly past a "striaght" position. I think we're saying more or less the same thing, but phrasing it differently.

I would like to read any elaboration you can give me on the idea of arching after leaving the table to generate rotation; it is my understanding that once the hands have left the table, your height and rotational power have pretty much been determined and cannot change; all you can do to rotate faster at this point is tuck/pike/bring the arms down/whatever you do to decrease your rotational radius. Even assuming a straight entry, wouldn't it make more sense for the arch to accur just prior to leaving the table?

Also, that arch doesn't seem to have hurt Blanik; he won the gold medal with that vault. And he's hardly an outlier; I have been unable to find a single video of a handspring double front that doesn't hit that hard arch.

I re-read my post a couple of times and have no idea where I explicitly stated that arching after leaving the table will generate rotation. You are correct that the flight path is set once the gymnast leaves the table. Arching after leaving the table changes the body position and could potentially increase the speed of rotation depending upon how "hard" the arch is because the body is being shortened. However, this would not be smart because of how the center-of-mass is re-positioned lower. A big, hard arch would spell disaster. To visualize this - I'm talking about an arch like in the high jump - the Fosbury Flop. The advantage to this high jump technique is that the center-of-mass actually goes beneath the bar because of the position of the body. So, it moves lower.

The big advantage to opening the hips (hip extension) is that it pre-stretches the hip flexors (eccentric action) just prior to snapping (concentric action of the hip flexors) into the desired shape (tuck, pike, etc.). This simply allows for a more forceful contraction into the desired position and this could be advantageous in terms of being able to contract into a tighter position. So, in the case of performing a handspring double front, the gymnast could get into a tighter tuck shape and possibly increase the angular velocity (rotational speed) enough to where he might have time to do more - like a half out or something more depending upon how high he got off of the table.
 

ACoach78

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I'll add one more thing...

To those who are members of the United States Elite Coaches Association (USECA) for women's gymnastics, Mark Young (Amy Chow's coach) did a lecture on vaulting several years ago that was sent out on video by the USECA. It's the lecture contained on the video titled as Vaulting #6.

In that video, he said that when he first taught Amy to do a hand front, he taught her to arch really hard and felt that it was a mistake. As he so eloquently put it (paraphrasing) - "I taught her to drive her heels hard and get her a$$ over her head."

Later, he said that he saw the Korean men vaulting at an international competition and doing big handspring entry vaults and timers and observed their technique. They were coming on straighter and the hips would open as they left the vault (at this time, it was still the old horse). He termed this technique as the "Hollow-Hip Release" technique.

While Mark is not a biomechanist, his observation holds biomechanical validity as I've explained above. And, as he states in this lecture, he firmly believed that if he had taught Amy this technique, should would've medaled on vault at the 1996 Olympic Games because she would've been able to get a bigger vault. I have not watched the video for a LONG time, but I think that they were trying to get a handspring rudi.
 

Geoffrey Taucer

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I re-read my post a couple of times and have no idea where I explicitly stated that arching after leaving the table will generate rotation.
Right here:
Do you have to arch in a handspring front? Yes, to an extent. But, I want the arch that occurs to happen through hip extension, not thoracic extension. Furthermore, I want this to occur immediately after the athlete has left the table because they will have maximized the vertical velocity due to the reaction force from the table.
I guess I misinterpreted?
 
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ACoach78

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Yes, you have misinterpreted.

Vertical velocity has nothing to do with rotation. Vertical velocity is referencing the change in position of the center-of-mass in the vertical direction across time.

The basic definition of velocity is a change in position / change in time or

d/t where d = displacement and t = time.

Basically, if you have a greater vertical velocity, it means that you've gone higher.

So, with that statement, I was saying that I want the body to be straighter because it positions the center-of-mass higher prior to leaving the table. As a result, the body will go higher following departure from the table when compared to an arched body position. By being straighter, the center-of-mass will be closer to the waist/hips and thus higher when the body is inverted. In contrast, if the body is arched, the center-of-mass will be lower.

There are three components to projectile motion - 1) velocity at take-off/release 2) angle of take-off/release 3) height of the center-of-mass. If we assume that 1 & 2 are constant/same for an arched body position and a straight body position, then the straighter gymnast will go higher based on component #3.

I apologize for all of the high-end mechanical terminology, but it's impossible to make a very sound argument without its use quite honestly. I've tried to put things into coaching terms as best as I could (notice the parentheses after certain statements), but we're talking mechanics and it's difficult to do.

By the way, if you're curious...yes, I have an extensive background in biomechanics. I've studied it for many years, have numerous books, have taken numerous classes, and have participated in research projects. However, the application to gymnastics, specifically, is from my own personal study and observation. There is no such thing as a biomechanics of gymnastics course that I've ever taken - at least in this country (USA).
 
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BlairBob

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Roberto Pumpido said something along the same lines at his vauting clinic at Nation Congress. Didn't go oever too well to a shandful or men.
 

gymch34

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It took me a long time to post on this thread. I agree with the PP who stated that comparing an elite level man and a tiny compulsory girl is just ridiculous. The position of a compulsory FHS should be straight, flat hips, chest SLIGHTLY in, looking (peeking"at hands. Its called a 'line" in the sport of gymnastics. Its essentail to not only keping athletes healthy and learning good fundamentals, but to the asthetics of our sport.

Why are you coaching girls if you "hate" so much about the JO program? I shudder to think of the injuries caused by your thories about the arch position, not to mention what your athletes lines must look like! Please, stick with coaching men, it sounds like it better fits your coaching style.
 

Geoffrey Taucer

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It took me a long time to post on this thread. I agree with the PP who stated that comparing an elite level man and a tiny compulsory girl is just ridiculous. The position of a compulsory FHS should be straight, flat hips, chest SLIGHTLY in, looking (peeking"at hands. Its called a 'line" in the sport of gymnastics. Its essentail to not only keping athletes healthy and learning good fundamentals, but to the asthetics of our sport.

Why are you coaching girls if you "hate" so much about the JO program? I shudder to think of the injuries caused by your thories about the arch position, not to mention what your athletes lines must look like! Please, stick with coaching men, it sounds like it better fits your coaching style.
I currently coach a group of prep-op girls who are the equivalent of about level 4/5; this past season was their first season of competition. They did excellent this year; two of the eight girls in my group were undefeated for virtually the entire season both on vault and all-around. None have yet been injured on vault by using these techniques (and to clarify, I don't coach them to deliberately arch as much as is showsn in the photo of Blanik -- that picture was chosen to demonstrate a point. I coach it with a slight, tight arch). In fact, not a single one of them has sustained ANY injury in the gym that caused them to miss a subsequent practice (with the exception of a bruised elbow last week -- which was on floor).

Of the 8 girls in the group I coach, all can comfortably and fairly cleanly vault over a table with a light spot, and three can vault over the table both safely and cleanly with no spot at all.

Furthermore, one of our level 8/9s, who was taught to vault with exactly the techniques I have described, is one of the most powerful vaulters in the state. Both her tsuk and her handspring front are among the highest and most powerful I have ever seen from a junior athlete, either male or female, and just about every coach I've spoken to who has seen her vault agrees.

Not that any of this is at all relevant; discussion of technique should be based not on the credentials of the coach, but on the merits of the technique itself.
 
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Valentin

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Hi

I am add my 2c into this convo

I totally agree with ACoach78 about not comparing Olympic level athletes techniques with those for younger jnr gymnasts. Reason being is that usually the jnr athletes do not posses the anthropometric, and physiological ability to perform these techniques effectively.
Alicia Sacramone doesn't actually use that technique (the arch one) she uses a whole different style.. a pike and a kick is hers.

Anyways i think aside from all the mechanical jargon, and description, its its important not to examine that technique is isolation without considering the physical characteristics of the athetles that perform them, and also consider WHY? it is that they are doing it, and is this the best way? A similar example is why do best tumblers bend their arms in the flik, and have theirs arms wide on the last flic?? Well its in order to accelerate the snap down and hit at a lower angle, which allows for higher impulse on impact, and thus = more potential for height. However would you teach that to a young gymnast?? Is so WHY? since in order to be able to hit at such a low angle you first need a huge deal of horizontal velocity, a strong core, proper conditioned joints, etc... The method works, but it only works when the person is ready for it.

The general rule for most skills is that straight is best. The reason for the arch technique is to turn over faster during pre-flight thus allowing faster hand contact with the table with greater angular velocity. This allows for more time on table and and thus for a greater impulse during repulsion phase. (surprise surprise). In that article you cite ACoach78, the author mentions that the top Roche vaulters actually leave the table before handstand (vertical), in doing so sacrificing a bit of height and retaining more angular velocity (thus for successful Roche vaults rotatation was favoured over height). Would you teach that to your kids for a handspring vault, or a Level 4 handspring flat back? However all the top vaulter depart from the table in as staight of a body position as possible in order to accelerate their rotation when they start tucking (as described by ACoach78 before).

If you consider the power and strength aspect of performing vaults like this, suddenly it becomes clear why its not applicable for most, because the strength/power aspect required is HUGE, never mind the kinematics...explore the kinetics and than you have a correct picture of the technique. This techniqe has been done only by one female gymnast succefully Elena Produnova who also performed the handspring double front vault and quite well may i add, but everyone knows she was wayyyy ahead of her time, and she was super powerfull.

In short, i dont think there is anything to gain by teaching such a method to every gymnast you encounter, because simply it won't work. However its a technique a good coach will know, and will employ with the right individual. text book technique is text book technique because its generaly the most efficient and achieveable by all, plus its the most estheatically appealing, which one must consider in a sport called ARTISTIC gymnastics, but that is a whole other topic.
 

Geoffrey Taucer

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I want to reiterate (and I should have made this more clear in my initial post): I do not teach all my kids to show as big of an arch as shown by Blanik in that picture. I teach a slight, tight arch.
 

Valentin

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Hi

I did not mean to imply that you teach one way or another, i just just saying in general. However a tight shallow, almost straight arch (if my understanding of your description of a tight arch is correct) is not ideal for basic handspring vaults. More importantly what is the kind of body shape they depart the table in?
 

Geoffrey Taucer

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I start off by teaching a slight arch from beginning to end. Once they get a feel for the, I then teach them to hollow slightly apon leaving the table as necessary to prepare them for the landing and prevent them from overrotating.
 
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