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6 Vault Coaching Mistakes To Avoid

nick ruddock Oct 20, 2016

I love vault, it’s my favourite apparatus to coach. That seems to be rare these days, with most coaches loathing it, but i’m magnetised to the power, technical aspects and variety that it can offer.

Yes variety, vault doesn’t have to be boring!

Like all apparatus, it’s the accumulation of components in your athletes’ training programme that create a great vault, not just the time spent on the runway.

I’ve been consulting extensively throughout Europe to share my insights and model of vault development, specifically as a Vault Expert for the UEG (European Union of Gymnastics) for 6 years, and several national teams to develop vaulting strength prior to major championships and qualifications.

I’ve compiled a list of the 6 Biggest Mistakes I see coaches making (in my humble opinion) in the coaching of vault, with a particular focus on vaulting at the foundation level;

1. Not ensuring the vault height is relative to the athlete

It’s painful for me to watch young athletes attempt to vault when the table towers above their head. Vaulting effectively in this manner is almost impossible for the athletes to achieve and understand the principle of vault – repulsion.

Vault is quite simply about converting horizontal velocity into vertical velocity. To do this, the athlete needs minimum ground contact time when running, board and vault contact.

If your athletes are performing a vault which is so high that they cannot succeed without keeping their hands on the vault for a long period of time, you’re contradicting that message. Stop. Put them on a vault height which allows them to bounce off their hands.

You wouldn’t see a 12 year old athlete attempt to hurdle over the same height as Jessica Ennis now would you? It’s not relative!

Vault is not just about getting over the top. It’s about how long you can spend in the air after repulsion.

Yurchenko’s, handsprings, kazamatsu’s etc, can and should all be taught to young athletes at low vault heights which are relative to their size, maximising their own individual power and weight ratio.

More often than not, for your young athletes to really learn and understand the principles of vault, you don’t even need to use the vault itself , which brings me on to my next point …

 2. Too much work on the vault itself

No wonder vault is boring when every day for 40 minutes the gymnasts line up at the end of the run, with a stack of mats behind the vault performing the same uphill drills.

The beauty and complexity of vault is that there are so many components to it, which in sequence form a domino effect.

Run > Hurdle > Round off > Board Position > Flight onto Table > Repulsion > Flight Off Table > Landing

These components make vault a diverse apparatus to coach, with plenty of room for variety. Here are just a handful of different things that you can do:

  1. Running drills
  2. Speed, acceleration and power development
  3. Trampoline spatial awareness and coordination work
  4. ‘Mini trampoline’ drills
  5. Somersaults over the vault to improve board positions and understanding of key positions
  6. Specific landing exercises, drills and games
  7. Isolated drills for specific phases of the vault
  8. Vaulting off low blocks and inclined surfaces

I’ve spent as little as 25% of vaulting time on the actual vault itself, even with athletes performing double twisting Yurchenko’s on the international stage. It’s just not necessary to do hundreds of reps there. But I still get hundreds of reps done, just in different environments.

3. Not respecting the importance of the run

Running and speed development is a technical skill in itself, with numerous physical benefits:

  • Great running develops plyometric qualities, it is one of the most plyometric activities going.
  • Great running promotes body alignment and posture.
  • Great running enhances body stiffness on ground contact.
  • Great running is economical, conserving energy for the vault itself.

You won’t find many high level vaults being performed without some serious acceleration and effective speed approaching the table.

Young athletes (or those with a slight frame/build) who cannot produce as much force, need to learn to run effectively even more so than a senior athlete, in order to depress the springboard.

Without board depression, there is no power.

Short steps, under striding and over striding are all ‘red flags’ for technique and potential injury risks. If investing a few minutes each vault session with some basic running drills would improve power and therefore the end result, would you do it? It’s important to remember that it takes a few sprints before the legs are sufficiently warm to produce optimum force anyway, so why not spend this time on drills as opposed to wasting technical turns when the body is ‘cold.’ 

4. Using a springboard straight away for yurchenko’s

Let’s face it, round off’s are one of the most frustrating basic elements that exist. I’ve spent hours and hours on remedial coaching, trying to ‘fix’ ineffective round off’s which are either crooked, too short or long, slow or not smooth.

Perform them uphill onto a springboard and this only highlights the problems further.

Knees rolling forward and collapsing, chest too low, feet on the edge, head backwards. These are all common problems that may hinder the effective learning of a yurchenko vault.

Personally, I like to begin the concept of yurchenko without a board, using just a floor and a block. In this environment, you are still able to teach the principle of performing the flick (back handspring) ‘uphill’ and the lessons of lifting hips, keeping the head in line etc. without suffering from a poor springboard position or lack of tension.

5. Not thinking long term
A tsukahara may suffice in the short term, but looking at current trends, isn’t going to produce much value long term. Your athletes will get good at whatever they spend their time on. If you’re spending most of your vault time on a pike tsuk because it gets you a quick competitive ‘D’ score then that’s short sighted and may hinder your athletes vaulting performance when it actually matters.

I could say the same about teaching pike positions in yurchenko’s and tsuakhara’s, but that’s opening a whole other can of worms 😃 …

6. Not respecting the importance that conditioning plays
We probably all agree that vault is about power and force development.

We probably also agree that without body tension, a high level vault cannot be achieved.

Strength underpins power.

Strength, power, body tension and force development are all a bi-product of physical preparation.

You be asking the athlete to do something they are not physically strong enough to perform, and therefore would be better investing time in physical preparation as opposed to drawing blood from a stone on the vault itself. Yes, athletes will develop some form of strength improvements from performing repetitions, but not the same level as an optimised physical preparation programme.

Happy vaulting 🙂

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