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Jan 18, 2009
Some of the girls in my group are just starting to work on vault and I am having a devil of a time. They seem to get the concept, but it seems that no matter what drills I have them do they just don't get it.
The first problem is their lack of arm circle. The just run right up onto the board and throw their hands down onto the stack of mats which results in them basically doing a roll onto the mats.
They also have major problems with hurdles; trying to hurdle off of one foot on the board, taking several jumps on the board, just running straight over the board, pretty much everything you can imagine. I have practiced just hurdles with arm circles with them before and they seem to get it, at least until they are expected to do something out of the hurdle.
Heel drive is another big problem, I just can't seem to think of anything else to say to them besides "kick your heels". And when they do kick their heels, it's more like a donkey kick with their hands already down on the mats. Does that make sense?
So I'm just looking for any and all drills which could be helpful in getting things to click with these kids. Most of them are tiny and easy to spot, but some are a little bigger and harder to just pick up and toss around. I also feel like they are getting bored with all of the current drills they do every time they vault, so some new ideas would be great!
Thanks in advance for any help at all!


That sounds like the beginning of the season all over to me!

I'm assuming you are teaching handstand flat backs or just handstand on the table.

Here is my progression that I seemed to get success with most of them on.

1. Run, work on proper running form using arms and having a powerful run. We used to run the opposite direction down the runway because we have a pit at the end. The girls would run all out with out stopping and just land in the pit, you can also use a big crash mat for them to run into.

2. Hurdle, hit the board and arm cirlce, its a lot to think about at once
I set up all the boards we have (about 5) spaced down the run way. The girls take two steps then jump onto the board with two feet, repeat on all boards
Once they get the follow the next progression. I like using the boards spaced out because its a nice repetition and keeps them all busy.
So the steps are:
Step Step Hurdle jump
Step Step Hurdle jump arms shoot up
Step Arm circle and hurdle jump arms shoot up
Add more steps in once they get the arm cirlce hurdle combination

3. Board Drills Have them run from about 20 feet away, stand on the other side of the board, have them run towards you and the board tell them when they hit the board their feet should be just in front of them so that jump up when their arms shoot up and they arent allowed to touch you. Its great at helping them control their power into the right direction.

4. Heal Drive do you have a tramp board? We have a mini tramp baord that I teach all the skills on first, it gives them extra bounce and I can spot them through the right motions even with the bigger girls.
Also watch their legs when they hit the board do they bend or kick back straight? some girls will bend their legs in to make it easier to get over the table so its more of a back drive then heal drive, donkey kicks arent a bad way to start learning slowly they will get more power and be able to get their heals over their head, I also stress not going to a handstand but passing through and driving heals all the way to the mat.

Hope that helps!
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Aug 29, 2007
To answer part of your question, I've found that with my level 4's putting it all together was to difficult. So, we got rid of the arm circle. We told them that when they put two feet on the board and are ready to jump their arms need to be by their ears. It really works. Their scores went from low to mid 8's to mid to upper 9's. My thought is that we will add the arm circle after they figure out the board work, more towards level 5.


Jun 24, 2008
Ditto the steps on newbiecoach's list.

We really focus on the run and jump for most of the summer before the kids compete L3. The vault is the easy part if they're moving in the right direction and can stay tight. Once the kids can run and hit the board correctly with an arm circle, we have them run from their normal starting position, jump on the board, and do a straight jump onto stacked mats. If they can't do this correctly, then they don't move on to dive rolls or L4 vaults. I've found that if you enforce this rule right from the beginning (pre-L3), it's much easier and you can spend more time on the vault.

I also have to add that our kids are NEVER allowed to hit the board with their arms by their ears unless they're doing Yurchenkos. At my gym, arms are always down when they contact the board.
Oct 27, 2008
Colby, Kansas
We have just started working vaults with our rec kids to my frustration! And a couple things that worked well for us is:
Taking away the spring board and making a square on the floor were they are supposed to punch. They run hurdle punch and focus on the arm swing and try to lift their feet as high as they can. This is mostly about the arm swing but once they have that down.
We put the spring board back and they run hurdle puch and jump with straigt legs to stand on the mat. This helps us with the punch and not just running and trying to kick up. They get more comfortable with using the spring of the board.
Thats just what kept me from getting a bloody nose spotting some very crazy arm swings.


Aug 29, 2007
Ok, it was an early morning yesterday. I said their arms are up when they hit the board. What I meant to say was arms down when they hit the board, arms by ears once they start taking off the board in the jump. There, ok, now i need to get more sleep:)
Sep 19, 2008
Great advice, one thing to add. If they're paying so much attention to their legs and having the 'right' one in position to hurdle on they might be forgetting their arms. I did this on the advice of my old HC and it worked wonders for my kids L4 vault.

Make a list of all the kids names. Have them stay in that order and do 10 straight jumps to a matstack, form is secondary here. Just whatever gets them up. Make a note of which leg they are hurdling with, I just wrote 'R' and 'L'. Go with whatever leg they use more as their hurdling leg, you may have a few that are even and need to do a couple more. After that have them start their run with the opposite leg in front. It really helped even out my girls steps and improved their run quite a bit. Maybe to the extent that they were able to pay attention to their arm circle!


Jan 18, 2009
Thanks so much for all of the help!
I was working with the rec kids on vault yesterday and I think some of them got the whole hurdle thing better than the level 4/5s, go figure! Some of the crazy kids actually put their arms by their ears for the last part of their run so they have them right where they want them for a handstand, and while it is cute, I do want them to break the habit!
My next challenge with them is working on the whole heel drive thing and then maybe one day they will put it all together!


Feb 22, 2007
You need to break the skill down into parts.

If they have no concept of bouncing to a HS, then you need to have them just practice bouncing to a handstand. I typically will take my little ones and have them stand on top of a resi pit. I have them put their arms by their ears, bounce 3 times, and I either catch them in a "Superman" and put them in a handstand or I just spot them right to a handstand. I spend weeks to months on this drill so that they understand how to bounce to a handstand with a tight body.

From there, I actually like to use a trampoline with the same idea...3 bounces to a HS on an above-ground resi-pit. Then, I progress it to a board. Another variation that I like to use is to pull the resi-pit directly behind the vault table, raise the vault a few inches above the resi, and then I have the kids step off or do a small jump off to the resi (landing on their feet) and they immediately punch to HS. But, they must be able to do the earlier drills really well before we move onto this one.

Simultaneously to this HS work, I'm doing lots of running drills and board drills. I do everything from a single step initially. On the ground (i.e. no spring board), I have them "step, circle, together", they step with one foot, hurdle off of it, circle their arms, and land with two feet. I'll use a carpet square or draw a circle as a target for their two feet. Then, I run around and position and shape them...tucking their hips under, making the chest a little hollow, etc.

At this point, I spend a couple of weeks or longer on this beginning step. Then, we do it from a single-step to a springboard. If they're really little, I'll put a panel mat behind the board (right up against it) and they perform a 1-step hurdle to the board to land and hold. Again, I fix their position continually. If they are bigger or older, I tend not to use the panel mat as they are big enough to hurdle from the ground. I use this 1-step, hurdle, and stop in the proper board shape drill throughout the gymnast's career. Board position is one of the worst taught parts of vaulting. So many kids have their butt sticking out on the board and they're piked before takeoff into the pre-flight.

When they get good at that, I start having them 1-step hurdle and rebound up to a block and I begin teaching them the drill to which they rebound backwards. When they really start bouncing the board well, then we start doing the 1-step hurdle, bounce to HS. When they can do that well, I start giving them a run. First, it's 3 steps, then 5, then 7, and I usually stop about 9 with the younger kids depending upon how well they run and how well they can control it.

That's pretty much my progression to the HS flatback. A good HS flatback. I spend A LOT of time continously shaping, positioning, and teaching them to stay tight in the HS and on the board.

This takes time, but you'll get better results and a lot more consistency. They are kids - you have to simplify things and teach them skills in parts. Then, put it all together when the parts are really good. In math terms, the sum of the parts = the whole. That's how you coach gymnastics.
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