For Coaches Cowboy: to teach or not to teach?

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Geoffrey Taucer

Staff member
Gold Membership
Jan 21, 2007
Baltimore, MD
I have been debating for awhile whether or not I want to teach my guys to cowboy when they are learning double saltos, and I thought I'd get thoughts here.

On the one hand, it is a deduction. I generally try to avoid deliberately teaching any skill with a built-in deduction; I'd rather they just learn it cleanly from the beginning.

On the other hand, it could lead to them getting the skill faster and more comfortably, and once they are comfortable it could be easier to make whatever fixes are necessary. Also, if they mess up, and find themselves up in the air without enough rotation, they need to know what to do to get that extra bit of rotation.


From what I've seen, many boys coaches seem to teach kids to cowboy. I was never taught to cowboy when learning doubles, and later taught myself when I started playing with triples, but I've seen many boys competing in JO that do their double saltos with a cowboy tuck. I almost never see girls compete any skill cowboyed. Any idea why there seems to be such a difference?
As a gymnast I was never taught to cowboy, but i was taught, when flipping forwards, to make space for my face when it came time to land. I think if the gymnast is ready to be doing double saltos they should be able to pull hard enough without cowboying, but that's just my opinion.
Quite honestly, I think that most guys just go out and throw stuff and that's their training. I could never coach guys because most are not willing to listen or willing to take the time to really progress to skills. Girls, on the other hand, are a little more apt to such a methodology.

So, most guys do whatever is necessary to get themselves around safely with little concern for what it looks like in the early going, at least.

In terms of the forward = cowboy ok and backwards = cowboy no, I'm in total agreement. They should have their knees apart enough in forward double saltos so as to prevent their face from hitting their knees should they over-rotate. Do they need a big ol' straddled cowboy position? I don't think they need to go to extremes necessarily; just enough to avoid knee-meets-face syndrome :) As they become highly proficient with the skill, they can gravitate towards knees together...but, I'd personally let them decide this for themselves and make them fully aware of the potential repercussions of over-rotation.

Unless you're way short, that same fate is much less likely to happen during a backwards double somersault. The only purpose of cowboying a backward double is to shorten the body more to create a faster rotation. But, if you have to do this, then you probably aren't really ready to be throwing the double.
Care to elaborate?

Over rotation going forward will cause knees to break the nose or give the "owl eyes" (2 black eyes)

Backwards over rotation will just get ya landing on your keester.

I've found from talking to most judges that they aren't likely to take deduction at all on double fronts off bars, and double arabians. Its a safety issue not a issue of visual aesthetics.
for me personaly the cowboy means 2 things
1 - inadaquacy - because they are havig to deviate from the ideal model of a double front in order to perform the skill. Ideal being with knees and legs together in that much desired tight ball
2- poor coaching and gymnasts rushing - For the reasons ACoach78 gave about boys coaching.

Really i mean when you are learning double fronts its usually from a tramp or springboard into a pit or very soft mat. There should be very little need for any leg separation. I would encourage for the first week or so some leg separation to prevent the "face-meets-knees syndrome":), and to make them more confident about try to land it. but after that i would totaly insist on no cowboying whatsoever. ESPECIALLY if this is for a bar dismout.

If the gymnast just can't get confident to have the legs together, i would let them have a slight knee separation but with ankles together if they can. Otherwise its just so ugly!!.
In an Elite situation you will obviously have to weight it out though really. I mean if you are coaching someone to be Elite or the Elite, the no cowboy, but if it means that with a deduction subtracted and you still get a .1 extra because of difficulty (and assuming all else is ok), then yeah its probably worth teaching it cowboy, and then working on refining. But for a kid who wants to be and is capable of doing it then cowboying is just unacceptable in my opinion. So i guess it also will come down to an individual case by case scenario, but if you can alway avoid cowboying.
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