CheerProfessional explores both sides of the debate on the USASF’s new tumbling rules for the 2012-2013 season.
In March, the USASF rocked the industry with an unexpected announcement of new rules for the 2012-2013 competition season—affecting areas ranging from the age grid to appropriate uniform coverage. Among the most controversial changes were those pertaining to standing and running tumbling, particularly new rules prohibiting standing fulls and standing double fulls. The new regulations state that double fulls are only permitted in running tumbling and must follow a back handspring, and that consecutive bounding, twisting skills are no longer allowed.
Though the USASF cited safety concerns as the reason for its decision, the development still sparked a hotbed of debate and an outcry from those opposing the changes. (An April survey of 217 ASGA members found that only 3 of 10 agreed with the new tumbling rules.) To explore both sides of the issue, [ital: CheerProfessional] interviewed two prominent experts reflecting the wide spectrum of opinions throughout the industry. Find out what they had to say in our exclusive interview:
On her initial reaction: The fact that the board of directors exercised their right to issue a mandate surprised me more than the rule change itself. There are discussions every year about what should be legal, but there is also a rules process in place [that wasn’t followed]. While I agree that the board has a right to issue mandates in the face of immediate danger affecting athletes, there were no facts to back that up. [The changes] were a shock and kind of a slap in the face to coaches and owners and athletes alike. It has caused me to be more cautious of putting so much trust and faith in a group to set the rules if they’re going to ignore the process without facts to back it up.
On her athletes’ initial reaction: Disappointment. These are skills they’ve been working on and that have been coached correctly in a safe environment. They were frustrated, especially the older athletes at the international level who’ve been competing for 10-plus years with extensive gymnastics background. They’ve trained hard for these skills, and they want the opportunity to display them. They’re beautiful skills, and they’re impressive—almost like art in motion.
On how the rules will impact the industry: The USASF says their aim is to protect athletes. I believe we’re limiting the coaches who are educated and who do have the experience to properly teach high-level skills, while catering to uneducated coaches. Our industry should always be growing and improving; coaches should constantly strive to improve their knowledge and capabilities to safely teach skills in order to improve the athleticism of the kids. It makes me nervous to cap that off and say, “This is as good as we can ever get.”
My motto has always been, “Don’t wish it was easier—wish you were better.” Sometimes leveling the playing field isn’t always the best option. We’re cheating ourselves if we get into that position.
Here is the analogy I use: say there are three NFL quarterbacks in the country who can throw a 90-yard pass—the NFL isn’t going to issue a mandate and say, “Not everyone can do that, so that’s not fair and those passes will be considered incomplete.”
There is a safe way to progress athleticism and that needs to be kept in mind.
On safety issues: I understand the board has good intentions. I’m all for safety, but I think we need to know what the statistics really are. I don’t believe these are the skills in which athletes are getting hurt. No one can bring up these numbers that supposedly exist about the injury rate.
I believe it is a coach’s responsibility to constantly be learning and improving. At Cheer Athletics, we hosted a coaches’ clinic with incredible gymnastics instructors to refresh our knowledge and to make sure our coaches utilize the safest teaching techniques, instead of just watching on YouTube and trying to guess. Coaches everywhere can put themselves in a position to get the right kind of knowledge. Across the board, I think that could happen more—perhaps with some improvements to the USASF credentialing process.
On the skills in question: Will the skills being restricted affect the vast majority of athletes? Maybe, maybe not. What scares me more is we’re putting limits on skills that can be taught safely. Tumbling is taking a hard hit as far as injuries—there are other factors and other skills that can probably be looked at as well.
The bottom line: We’ll never really know how many injuries these rules might prevent because we have no basis on which to compare them. There were no facts to back up the mandate. I think the USASF board of directors lost a lot of confidence from coaches who’d previously believed things were being done the right way and that processes were being followed.
Tumbling Expert and USASF Strength & Conditioning Chair
On my initial reaction: When I first heard of the original tumbling changes, I looked at the little girl who told me and said, “Where did those come from?” After I relaxed, I wrote a long letter to the appropriate people with my observations and some suggestions for compromise. [Regardless], I would have accepted the rules as they were because I feel there must be a governing body such as the USASF; however, I was comfortable with the compromise that came out eventually. I think [cheer professionals] will ultimately be happy with them.
On why the rules changes are needed: My take on the whole thing is I feel the rules changes were necessary to make us all more aware of the issues regarding safety of our athletes. Putting more emphasis on proper technique for each skill, specifically in the area of standing tumbling, will alleviate many of the injuries we have seen in recent years.
Following perfection before progression and conditioning our athletes appropriately will ultimately lead us to a more healthy, fun sport with greater longevity.
On how the rules will impact the industry: If anything, it will stimulate creativity in tumbling again. People are thinking of ways to do new skills while abiding by the rules. It may also increase front tumbling because no parameters were placed on front tumbling. I think the athletes’ initial reaction of ‘We can’t do anything anymore’ is gone. Kids are looking at what’s next and adding skills that have never been done before, which is great for the sport in terms of fostering more creativity.
On safety issues: Like any sport, safety is a concern because we have so many gyms that are not members of the USASF and simply not teaching correct technique for the proper development of the athlete.
This year will be more focused on safety. We’ve had 200 or more coaches at most of our regional meetings—with much of the emphasis on safety training. We need to teach our coaches how to condition the kids’ bodies. They need to be aware of injury prevention techniques for teaching—mentally, environmentally and physically.
On the skills in question: Standing doubles and hand doubles take huge amounts of conditioning and are mainly male skills, because the male’s center of gravity is around the shoulders whereas a female’s is around the hips. It’s hard for females to condition enough in order to really go up on those skills and do them correctly.
That said, I personally don’t think [keeping] those skills would have created a problem. However, it did wake our industry up to the fact that something needs to change—it wouldn’t have mattered what skills they were. I believe the direct result will be teaching the [remaining] skills correctly.
The bottom line: I follow two basic rules: 1) perfection before progression and 2) conditioning your athletes appropriately for the sport that they’re doing. I challenge each coach to start a sports psychology program, condition your athletes—especially in the areas of glutes, core and hamstrings, and get trained on proper technique so we can all enjoy this great sport for years to come.
An Athlete’s Perspective
As both an athlete and employee for Cheer Athletics, Dillon Covington brings a unique point of the view to the proverbial table. Having been part of the gym for more than 15 years, Covington cheers on its Wildcats International Open Level Five team and also coaches four teams. Primarily a tumbler, Covington says he was incredibly concerned upon learning of the new USASF rules. “I don’t think they understood the impact it would have,” says Covington. “It’s like someone coming into your job and saying your position is no longer needed. It’s heartbreaking that we’ve been working on these skills our whole lives and aren’t allowed to do them anymore. It affects the whole industry, especially those of us tumblers who can do them safely.”
Covington created a petition on Change.org to state his position, and quickly gathered more than 7,000 signatures from coaches and athletes supporting it. “Many athletes felt like they didn’t have a voice or anyone that would listen,” says Covington. “It was our way of joining together to let them know they’re affecting our lives; we felt they were punishing us rather than fixing the problem.”
Looking ahead, Covington feels that the new rules may create a whole new set of safety issues. “The USASF wanted to get those skills out of the way so quick that they didn’t look at the repercussions,” he says. “Athletes are being forced to find more innovative skills that could be even more dangerous; with the higher degree of difficulty, there could be a higher chance of getting hurt.”