In my work this week, I have tried to embrace the International Handstand Day ethos and use it to inspire the content for my extra-curricular Gymnastics club. The session outcome for the gymnasts attending my after school club was to create group tableaus showing a range of handstand progressions/variations in an effort to demonstrate that, whilst very few can perform and hold a technically accurate handstand, there is an accessible level of Gymnastics which is achievable and beneficial for all.
Through the pulse raising warm up, we explored a variety of basic straight shape actions because this is the Gymnastics shape that underpins the full skill. The gymnasts then created their own warm up phrases incorporating a dish shape, a frog balance progression, a front support and a shoulder stand. These actions were chosen because they involve inversion, weight transfer and straight shapes whilst also testing/developing the gymnasts body tension and extension in preparation for performing handstand progressions and variations as the session developed.
During the main activity the gymnasts swapped between working on their ability to lunge and reach into the kick up action and testing their ability to support their own body weight whilst inverted by ‘moving toward handstand’ using increasingly high flat platform apparatus. With all the preparations explored, gymnasts were grouped into teams of 5 and allocated with a bench, a table and 4 mats per group. The teams were able to arrange their apparatus as they wished and were then tasked to create a Gymnastics tableau (scene) in which all 5 gymnasts demonstrated a different progression or variation of a handstand appropriate to their ability level with at least one gymnast involving an item of apparatus. Having identified that the key to success was to ensure each gymnast selected a progression/variation that they could hold for 3 seconds, the teams got to exploring ideas and it didn’t take long for them to devise successful answers to the task.
Among the pictures at the top of this Blog post, you will find the response that one group formed. The range of progressions shown start with a front support on an inclined bench, a 3 point inverted balance with one leg raised on the table top, a ‘moving toward handstand’ using apparatus, a full handstand on floor and a handstand shape variation in which the gymnast has flexed her legs at the knees and arched her back slightly to drop her feet onto the table top. As such, regardless of ability, each gymnast had successfully met the task of showing a handstand progression within a group handstand tableau – an idea which could be transferred to any Gymnastics skill, theme or concept.
On my British Gymnastics Award Scheme Coaching for Schools course yesterday, we also took the opportunity to look at how we can make handstand progressions/variations achievable for all pupils in the curriculum and extra-curricular setting. I use the phrase progressions/variations carefully as a means to express that a teacher or coach delivering Gymnastics in schools should never set the expectation of a whole group of pupils achieving a handstand in it’s purest technically correct form simultaneously within any one session. For some in a handstand themed session, the full extent of their success criteria might be to control a front support with feet on a raised platform for 3 seconds whilst a more physically able pupil's success criteria might be to perform a handstand variation such as showing a double stag leg shape in the held handstand position. With this and the International Handstand Day theme in mind, the teachers attending the Award Scheme course set to creating their own warm up phrases which they could take back into their setting to teach pupils in order to develop their body tension and extension as well as their strength and technique with a view to improving each pupil’s proficiency and confidence to perform a handstand progressions/variation applicable to their ability level. The photos above show elements of the phrase that one pair of candidates put together covering lunges, inversion and weight on hands ideas.
The end of today will mark the end of International Handstand Day for another year but it won’t mark the end of my effort and the effort of many others working in Physical Education and participatory Gymnastics to expose the ethos that this is a sport for everyone. I look forward to continuing to turn the reluctance with which many teachers approach the delivery of Gymnastics in schools into enthusiasm by sharing the message and demonstrating the fact that there is a skill level achievable (and therefore fun) for all but, in the meantime, I’ll be spending the rest of today enjoying the range of #HandstandDay contributions…