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  1. Excelsior ADC Newsletter

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    Excelsior AD Club newsletter March 2019

    We have had so much happen in the last month, and exciting things happening in the run up to Easter, it is best to keep them all in one place. So here you go.

    6 members complete their Athletic Development Coaching Course

    excelsior adc
    Happy young coaches

    Archie, Daisy, Flora, Jakin, Rebecca and Stephanie all completed the 1 day “Athletic Development Coaching Course” in half term.

    This was funded by Teinbridge CVS. They had to complete online learning and assessment and then plan and coach sessions. All 6 were brilliant and did much better than many adults James has tutored.

    Healthy Athlete Workshops

    We have received another grant from Teinbridge CVS to run a series of 3 “Healthy Athlete” workshops.

    This will be in addition to the “Sports Performance Workshops we run in the holidays which are aimed at secondary school pupils looking to help improve their sport (next one is April 10th in Willand).
    I am thinking of doing the healthy athlete for 2 hours in Willand, will include:
    • a guide to making a healthy lunch box
    • what snacks to take to competition/ training
    • how to warm up/ cool down safely.

    This will be for Primary school pupils in years 4-6, this format is flexible, so please make a suggestion. Cost will be £5 for members, £8 for non-members.

    New weight lifting equipment arrives

    weightlifting coach
    New WL equipment

    £2000 of Eleiko weight lifting equipment has arrived from Sweden
    The funding from the People’s Postcode Lottery has bought this top level weight lifting equipment. Thanks to them for funding the club.

    We have had several new members join the weight lifting sessions in the last 2 weeks- and we are starting a new Tuesday morning session for beginners in addition to the Monday and Friday evening sessions.

    We shall host the “Graham Cooper Memorial” competition in Willand on Monday April 8th.

    Spa Discount for Excelsior ADC members

    sports club willand
    Luxury spa offer

    The Thurlestone Hotel and Spa is owned by the Grose family. Mary Grose is an accomplished equestrian who James used to coach.

    She has given us an offer of 10% off all spa treatments and will “look after our members” if you wish to book a night there- speak to her directly. This applies in term time during the week.

    James on BBC Somerset Radio

    athletics club Cullompton

    Finally, those of you that listened have said some nice things about my interview on the radio.

    It was great to talk about the club, my philosophy of coaching for the long term benefit of the athletes, and name dropping a few of our members.


    I set this club up in response to my experiences in International and professional sport. It is my overwhelming desire to offer expertise locally at an affordable price for all.
    I know “You can’t be a prophet in your own village” but thanks to all our members who train every week and to their parents and our volunteers for helping it run.

  2. History of Educational Gymnastics in British schools

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    Educational Gymnastics in Britain

    Educational gymnastics

    Excelsior ADC gymnasts

    A popular conception of gymnastics today is of young girls in sparkly leotards with hair kept up in tightly bound buns.  This is a relatively new concept, with gymnastics originally being an all-male outdoor pursuit.

    Gymnastics has originated from several different sources, but all had the underlying principle of healthy movement. The last 30 -40 years has seen a swing to competitive gymnastics which has influenced coaching courses and also teacher training. This so- called “traditional” gymnastics in clubs results in a massive dropout by children in their early teens.

    With phrases like “disengagement” and “pupil -centred” learning becoming prevalent, teachers may be in the frame of mind to look a little bit deeper into our rich and varied past for ideas that were successful with previous generations.

    This article shall look at the origins of educational gymnastics and also offer solutions for teachers and coaches who wish to improve the overall movement of their pupils and players.

    Gymnastics and the defence of the Nation

    The many wars and conflicts of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries meant that all European Nations were worried about the health and fitness of their military recruits. The history of gymnastics is intertwined with the concerns of each country about possible invasions by the enemy.

    FAther Jahn

    Father Jahn

    Frederich Ludwig Jahn  was probably the first gymnastics coach. He was a teacher in Germany and he trained boys  in the woods outside Berlin to help  prepare them for military service against Napoleon (1). The boys performed all types of stunts using tree limbs and natural features. When they moved inside in the winter, “Father” Jahn built apparatus to help reproduce this work.

    These ideas spread to other areas and competitions between the groups developed. The groups were known as “Turnvereine” and the participants as “Turners”. In the 1820s many Germans emigrated to North America and continued their practice especially in the big cities. This led to the formation of the “American Turnerbund” which had a big influence in introducing physical education to public schools.

    In France in the early 1900s a similar approach was developed by Georges Hebert. Hebert had served with the French Navy and was involved in the relief of Martinique after a volcanic eruption. This disaster shaped his thoughts on the need for physical fitness, courage and altruism.

    His travels led him to observe people on different continents and he reflected:

    Their bodies were splendid, flexible, nimble, skillful, enduring, resistant and yet they had no other tutor in gymnastics but their lives in nature.”  Georges Hebert (2).

    He started to develop his “Natural Method” based on these ideals and the also the work of Frederick Jahn amongst others. He systemised the exercises and practiced them.  Hebert was injured in World War I and was then asked to form a school of physical education for the French Military.

    Origin of Parkour

    Parcours du combattant

    The final goal of physical education is to make strong beings. In the purely physical sense, the Natural Method promotes the qualities of organic resistance, muscularity and speed, towards being able to walk, run, jump, move on all fours, to climb, to keep balance, to throw, lift, defend yourself and to swim.” Georges Hebert  (2).

    Hebert helped develop obstacle courses that allowed recruits to perform a series of various exercises in sequence.  This then became standard practice for nearly every military unit in the world before World War II (Parcours du combattant = Assault Course), more on this later.

    Swedish Gymnastics and Swedish PT

    Swedish gymnastics

    Pehr Ling

    At about the same time Father Jahn was developing his system, Pehr Henrik Ling was creating a series of formalised exercises in Sweden (3). He did this after studying to be a Doctor and was in interested in the health promoting benefits of regular exercise.

    In 1813 Ling was given government backing and founded “The Royal Gymnastics Central Institute” in Stockholm. Amongst other things, Ling is credited with inventing Calisthenics (derived from the Greek words Kalos and Sthenos: Beauty and Strength) and several pieces of equipment including wall bars, beams and the vaulting box.

    Ling’s systematic use of a series of exercises proved popular in the early twentieth century and easy to export.

    (P.G. Wodehouse mentioned them several times in his novels:

    Aunt Dahilia to Bertie Wooster “Well, I won’t keep you, as, no doubt, you want to do your Swedish exercises.” (4).)

    In 1909 the British Board of Education issued a “Syllabus of Physical Training” which was based on the Swedish PT system (5). This involved an enormous amount of exercises and routines which were annotated like this:

    “Exercise 36 (St-Kn.Fl.Bd.) Jump to St.-Asd.-Hl. Ra. Posn. With Am. Bend. U. or swing. m.

    (With heel raising, knees full-bend!) Jumping astride on the toes with arm bending upward (arm swinging midway), by numbers one!- two! And later: Five times- begin! Spring from one position to the other, bending the arms upward or swinging them midway on the upward jump and bringing the hands to hips on the downward jump. The number of jumps may be gradually increased.”

    This syllabus did include apparatus work with the wall bars, beams (heaving) and vaulting boxes as well as rope climbing.

    There was little or no individual development or coaching, it was designed for mass instruction and synchronised movements.  The Board of Education were still using it in the years immediately after World War II.

    Here is an example of how it was used outside of schools too:

    Gymnastics in Britain around the Wars

    After World War 1 a new philosophy of physical education was developed: informal activities and mild recreational activities became the norm. Gymnastics, tumbling, calisthenics and marching tactics were reduced further before World War II in some areas.

    As the threat of war loomed once again the 1930s, the government once again took interest in the health of the young men. This video shows some of the formal work being done in a standard physical education class. Note the precision of movement, agility and also body mass of the children involved.

    In the 1950s and 1960s gymnastics on apparatus enjoyed a resurgence as many ex-servicemen went into teaching and taught activities they had done in the military (6).

    The origins of Parkour

    In 1946 a 7 year old French orphan called Raymond Belle snuck out of his orphanage in French Indo-China (now Vietnam) to train in secret to avoid becoming “a victim” of the very real conflict that surrounded him. He set up a series of exercises and routines in the jungle that he practiced diligently for the next 9 years. He moved to France at the age of 19 and served in the French military (7).

    His son David Belle was inspired by his father’s accomplished physical capabilities, and his philosophy on life. David did gymnastics and athletics growing up but found them “too scholastic” for his taste.

    Rather than do sport to compete, he wanted to seek out challenges for their own sake and find new ways to move:

    And that’s exactly what Parkour is all about: move from one obstacle to the other and make it more difficult on purpose so that in real life, everything seems easier.”

    As David grew up in a city, his obstacles were walls, ledges and roof tops, rather than the jungle or “Parcours du combattant”. It was just the Parcours.

    The aim of the game was to adapt to just about any surrounding, always keeping in mind that should anything happen, what do you do?”

    I see many young teachers looking for Parkour ideas for their pupils and expecting a series of moves. But, the original concept by Raymond and then David Belle is to seek challenges and solutions themselves rather than doing stunts just to look good.

    (When I coach gymnastics, I always include some obstacles or apparatus for them to work on and over. Schools do have this equipment; it just needs to be put out). These 2 children found solutions to the obstacles I laid out:

    Rudolf Laban and female physical educators

    So far, so martial.  A completely different strand of gymnastics evolved from the pioneering work of Rudolf Laban. The Hungarian born Laban was resident in the UK from 1938 until his death in 1958(8)

    His background and speciality was movement through dance. He spent years observing and practicing teaching pupils’ movement. Laban’s work has been summarised in 5 statements:

    1. That all human movement has two purposes, functional and expressive.
    2. That dancing is a symbolic action.
    3. That all movement of a part or parts of the body is composed of discernible factors that are common to men everywhere. These factors are contained in two overall terms: effort and shape.
    4. That there are inherent movement patterns of effort and shape which are indicative of harmonious movement.
    5. A system of notation that makes it possible to record accurately all movement of the human body.

    The emphasis is on helping the participant discover new or more efficient or expressive ways to move. This contrasts with a “Top Down” approach of having an end skill such as a forward roll and trying to get every pupil to do that by the end of term to “demonstrate learning”.

    Physical Education students abhor the fact that they are given too much chapter and verse; taught a recognisable end-product, and not allowed more individual interpretations.” (8).

    Laban’s detailed observations and the systematic annotation were taken up by female educators such as Ruth Morison  (10) and Mauldon & Layson (11) who wrote very accessible books that expanded the ideas and applied them more to the functional side of gymnastics, rather than the expressive side of dance.

    When I first started researching Educational Gymnastics, I couldn’t work out why it was only female pioneers. Then I realised the huge impact World War II had on this generation and the men were away for a 6 years of Laban’s work.  Plus, the schools of Laban movement were dance based and so there were mainly females being exposed to his work and initial talk was of “movement” training rather than “gymnastics”.

    Laban’s movement framework could be summarised as follows:

    Educational gymnastics course

    Movement Framework

    Expansion of these ideas was piecemeal with Lancashire and Yorkshire being the “early adopters”. Several more Educational Authorities soon realised that this framework and a child-centred approach meant that teaching gymnastics was a lot easier for Primary school teachers without a specialist background (12, 13).

    The gymnastic lesson today is centred on the child rather than the exercise. The teacher tries to create a learning situation which will stimulate the child to think.” (13).

    Here is an example of me coaching “Rocking and rolling” (body aspect with shapes and actions).

    Whilst there was still a distinction between boys and girls gymnastics in the 1960s and early 1970s, male educators who became exposed to Laban’s methodology realised its use too (14). The combination of learning how the body moves, then applying that to using apparatus in the gym meant for a potentially rich, inventive and fun environment for the children.

    An inventive child with a certain degree of skill will produce varied work instead of movement clichés or actions habitually strung together.” (11).

    However, whilst the knowledge of specific skills was unnecessary, teachers had to have empathy, sound movement knowledge and great observational skills for this system to work.  So whilst it may be easier to plan structure for Educational Gymnastics than rote learning, it also requires a teacher who can think on their feet.

    There was some resistance amongst male educators who were used to a “command-response” approach utilised by the Swedish PT system and/ or their military service. (Younger readers might be questioning my continued use of gender: it is relevant to the times, some context of how “new-fangled” ideas might have difficult spreading can be gained by watching Brian Glover’s portrayal of a games teacher in Kes (1969)

    Note that this “creating of learning environment” and “child- centred” approach was being written about and conducted with success from the early 1960s onwards. This pre- dates the work on “constraints led coaching” by over 2 decades (15).

    School gymnastics today

    educational gymnastics

    1950s school gymnastics

    It is for better informed people than me to try and explain what has happened to physical education in this country since the early 1970s. Part of the problem is that even if the National strategy is well informed (take this from 1972 for example):

    In his inheritance, in response to his environment, in his biological need for activity and in in his absorption in the potential of his physical frame, a child has within him a powerful drive to indulge his capacity for movement. It is the role of physical education to reveal and extend this capacity, and through it to lead the child towards his full potential.” (16).

    local tactics vary.

    For example in East Sussex, Teachers were given guidance by University lecturer and a Senior BAGA coach which dismisses the Laban based work as “an activity shrouded in a “movement mystique.” (17).

    Their book simplifies “gymnastics” to 7 specific skills and recommends following the BAGA award scheme “since it has clearly defined objectives”. I would suggest that this is the antithesis of “Educational Gymnastics” and is more like “training” which is commonly seen in gymnastics clubs.

    Training is a reductionist goal: its aim is to refine an existing action, whereas learning is an expansive goal; its aim is to increase the number of potential actions.” (18).

    That is just one example, but each county will have its own adviser and system of teacher education.

    One underlying problem now is that teachers coming into Primary Schools receive as little as 4 hours of Physical Education tutoring.  Today’s kids are being taught by teachers who have never been exposed to physical education programmes themselves.

    (On a recent course I tutored , one 23 year old sports science graduate didn’t know that the sports hall benches could be secured safely against wall bars with the levers underneath!)

    Many “P.E. specialists” have studied Sports Science courses at University, rather than Physical Education. They are more comfortable measuring physical fitness than teaching movement.

    Helping the teachers teach and the children explore

    educational gymnastics

    Child led approach

    I started learning about gymnastics in order to help my own children. Coming into it with an open mind, without a competitive gymnastics bias, or a local authority slant, I just focussed on giving the children the best opportunity to learn in a limited amount of time.

    For me, the Educational Gymnastics work tied well into my own coaching philosophy developed through working with accomplished sports people at Regional and International level. I could see the end goal, but reverse engineering from that and doing “micro versions” of “elite” training was nonsensical.

    Instead, building the child’s ability from the ground up in an environment that is both challenging and rewarding is both our club’s aim, and that of the village school where I teach.  Laban’s work looks at developing movement from within whilst Parkour looks at overcoming obstacles from without. Combining the two together has been a learning process for me and our club gymnasts.

    No child has yet to come to me and ask for a certificate, badge or to enter a competition. Their motivation comes from within.

    The coach and teacher “Educational Gymnastics” course I developed has helped introduce teachers to the infinite possibilities that children can explore. By giving them a framework and practical ideas, they gain confidence and observational skills that they can take back to their own unique classrooms.

    There is hope for us all yet, we have a rich tradition in this country, I hope this article as given you some ideas for helping your children learn and explore movement.


    1. A Manual for Tumbling and Apparatus Stunts: Otto E. Ryser (1968, 5th edition).
    2. Le Sport contre l’Éducation physique:  Georges Hebert (1946, 4th edition).
    3. A Biographical Sketch of the Swedish Poet and Gymnasiarch, Peter Henry Ling: Georgii, Augustus (1854).
    4. Right Ho Jeeves:G. Wodehouse (1934).
    5. Reference Book of Gymnastic Training for Boys: Board of Education (1927, reprinted 1947).
    6. Activities on P.E. Apparatus: J. Edmundson & J. Garstan. (1962).
    7. Parkour: David Belle & Sabine Gros La Faige (2009).
    8. The Influences of Rudolf Laban: John Foster (1977).
    9. The Mastery of Movement: Rudolf Laban, Revised by Lisa Ullmann (1971).
    10. A Movement Approach to Educational Gymnastics: Ruth Morison (1969, reprinted 1971).
    11. Teaching Gymnastics: E. Mauldon & J. Layson (1965).
    12. Educational Gymnastics: Inner London Education Authority (1962, reprinted 1971).
    13. Education In Movement (School Gymnastics): W. McD Cameron & Peggy Pleasance (1963, revised 1965).
    14. Gymnastics: Don Buckland (1969, reprinted 1976).
    15. Constraints on the development of co-ordination: Newell, K.M. In Motor Development in Children: aspects of co-ordination and control (1986).
    16. Movement: Physical Education in the Primary Years: Department of Education and Science (1972).
    17. Gymnastics 7-11: A lesson –by-lesson approach: M.E. Carroll & D.R. Garner (1984).
    18. A constraintsled, systems based autodidactic model for soccer or how guided-discovery works: Paul . In 21st Century Guide to Individual Skill Development Brian McCormick (2015).
  3. Excelsior ADC Club Update December 2017

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    Merry Christmas to all our club members

    weightlifting coaching devon

    Our new assistant coaches

    Thanks to all our athletes, parents, volunteers and suppliers for a great 2017. A lot has happened over the last year, and more is planned for 2018.  Here is a summary and update for January 2018.

    Please share with family and friends, you never know who might want to take up a new activity in January, or help at the club in some form. We couldn’t have foreseen our 4 level 1 weight lifting coaches a year ago!

    As Head Coach I shall continue to strive to improve what we do as a club and my own coaching. In 2o17 this included:

    • Level 2 weightlifting coaching qualification
    • Became a weightlifting coach tutor
    • coaching course devon

      James presenting

      Completed the Damien Walters movement course (Parkour)

    • Attended and presented at the DAASM (German Academy of Applied Sport Science) conference in Cologne.
    • Attended and ran practical workshop at GAIN conference in Houston.
    • Attend weekly Adult Gym sessions at Orchard gymnastics to improve my practical knowledge.
    • Completed the Level 3 Gymnastics Somersault module.

    These experiences and sharing ideas and asking questions of World Class coaches are invaluable in shaping how and what I coach for our club members.


    Training and competing in the Summer seems a long way off.

    athletics club willand

    Pre race warm up

    Every athlete competed at some point and in more than one event. This avoids early specialisation and gives everyone the opportunity to run, jump and throw.

    It was nice to start running sessions at Willand school too and see those pupils become club members.

    Thanks to Cullompton Community College (CCC), we could practice our long jumps and discus throws safely. Thanks to Sainsbury’s vouchers donations we bought new javelins, discus, and hurdles.

    Winter Athletics has moved from monthly to weekly due to demand. We now run 2 sessions a week and the new members have really liked being taught how to move properly.


    gymnastics wellington

    Grace, Amelia, George 50th caps

    After last year’s expansion of classes and move to the excellent Willand Village Hall, this year saw a focus on expanding the Freestyle Gymnastics and improving the class design. Our Summer display was the best yet, and it all came from the design of the gymnasts themselves.

    Thanks to fund raising efforts, we have bought even more equipment: a “rockin robin” tumble trainer, a junior springboard, a round off mat and an extra landing mat. All of these are used weekly.

    In September I took Flora, Grace and Jack to the somersaults and aerials workshop. We now have several gymnasts who can do front or side somersaults. It is just as pleasing to see our new intake mastering the forward rolls, thanks to Harry Washington for helping with this group.

    We now have a waiting list in Willand, but unfortunately we still seem unable to gain more members in Wellington, especially in the Free G (Parkour) class. If you know anyone who would like to take part, please let me know.


    weightlifting devon

    Love to lift at CCC

    A big year for the weightlifting section thanks to the Sport England grant.

    • New competition equipment
    • 4 new assistant coaches
    • Love to Lift” outreach sessions at CCC
    • Beginner daytime sessions for Ladies (19 tried it out).

    have all been completed.

    Zara and James both represented the club at weightlifting competitions in the South West, Zara finished 4th in the Bristol Open.

    We have more “Love to Lift” sessions that are running in January, so if you know any females who want to try the sport, please let me know.

    weightlifting competition devon

    Zara competing

    The main comment was “It looks so easy, but it’s really hard“! As you can see from the picture above, it isn’t all about heavy weight, it is about speed, co-ordination, mobility and no small amount of courage.

    We held three p.b. nights over the year and will host our next club competition in February 2018.


    A lot has happened, sorry to see some members leave, but delighted to welcome a lot of new ones. I hope everyone enjoys their Christmas break and look forward to coaching you all in 2018.

  4. Excelsior ADC Club Update September 2017


    Autumn Term means new beginnings

    gymnastics wellington

    Gymnasts receiving funds

    School term has resumed which means the end of Summer Athletics and the resumption of gymnastics and weightlifting in Willand and Wellington. Here is a brief synopsis of what is happening.

    Fundraising: we have been short listed from over 700 applicants for the Skipton Grassroots Giving Campaign. In order to gain £500 for the club to buy equipment, please vote here. Every vote counts, so thank you.

    We were also kindly given £450 from Viridor for equipment and £240 from Willand United Charities to subsidise our uniforms.


    Summer training and competition has finished now. The last event was the Exeter Open where we had several personal bests in hurdles, sprints, javelin and 1200m. No long jumpers this time due to conflicting events. Archie Ware won both his events but got listed as an Exeter Harrier by mistake!

    Winter training will resume in October and will consist of technical work and physical preparation for next spring.



    3 of our weightlifters

    Sessions have started back this week after a quiet Summer. We have spaces available on Monday nights for anyone aged 13+ who wishes to learn a new activity and be physically and mentally challenged. Other times are available, including two day time slots. Full details on our weightlifting page.

    Four of our members will be doing their Level 1 coaching course starting in 2 weeks’ time in Willand. Topsy, Sarah, Laura and Zara will then be able to help James coach in the upcoming funded “Love to Lift” sessions which will start in October.


    We ran a volunteer workshop last Friday for the new and existing volunteers who help out at the club. This gives everyone an idea on basic handling, safety and an introduction to good coaching practice. We looked at handstands,  headstands and some beam work.

    gymnastics wellington

    End of a busy day somersaulting

    These workshops are designed to help improve what we do and give confidence to parents that they can get involved and help out.  We have a good mix of parents and Duke of Edinburgh volunteers, without whom we would be unable to operate.

    James attended his first Level 3 technical module in Honiton on Sunday with 3 of our gymnasts. The syllabus included: front, back and side somersaults, with aerials and aerial walkovers.

    We will be able to work towards these skills with our more accomplished gymnasts.

    We have vacancies in Freestyle Gymnastics in Wellington and Willand and still have some spaces left in our Primary gymnastics class in Wellington. All details are on our gymnastics club page

    Thanks to everyone for supporting the club, we are looking forward to improving everything we do to create the best environment for our athletes and coaches.

    We are looking to recruit a new Welfare Officer. If you know anyone who might want to take on this important, (but low workload) role to help the club, please let James know. Would suit a retired person who is willing to attend a 3 hour course (paid for by the club) and have a DBS check.

  5. Speed Training for Gymnasts


    speed training for gymnastsHow to get to the Vault or Double Mini Trampoline quicker

    .In order to generate a bigger jump, gymnasts need a faster approach to the Vault or Double Mini Trampoline (DMT). This involves them running for about 20-30m and then jumping onto a springboard or the DMT.

    Speed training for gymnasts starts with posture (again)..

    speed for gymnasts

    Strong hips help speed

    Regular readers and athletes I work with will know that I start off with posture. It is hard to run fast if you are sagging like a jellyfish before you start.

    Whilst gymnasts are very strong at what they do, their lifestyle is affecting their standing and running posture.

    We have to put certain exercises and training in first to allow their bodies to get strong and support the speed. This is developing their structural integrity.

    Coach the cause rather than the symptom

    I made a mistake when first working with the Wellington Whirlwinds on trying to fix the very strange arm actions that the trampolinists had when running. I worked hard at getting them to use an “elbow high and back” arm action to be more efficient.

    However, Gary Winckler had previously spoken to me about the upper body being an indicator of what was going on below. When I saw Gary at GAIN  a few years ago, I said I had some sucess and he said the weird arm action was due to gymnasts being excessive plantor flexors which leads to straight leg running action, which then leads to straight arms.

    DOH! Blindingly obvious when I thought about it. I had been working on the overall sprint mechanics but had been distracted by the arms.

    We did a specific speed session out on the track with the group which was a break through moment. We established some common drills and common language which made it easier to go back into the gym and coach on the runway.

    This included:

    to help the run action. Speed for gymnasts needs to be constantly refined and the warm ups are a good place to reinforce these correct mechanics at every opportunity.

    Shorten the run up

    speed training for gymnasts

    Shorten the run up

    When working with the youngsters at Gemini, I asked them why they started their run up where they did: they were just guessing.

    When I watched them approach the vault, there was a lot of pitter pattering as they got near and they were slowing down. This meant a loss of speed.

    I got them to start near the springboard, then go back two metres at a time to see how they could maintain their speed. When they started the pitter patter, they went forward again two metres. That was their new start position.

    I got the youngsters to self assess where they should start, rather than Carolyn and I dictate. This became an “honesty competition” and we were delighted that they became very accurate on their self assessment.

    There is little point starting a run up from 30 metres away, then having to slow down as you approach take off. Instead, start short, get used to the take off and gradually increase the distance as you run faster and you can control that speed. Speed for gymnasts is different from top speed running because of the short  distance.

    When I coached at Exe Valley Gymnastics I helped this this young gymnast who is very fast. She has a short run up (due to hall constraints) but really attacks the vault   

    Her foot strike is excellent, as is her hip position of the stance leg. However, she does use her arms too early, looking more like a long jumper here.

    Here is me doing a less technically good  and slower vault, but using the arms correctly: 


    Speed training for gymnasts is a work in progress because as the gymnasts develop their technical skills and perform more complex routines, they need more approach speed.

    As they develop more approach speed, they need to be able to convert that speed into vertical/ horizontal jumping ability.

    Underpinning all of this is strength/ posture to allow them to move efficiently and be robust enough to withstand the rigours of training.

    Thanks to Carolyn and Bernie and everyone at the clubs for their input and efforts.

    I am currently implementing these ideas in Willand and Wellington with the young gymnasts I work with at our gymnastics club.

  6. Excelsior ADC awarded Sport England Grant


    Excelsior ADC awarded £8756 from Sport England

    weightlfting devonI am delighted to announce that we have been successful in our application to Sport England’s small grants programme. The money will be used to develop the Weightlifting section of our club.

    The grant we will be used in 3 main parts:

    1. Equipment: we shall be buying Eleiko competition bar and plates, a new floor and some technical bars for beginner lifters.
    2. Coach development: it is important to develop coaches from within the club. We shall be sending some of our existing lifters on the British Weightlifting (BWL) level 1 assistant coaches qualification. This is a great opportunity for the young people of Mid Devon to gain a coaching qualification.
    3. Running new sessions for women during the day time in Willand, as part of a programme of helping females get fit and trying a new activity. This will be done in 2 seperate blocks to give as many people as possible the opportunity to try the sport.

    weightlfting somerset

    Young weightlifter

    This project will run alongside our existing evening Weightlifting sessions which run in Willand. Our club is the only licensed Weightlifting club in the South West (outside of Bristol). We accomodate people who want to get fit for their sport (Golf, rugby, hockey and football are the most common) as well as those who want to compete in Weightlifting.

    If you would like to take part in the upcoming Weightlifting sessions, please register your interest with Head Coach James Marshall . No experience is necessary, but being generally healthy is a prerequisite as the sport requires movement.

    This application took a long time to prepare and submit, a big thanks to Chris Brown (one of our lifters) for his efforts in helping.

    Getting Willand healthy and fit

    fitness class devon

    Willand play kit

    Last year we raised and secured £12,171.93 which was mainly used for our gymnastics club  equipment with some going to weightlifting and athletics kit.

    This meant we could expand what we were offering and move into the bigger Village Hall. We also offer a satellite gymnastics club in Wellington, Somerset, 10 miles away.

    I also worked with Willand Parish Council in advising on play equipment for the village. We chose bars and obstacles courses that allow children and adults to play and explore, rather than sit! They spent £20,000 and the kit is well used and is available to all.

    That means in the last 18 months Willand has had over £40,000 invested into it’s physical activity and sporting infrastructure!

    Willand was a sporting hub 100 years ago (read here ) it is on it’s way to becoming so again.

    Hopefully this will make a difference to the long term health of our local population. All we need now are some decent cycle paths in the Culm Valley and we will really see a difference.

    If you would like to take part in weightlifting, athletics or gymnastics in Mid Devon, please come along.

  7. Why disengaged girls hate school sport


    I have recently been asked to help coach “disengaged” girls in school p.e. I am doing weightlifting at one school, gymnastics at another. Funding is available to help these girls as they are unenthusiastic about “traditional p.e.” My experience coaching them is different from what I was told to expect.

    What is “traditional p.e.”?

    I keep getting told by twenty-something p.e. teachers that the sports model is failing and so we have to find non-traditional ways of “engaging” girls (I use girls, but most of what follows applies to boys too). But, once again, p.e. is getting confused with sport. They are different (or at least should be).

    This quote from 1969:

    disengaged girls

    Hockey team 1921

    Organised games playing in girls’ schools has been much maligned as purposelessly aping the boys’ tradition and either producing hearty hockey players or a tight-skirted, unenthusiastic, unskilled rabble…

    To the age of 13 or 14  the majority of girls are likely to be keen. After this age many girls do not take kindly to hockey, lacrosse or netball; there should then be a wider scope for individual activities such as tennis, athletics, swimming, archery or dancing.

    There are two points here: are the girls opting out because they have found something which matches their talents and desires better? Or, are they deselecting themselves because they lack the basic skills required to perform a team sport such as hand-eye co-ordination, running, skipping and throwing/ catching skills?

    The first is perfectly acceptable and requires schools to offer a selection. The latter is a travesty and shows we are failing our children.

    Sports modules instead of physical development

    Ready for p.e.

    Ready for p.e.

    One of the reasons we are failing our children is the insistence on using sports modules in p.e. classes. When I was growing up, we had p.e. twice a week in shorts and white T-shirts. We had games once a week wearing a reversible rugby shirt. We did physical education in p.e. and games in Games.

    Now, even Primary Schools are dominated by sports modules. “Invasion games” is a module, cricket, athletics, tennis and rugby are modules. These all presume that the children have underlying motor skills and that sport will get them fit.

    The cynical part of me sees schools being given resources by Sporting National Governing Bodies (NGBs) that show complete lesson plans for 6-8 weeks to help teachers run p.e. classes. For the drowning Primary School teacher this is a lifeline that helps them survive for a little bit longer.

    But, the NGBS are chucking resources at schools as part of a big recruitment drive to increase participation and then get more funding from Government: this then allows the administrators to keep their jobs for another year.

    But, what is the point of having “Invasion Games” if the kids are unable to throw or catch, let alone run and jump as well?

    I was playing catch with my 6 year old son before school one morning and 3 other boys asked to join in, 2 of whom were 8. Of the four boys, two could throw with a contralateral overhand action with some degree of accuracy. One of the 8 year olds had an ipsolateral  shot putting action, the other did an underarm loop effort which went vertical and was never near the target.

    Why do “invasion games” with this bunch? Where is the differentiation? To rub salt into my wound of dismay, a teacher came up and said “You are encouraging rule breaking Mr Marshall”! I wonder if that teacher is able to spot different throwing actions, let alone improve them.

    Even Athletics which could be considered as teaching fundamental movements is corrupted by competition. (At every level it seems).

    primary school gym

    Rare sight in schools

    In Devon, the schools competitions take place at the beginning of the Summer term, rather than the end. That means only the kids who participate outside of school are likely to be selected. The keen, hopeful young girl who learns throughout the term, misses out on opportunities that happened 6 weeks earlier. School then stops and resumes in September with rugby…

    The problem is endemic and we have a generation of teachers who have not experienced quality physical education as a pupil. I recently had a Secondary school p.e. teacher on a course who did not know what the tabs underneath the bottom of a bench were: he had never run up a bench onto a frame. I promptly changed that. Now his pupils will get an opportunity to do so.

    But boys like competition

    But, however much they are encouraged, games cannot altogether take the place of physical training. They have not the same corrective effect, many of them are “one-sided”, the same regular systematic and progressive results cannot be obtained from them, and apart from the difficulty of obtaining sufficient space for all to play, the greatest drawback to the use of games alone is that the weaker and less expert performer (i.e. the very man who requires most training ) is often discouraged by his want of proficiency and so ends by becoming a “looker on”. (2).

    disengaged girls p.e.

    Girls like getting fit

    Do you see schools that have a structured physical training programme with the goal of children being able to move properly and be physically fit? The only area where targets have been laid down and schools make effort is with swimming.

    What about fitness? In Devon, the schools are given misguided advice about the intermittent shuttle run (beep) test: they are prohibited from using it. There is no measurement of aerobic fitness, let alone strength let alone co-ordination that is used across Primary Schools.

    If we don’t measure it, we can’t be seen to be failing. Instead we can measure “numbers” and “hours on the timetable”. That way we can show success.

    What a load of claptrap. That is an easy option for pencil pushers to pat themselves on the back. They are failing our children. No wonder the girls become “disengaged”.

    Children are lazy

    fit kids

    Let them play

    Unlike the parent who told me last weekend that “kids are lazy”, I strongly believe that kids relish opportunity, challenge and boundaries. They just need support and guidance.

    I told that parent to come to Willand at 3:30 after school and see just how “lazy” these kids are. The recreational field is covered with scores of children running, skipping, playing, climbing and shouting. In short, being children.

    Is it the child’s fault that they are driven everywhere, and plonked down in front of a screen whilst their Mum updates her facebook status, or while their Dad checks football scores on twitter?

    Is it the child’s fault that they are told to sit down in p.e. lessons so that they can “learn” about fartlek, rather than run around the park?


    Here are a few solutions:

    1. Stop confusing sport with physical education: they are different. Sport is an expression of physical abilities, rather than a tool to develop them. Traditional p.e. was just that.
    2. Have some balls and set some physical targets for your school. Make them public and accountable (all pupils leaving Primary school able to climb a rope, vault a box, run 800m without stopping and throw 20 metres would be a start).
    3. Give teachers skills to observe and encourage quality movement, rather than laminated lesson plans which are about survival.

    “The Teacher…must also know how to stimulate and control the pupils’ efforts so as to obtain the quality of performance that brings out the full value which the exercise has for the pupils at the particular stage of development and training they have reached. Technical skill alone will not enable him to do this: sympathetic understanding and powers of leadership are needed.” (3).

    Here is an example of a group of kids aged 12-14 doing a small circuit round the gym. Whilst it may be called gymnastics now, it is only p.e. from the 1960s.

    Further reading: How to create an outstanding physical education programme


    1. Educating the Intelligent: M. Hutchinson & C. Young. Pelican (1969)
    2. Manual of Physical Training: The War Office. HMSO (1931).
    3. Reference Book of Gymnastic Training for Boys. Board of Education (1947).
  8. Athletic Development Club Update November 2016

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    grassroots giving

    Thanks Skipton

    Skipton Grassroots Giving Winners!

    Thanks to everyone who voted for our club in the Skipton Grassroots Giving Campaign. We were one of 700 clubs shortlisted, and thanks to your votes we were one of the 163 organisations that will receive £500.

    Read on to see how we are spending your fundraising efforts and what is happening in the Club for the rest of the year. This includes all the relevant information, dates and times for events for weightlifting, athletics and gymnastics.

    Can I please ask everyone who hasn’t already to sign up for easyfundraising ahead of Christmas? It really is easy and FREE and helps us buy more equipment for all the athletes. Don’t leave it for someone else to do.


    Our lifters are preparing for the Graham Cooper Memorial competition in December. We have got 16 people lifting in each week, evcenly split between men and women.

    weightlifting somerset

    Spooky coach

    weight lifting devon

    The lifters

    We have bought a new chalk bowl stand and extra safety collars from our easyfundraising totals. Thanks everyone who is doing easyfundraising.

    We also held our Halloween Weightlifting session for the first time. Hard to tell who was wearing the make up!


    Winter training started last week. We are doing Structural Integrity work in the gym on the first Thursday of the month, with some sprints and jumps. We are working on sprints, throws and middle distance on the first Saturday of the month.

    athletics club devon

    Recovery in the sun

    This is in preparation for competing next Summer. We were lucky with the weather last week. Ages 10-18.


    The Freestyle Gym (FreeG) has taken off nicely at both our Willand and Wellington venues. We currently have 61 members between the 2 venues!

    We shall be increasing the number of sessions to 3 per month at Willand starting in January. Our last one this year in Willand is on 22nd November.

    Thanks to the parents and volunteers who have answered our call for help. Without you the Club simply wouldn’t run.

    gymnastics club cullompton

    Good for flic flacs

    Holly Walker and Laura Lane spent a day at half term on the coaching core proficiency course. Together with Tom Trowbridge and Kristy Popplestone at Wellington, they will be using the new resources we have bought to help make the sessions more structured with less queueing. (That is £200 of funding well used).

    The Skipton Grassroots funding will be used to buy this Tracks 2000 folding wedge It is a handy piece of equipment which doubles as a big block we can use in FreeG and for supporting gymnasts.

    End of term open sessions:

    On Tuesday 6th December we will be holding an open session in Willand for parents, friends and relatives to come and watch what happens in class. We shall be holding a raffle and have refreshments for sale  (Louise Sherman and Sarah Marshall hosting) which will help raise funds for the club.

    On Wednesday 7th December we will be doing the same in Wellington (minus the refreshments). This is your chance to see your child in action and support the club.

    Raffle prizes so far include: Red wine; set of Trolley bags; £10 voucher from Jazzys World Food in Tiverton; bottle of champagne; Dermologica mini-facial voucher. Any more donations would be appreciated (Ella Partridge and Georgina Nicol will be co-ordinating in Willand, need someone in Wellington).

    Finally we have been invited to attend a Gymnastics camp on Tuesday 20th December at Gemini Gymnastics  (13.5 miles from Cribbs Causeway) in Clifton. The cost for the day is only £25.  It will consist of games, gymnastics and an opportunity to use all their fantastic kit, including their new FreeG “urban” area.  

    I need to let their Head Coach know numbers by next week, so please let me know if you are interested in going. Transport will be required, but I can help coordinate lift shares. This is an exclusive invite.


  9. Have you thought of using gymnastics as part of your warm up?


    How can gymnastics help prepare me for a collision sport?

    Gymnastics: a sport based on perfecting skills and techniques. What you practice at training is exactly what you will perform at competition.

    Field sports: sports based on quick decision making, tactics and game play. No game or match is ever the same.

    rugby warm up

    Diving and rolling in rugby

    Two very different activities, but taking some elements from one and incorporating them into another would be very beneficial for the athletes.

    In particular, I am talking about bringing some basic skills and movements from gymnastics, and adding them into field sports warm ups and game play.

    The skills I am talking about are rolls. Forward rolls, backward rolls and sideways rolls. Basic gymnastic movements that use a different body part to travel.

    Teaching field sport athletes these movements can give a new way to move, dodge or recover and get up quickly from a fall.

    These NFL wide receivers use rolling a lot 

    A roll is a flowing and constant movement.

    There is more to speed than straight line running.

    Take a fall for example, the body stops when it hits the floor so it takes a few seconds to get up and recover. Can you afford to waste these few seconds?

    Now imagine, as the athlete falls, they move into the forward/backward/sideways roll and are able to get up very quickly and continue with the game. Seconds are saved and composure is still set.

    Forward Rolls

    forward roll


    Forward rolls could be used in a lot of situations. This motion carries on going forwards which could be useful in order to get to the ball.

    Backward roll –

    backward roll


    Backwards rolls would be useful after a tackle. If the athlete is pushed back then they are going in the right direction to roll backwards, instead of falling and having to stand back up. (In a recent football match between Tiverton Town and Taunton Town, 2 Tivvy players did backward roll variants after falling down in the first 5 minutes of the 2nd half.)

    Sideways roll 

    A sideways roll could be useful for sports like hockey where your hands are already busy holding the stick.

    There are loads of variations to rolls that you can choose to do depending on the situation. You can start or finish the roll on one foot ready to carry on running out of it. You can add a jump at the end of it too if you needed to change direction.

    Here is blind footballer Robin Williams using it as part of a warm up:

     Basic gymnastic drills

    Some drills you can try include –

    • Forward roll ½ turn jump forward roll
    • Backward roll ½ turn jump backward roll
    • Sideways roll ½ turn jump sideways roll
    • Forward roll with a sprint out of it
    • Backward roll with a sprint out of it
    • Sideways roll with a sprint out of it

    Try also jogging in a space whilst changing directions, the coach can call out a roll. Perform the roll and carry on jogging afterwards. (Watch this warm up video 


    Being able to dodge a player or recover from a fall can be difficult to do quickly and efficiently. Adding these rolls into warm ups or game situations gives the athletes another option to do this.

    We incorporate basic gymnastics into our Sports Training System as we have seen the benefits to all the sports players we train.

    Make sure the Coach can demonstrate properly though, here they aren’t quite as good. Here is one of me doing a cartwheel into a backflip

    Gemma Robertson 

  10. District 13- Parkour, Gymnastics

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    The Benefits of Parkour

    I watched the French film District 13 a couple of weeks ago. There is some truly impressive athletic movement in this film. The freestyle attitude of Parkour, making use of the local environment, looking at everyday objects in a different light, is in total contrast to some sports environments where free expression is constrained.

    I have always thought young children especially would be better off developing this type of movement and awareness, rather than being taken to a class and put through highly disciplined and structured movement patterns.



    James practicing FreeG

    I am pleased to announce that from September we will be offering Freestyle Gymnastics (FreeG) sessions at our Gymnastics Club venues in Willand and Wellington.

    These will be aimed at teenagers who want to be able to learn and practice Freestyle moves in a safe (and dry) environment. Sessions will run on Tuesday evenings in Willand Village Hall and Wednesday afternoons at Court Fields school in Wellington.

    We have been able to do this is as a result of extensive fundraising activities by the Club and generous funding from British Gymnastics, local trusts, the local council and individuals.

    Please contact us if you are a teenager who would like the opportunity to practice Freestyle Gymnastics Moves. No experience is necessary.

    This video shows some of the moves that skilled FreeG performers can do.