Tuesday, May 7, 2013

An Idiot's Guide to Bruno Grandi's May 7th Letter

Today, there's been a lot of brouhaha about Bruno Grandi's latest newsletter. Unfortunately, most people don't understand what the tuck he's saying. So, let's break it down and then discuss, shall we?

The letter begins with an exclamation:

Well, someone's excited, isn't he? I'm just picturing Bruno Grandi yelling, "CULTURE!" from the top of the Swiss Alps.

He then continues…

"[Culture] is an old term, which has always been used, but rarely with its appropriate and specific meaning."

I just rolled my eyes so hard that I saw my brain. Is the pontification really necessary?

And how old are we talking, Mr. Grandi? Are we going all the way back to the Romans? 'Cause culture comes from the Latin colere, which had several meanings. It could mean "to inhabit," which is where the verb to colonize comes from. It could mean "to honor with worship," which is where the word cult comes from. It could mean "to cultivate" with all of its husbandry connotations.

When the word was imported into English from the French couture, it was used in its agrarian sense, that is, a way to talk about tending crops or animals. So, Mr. Grandi, bearing this in mind, I'm confused by what you mean when you say "appropriate and specific meaning." Are you comparing our gymnasts to asses and pigs and slender, little bean stalks? 'Cause for me, that's the "specific meaning" that comes to mind.

Moving on…

"Until today in the world of gymnastics the term « culture » has been conceived as a synonym for experience though experience alone does not always solve the dual problem inherent in every sport: the vast and varied scientific knowledge and the real expertise of technical and pedagogical problems."

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. Bruno Grandi needs a new translator. I don't smoke peyote (or any other hallucinogen for that matter), but in order to understand that sentence, I might have to start.

If I understand Mr. Grandi correctly, he believes that scientific knowledge of a sport does not always align itself with how a sport is coached and taught. Nor does one's lived experience explain everything.

From there, he begins blending together the meat and potatoes of his letter. Of course, Mr. Grandi can't express these ideas forthrightly. Oh no! He must drag us through a bunch of sound and fury, which, in the end, signifies something. Kind of? Maybe? Here's what I understood…

  1. The problem with the current Code: The current Code of Points is based on experience. In other words, Valeri Liukin can tell you that a triple back is more difficult than a double layout.
  2. Why is this a problem? Well, what if Tim Daggett says that a triple back was easier for him than a double layout? Then what?
  3.  How do we resolve this problem? Through science, DUH! Specifically biomechanics. Through observation and formulas, we must confirm that a triple back is actually more challenging than a double layout.
  4. Once we confirm that, then what do we do? We rewrite the Code of Points accordingly.

But wait! There's a second problem with the current Code of Points!
  1. What's the second problem? Gee, I'm glad you asked! Coaches are using the Code of Points as a guide for training their athletes. They look at the Code and see a certain progression of skills and train their gymnasts accordingly, which, to an extent makes sense. A back tuck is an A part, and a double back is a C part (in MAG). In order to do a double back, you have to learn how to do a back tuck first, right?
  2. Right! That makes sense. So, what's the problem with that? Well, currently, the Code is a tool for evaluation–not an instructional tool.
    As you can see in the Code, there's no real intermediary step between a back tuck and a double tuck. But should there be one? If you grew up in the U.S. system, you would probably say yes. Usually, you learn a layout before you learn a double back, but the Code doesn't indicate that.
  3. Then again, do you need to learn a layout before a double back? My experience would say yes because that's the way I learned how to do things. But what if Spanny Tampson's experience is different? What if she sucked at layouts but could do a really good double back? That's why we need SCIENCE! By analyzing the motion of a large number of gymnasts, we can determine whether a layout is necessary for a double back.
  4. Once we find that out, what do we do? We stick that information in the Code and create a Code of Points that is built around skill progression--one that guides gymnasts and coaches through the basic skills through the more advanced skills.
  5. What will this help us accomplish? It will stop coaches from pushing gymnasts to do difficult tricks when they're not ready. This, in turn, will reduce the number of accidents and hopefully prevent doing major psychological damage to our gymnasts, among other things.

At least that's what Mr. Grandi posits.

You know, I can get behind anyone who wants to stop gymnasts from chucking highly-valued skills that are beyond their capabilities. I'm just not entirely sure how the Code of Points will do that. Is the FIG proposing the creation of a development program that accompanies the Code of Points? Something akin to the U.S. Junior Olympic Development Program with levels? Is that what he is alluding to? Anyone know the behind-the-scene details?

One thing's certain, though: Mr. Grandi is going to spend the next 4 years creating a scientific basis for the Code of Points. Again, the how is not exactly clear. Who's going to pay all the scientists to conduct this research? And is there an overabundance of physics PhDs just waiting to research the mechanics of a cartwheel? Again, if you know, please enlighten me.

Even if you don't know the answers to my questions, please feel free to share your thoughts.  Do we need to base the Code of Points on biomechanics? Is the Code of Points the right way to help coaches understand safe skill progressions?


  1. The strange thing is that the FIG currently have the Age Group Development program which IS a progressions based system. I figured he would at least plug that in his letter, its quite good!

  2. For once, Grandi has an idea I don't totally hate and want to jump out a window because of. Hmph.

  3. You did so much better than me- I backed out the door with my hands up after that first essay disguised as a sentence disguised as sense.