The method behind the madness, part 3

Perhaps this is obvious (or perhaps not), but it’s worth noting that the primary focus of Level 2 is preparing you for Level 3. Level 3 is devoted almost entirely to learning the swing. So how does Level 2 prepare you for learning the swing? Let’s have a look.

Last month, we outlined the importance of staying tight and putting your body into a good position at catch point. You maintain your tight body position either throughout the swing in the catcher’s hands (when you make the catch) or all the way to the net for your landing on your stomach (for when you miss). Controlling your body position when you’re in the air is a big key to success when learning the swing. This is very much a matter of learning to how to make your body tight and controlled without being rigid. The other key skill that is a prerequisite to being able to learn the swing is the one-handed takeoff. A common source of frustration for many, the importance of the one-handed takeoff is not to be overlooked.

First and foremost, in order to swing well, you simply must have a solid one-handed takeoff. The key thing to remember is that a good takeoff is functional: the goal of the takeoff is to position your body for an effective sweep off the platform. No matter what, you must have your body in a good position as you take off, otherwise your swing will suffer. For anyone who has had to go back and fix their takeoff after learning to swing, this probably all makes sense. Our goal, however, is to save you that frustration. So before we teach the swing, we are looking to set you up for success by making sure you have a solid takeoff.

In order to get your body into the correct position, your Instructors will be looking for your takeoff to meet the following criteria:

  • lifting the bar (to at least eye level as you hop up),
  • straight arms on the hup,
  • tight, straight body position (with no bend at the hips),
  • hips at least under shoulders (not behind).

Lifting the bar

As you prepare to take off, the Instructor on the board will serve you the bar. The position and height of the bar when you’re standing there holding it in one hand is not the same as the position and height the bar needs to be at when you put your second hand on it. Good body position for an effective sweep off the platform begins with the bar at least as high as eye level. The key to getting it high enough lies in lifting the bar using your torso and the arm that is holding onto the riser while keeping the arm holding the bar straight.

Straight arms

You’ve probably heard it before: lift, hop and grab. The trick is that the lift and hop happen in rapid succession. In fact, bending your knees to prepare to hop also helps you to lift the bar. As you lift the bar, begin your hop—bringing both the bar and your body upward together. This is the moment when you will move your second hand out to grab the bar. Before your body begins to descend, both arms should be straight. Bending your arms at this point will create a lack of tension between your body and the fly bar. Gravity will quickly resolve that lack of tension and straighten your body out, likely to the chagrin of your shoulders! So make sure you lift the bar high and keep your arms straight.

Tight, straight body position (with no bend at the hips)

One reason for the hop is that it allows you time to snap your body into a good position before you begin going ‘down the hill’. At the peak of your hop, bring your legs together and make your body straight. Be tight and controlled, but not rigid.

Hips at least under shoulders (not behind)

The other reason for the hop is that it gives you the opportunity to re-position your feet and hips at least under your shoulders. Ideally, you’ll want to put your body into a ‘seven-like’ position before you descend.

Every trick you’ll ever do begins with your takeoff. Even before you start to learn the swing, a good takeoff puts your body in the optimal position so that you’re ready to move in time with the Lines Instructor’s calls. If your takeoff meets all of the above criteria, your body will be in a good position for an effective sweep off the platform. Now, obviously you won’t learn to sweep right away; learning the swing happens in stages. The most apparent starting point is what we call the ‘back half of the swing’—we’ll talk more about that next month.

In the meantime, consider this: every flyer is unique. Your Instructors are looking to help you to find your takeoff. Read through the criteria listed above and if you haven’t had your takeoff signed off in your Logbook yet, check in with one of your Instructors. Ask them how you can improve your takeoff in your next class!