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Safety in Acro

The trick was jumping straight into an assisted 1-arm handstand.

I was recently training a new trick with Jaqui Wan. We have many years of experience working together, I know Jaqui’s practice well and I was pushing her towards what felt a good edge for us as Jaqui frequently jumps into a solid handstand on me, and I can really feel the solid line from her hands through to her toes.

This as well as a number of injuries that I have heard about recently has prompted me to write this blog.

On this occasion we were working without a spotter. This means that I, as the Base am the spotter; and have to be ready for anything. (In other situations we rely on Jaqui’s ninja cat like reactions as a flyer to land on her feet).

The Trick went wrong, but through our experience it was still OK.

So we reassessed our realistic training edge (see below) and, taking a small step back and asking a super trustworthy spotter Tudor to make sure the next few tries were successful; we tried again.


There are risks in everything we do, and people respond to these risks in various ways.

Some people live for the excitement of them, others may back away. Some people prefer the space and freedom to escape from the risk at hand themselves, others will be far happier if the can rely on the support of those around them to keep things safe.

Do any of these ring true with you? Do you respond differently still? Please feel free to comment below.

In Acro

With Acro, the danger is injury. The person most at risk is the flyer who is being lifted in some manner. However, the person who picks up the most injuries may actually be the spotter.

It is quite clear that the flyer, either coming down from height or through some unusual rotation could get hurt.

There is (or should be) an unspoken agreement that the base will do everything within their power to bring the flyer back down to the ground safely. This is more important than whatever the trick is that we will all focus on. This doesn’t need to be an unspoken agreement, and sometimes the best way for the trick to progress is for the base to offer reassurance, or the flyer to ask for it.

Taking things slowly, training, retraining and training again the progressions for complicated tricks and movements, is so important. It is what the professionals do, and how they make impossible feats look so easy. Personally, I often prefer the enjoyment of getting something silky smooth over busting a new big trick and coming out not too broken!

If you are about to something scary/risky/that you are not sure about, and your support group say to you just do your best. If you don’t do it right we have got you. It takes a lot of pressure off. But if you say it, you must deliver, else your word becomes worthless and future guarantees will not provide any reassurance.

The spotter is mostly involved in the early stages of learning the trick when it is more likely to fail. I love the acronym First Attempts In Learning (FAIL). Failure is not a bad thing if we keep it safe and use it to explore the boundaries, learning different possible outcomes and ways of doing things.

The Spotter is mostly likely to get injured by straining at something similar while helping to catch a flyer who is falling awkwardly or unexpectedly.

How do we minimise the risks?

  1. Train at a realistic edge

  2. Training failure

  3. Asking for help

Training at a realistic edge

The first point of focus should be to train at a realistic edge. Movements that are challenging but manageable. To know if you are on track you could ask some of the following questions:

  • Do we understand our individual roles within the trick?

  • Could we break down some of the elements into simpler components?

  • Where and how is the trick likely to go wrong?

  • What (if any) additional support do we need to help progress?

Understanding and breaking down what you are taking on and what elements you might be able to do already will give you a good idea of whether you need to employ a Spotter to get the initial movements down safely.

Training at a realistic edge should be in constant review. Other considerations to take seriously are:

  • How high up is the trick? - the higher, the more risky if it goes wrong.

  • What is the surface we are landing on?

  • Are there any other obstacles we need to be careful of?

Training failure

How do we react when it goes wrong?

I put this above spotting as knowing when and how to bail from a trick, brings more control and safety into your practice. To build your awareness of when this trick has failed and now I need to find safe passage to the floor, means you FAILed and now you can sail (Second attempt in learning!)

If you come through your failed tricks unscathed, then you can continue training and improving. Injury is normally the biggest setback to personal development in an acro setting.

To train failure, you need to be fairly confident in managing the trick. You agree to perform the trick as usual with an option of possible outcomes that one partner (agree which one ahead of time) may or may not get wrong. Wybren De Silva and Paul Griffioen teach this in an Icarian workshop that includes ‘Pop to Foot2Foot.’ The base may only catch one leg, or may catch both. The Flyer then has to commit to the trick (landing with straight legs), but if only one leg is caught, they must train the reflex to bend that leg – making them fall to the floor vertically, rather than rotating towards the head!

If you get an opportunity to learn with one of these fantastic teachers take it.

Often, when I meet a student who is repeatedly getting a trick wrong the same way, I will assure them that I will make the trick safe for them, and ask them to do their best to make the opposite mistake. Sometimes this makes them do the trick right straight away.

We are often working with fear and therefore stay on a safe edge. If we train our reflexes, or different escape routes, and we know that we are ok if the trick fails, we can try with less fear. This will increase our success rate hugely.

Asking for help

“If the Flyer wants a spotter, the Flyer gets a spotter!” Bart Venne

It is fine for anyone to ask for extra help, and this means Flyer, Base or Spotter.

If anyone involved feels uncomfortable in the task ahead the others should know.

The spotter may not feel strong enough, or not understanding what should happen within the trick. In this instance it might be wise to ask for another spotter, or jump back to training at a realistic edge and see if you can work out some logical progressions to make everything and everyone feel safer.

The Art of Spotting

Spotting is an art. A good spotter will assess what is needed, keep the trick safe; and allow the Base and Flyer to feel and do as much of the trick independently as possible.

All of this at the same time, and while everything is happening so quickly!

My biggest tip for spotting would be to breathe and move with the Base & Flyer, even if you are not in physical contact initially. If you do need to intervene and make contact, you will already be moving in the same direction as them, so they will be lighter to carry down to the floor.

Spotting for learning

In this situation, you may carry the flyer through the movements so that they are able to orient themselves in space.

You may also give a strong support or assistance to the base to make the flyers foundation more solid and reliable.

While spotting for learning the spotter will be very active through the trick, or specific element of it.

Spotting for safety

As the trick progresses, the spotter should not be physically active in the trick, but should be shadowing, moving and breathing with the trick. Always ready to step in with an early response should something be going wrong!

Using a longe

Longes are a good way to safely Spot high tricks, stopping the flyer coming down from height to the floor. All the same elements as regular spotting apply here too.

This blog is not a lesson in how to use the longe. However, it is very important to be aware that things can still go wrong. Make sure that the Longe is rigged properly, the flyer secured properly, the movements have been mapped out so that the longe will not get in the way of the trick, that the spotter is experienced and able to keep the right amount of tension within the lines, and that everyone is on the same page as to what is about to happen.

Knowing what your goals are is important. If you just want to have fun with your acrobatics within the relative safety of the longe, that is a great aspiration.

However, if you are serious about learning the full trick, you should either spend more time learning the safe progressions that do not require a longe or else spend enough time performing the trick in the longe that the spotter is not helping at all. Taking tricks out of the longe for the first time often make our performance regress as we introduce more fear into the mix.

A lot of high tricks are very safe to train with the right progressions, the right spotters and no longe.

“Sorry before, because afterwards is too late” Pichest Boonthumme

Clarity in communication

With directions and movements getting increasingly complicated within your partner acro practice, it is always a good practice to show the direction, squeeze or touch the hand/foot/limb that you are talking about, because once it is in movement it may well be too late!

Accidents do happen, but with a bit of foresight and clarity we can keep them to a minimum, letting a wonderful practice, rather than a horrible accident be the thing that stays with us for years and years.

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