The backward roll is more difficult for students to learn than the forward roll, even though technique-wise the body passes through the same positions. You may decide to teach a cartwheel first, depending on your students’ strengths. When you teach the backward roll, your first concern must be the safety of the neck. The students need to have enough arm strength to take the pressure off of their necks. The backward roll develops strength in the entire body as well as kinesthetic awareness. Following are areas of flexibility and strength your students will acquire while learning backward rolls:
- Neck flexibility is necessary for avoiding injury to the neck.
- Flexibility in the hamstrings and lower back is important while passing through compressed positions.
- Wrist work is necessary for placing hands back in the proper position and then pushing with them.
- Leg strength is necessary for standing up at the end of the roll.
- Arm strength is crucial for pushing the head off the floor.
- Abdominal strength is necessary for pulling the legs up and over the head.
Students begin in a squat stand. They may use their hands in front of them for balance until they are ready to perform the backward roll. Once they are ready to begin, they will keep the head tucked to the chest, maintain a rounded back, and bring the hands above the shoulders, as if they are carrying a pizza (“pizza hands” with bent arms). They roll backward by dropping the buttocks to the floor and bringing the legs up over the head. Pushing must begin with the hands and arms just before the feet contact the floor. They should finish in a squat stand. (See figure 3.1.)
As with the forward roll, you may use multiple entries and exits once your class has mastered a basic backward roll. Here are examples:
- Single-leg sit
- Knee scale
When performing the backward roll, students should look at the belly as they roll backward. This will aid in keeping the head tucked in and the back rounded to help diffuse the possibility of head or back injuries. While they are rolling over, tell your students to see their legs passing over their faces. This will help them roll in a straighter line. Upon landing, they should see their hands first and then look in the direction in which they initiated the roll.
Here are some verbal cues you might need to use while students are performing backward rolls:
- Roll legs up and over the head.
- Keep your back loose and flexible to round your roll.
- Push with arms to get your head off the floor and reduce pressure on the neck.
- Use a little momentum to help with rolling over.
- Use pizza hands and place them on the floor by the ears.
Safety and Spotting
The backward roll is a difficult skill because of the neck, especially in young children. In proportion to the rest of the body, a child’s head is larger than that of an adult; therefore, a greater push off the floor is required in order for the child to clear the head and not injure the neck.
As a teacher, you must ensure that students have enough abdominal strength to lift the hips overhead and enough arm strength to push the head off the mat. This will relieve the pressure from the neck. One of the skills in the circuit, introduced by Rick Feeney (1990), involves placing the mats in a V-formation for the backward roll. It serves several purposes: It protects the neck from injury, teaches the student how to roll in a straight line, and teaches how to push with the hands and arms. Do not rush to have students perform the backward roll independently on flat mats until you have ascertained their readiness. When they perform this skill on a flat surface, be prepared to spot by lifting the hips up and over, consciously keeping pressure off the neck. The backward roll is a great skill for your students to learn because it helps them fall safely and helps them develop strength and agility.
Spotting a backward roll takes a little more practice than spotting a forward roll. Have a student start in a squat stand. Next, make sure the chin is tucked forward and the hands are by the shoulders with palms facing the ceiling. You should stand slightly behind and to the side of the student. As the student rolls backward, be prepared to reach in and grab the hips to lift their body up and over to the feet, keeping the pressure off the head and neck. Follow through to the completion of the element. Spot the student until she has a good understanding of hand placement and how to push with the hands to avoid a neck injury. (See figure 3.2.)
Here are some common errors you will need to watch for while students perform backward rolls:
- Rolling over one shoulder, possibly injuring the neck
- Lack of push or uneven push with hands
- Failure to stay round
- Lack of control with legs
- Landing errors