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Breaking Down the Flag Toss

It was heard in rehearsal over the weekend; "I've never put this much thought into a flag toss before."

That's kind of what you have to do when you are moving up from a less competitive position to one that is more competitive though, right? You have to think about things more in-depth and move through them with more conscious effort until you can adjust and change your muscle memory to fit the new technique - the technique that is synchronized across your whole team. When you are operating as an independent team as we do at Spintronix, it's an incredible step we must take since students come to us from a wide range of programs with incredible variability in their own techniques.

Simply looking at a plain 3-count single toss on flag, here are the steps we might cover to match our technique:

1. The prep position. Holding the flag at a shoulder-hip angle before we toss. What is the EXACT degree of the angle that the flag is held at? We have three versions of "45 degrees" (or shoulder-hip or slam) that we use and they range from loose (aka "seatbelt"), to a true 45 angle, to tight (aka "Scott tight"). Once it's at the correct angle, also make sure it is the proper distance from the body, then you must look at the height of the pole in relation to the body. Finally check the left to right position; is the tab of the pole centered on your body or slightly to one side? What if you have shorter or taller members though???

2. Hand positions. Having the flag at the correct angle and properly centered on the body is only the beginning! Where are your hands on the pole? For us, we have the right hand under the pole, palm up, 12" into the silk, thumb pressed onto the back side of the pole. Then we look at the left hand, which should be over the pole, palm down, halfway (18") between the tab and bottom tip, thumb pressed on the pole. Maybe you have your left hand palm forward, maybe there's a 120 degree angle in your right elbow... You can change up these positions all you want, so long as everyone on your team has their hands EXACTLY the same.

Now I want to take a break from the list for a moment and point out a couple of things. First, I'm going through this with the assumption that we've already established consistent posture, hip turn out, feet spacing, head angle, and so on. Notice secondly that I said FOR US at the beginning of the second step. That's because every team is going to have their own techniques and some may be slightly different from others. Some may be vastly different. The two most important things to keep in mind with technique are consistency from performer to performer, and injury prevention. As long as you are achieving those two goals, I don't care if your guard has technique that requires them to always toss from the tip, it's right for your team so it's correct.

Ok, back to the list...

3. Follow through with the supporting hand. How hard does everyone push with their left hand? A more forceful push is going to create a tighter and faster spin in the air. Less of a push will make a slower, more gentle rotation. While we're at it, where does that left hand go after it is done pushing? We place ours at our side, but I've seen palm back, palm to leg, hand on hip, slap the legs, and even teams that actually grab hold of the outseam of their pants!

4. Release point. This can become an area of hot debate among even the most seasoned of guard instructors! Sometimes teams will take their release hand into an arc before releasing, others will lift their hand straight up, in a line perpendicular to the ground. I prefer the second way, but there are also instances where we might use the first to create a specific effect. And then, at the point when you actually let go of the flag, how high is your hand in relation to your face, what angle is it at, and what shape is it making? The shape is something we might adjust for each show character. For instance, in 2016 when we did the Spectrum show, we released our equipment with our palms flat to the audience, fingers straight in the air, then lifted both hands above the head to make a triangle shape with our fingers and thumbs under the toss. Then for Ipanema in 2017, it was tucking both hands behind the head with elbows up. 2018 saw us covering our mouths in "shock" during our show Severance. You don't have to change your free hands with the show theme though, you can simply have a technique release hand that you do under every toss. My recommendation if you want to do this would be to have the forearm straight up, perpendicular to the earth, and a palm flat to the audience with the fingers pointed straight to the sky. Some instructors may prefer to make a fist underneath for their basic, but I have found that this causes my students to try to use the flick of their hand to get the proper number of rotations instead of using the push of the left hand as it comes down. Then there is catching! You need to go back through and check all of these things again when the guard catches their flag as well. One of my biggest pet peeves is when we perform a rep of something (and this can be anything from basics to tossing to choreography) and at the end the students immediately move. Make sure you are teaching your students the discipline to stay frozen at the end of a rep so they can be checked for consistency and cleanliness there as well. I hope that this break down can be helpful for some instructors, and even students! If you need to actually see these details by watching videos, check our YouTube Channel @SpintronixGuard for free videos covering several different tosses. WGI also created a DVD that goes into depth about these concepts with their top clinicians and designers; you can order one of your own here Let me know if you are interested in seeing future posts about specific topics! <3 Jackie

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