The German wheel was invented by Otto Feick in 1925, and originally named Rhönrad from the city it was created in. Later, in 1936, the German wheel was featured in the Olympic games in Berlin.
On the second weekend in October, I was able to attend Wheel Weekend in Chicago, IL with 8 fellow students from my Cincinnati, OH circus group, My Nose Turns Red, for a 3-day level 1 coaching certification.
The moment we arrived, everyone walked into the massive gym where all students gathered and collected their folders with all of the information they would need throughout the week (whether they were there for coaching level one, coaching level two, or workshops). We stood in a circle and were introduced to all of the coaches that would be helping us over the next three days. Right after we left the group it was time to get started on the training.
Our first coaching lesson focused on central elements in two bindings. Central elements are pieces of a routine where the center of body mass remains in the center of the wheel. Bindings are the foot straps that allow for cartwheels when set to the straight-line position. We not only learned how to perfect these elements, but also learned how to spot others in these positions. We learned basic partner elements and how to spot them (primarily various forms of Ferris wheel, such as straddle off), and worked on some balancing skills.
Later that day we worked on vault one and spiral one. In these lessons, we learned how to vault safely and efficiently and how to spot. We also learned how to complete a spiral – including how to fall out safely, which does come in handy!
After a break, we began working on dismounts from straight-line tricks. Then we continued onto free fly. The most important aspect of this training was learning how to spot the skill. We went onto basic theory after training. This was our first taste of the content that would be on our test that would determine if we were certified as level one coaches.
We then moved on to decentral elements, which are elements in which the gymnast is mainly at the edge of the wheel. Near the end of the day we learned about a very important element of coaching, keeping children busy and safely involving them in wheel activities. To finish up the day we practiced our own straight-line skills.
Though the first day of wheel weekend was very busy, we had the opportunity to meet Wolfgang Bienztle, who has coached at wheel weekend for 10 years. Wolfgang is a well-known coach and has won many championships competing in wheel gymnastics, including many World and European championships. He was the youngest national champion.
When I asked Wolfgang about his passion for coaching he replied, “It’s the fun and passion I have to bring wheel around the globe.” He first became interested in wheel when he was young. He told me, “I was 6 years old when my brothers and I were asked if we would like to join soccer, jujitsu or wheel in our sports club. We decided for competitive wheel.”
When I asked Wolfgang how this weekend was going to compare to years past, he said, “This is one of the most fun weekends with all extra activities – circus variety show, Oktoberfest show, special kid’s day, more than 50 kids in beginner wheel competition – and so much more fun!”
On the second day of wheel weekend it was little less busy, but still very productive. In the beginning of the day we worked on setting up routines and learning combinations. We split into groups and were asked to come up with a routine, then performed those routines. We were scored on our routines as if we were competing in a wheel competition. We later worked on learning more decentral elements, followed by a meeting for leaders about safety, security, and insurance. Later we learned about first aid and how to treat various wounds in the gym. After first aid, we learned more about spiral. We then had a posture and moving workshop that allowed some of our built-up pain to fade away. Eventually we learned about how competitions work and what to expect when competing.
The last day of wheel weekend was a half day. We practiced a short compulsory routine. We then learned how to create a try-out and host a wheel class. We learned about what to expect in a try-out and how to judge one. We also learned how wheel classes traditionally work. We then listened to a closing by Wolfgang. Finally, we had a written exam which determined if we were going to be certified as level one wheel coaches. All the students I was with from My Nose Turns Red passed!
Wheel weekend was a mind-blowing experience. We got to work with so many talented coaches and learned so much about the history of the Gymnastic wheel. We also learned so much about how competitions work and how to participate in them. Wheel weekend was a thrilling experience that everyone interested in wheel should participate in, it is worth it!