By Keith Stubbs in 2006.

How big is your ‘bag of tricks’?

Instructors often refer to their ‘bag of tricks’ in reference to how many different teaching tools they have stored in their memory for a variety of situations. Storing these progressions in your memory is very valuable as is sharing them with other instructors. However, the ability to build and modify a progression suitable for ANY situation is far more valuable to an instructor than the ability to remember another persons progression.

Progression basics

A progression is a series of steps used to reach a certain goal. We use progressions to introduce new skills or movements to our students. Progressions have two main characteristics…

  1. Each step is a logical increase in difficulty from the last.
  2. All steps work towards the final goal.

Progressions need to be flexible in order to cater for the variety of ability levels we encounter. Those students with a higher physical ability will learn new skills quickly, meaning a generally shorter progression. The less physically able students will take a little longer to learn new skills meaning smaller steps will be necessary in order to succeed. Our progressions must also vary depending on the learning styles and ages of our students, and the terrain available to us at the time.

Building new progressions from scratch

Here is general set of steps we can use to create new progressions…

  1. Identify the board performance concepts and directions of movement that needs to be addressed.
  2. Isolate the specific movements and body parts that need to be improved.
  3. Work this movement into a series of exercises, moving through the usual formula Stationary-Simple-Complex, but allow yourself to be more free with the steps rather than using it in a linear fashion.
  4. Adjust and adapt the progression based on the terrain available to you, the students’ capabilities and performance, and the students’ predominant learning style.

Example progression

Using the above, here is an example progression for teaching ‘Backside 180s taking off the heel edge’ (a stepping stone towards backside spins in the pipe or heel-to-heels)…

  1. Board performances are focused on edging (for a stable platform at takeoff) and pressuring (for the pop and landing), with a rotation in the air. Directions of movement include rotational, vertical and lateral.
  2. Individual movements include:
    • A large application of range vertically whilst balancing laterally on the heel edge with a strong platform under the feet.
    • A pre-wind rotationally turning the upper body towards the direction of travel slightly.
    • A powerful extension popping clean from both feet.
    • A strong backside rotation in the air using the core with a retraction of the legs.
    • A two-footed landing with vertical movement to absorb the pressure.
  3. Assuming the student can already perform backside 180s, here’s a progression that could work…
    • On flat ground have the student perform small hops whilst balancing on the heel edge focusing on a stable platform under the feet.
    • Whilst traversing across the hill on a mellow gradient with some decent momentum, have the student ride on the heel edge performing larger hops focusing on a greater use of flexion and more pop in the extension. Now try it switch.
    • Back to stationary, work through the pre-wind and release, blending in the large range of vertical movement, but without the actual pop. Focus on timing of the rotation and vertical.
    • Whilst traversing across the hill on the heels again, but much slower this time, have the student try a backside rotation in the air trying to land on the toe edge, somewhere between 90 and 150 degrees. Ensure that they are aware of the potential to catch an edge when doing this. Do it again switch.
    • Now increase momentum to ensure that they can create a strong platform from which to pop, then increase range of vertical movement and power (both vertically and rotationally). Remember to try it switch.
    • Once they have all the movements blending cohesively you should change the terrain (using something with slightly more defined hits) and let them try it (forwards and switch) where they feel comfortable focusing on a retraction of the legs when in the air.
  4. Stronger students can perform the first exercise on a gentle pitch hopping slowly up the hill on the heel edge. These students are also likely to be able to miss the backside 90/150 degree rotation and progress straight into backside 180s. Don’t forget to adapt your presentation to suit the students’ predominant learning style using VAK!

In summary

As you become more familiar with creating your own progressions, these steps will become second nature to you. Experienced instructors should have the ability to create a progression at any time, for any situation, using their previous teaching and learning experiences to adapt past exercises to suit the current situation.


  • Blair Mcleod, AASI Western – thanks for the wisdom Blair!

Keith Stubbs