“Jump rope isn’t a sport.”
You wouldn’t believe how frustrated I get when I hear these five words.
Is there even a clearly defined meaning of ‘sport’ anyway? I’ve seen log rolling, poker, and wood-chopping on ESPN channels.
As a member of Jumping For Joy, a competitive jump rope team based out of Santa Clara, CA, jump roping provided me with unbeatable opportunities and heartwarming memories.
It gave us jumpers the chance to tour the nation (and for some, the world), put on performances at sports halftime shows and tailgate parties (like for the NCAA’s Hoop City, Stanford Football, and the Golden State Warriors), be on national television (Good Morning America and ESPN2) and teach students in schools about heart health through performances and workshops (in conjunction with the American Heart Association).
Certainly jump roping is a sport—it has all the common elements that any other sport has: training and hard work, practice and drills, cooperation and teamwork, strategies, uniforms, traveling, competition, tournaments, dynamic athletes, and dedicated coaches.
Training and Hard Work
Most jump rope teams (and there are handfuls of them located around the US and also all over the world in Europe, Asia, and Australia) practice several times a week for hours at a time. Jumping For Joy, my former team, practiced during the regular season twice a week for two hours and more frequently as competition neared in the spring. Nearly the entirety of those hours would be spent on the feet, hopping, springing, bouncing, jumping, and stepping our way to perfection.
Practice and Drills
Practice usually started out with a warm-up, which would require the entire team to jump in unison. Our signature routine is titled “Cotton-Eyed Joe” and in order to make the team initially, you must learn it. It is not difficult for seasoned jumpers and it makes it easier to throw together a last-minute performance since everyone can hit all the elementary tricks.
Next, we’d work on our speed portion of jumping, which is strictly fast-moving feet, no tricks. The rope turns around the body for each jump and the feet alternate left, right, left. A competitive score for a jumper in 30 seconds is 150 jumps; national winners have completed over 350 jumps in a single minute.
Speed jumping can take place with one rope and one jumper (as most people would traditionally think of jump roping), or double dutch speed, with two turners and two ropes.
Our coach set up exhausting drills that involved strenuous variations of push ups, sit ups, and rope-turning exercises interspersed between fast intervals of jumping with ropes.
After we worked on our endurance, speed, balance, and power (all qualities of a successful athlete), we’d turn our focus to the freestyle portion of jump roping—the tricks section. This is where the combination of creativity and skill, mixed in with jump roping and gymnastics, becomes limited only by one’s imagination.
Cooperation and Teamwork
Jumpers must rely on each other in routines. Whether it's single rope pairs, freestyle (two jumpers, each with their own single rope, completing a routine in unison), or pairs double dutch speed (two turners, two jumpers, jumping as fast as they can for a minute each), there is timing, coordination, and maneuverability unlike in any other sport.
In double dutch freestyle, tricks can range from flips, push-ups, or round-offs in the ropes, leap frogging over turners, assisting another jumper with a spin, flip, or gymnastics move, and turning the rope fast, slow, high, and low in an effort to wow the judges.
In freestyle jumping, there must be a variety of forms of jumping—fast stepping in a rhythmic movement (called speed-dance), power (strength skills like handstand jumps, splits, and push-ups), and a double-under trick sequence (the ropes turn twice for every jump).
Every team has its own strategies in terms of practice and drills, types of shoes, ways to turn the ropes, methods of learning tricks, and types of ropes.
There are a variety of uniforms members wear and everything for my team was in the team’s sharp colors of teal and black. For competition we wore tight workout tank tops with black shorts. The best shoes for jumping are basketball shoes—they help with achieving maximum spring for height.
The girls’ hair is done in tight French braids, and makeup is kept to a minimum, unlike gymnastics or ice skating. However, this sport draws fans for the same spectacular displays of mesmerizing creativity, breathtaking display, and elite athleticism.
Every year, the national tournament (hosted by United States Jump Rope, USJR) is held in June in Orlando, Florida at Disney World. After each tournament, the grand masters, or the winners of each category, are shown on ESPN2.
In general, there are competitions of all levels, workshops where jumpers can go to teach or learn new skills and strategies, summer camps, and opportunities to perform for media events held all over the nation.
Competition and Tournaments
To place for nationals there are many events and you must get a third, second, or first place medal for your particular age group in an earlier regional tournament.
One of the most highly anticipated events of each competition that draws many oohs and aahs is Group Show, which consists of a minimum of eight jumpers (and can include 16, even 24 people). Group Show is set to upbeat and dramatic music and every move is painstakingly choreographed.
The jump ropers are all ages and all different builds, and while the majority of participants are female, the males definitely stand out with their incredible power moves. There is such hard work and dedication put into the sport and the national champions work so closely together, that teammates are considered family.
The coaches spend time analyzing film, creating new routines, fine-tuning practice drills, attending conferences and seminars, and teaching pupils of all ages the art of jump roping.
Jumping for Joy is sponsored through the Santa Clara City Parks and Recreation Department and the coach, Cindy Joy, teaches jump rope to elementary-aged students, as well as adults, in recreational classes. Once the jumpers pass the basic levels, some are invited to try out for the team. Many kids on the team start jump roping at the early age of six or seven and jump until high school graduation. Some of these jumpers go on to become coaches, international competitors, or perform for venues.
While there are no jump rope teams yet in the NCAA, college-aged students can still be active with a team. Recently, there have been considerations by the Olympic Council to feature the sport in the Olympics in 2012.
No matter how well it is described, jump roping is truly a sport that "you have to see it to believe it."
For a better idea of what an award-winning performance looks like, check out this Youtube video highlighted on ESPN2.