When most people think of jumping rope, they hark back to their childhood days or conjure images of a boxer training to build his endurance.
Mix in gymnastics and use two ropes instead of one and you have the sport of Double Dutch.
While two people turn the ropes in opposite directions, a third and sometimes a fourth jump inside the twirling ropes and compete in three disciplines: speed, compulsory moves and tricks.
It’s a sport that’s every bit as hard as it looks.
Laquetta Williams, an employee with the Charleston Recreation Department, has been coaching Double Dutch for 15 to 16 years and has children of all ages, including the Jazzy Jumpers, a team of four third- and fourth-graders.
“I never participated but I had a daughter on one of my first teams,” Williams said during a late-afternoon practice session at Mitchell Playground on Fishburne Street.
She said she knew how to jump but not how to jump for competition. Williams said she learned the sport by watching others, including watching videos of the sport. When she sees something new, she brings it back to her teams.
Double Dutch can be traced to ancient times and probably made its way to America with the Dutch settlers who came to what is now New York, where the world championships will be held later this year.
It is a particularly popular sport in urban areas because the only equipment needed is a pair of ropes: 12 foot for singles and 14 feet for doubles.
Williams said Double Dutch coaches can teach children to jump rope, but if they have the ability to do flips and other gymnastics, that adds to their potential. And it requires a lot of practice. They first practice the tricks outside the rope then try to learn while actually moving inside the spinning ropes.
“The toughest part is getting the children to be focused,” said Williams, whose 4-year-old granddaughter has picked up the sport while attending practices.
And it’s not just a sport for girls. Williams said boys also participate, although many of them are involved in other sports.
“I started because of a friend. I thought it would be a fun thing to do,” said Jondalyn Grant, 9, and a student at Burns Elementary School in North Charleston.
Grant said her specialty is being a turner, helping spin the ropes.
Williams said the jumpers begin practicing in October and competitions begin in February and continue through June. Before competitions begin, they usually practice twice a week but increase that to four or five times a week for the bigger events.
The first event they usually participate in is called a jump-off, which can be likened to an exhibition.
Judges critique the jumpers so they will know how they can maximize their scores in actual competitions. They continue with regionals and state, and the top two teams in each division at the state contest advance to the world championship.
The speed contest is a two-minute drill based on how many steps a jumper makes inside the ropes. Compulsory moves include left-foot turns, right-foot turns, criss-crosses and high steps.
Tricks include gymnastic moves, including falling to the floor, jumping and kicks.