coaching, everyday gymnast, goals, Gymnastics, High School, Life Lessons

To Any Athlete

There are little eyes upon you

And they’re watching night and day:

There are little ears that quickly

Take in every word you say:

There are little hands,

All eager to do anything you do!

And a little child who’s dreaming

Of that day they’ll be like you.

You’re the little child’s idol:

You’re the wisest of the wise.

In their little minds about you

no suspicions ever rise:

they believe in you fervently,

hold all you say and do,

they’ll say and do it your way

when they’re grown up like you.

There’s a wide-eyed little child,

Who believes you’re always right,

And their ears are always open,

And they watch you day and night.

You are setting an example

everyday in all you do,

for the little child who’s

waiting to grow up to be like you.

–Anonymous

coaching, everyday gymnast, Gymnastics, Life Lessons, success saturday

Changing the Culture of Gymnastics One Gymnast at a Time

Plenty of people in the gymnastics community believe that the culture of gymnastics needs to change. However, it seems that no one knows how to do it. I was talking to a friend and colleague the other day about how we can go about this change. I had an idea of how it needed to change, but it seemed like a long shot. Neither of us came up with a good plan, but we did have a relatively good discussion about it.

The next day I saw a quote from Elon Musk. It said, “When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.”

At that moment, it became clear; I knew the answer. It came back to my basic premise that gymnastics is an individual sport, and each gymnast must be treated and trained as an individual. This idea may be controversial to some, especially to those coaches and gym owners who believe that the team’s success is the most important focus.

Let me challenge that belief: without strong individual gymnasts, there would not be a strong team. It is as simple as that. By simply changing our focus to the individual rather than the team overall, we can open our eyes to what is best for each child.

We teach children. These children are forming into adults as we interact with them on a daily basis. As coaches, we are major influences in each of their lives. If we can show them that we value them as individuals, and not merely as cogs in a larger team (what can they do for the team?), then we can truly teach them how to believe in themselves, teach them about how the lessons they learn in gymnastics apply to life, and give them a safe place that builds them up, rather than something that they need to recover from later.

It comes down to this: Change the culture of gymnastics one gymnast at a time. This is what I intend to do.

coaching, everyday gymnast, goals, Gymnastics, Life Lessons, success saturday

What is Success Saturday?

In my gym, we have what I call “Success Saturday.” I take the opportunity to sit down with my team groups and talk about the mental side of gymnastics. Sessions can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the topic. Some topics we cover are goal-setting, motivation, time management, and self-esteem. But the list goes on.

I find that these sessions are helpful to my gymnasts. The normal behavior of a child is to come to the gym because she loves it, loves flipping, swinging, loves her friends, and loves her coaches. This is great, but, not too much thought is given to the mental side of gymnastics, even though almost everyone who knows gymnastics will say that “gymnastics is 90% mental.”

If anything, these Success Saturday sessions introduce my gymnasts to the idea that they can set their own goals, create good habits, and be more aware of what they are doing everyday in the gym. I find that just becoming aware of the mental side of the sport can help them in the gym, and ultimately, reach their goals.

I have heard many elite gymnasts say that they had never been asked what their goals are, what they want, or what they want to accomplish. Instead, paths are set for them, and they are pushed along, until they stumble and are no longer able to keep up. Only a handful are able to live up to the expectations set of them. I do not want this for my kids. They spend way too much time in the gym for them not to be the owners of their gymnastics.

This ownership leads to a feeling of control, and knowing that they have choices. This feeling can be translated to the rest of their lives, especially as they grow older and their biggest problems no longer involve whether or not they will make their cartwheel on beam today.

Success Saturdays are a great addition to our training program, and I find that the kids who take it to heart are the ones who reach their goals more quickly and are more successful in and out of the gym.

books, coaching, everyday gymnast, goals, gym rats, Gymnastics, Life Lessons, parents, success saturday

In Becoming a Better Coach

Especially after everything that has happened, and is still happening within USAG, with coaches coming under scrutiny for child abuse – emotional and physical – and with the seemingly unending Covid-19 crisis, I find myself more than ever examining why it is that I coach, and what I want my gymnasts to get out of being under my tutelage.

I want to help them develop a strong sense of self-worth. I want them to be confident in their minds and in their abilities.

I want to help them develop a high self-esteem. I want them to know that their goals are possible.

I want to help them develop their individual character. I want them to be comfortable with who they are and to know that each of them matters, regardless of what anyone else says about them.

I want to help them develop a sense of control over their lives. I want them to be confident to know that they can make goals, set a path, and reach their goals.

I want to help them develop the belief that life is full of possibilities. I want them to believe that anything is possible with productive action.

I want to help them develop a belief that they are more than just gymnasts. I want them to know that I am a trusted advisor for life, not just for life in the gym.

I want to help them develop a love for gymnastics. I want them to look back on their days in the gym and believe that it was worth the time, the hard work, and dedication that they put in.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good start. In order to do all of these important above things, I must be present with my coaching, and do everything I can to be consistent in trying to develop these goals in my gymnasts. I must draw on my experiences, remember what it was to be a gymnast, and apply what I have learned through that and my years as a coach. But more than that, I must continue to study and apply what I learn to help develop my gymnasts even further. I enjoy reading and applying what I read to daily practices and Success Saturday. I will continue to do so, and will also develop training tools for gymnasts, coaches, and parents to use to help them apply what I have learned to gymnastics training.

I will be building off the Gym Rats book series by creating a series of workbooks and workshops for gymnasts to learn and reinforce more of the valuable life lessons that gymnastics has to offer.

books, coaching, everyday gymnast, Fiction, gym rats, Gymnastics, Life Lessons, parents

Sneak Peek! Gym Rats Toe Jam, Chapter 1

– Hanging By My Toes –

I was in the dining room reading Madison’s notebook entry between bites of cottage cheese.

Dear Rat (AKA Morgan),

Tomorrow starts the last week of school! WOOT WOOT – No more school! And I can’t WAIT to start going the optional days. I’m so glad Coach Deb invited us to come in extra. Do you know who else gets to come in on the optional days? I hope we get to work out with the girls in the next level up – and what if we worked out with the girls in even higher levels? That would be awesome!

I can’t believe that DAKOTA is coming to The Gym Club in 1 WEEK to try out! If she’s anything like us GYM RATS, she’s really going to like it here! I hope everyone is nice to her. Did you hear Amber tell Leslie the other day at practice that Tina’s back handspring is ugly? I think Tina heard her, too. Geez. Give her a break. Tina just got it! And she’s still in Devos! That wasn’t cool. I wish there was something we could do to get back at Amber for saying that. Okay, I have to cut it short cuz I need to study for my last social studies test tomorrow!

CU2morrow! –Gym (AKA Madison)

“Morgan, get back to your homework! It’s 8:30!” my mom hollered from the kitchen. I don’t know how Mom knew that I was reading the notebook, but she did. I was supposed to be studying for my last math test before the end of the school year.

“Okay! I was just taking a quick break!” I didn’t have time to write back to Gym since I also had to start studying for my spelling test. I brought my empty dish to the kitchen. “I’m so tired of school! I can’t wait till it’s over,” I complained.

“Four days left. You can hang by your toes for that long,” Mom answered. “Let me know when you’re ready for me to go over your spelling words with you.”

“All right,” I sighed and sauntered back to my math book. We had practice until 7 o’clock on Mondays, so I had just a little time to do all of my homework and finish studying for tomorrow’s school day. It was already 8:30, and my eyelids were getting heavy…

“Morgan, wake up,” my mom lightly touched my shoulder. “Get ready for bed. I’ll quiz you on your spelling words tomorrow while you’re eating breakfast.”

I rubbed my eyes. “Okay,” I said as I climbed the stairs to my bedroom. I could see the light to my older sister Allison’s room under her door. She just got home from gym – she just finished competing in her first season as an upper-level optional and was getting ready for the next level. No doubt she was doing her homework. How can she stay up so late? I wondered. I got ready for bed and before I knew it, the sun was shining through my window.

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The all-new Kindle edition of Gym Rats Toe Jam is coming out on November 1st!

baseline, coaching, competition, everyday gymnast, goals, Gymnastics, season, success saturday

Meet Recaps

Some gymnasts are lucky enough to be starting their competition season now. Meet recaps are a great way to help motivate throughout the season and track improvement.

In gymnastics, we mainly coach children. Childhood, inherently, implies learning. Because children are learning, they do not know it all, nor are they perfect, nor are they able to make perfect decisions. Children learn, try, fail, learn some more, and try again, and hopefully succeed. That’s the way life is.

A competition season is no different. Provided that the gymnasts we are coaching are competing a level commensurate with their skill level, then they are not yet perfect. (If they are, they need to move up!) As a coach, I believe that a successful competitive season is one that ends up better than it starts, with measurable improvements along the way. How do we accomplish this, and how is it measured?

At TGC, we begin each season with a critique meet (or a mock meet) where a judge comes in and gives her feedback on the gymnasts’ routines. I am very clear with my gymnasts that we do not expect perfection at the beginning of the season; what we want is a baseline, or a place to start. It is very important for the gymnasts to understand that if we do not know where they begin the season, we cannot make a goal for where they want to finish the season. This is how we create a standard of quality for each individual gymnast on each individual event.

Coaches must not only state that perfection is not what they seek at this point in the season, but their actions and corrections must also reflect this. A coach can say it all she wants, but if she is constantly punishing imperfection, then she is not practicing what she preaches. We as coaches tread in dangerous territory when all we are seeking is perfection. What we need to look for is progress over perfection.

This is not to say that coaches should not expect effort. After all, effort is one of the most controllable elements that a gymnast can provide to her own training. If a gymnast wants to get better throughout the season and reach her goals, she must put in the effort.

After the critique meet, I compile all the notes from the judge, and share it with the gymnasts. Very often at this point in the season, most gymnasts’ corrections are similar. Routines are not refined yet from weeks and months of competition, so the focus is on polishing routines, hitting all their leaps and jumps, staying on high relevé, showing extension in dance, and showing off in general. We then set goals for the first meet of the season.

After each subsequent meet, I compile corrections for each gymnast. We call these “Meet Recaps.” I go through each individual event with each individual gymnast. I help her to understand where she had her greatest deductions, and whether or not she had a 10.0 start value. I focus on one or two deductions per event, and then give her a target score range that she should shoot for when she achieves her small goals for the next meet. I stress that we can’t expect an exact target score, but we can expect a target score range. All meets and judges are different; equipment and routines are different from meet to meet.

I find that this feedback from meet recaps helps focus our gymnasts on one or two corrections they need to focus on for each event for the next meet, like hitting a requirement, making a connection, or erasing a fall, rather than overwhelming them with all of their errors. Over the course of the season, progress is made, they can see on paper that they are improving, and they feel good about that. Scores creep up, and we find that by the end of the season, the gymnasts are truly doing their best work.

With meet recaps, I am careful to incorporate the good things I want the gymnast to see in her routine. Maybe she has been having a hard time sticking her full turn on beam, and she did it in this meet. I mention that and give her kudos, and make sure she recognizes it and gives herself a pat on the back. Although a little more work, individualizing the meet recaps helps to make each gymnast understand that she is important, her success is important, and her progress is important.

I, as a coach, can pick and choose what facets of the routine is most important to focus on for the next meet. Let’s face it: these kids can be hard on themselves. They tend to focus on all the bad things that happened, and steer away from the good. In a meet recap, I’m able to show them what they did right, highlight a few corrections for the next meet, and help the gymnast tailor her focus so she doesn’t feel overwhelmed with corrections. She will see progress in the next meet, find success with small improvements, and get closer and closer to her goal.

Meet recaps not only include a target score range for each event, but also a target all-around score range. I think this is a valuable piece of information for gymnasts; they get to see just how much the small deductions add up, and they get to see that concentrating on just a few improvements can really improve their overall score. All of a sudden, a certain all-around score seems attainable.

Included in the meet recaps are team scores. Although my focus is not on team awards, but on individual progress, I like to show my gymnasts just how much their improvement helps the team improve. It helps them see that they are an important part of TGC, and when they improve, the team improves.

I began doing meet recaps the second season of competition in our gym. I wanted each gymnast to have a personalized feedback from each meet to show her just where she needed to improve, to show her that there are little things that she can do to tangibly increase her score, and demonstrate to her that it was possible. I believe my girls appreciate this part of our season training; they have individualized attention, sit down one-on-one with me, and can really learn how to advance. I always see improvements throughout the season with this approach.

coaching, competition, everyday gymnast, Gymnastics, Life Lessons, parents, USAG, USAIGC

Life Lesson #3 – Kids should be kids

USAIGC‘s “About” page states, “Training Times were created. The USAIGC believes a child must NOT give up their childhood for any sport.”

There are many reasons why the USAIGC limits training hours for gymnasts in each competitive level. One important reason is that they believe that children should remain children. Just as the USAIGC says, “a child must not give up their childhood for any sport.” There should be time for other things: school, friends, family, music, other sports. Do we really need to pigeonhole a child to one sport when she’s seven? Six? Five?

Another important reason why the USAIGC limits training time is to level the competitive playing field. Every gym must limit skill training hours to a certain number per week, depending on each competitive level. This is important in competition in a sport where some coaches require anywhere from five to 30 hours of training per week. Under USAG, there are no limits on training hours; some teams in the same level compete against one another with their training hours varying by more than double the time. This does not lead to fair competition. Arguably, the child training more hours will have the competitive advantage… until she cannot train anymore, which leads us to perhaps the most important reason to limit training hours.

The USAIGC limits training hours to naturally slow the skill-building process so that the toll our sport takes on the growing body is kept at bay. According to Dr. Tommy John, “What we’re looking at is an across-the-board, all-sport, injury epidemic, with kids today finding themselves needing medical intervention at younger and younger ages when surgery and rehab shouldn’t be words in their vocabulary—because times have changed.” Keeping training hours lower naturally helps major injuries from occurring and allows time for important injury prevention exercises.

The USAIGC’s intelligent and responsible training rules help keep children safe and well-balanced throughout a childhood in gymnastics. Participating in gymnastics doesn’t have to require a gymnast to give up everything for the opportunity to be competitive. Rather, by limiting training hours, gymnasts have time to be kids, play fair, and keep their bodies intact so that they can enjoy their sport longer.

Life lesson #3 – kids should be kids!

coaching, competition, everyday gymnast, goals, Gymnastics, High School, Life Lessons, parents, season, USAG, USAIGC

Life Lesson #2 – There is more than one way to get somewhere

USAIGC’s “About” page states that “An Optional Only ‘College Bound’ Competitive Program was put into place,” paired with “Our highest Competitive Level uses NCAA Competitive (Premier) Rules.”

Contrary to popular belief in the gymnastics world, if a gymnast is not a USAG level 10, college gymnastics is off the table. What’s more, USAIGC has actually created their program around the NCAA rules, mirroring the NCAA rules in their highest level of competition.

College coaches would be very happy to see that a gymnast, following the same rules that she would follow in college, is successful at this USAIGC level. College coaches recruit in many ways. One very important way is by watching videos of prospective gymnasts. If they like what they see, and the gymnast fits their program, then the gymnast will be recruited.

Many gymnasts, parents, and coaches are stuck in a rut believing that there is a perfect formula to develop a collegiate athlete. One of the greatest detriments is believing that if a gymnast isn’t a successful level 10 by the time she’s in 8th or 9th grade, then there is no chance for her to compete in college. It is true that the very top schools in the NCAA recruit and sign kids early. However, there are many more schools out there that wait until 10th and 11th grades to recruit and make offers as late as 11th and 12th grade. Like so many other things in life, there is more than one way to get to where you are going.

The USAIGC’s basing its highest level of competition on NCAA rules grooms athletes to peak at the right time in high school in order to develop their skill level, maintain a healthy and injury-free body, and also leave room for improvement over the next four to six years that the gymnast has left in the sport.

When it comes to college athletics, gymnasts must think outside the box. If a gymnast wants to compete gymnastics in college, she must look for a college that reflects her skill level and love of the sport. The competitive structure from which she comes is not at issue; her skill level, health, and passion for the sport are what will drive the process.

Life lesson #2 – there is more than one road to lead to where you are going!

coaching, competition, everyday gymnast, goals, Gymnastics, Life Lessons, USAG, USAIGC

Life Lesson #1 – Individuals FIRST!!

One of the most fulfilling things a coach can do is impart “life lessons” on her gymnasts.

USAIGC highlights some important differences between their program and USAG’s on their “About” page on their website. Throughout this and future blog posts, I will highlight some of these facets and dissect why they are important life lessons for our gymnasts to learn.

1. The Restrictive Compulsory Competitive Program was eliminated.

This may not sound like an important life lesson on its face, but it truly is. By doing away with prohibitive and limiting compulsory routines for each introductory competitive level, gymnasts are inherently treated as individuals. Coaches are allowed to cater to gymnasts’ strengths and teach a wider variety of basic skills, rather than merely teach to perfect a routine. Not only does this allow for more gymnasts participating in competitive gymnastics, it also eliminates the basic “formula” for perfection and subsequent pigeon-holing of athletes at the very beginning of competitive gymnastics. This rule allows for greater creativity and individuality in the sport, allowing gymnasts greater opportunity to build self-esteem and self-confidence because they are able to set themselves apart from others, and focus on their strengths.

Contrast this with the USA Gymnastics compulsory program. I have written extensively on the detriments of the system within which we (our gymnasts at TGC) were compelled to compete. This was the case until we brought USAIGC to Arizona. Under the USAIGC optional-only system, our gymnasts are free to meet the requirements in any manner they choose within the rules. This teaches gymnasts that what they do as individuals matters. This teaches them that there is more than one way to do what is best. This teaches gymnasts that when they perform to their strengths, they are more confident in themselves and their abilities in the gym and on the competition floor, translating to greater self-esteem and self-confidence later in life.

Life lesson #1: Individuals FIRST!

coaching, everyday gymnast, goals, Gymnastics

Teaching Optimism

It’s difficult to fake optimism. And it’s even more difficult to teach it. But as coaches, that has to be our focus.

One of the secrets to being optimistic is knowing that one is in control of her life. For a gymnast, she has to know that she controls what her body does; fate, luck, or the beam gods have nothing to do with it. Rather, it’s her outlook (positive or negative), her preparation (lacking or thorough), her strength (or weakness), her resolve (or lack thereof), and her focus (laser or blurry) that determine her control. And it is up to her coach to remind her of that.

For instance, when one of my gymnasts finishes a tumbling pass (but not the one she planned), and I ask her what happened, I usually get a shoulder shrug or an “I don’t know.” That’s when I ask, “who is in control of your body?” She answers that she is. Then we can have a conversation about control. What was she thinking about? What has she done differently in the past that made her make the skill? Is she going as hard as she can? Is she thinking about where her arms are? What can she do to take control?

Many times, a gymnast’s control is lost due to a pessimistic outlook or response to how a skill is going. This usually isn’t due to one day’s not going well. Rather, it is due to the fact that the gymnast is thinking about how the skill hasn’t been going well for a few practices now, or that she is afraid of a specific skill, or she feels tired, and her self-doubt becomes insurmountable. At this point, her outlook is tainted by a negative perspective and she is fails before she even begins. She loses control of her mindset, and she loses control of her gymnastics.

I have written about “a blank slate” from a coach’s perspective. But this concept is not limited to a coach’s relationship to her gymnasts. It is also important that a gymnast gives herself a blank slate in her mind, day to day.

As a coach, I must remind my gymnasts that they, and only they, can provide themselves with the necessary outlook for success. I can tell them how proud I am of them, how great they are, how much I believe in them until I’m blue in the face, but until they actually believe it themselves, it will never be enough. And the only way that they can begin to believe in themselves is that they must believe that they are in control of their attitude and their gymnastics.