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, 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.

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, 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.

competition, Event Specialist, everyday gymnast, goals, Gymnastics, High School, USAIGC

High School Invitational 2020

This weekend, I am on my way to New York City to celebrate my high school-aged gymnasts. We will spend a long weekend bonding, celebrating their leadership in and out of the gym, and thinking about what they can bring back to their younger teammates to help guide them on their gymnastics journeys.

This will be the third year we compete in this special meet held by USAIGC. The gymnasts compete their highest level on each event. There are no individual awards, just team awards. It truly is a meet that highlights what it means to be members of a team, and what it means to be a part of an exclusive group of high school gymnasts.

It is HARD to hang in there in a sport like gymnastics throughout high school. Ask any one of my high school gymnasts, and she will tell you her story about what she has gone through, the storm she weathered, and how and why she is still in the gym. These girls have histories. They have injuries. They have heart. They have grit.

High school gymnasts should be celebrated as veterans of the sport, and I am thankful that our gym found a governing body (USAIGC) that recognizes their value and celebrates the leadership they have to offer.

coaching, competition, goals, Gymnastics

Getting Up

Failure is a major part of gymnastics. Whether an actual physical fall, or a mental foible, getting up after falling down is a major life lesson that I want all of my gymnasts to learn. It isn’t the fall that matters so much as the getting up afterward and moving on that is the true test of character, and the real measure of success.

Children starting out in gymnastics fail more times than they succeed. This trend continues throughout a gymnast’s career. Even gymnastics superstar Simone Biles didn’t make her first triple-double in competition before getting up and trying it again. And what do we all remember? Not her shortfall on the first day of competition, but her successfully completing it the next day. She made history, and no one can take that away from her. In fact, she was the only one in the world that could have taken it away from herself – by not getting up and trying it again.

As my team heads into competition season, reinforcing this concept is of utmost importance; I, as a coach, cannot be so disappointed in the fall so that I quash the gymnast’s urge to get back up.

Whether a gymnast has a physical fall or a mental misstep, I must remind her that it’s only a fall, and a fall is temporary. I must encourage her to get up, for each time she does, she will learn something.

Some gymnasts (and coaches) believe that falls just should never happen. Of course we should prepare our gymnasts well for meets so that we and they believe that they will be successful. However, given human nature, perfect perfection all the time is not realistic. One of my main jobs is to teach my gymnasts to live in reality, and to know how to handle a fall, physically and emotionally.

Some gymnasts believe that the little eyes around the gym watching them don’t expect them to fall. That can’t be further from the truth: little gymnasts expect everyone to fall just like they themselves do. What they need to see is their role models pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and give it another shot. That’s what successful people do, even though getting up is sometimes the hardest part of all.

As a realistic and objective coach, I must demonstrate that the expectation of doing one’s best work is not necessarily a perfect performance. Rather, the expectation must be the perfect effort, and that requires tenacity and the willingness to get up, move on, and try to improve. It must be okay if something goes awry. As in life, a gymnast must know how to handle the situation when she fails. She must learn how to think on her feet, bounce back, and continue on. If I as a coach want her to develop that character trait, then I need to practice what I preach; I need to act consistently with what I say, make it okay to mess up, but also make it imperative to get back up again and move on. That is the true measure of success.

baseline, coaching, competition, goals, Gymnastics, new year, parents, season

New Year, New Opportunities

With a new year comes the opportunity to try new things, be more daring, more adventurous, and more attuned.

I don’t believe we need a new year to turn a new leaf; we have a new day every 24 hours to start something new. But there is something about a new year that gives us pause, and grants us a reason to begin anew.

In gymnastics, the new year just so happens to mark the beginning of the competition season for many young gymnasts. This is a perfect time for gymnasts, coaches, and parents alike to examine their goals and be sure that they are all on track for the upcoming year.

A gymnast should ask herself what her goals are for the season. She should take an objective look at where she is at this point in time, and then ask herself what she is doing each day to help her reach her goals. The most important part of this is to be realistic about where she is and where she wants to go.

At this point in the season, coaches have many hopes and goals for their gymnasts. Just the same as their gymnasts, coaches should take inventory of where their gymnasts are at this point in the season. Most gyms have a critique meet to check in with a judge to see where their team is. This is a perfect time to establish a baseline for the season for each gymnast. Some gymnasts may surprise their coaches and be farther ahead or behind, be a stronger competitor, or even a more nervous one. All these things are considerations that must come into play when establishing training packets, lesson plans, and goals for the rest of the season.

Parents should take an objective look at where their gymnast is. They must remember that gymnastics is their daughter’s sport, and ensure that they are doing what they can to be their daughter’s biggest fan. Being a major part of a gymnast’s support system is to not to add to your gymnast’s stress, but to help to mitigate it. Parents should ask themselves what one thing they can do each day to help their daughter be more positive and objective about her gymnastics.

The new year is a perfect time to reconnect with reality, take inventory, and reconsider goals for the upcoming year. We should take a minute to check in with ourselves and make sure that we are on the right track.