Why I Coach

As a gymnastics coach and former gymnast, I have come to understand that I had a unique childhood experience – I had a very positive club atmosphere despite the fact that I was a high-level athlete for eight years. It saddens me to know that I find mine to be the anomaly in the experiences of many successful gymnasts. This is an article I wrote, explaining why I coach gymnastics.

I began coaching gymnastics when I was 16. I was a level 10 gymnast, the only one in my gym at the time, and I thought it would be fun to help little kids learn how to do gymnastics. I continued to coach through high school and in the summers during college. When I graduated, I became the program director of a local gym in my college town. At the age of 22, after learning my college teammates’ stories, Iunderstood that I had a very positive gymnastics experience. My mission then, and my mission now, almost 20 years later, is that I want to share my positive gymnastics experience with as many kids as possible, to provethat great success is possible in a positive environment. I was successful (four years at level 10, four years as a Division I college competitor), and I was not abused physically, emotionally, or sexually on my road, unlike somany high-level gymnasts, as we have recently come to find out in the aftermath of the USA Gymnastics and Larry Nassar scandal.

Throughout my  career,  nothing  was  perfect; I became injured, and I wanted to quit a few times, like most high-level athletes. It was hard work, and I worked hard. It was hard because I had big goals for myself, and I wanted to reach them. In order to do that, I had to go to the gym and to meets rather than go to football games and prom. I did homework nearly every open minute I had in order to maintain straight A’s. I was extremely careful about the food I put in my body. The difference for me, compared to many other gymnasts my level was, my coaches and parents didn’t put these pressures on me. They did not abuse me to get results; I pushed myself.

Despite many successes throughout the years, my love was not competition, but in everyday practice. I wanted to get better, to learn more, and to be the best I could be in the gym. If I  did well in a meet, then that was frosting on the cake.

When I was a sophomore in high school, my coaches asked me if I wanted to compete elite gymnastics. After a couple of days of weighing the possibilities, I decided, that no, I was happy as a level 10. Over those two days, I examined why I did gymnastics, and realized that it was because I truly loved learning harder and harder skills. In elite, I would have to conform to compulsory gymnastics once again, and, frankly, given the option, I didn’t want to doit. In level 10, there were no limits to what I could do difficulty-wise, and I also didn’t have to ever do compulsory gymnastics again. It was a win-win in my opinion. But the beauty of that situation was that my parents and coaches(who I’m sure would have loved to have an elite athlete) gave me the choice.

As I continue on with a life in gymnastics as a gym owner, coach, and gym mom, I am coming to grips with the fact that my gymnastics experience growing up was an anomaly. There are very few high-level competitive gymnasts who grew up in my positive environment. I can understand that as a high-level athlete, a gymnast must be pushed. I was pushed — but never was I trapped.

The closest I felt trapped was a period going into 6th grade when my mom wanted me to try another gym — a higher-level gym — to see if I could really excel. It was really her decision  to move me, but I obliged and tried it for the summer; I hated it. Although my mom did not want me to, I quit. And although she did not think I made the right decision at the time, she ultimately left me to choose, and it was the biggest decision I had to make in my young life. I quit the sport altogether for a year.

After my sabbatical, I returned to my original gym and loved the sport once again. Down the road, I was faced with the possibility of trying another gym again: when I was in high school, my coach told me that he had never taken a gymnast as far as I had the potential to go, and he understood if I wanted to leave and go to a more advanced gym.But, he told me, if I stayed, he would learn right alongside me and help me reach my goals in the sport. Once again, I had a choice. I stayed.

In my senior year of high school, after having sat out for six months due to a back injury, I sat in the kitchen talking to my mom about whether or not I wanted to continue the sport through college. Did I want to put myself through four more years? We talked about how hard it was on my body, how difficult it was to come back from injuries, and just how much time and dedication it takes to be a high-level gymnast. We sat there and had a very honest talk. She helped me examine all sides, and made it clear that whatever I was to decide, the choice was mine. It was one of the best decisions I have made in my life, to stay in the sport four more years and accept a college scholarship.

I was never on the path to Olympic greatness, and I never trained elite. I was just a run-of-the- mill level 10 gymnast who loved flipping and twisting. I worked out 20+ hours a week, chose not to go to prom or other school functions, and I have never thought of that as a sacrifice. Instead, it was what I chose to do.

In our “all or nothing” culture, it may be easy for parents and coaches to get caught up in a gymnast’s potential. We need to step back and remember that it is the kids who are doing the work, putting in the time and dedication, and they have to choose the path their life will take. We are helping to guide their lives, but we must refrain from forcing them. It is their goals that must remain the focus. We may not like every decision they make, and we can try hard toguide them in what we think is the right direction, but ultimately, it has to be up to them to make the goals and do the work. Allowing kids to make decisions is one of the best things we can do to create strong and independent people. And when they understand that they are doing the sport for themselves, only then can they truly love it.

This article appeared in Gym Rats Magazine.


Why I Write Children’s Gymnastics Books – Part 2

As I prepare to re-launch my Children’s Gymnastics Book Series, Gym Rats, I have been reflecting on why it is that I actually set out to write books about gymnastics in the first place. In my last blog, I mentioned the all-important life lessons that this sport offers, but also must be reinforced by the people our gymnasts spend time with, the types of things they watch, and the types of books they read. The Gym Rats series offers the positive reinforcement they need to learn and retain these important life lessons.

One of the important life lessons a gymnast can learn is friendship and camaraderie. Starting in Gym Rats Basic Training, and continuing throughout the series, Morgan and Madison are best friends and they share a notebook with each other. In it, they write to each other about their fears, their goals, what excites them about gymnastics, and what motivates them. They draw and design leotards and create their own gym.

The idea of writing in a notebook with a gymnast best friend was not a concept that I conjured out of the blue. I actually did it! My best friend and teammate and I would write notes back and forth to each other everyday. It got to the point where we had so many notes that we didn’t know where to keep them anymore, so we decided to get a notebook and write back and forth in that. This notebook became a very important part of our friendship, and it helped motivate us in the gym. It was a really great way for us to build our confidence, and let each other know that we were in it together, even though gymnastics was an individual sport.

With this re-launch of the Gym Rats book series, I’ve created the Gym Rats OFFICIAL Notebook! There will be a new notebook available with each re-launched book. Now your gymnast can read the books with her best friend and they can write back and forth to each other! Of course, the notebook can be used for just your gymnast to write down her goals, her fears, and her motivation — just like a journal for herself. Either way, your gymnast isn’t just reading the Gym Rats books, but she is also developing her writing skills!


Why I Write Children’s Gymnastics Books – Part I

I write a children’s book series about gymnastics and the important life skills the sport teaches called Gym Rats. I published the first book, Gym Rats Basic Training 10 years ago with the intention of reinforcing the life lessons that gymnastics can help teach young gymnasts.

Since then, I have published four more in the Gym Rats series, and will continue to publish more. The reason is simple: although our sport has the opportunity to help kids learn these lessons, the lessons must be reinforced by coaches, parents, and other sources, like the Gym Rats books. Kids do not learn life lessons by osmosis. These lessons must be supplemented by the important people and resources in our kids’ lives. We need to surround our kids with positive influences that will help exemplify what we want our kids to learn. This book series does just that.

After 10 years, it is time for me to create a new Kindle edition of each of the books, starting with the first book, Gym Rats Basic Training. This awesome new edition has many cool links to documents and videos that your gymnast can reference to continue her learning of gymnastics and its life lessons. It can help parents and coaches learn a few lessons too, or at least serve as a reminder about why we do what we do.

Another fun thing I’m doing is creating an audio version of each of the books in the series. Gymnasts are on the go – they can listen in the car on the way to practice or get some extra motivation on the way to a meet!

I’m excited about this re-launch! It is rekindling my passion about why I write about gymnastics, why the sport is important, and even more, why having great influences in our kids’ lives matters!


Kids are learning from us, even when we least expect it!

How many times have you heard anyone in gymnastics, or sports in general, say that kids can “learn so many life lessons” by participating? As a coach, I hear it all the time, and I read about it all the time.

If you have kids, or if you coach kids, and you’re interested in providing the all-important life lessons to the children around you, then you must take this to heart.

Kids are constantly learning, absorbing, observing, and listening (even when it doesn’t seem like it). They watch us, they hear what we say, they take in what we do. They observe how we react to things, and how we handle ourselves in sticky situations.

Kids are learning from us even when we aren’t expecting them to. As coaches, parents, and leaders in their lives, we need to remember that they are constantly soaking in our behavior and words. We are their role models, and we all need to remember that there is a kiddo lurking in the background learning from us when we least expect it.

I write a children’s gymnastics book series called Gym Rats. There are five books so far in the series, and I am re-launching all of them, beginning with book one, Basic Training! If you are interested in the life lessons that gymnastics has to offer your kids, then this is the book series for you. Subscribe to my blog or friend me on Facebook (or both!) for updates and great new deals coming your way!

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Coming soon: Gym Rats Basic Training Re-Launch!

Breaking news – I am re-launching my Gym Rats book series, beginning with Basic Training! This re-launch includes the exciting addition of an audio version of each of the books.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be putting the call out for volunteers to be a part of my Launch Team. This select group will get free access to exclusive material, help me get the word out about my books, and be a part of an exciting book promotion experience!

Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks!

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!

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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.