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.