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.

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.

Gymnastics, success saturday

Added Motivation

Competitive gymnasts thrive on being busy, making and obtaining goals, and working hard to reach those goals. As workouts are beginning to shift back to the gym from online meetings, we need to help keep our gymnasts stay focused on the future and her goals.

How do we do this? Here are a few suggestions to keep gymnasts motivated.

Watch old gymnastics championships. Not only are gymnasts unable to have a normal competition season, but the 2020 Olympics have been postponed, meaning that all elite gymnastics competitions have been put on hold. This can mean that gymnasts don’t have many things to look forward to. However, with YouTube, there are many opportunities for gymnasts to watch previous Olympics, World Championships, and NCAA meets. This can be a source of great motivation. As a young gymnast, I don’t know how many times I watched the 1988 Olympic Games when it was a race to the finish for Yelena Shushunova of the Soviet Union and Daniela Silivas of Romania. It was a ridiculous fight between the two of them, each receiving two perfect 10’s during the all-around competition alone! The little gymnast in me was nervous and excited every time I watched ii, and it made me pine to get into the gym to keep working hard.

Find a baseline. Do some preliminary conditioning testing. How many push-ups can she do without stopping and without losing form? How many sit-ups can she do in a minute? How long can she hold a handstand? How’s her press handstand? How many jump ropes can she do in 5 minutes? There are a number of baseline conditioning elements that we can use to test a gymnast so she can see where her strengths and weaknesses lie. In addition, this will help give her a measurable goal to see if she can improve.

Sit down and review goals. Taking some time to think about and write down goals for each event and the upcoming year is important. There are a number of factors that are different about this upcoming year that come into play as gymnasts contemplate what comes next. Sitting down and making concrete and realistic goals will help gymnasts to put some thought into what comes next, and it will help them look realistically at the future.

Stay positive. Read motivational quotes and books. Gymnasts can help fuel their positive attitudes by reinforcing it through inspirational books and stories. Find Gym Rats books here!

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