Month: November 2011

A Small Reminder

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It has been almost exactly one week since Andrea Bailes lost her life. Right now the memories and emotions are still burning strong and bright. I know that eventually they will fade. I wanted something I could see every day and remind me of Andrea and all that was so great about her. I plan on getting another tattoo eventually to remind me of the key things that were so amazing about her that I always want to remember and take with me through my life. It is possible that I will expand upon this one also, but for now it is perfect. And beautiful, I think.

Thanksgiving

I hope everybody’s Thanksgiving was good. I feel like I should still be active posting things right now, but I am completely drained. Mentally, physically, and emotionally. I need to take a small break and recharge myself before I head off to Texas next week. I will, hopefully, be giving constant updates from the Karolyi Ranch.

I do have something to say. No matter who you are or what you are doing (or did) or who you are with… Make sure that you take time to appreciate what you have. Not the yearly thankful thoughts. I mean… Be thankful that you are alive and well. Be thankful that you have friends and family. Be thankful you have food and drink. Even if you don’t have these things… Be thankful that you have something. Take nothing for granted.

As we all learned Friday night, life is precious and short. In an instant it can be gone. None of us know when our time will end or someone else’s will end. I don’t want to turn this into a “things I am thankful for” post, but I have a lot. I know that all of these things could be gone in an instant. Whether it be my phone in my hand or my wonderful fiancé next to me, either could be gone.

I wish I could tell a beautiful little girl that I am thankful that she is in my life, but it is too late. I want to try to make sure that this never happens again. Do everything you can to make sure that this never happens to you, because it feels terrible. I took tomorrow, next week, next meet, and next year for granted and now I will never have the opportunity to tell her what she meant to me.

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

After a somewhat successful day in the gym on Monday, I was now faced with Tuesday. I was honored to receive a call several days before, asking me to carry Andrea Bailes’ casket. Andrea’s mother said, “You carried her for years. I trust you to carry her now more than anybody.” When I first heard these words, I choked back tears and told Deana that I would gladly carry Andrea.

Now… I think about this. No parent should ever have to bury their child, especially because of some drunk driver with almost fifty charges, ranging from domestic violence to drunk driving. I never thought I would have to bury an athlete and I hope I never have to bury a child.

I am charged with the difficult, but necessary, task of carrying the casket of a fourteen year old athlete that I cared deeply for. My emotions range from honor, rage, sadness, pride, and many more in between all of those.

I have carried this child in the past. I vaguely recall having to carry her, much to her dislike, off of our gym floor after some small injuries. I had picked her up and put her on my shoulder more times than I could count. I had wrestled and fought with this obstinate girl on repeated occasions. I constantly gave her high fives and knuckle bumps, as well as love taps and soft kicks in the butt. But I had never thought about having to carry her in a casket.

On top of my duties, I think that I might talk with another television station about Andrea. The first one wasn’t easy and I am sure that the second interview will be just as difficult. As well as all of this, I have all the other team girls that I need to watch after. I am sure that tomorrow will be the most difficult for the young ones that loved Andrea. They have no real perspective on situations like this.

As hard as tomorrow might be on me, I have to be strong. I know that there are thousands of people that have been blessed by my memories of Andrea and that gives me strength. We will see how tomorrow plays out. Hopefully tomorrow will end with all of Andrea’s current and former team mates hanging out and playing in the gym.

Again, I wouldn’t be able to be strong and lead these kids if it weren’t for all of the amazing people that have sent me texts, comments, messages, posts, shares, and everything else. You are filling the huge hole that was left with Andrea Bailes’ passing. I have to thank you all again.

I will update things tomorrow as soon as I can.

First Day Back

The first day back in the gym was hard, but good. It started early for me. I went to the gym to meet with a television news reporter so I could be interviewed about Andrea. It was difficult to talk about her so openly and especially on camera. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I was telling the reporter about the girl I loved so much. It made it easier. An old friend walked into the gym just as we were about to start the interview. I got up and gave her a hug and talked for a little bit and then sat back down and started to talk about Andrea. I had to keep reminding myself to breath deeply and focus on keeping my composure, even though I knew it could be edited. Always the perfectionist, sadly. For some reason I couldn’t get my right foot to stop shaking. It kept bouncing around uncontrollably. I tried my best to tell everything I could about her that made her so special, but I am sure I didn’t get it all out. I wish I had more time with the reporter to try to get everything out that I could remember. All in all… I feel like I did an okay job for my first on camera interview. I just wish it was for something other than the death of an amazing child with a bright future. I just received a text message from a parent telling me that I did well in the interview. Not that it matters in the grande scheme of things, but I am glad I didn’t look like a retard.

I had some time in between the interview and the beginning of my work. I spent the hour slowly going around the gym and making sure everything was in it’s place. My mom taught me, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” I take that to the gym everyday. I usually take about 30 minutes to organize the gym, but I wanted to move slower today because I had more time and I wanted to think. I spent my time reflecting on all of the wonderful qualities that Andrea exhibited that I wanted to make sure that I also showed to the kids. Another quick side note, behavior can be changed. It takes conscious effort and attention to what you are doing at all times to change it. People don’t like change because it is uncomfortable. I constantly tell the kids that when they do something new or different, it will feel weird. I didn’t have to make huge changes, but they still took some conscious effort for me.

I had two privates. Both young level fives. One of them looked up to Andrea for everything and the other one did as well, but was also very emotional. I told the first one that we were not going to do any gymnastics until she talked to me. We sat and talked for a little while about Andrea and how to move on. There were some tears shed but after we finished talking the first little one did an awesome job. The same interaction happened with the second little girl and similar results. As I was talking and watching the second little girl the other girls started to filter into the gym. I took the opportunity to talk to them and remind them that I would be there for anything they needed.

I finished up with my second private lesson and almost all of the kids were in the gym. A couple walked in right on time. I had already gathered the girls together and was going to start talking to them, but I waited for the others. I talked to them about Andrea for a little bit. I told them that I wasn’t healed or completely whole, but I was much happier because I had spent the whole weekend trying to make sure that everybody knew about Andrea and how amazing she was. For me, it made it easier to know that she had touched many other lives besides the ones in the gym. I told the kids that 11,000 people had read about Andrea. They didn’t seem to comprehend this, but it made my heart swell with pride. She was absolutely amazing and there were at least 11,000 people that knew it. I went on to quickly talk to them about remembering her and honoring her. We talked about keeping her in our hearts and minds. We talked about working as hard as she did, focusing as well as her, and trying to be the best that we could possibly be. The girls got emotional a little, but managed to keep it together quite well. I gave them a reduced warm up assignment and they got to it.

When they got finished with their warm ups I told them how my day went. I don’t normally do this, but it had to do with Andrea. I didn’t want to get up and go run. I didn’t want to run as far as I did. I decided that if Andrea knew I was being a wimp that she wouldn’t approve. I dragged myself to the gym and began to run. I wanted to quit early but I kept thinking that she wouldn’t stop until I told her it was okay to stop. I kept running because that is what she would do. I reminded the girls again that the best way to remember and honor Andrea was to make sure we exhibited the qualities that she did. I began to stretch the girls out after our warm up and they paid very good attention. As we finished stretching, I sent the girls to their first events. Things started well and continually improved throughout the first rotation. A couple hiccups for me. One little girl who decided she didn’t care about making improvements and doing what she asked continued to frustrate me. One other girl had done a great job for most of the bar workout and she took her last turn of the night. She was a little more aggressive than normal and ended up peeling off the high bar in a back swing. Her leg hit the low bar and she could have flipped over to her back, but she tried to stop herself and put her arm out. I believe this is a normal human reaction, but in gymnastics you shouldn’t try to stop a flip once you have started it, in general. She hadn’t started the flip on purpose because she had peeled and she flipped over more after contacting the low bar. Again…. she should have flipped on over but she tried to stop herself and extended her arm. The elbow completely dislocated.

I have seen a couple disgusting injuries in the past few years, but this one was pretty gross. The elbow dislocated completely. I could see a bone pushing very hard against her skin. Thank God it didn’t push out. As she hit the ground I thought… Okay she is good. After she completed her crash landing I saw her elbow and so did she. She let out an awful scream. I ran over and told her to look at me and to breath. She did a wonderful job of listening. She was a trooper. We ended up having to call the EMS because I was worried about damaging her arm further by moving her ourselves.

Several minutes later, the EMS came and got her. The kids finished their bar workout on one bar and then we switched rotations. The next group came over and started their bar workout as the injured girl was being taken out of the gym. I told the girls to let the injured one know that they all loved her. She gave us the thumbs up and a smile as she left the gym. The rest of the workout went pretty well. The optional bars improved and vault was alright.

After we finished our daily rotations, the girls came back over to me to get their strength assignments. Instead of strength I showed them the video montage I had made of Andrea. I shared some comments and texts that I had received as well. I told them again that I wasn’t healed or complete and that I felt like there was a hole in me still, but I felt so much better knowing that there were so many people knew about Andrea now. There were many tears shed in this short time. I told the kids that now the fun part began. They had to do some strength. We did a quick ten minutes of strength work (way less than normal) and then the kids went to stretch.

After they finished stretching, we talked again briefly about a few different things. The main topic was Tuesday morning and afternoon. All of these girls were going to have to be at the viewing and funeral of a friend, team mate, and sister. I told them that it was going to be hard as hell, no matter what. I told them that I would be there for them for whatever they needed and that they shouldn’t hesitate to ask me or anybody else. I finished by telling them all that I loved them and that they should never forget that and then I sent them on their way.

On their way was not very far, because two of the girls had a birthday on this night. They all had ice cream cake and hung out for a while. All in all… For the first day back ofter a terrible tragedy, tonight was great. The two black spots were one kid not giving full effort and the dislocated elbow. I learned about this time that the dislocated elbow would also require surgery because of a chip/break in a bone. Sad news. I wish I could have anticipated and/prevented this, but things happen in the gym.

The Point

The following message was sent to me on Facebook from a young friend in Canada. While reading it, tears rolled down my face and continued for quite some time. I couldn’t help but think… He got it. He got the message I was trying to spread. I received many messages like this, and I might share them in the future as well, but I thought that this one was important to get out to everybody quickly.

The message read:

Matt,

Never give up – because from the sound of it, Andrea wouldn’t have either.

A girl I’ve never heard of, never met; affected my life today. She sounds like that shinning star everyone strives for or wishes to be. A great friend, a good role model, along with a little stubbornness and attitude that makes you smile even more.

Not many people in this world are blessed or lucky enough to find that star. And those who do find it ..and lose it..

…one of the hardest things in life to bare.

But we can’t give up.

This too has been the hardest year of my short life so far..

A few months ago a dear friend of mine lost her best friend (practically a sister) in a car accident as well. I could not even come close to understanding the pain she was going through. We spoke the same words as you, “live for her”.

On Thursday September 22nd, I was hit by a car crossing the street on my way to gym. I’ve spent the last 7.5 weeks living at the hospital. I suffered multiple injuries including sever head trauma. There was a chance I would not be able to mentally function properly again or return to coaching.

I was scared. It seemed like all those, most important in my life would be taken away – MY shining stars. Every night I cried myself to sleep thinking I would never be able to be with these amazing children again. Be there to watch them grow. Be part of their success’ and failures. 

But every morning I made it my sole focus to get better. To enjoy every part of life and to live each day as if they were right there with me. I learned to appreciate things much more. I prayed – and it kept me alive.

I’m not saying our situations are in any way the same. I don’t know what I would do if I ever lost one of my athletes – it would be the death of me.

I’m just saying stay strong! 

Wake up every morning and make it your mission to live a great life! Like you said, for Andrea.

Live like Andrea.. ..each day.
Never give up. Smile. Make people laugh. Kick their butts when they need it and cheer for others even when you’re not getting any medals yourself. Keep her spirit alive. You’ll do that by continuing being a great coach.

I believe if you live like that, you’ll be living for her. She’ll be living in you, in you’re heart and mind and her star will keep on shining.

Andrea’s story has touched me. Andrea, her friends and family and you are in my prayers – sending you all the strength I have. 

I will share Andrea’s story along, hopping she’ll affect more people lives.

 

All of the messages, like this one, are what have given me the strength to keep focused on what I felt needed to be done for this wonderful child. All of the support has been overwhelming and I can’t thank everybody enough. It isn’t like I have done anything difficult, but I received a message when I woke up this morning that made it all worth it.

The message read:

Matt,
Words can’t express how thankful I am for everything you are doing for my baby girl. There’s no better gym family anywhere. For everything you did/do for her, I am forever grateful. I am finding some comfort knowing that she has touched more people in her short 14 years than most people touch in their whole lives. I feel God puts everyone in our lives for a reason….her reason was to show us how to really live. Her strength will get us through, I know it. Again, thank you & Dory for loving my daughter.

Your family,
Deana

 

Let’s make sure that we continue to show support to the people who really need it, Andrea’s family, friends, and team mates.

 

The Fire

I am so excited to share this. The song is The Fire by The Roots.

As the upload to YouTube finished I grinned from ear to ear. As I played to video to make sure it was right… Tears rolled down my face uncontrollably as I continued to grin. I am so proud of the girl she was. I am proud to have coached her. I am proud to have known her. I know that I benefitted from her much more than she benefitted from having me as her coach. I have always loved this song and it jumped out to me as I thought about what to use for this montage. As I played it to confirm, I cried tears of joy. I feel like it was perfect for her.

The leotard at the end of the montage was one of her favorites. Angel wings on her back. She outgrew it and passed it on just before her accident.

Please help me continue to immortalize this amazing child. Post, share, tweet, link, and do whatever you can to tell everybody about Andrea Bailes. Why? For Andrea Bailes.

I have recently added the video to Vimeo.com because of some YouTube problems. I changed the embedded video link.

Andrea Bailes

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I want to tell you about a child named Andrea Bailes. This was not easy to write for me at all. I can’t ever remember crying like this in my life. I can hardly see the keyboard to write this through all the tears. Everything I remember just brings more and more.

Andrea was a fourteen year old girl in the eighth grade. She would have attended Point Pleasant High School. Andrea was a gymnast, but also dabbled in soccer and volleyball. From all accounts she did those two sports very well. I never had the pleasure of watching her do other sports besides gymnastics. She was dear to my heart through gymnastics. I had the privledge of coaching this athlete for several years.

Andrea was involved in a car accident on Friday the 18th of November, 2011. The accident took her life.

Back up several years. Andrea came to SOGA and her first year she competed level four. In the beginning she was not very good and her flexibility was terrible, but she was strong and she worked her ass off. Within the span of a month or so her splits had gone from hideous to almost all the way down because she had been working on them outside the gym constantly. I remember teaching her to do her shoot through. She struggled mightily with these because of her long legs. She never gave up. She kept trying it over and over and over again until she got it. She kept a good attitude all the time and would often encourage her team mates even when she wasn’t doing well and even when the other athletes were doing the same skills better than her. She improved greatly in that first year.

Her second year at the gym brought more of the same. She was tall, thin, and inflexible but again she never gave up on the skills despite all of her struggles. Level five was better for her because she could showcase her strength much more. Throughout the entire year she was probably the best team mate in the gym. Still, constantly encouraging everybody. She always had a good attitude. She was always smiling. She always worked hard. Anytime her attitude went south it was because she was frustrated with herself because she wanted to do the skills better or do them right.

Andrea finished her second competition season at SOGA as level five state champion on Uneven Bars, but that didn’t seem to matter to her. Her team had not done as well as we had all liked at states and she was disappointed. She did what she always did. She went back into the gym and quietly worked her ass off. She would try her hardest to do every little thing she was asked to do and it rarely came easy to her. She kept trying.

This brings me to our third season together. I had already spent more than two full years with her and I saw her two, three, and sometimes four days a week. It was decided that her and her team mates would be level sixes this year. Yet again she confidently and quietly went to work at the gym. She did it with determinate smile at all times. The beginning of this season was rough for all of the level sixes. They made huge strides before meet season. Andrea struggled on beam and floor, mostly due to a lack of flexibility. She began to shine on vault and bars. She constantly pushed her team mates to do better on those two events. Because of her lack of flexibility, back walkovers were particularly troublesome for her. She tried them constantly and failed constantly but she never gave up. I remember the mighty roar that went through the gym the first time she landed one of the beam, which was probably halfway through the season, at least. This thought brings tears to my eyes now. She was so happy. But it wasn’t happiness for herself. She was happy that she might be able to help her team on beam now.

As the season progressed she kept getting better, as did her team mates. Even after landing walkovers in the gym with more consistency… I don’t believe she ever stayed on the beam at competitions. She continued to encourage her team mates with her chin up and a smile on her face even after she would fall off beam. The fire would come into her eyes the second we headed to vault and bars and she would shine. She was so aggressive and she did everything I asked her to do. She won lots of meets on vault and bars. She took her awards with a smile, knowing that she had done everything she could to help her team mates. She would then sit and watch everybody else get medals on beam, floor, and in the all around with the same smile.

When states rolled around that year the girls were ready to go. They had done well all year. They had won most meets on vault and bars, largely thanks to Andrea’s efforts. We did beam first and it was not so good for us. Andrea came off the beam yet again, but then cheered on her team mates with a great attitude and a smile. Floor next. Much better results for all the girls, but still not what we all wanted. As we made our way to vault, I saw the fire. I saw it in Andrea’s eyes and I saw it in the other girls. They were ready to go. My five little level sixes dominated vault. They were “rock stars” and they earned every tenth they got. Her score somehow did not even count for our team on vault but you couldn’t tell. They had all vaulted well and she was happy and so where the rest of the kids. I tried to refocus them for bars and they took the coaching well. They warmed up and competed like rock stars again. Andrea’s score was second highest on our team, but again… That didn’t matter to her. After we were finished I told the girls I was proud of them. They had worked their asses off all year and they had showed up well at states. When things shook out my five little level sixes took second place as a team. We were first on vault and bars as a team and Andrea took first on bars. I never heard a word about her bar title from her, but she was so proud of the second place team award.

This spring, summer, and fall Andrea continued to work her ass off like normal. We played with flipping vaults for fun and she did them well. We did giants with some consistency and she was consistently hitting casts and clear hips in handstand. She developed one of the prettiest layout flyaways I have ever seen. She finally was on an even playing field on beam and floor. No terrible walkovers to set her back. She could do a handspring and cartwheel-cartwheel. She could also show some of her power on floor and ended up getting pretty good at her level seven passes.

None of this matters though, because she did it all with a great attitude. She worked her ass off when she was in the gym and she did it with a smile. She ripped three times last week. Big, bloody rips. She peeled the skin off and went back to work. I have seen her straddle a bar and get up laughing. And yeah… I meant bar, not beam. She straddled it really hard. She jumped up smiling and laughing at herself even as the tears came to her eyes. Andrea was the first girl to encourage somebody. She was the first girl to give a team mate a kick in the butt when they weren’t doing what they were supposed to. She was the first girl to laugh at a team mate and she was also the first girl to laugh at herself, or me. She was ever the smart ass as she got into her young teenage years. Every coach, athlete, and parent loved her. Every single younger child looked up to her. They didn’t look up to her because of her tall, thin, extremely muscular frame. They did so because she was an amazing child, athlete, friend, team mate, daughter, and sister. She was everything that I hope my children turn into.

I think back on all the memories over the past few years with Andrea in the gym. She has been with me since SOGA opened. She aspired to be a coach. I’m not completely sure, but I think that it was because of me. She constantly helped out her team mates and they would listen to her almost as well as they would listen to me. She had the worst hillbilly accent at times and we all enjoyed correcting her and gently teasing her. She would always take it with a huge smile and would usually give it back to me or the other kids. Just like she did a little more than twenty-four hours before she lost her life. Andrea grew into a beautiful, confident, funny, caring, and all-around amazing young girl. Like I said before, she was always a smartass and she kept me on my toes. That made me love her even more. I rarely had to question her effort or desire, if ever. My only regret is not being able to see her outside the gym more. I know that she was a wonderful person outside of our doors as well. Everybody that knew her liked her. I will never forget Andrea Bailes as long as I live.

I had to talk with my athletes and parents today. It was extremely hard. Most of the kids already knew about Andrea and all of the parents knew. I tried to be strong for the kids. I told them all I loved them and that if they needed anything at all that I wanted them to come to me. I told them I didn’t care what it was. If they needed somebody to listen or talk to, a shoulder to cry on, or if they just needed a hug… I would do whatever it took to help guide them through this difficult situation. There were many tears shed. I told my athletes to go over to a couple mats to sit, hang out, and talk. Soon their quiet talks turned into laughter as the parents all began discussing things we could all do to help out Andrea’s family. After the kids had some time to decompress I went over to them to talk some more. I told them that Andrea embodied so many great qualities that we all had to take with us. She blessed our lives with her smile, whit, work ethic, and stubborn determination to be the best she could be. I told my gymnasts that I was going to continue on with my life and try to take those values with me. I never want to let Andrea Bailes and her attitude die in my heart and mind. I told them that I thought Andrea would want us to continue on and work our asses off to be the best we could be, just like she would. They all agreed. I left them alone and a short time after their gentle laughter turned into running, jumping, and flipping. The kids began to deal with this problem together, in the gym. Andrea would have done the exact same thing. She always did. She never missed an opportunity to play with her friends in the gym.

As I sat in the gym I kept looking around from event to event. In my head I kept seeing her doing her skills on the events. All the little mistakes, all the quirks, all the beautiful lines. The door opened and an even worse realization hit me. Not only would I never see this wonderful child do gymnastics again… I would never see her walk through those doors again. Somebody else walked through the door but all I could see was her head poke in as she sort of shuffled in towards the lockers. She had a very unique way of entering the gym and I’m not sure if anybody else has ever noticed it.

I don’t know where things will go from here. I know Andrea was a huge part of my life and the lives of all the people at SOGA. She was very dear to me in particular because of all of the qualities I have gone on and on about. It feels to me like a little sister or daughter has been taken away. I can only imagine how her family feels.

I do know that going forward I want to keep her memory alive in my heart and mind. I want to keep those qualities burning inside me. I want to be the best coach I can possibly be and I want to make these kids into the best people they can possibly be, and hopefully great gymnasts. I want to do it for Andrea Bailes. That phrase has been echoing in my head for hours and hours. For Andrea Bailes. For Andrea Bailes. She has done so much for me and for others and I can only hope to do as much for others as she has done. Only time will tell and only time will heal or lessen the pain.

I do not know how to move on in this post, in the gym, or in life right now but I do know why I am going to do things and how I am going to do things. I am going to do it to the best of my ability at all times, because that is what she did. I am going to try to be a better encourager, because that’s what she was. I am going to try to go about things with more of a quiet confidence, because that was what she did. I am going to do all of this because Andrea Bailes made me a better person and a better coach. I am going to do it for her because it what she deserved.

I will never forget you and I will always appreciate the time I was able to spend with you. Thank you for all the great memories and thank you for being such a wonderful person. You will be missed more than you ever know by me and everybody else. I love you. I only hope I can be as great a person as you were.

Gymnastics Zone

I have to be honest. I am a little frustrated, but also very happy that I found this website. I first saw it on GymnasticsCoaching.com and I followed their updates on Twitter. Articles are constantly being posted and so far… so good for me. This site is huge resource. There is so much information on it and as I said so far so good. I like the articles and I have already gotten some valuable information off of it.

So… Here is the link. Quick elaboration, I’m a little frustrated because I wanted this blog to be a source of information like Gymnastics Zone but I have neither the time or knowledge to post all of the information that is on this site. But I will gladly pass it along to the people I know. Knowledge is power! Soak it up!

Effort

I have had a lot of talks with my athletes about this topic in the past few weeks. First let me say, I firmly believe in out working everybody. NBA All-Star Kevin Garnett said, “You always hear that there is somebody out there that is working harder than you… I am that person.” That is the way I think. I want to be that person and I want my athletes to be those kids.

Focus and effort are the main to things I look for in my athletes. Not only are they important for their gymnastics careers, these are things they can take with them through the rest of their lives. Not every athlete will make it to nine, ten, or elite, but they can all learn to work their asses off for a goal and focus everything that they have towards that goal.

A focused mind presents in the body. There is a look to it. Doctor Alison Arnold says, “Tight mind, tight body.” One of my boys is the most obvious to me and to others. You can tell when he is focused by the way he does things. I can tell when he is listening to me talk to other people instead of focusing on himself. He gets sloppy and does crazy things. This happens a lot. I pay very close attention to body language and other non-verbal cues. I am constantly correcting things and guiding their focus. I want them to show me their tight mind and tight bodies.

As for effort, there are a few things I want to talk about. First of all… A small rant. Showing up and taking turns is not effort. Yes, you did take a turn. Yes, you did do a clear hip. No, it did not improve at all. No, you didn’t actually give me any effort to try and fix what I asked you to fix. I do understand that showing up and taking turns does take some kind of energy and effort. But to me… Focusing and giving your best effort is a minimum requirement. If you pay close attention, you can see when somebody is focusing and giving effort to make a change. That is what I want. I don’t want my athletes to take turns, I want them to make changes and improvements. I never want them to try to do what they are doing perfectly, but I do want them to try to do it to the best of their ability.

I need to get a little side tracked here before I get back to effort. Movement is controlled by the unconscious mind. I very vividly remember learning to type. Such a simple thing, typing, but I was horrible and slow in the beginning until it became an unconscious action. In the beginning I would peck at the keyboard slowly and mis-type everything. As I trained my unconscious mind and my body, more specifically my fingers, I got better and better at it. I now do not have to think about typing at all. I think about the words I want to type and my fingers do the work. Relate this to anything. Beginner gymnasts are awkward. Their unconscious mind is not trained to control the body properly. They have to consciously think about what they are doing and how to do it. Unlike typing, gymnastics involves the entire body. This makes it much harder to train the mind and body to execute the movements.

So… This is the big thing about focus and effort for me. In order to make a change, the athletes need to focus on the correction and put all of their effort into making that correction happen. I used a level five tonight as an example for all of my athletes. I told the gymnast to do a cartwheel. I remember only a year ago that this particular gymnast’s cartwheels were pretty bad, but now they are good. She demonstrated a pretty good cartwheel. I told her to show me a bigger split in her cartwheel the next time and I told everybody to watch her. Sure enough, she had a bigger split in the next one. The next time I told her I wanted her to try to get off of her hands faster. Again… it happened. I asked my kids how she was making these adjustments. One of them answered, “She is trying!” I responded that she was trying, but she was thinking about what I was telling her to do. Her unconscious cartwheel was good, but when she consciously focused on making the changes I asked her to make and gave me the absolute best effort she could give me (because everybody was watching her, as well as myself) she showed the improvements and changes.

To me, focus and effort are very high on the list of important things for any athlete, but especially for gymnasts. I have had talks about this so many times recently. A lot of my athletes will take a turn and it will be exactly the same as the last time when I told them to change something. We are finally starting to move past this problem and make quick and effective changes.

Another problem is that after the fact they have remembered what or when they were supposed to do something. Again, the clear hips are great examples. They are fast and often times scary to kids. I see tons of children, including my own, do things too late. The open and shift and push all happen well past the time they need to. I believe this happens because they are either thinking about something completely different or because they are not anticipating and thinking ahead.

I have also talked a lot about reaction and anticipation, especially on vault. Instead of waiting to feel the hand mat, board, and table the athletes should be anticipating them so they can be ready for them. So many kids wait to feel the table and then react. This causes a lot of the bent elbows and a lot of the blocking problems, in my opinion. On overshoots I tell the athletes to reach out and hit the low bar instead of waiting to feel it and then trying to push. If it hits their hands and them they react, the body will absorb the shock and usually they will bend or get loose. If they are tight and they reach out and hit the low bar, the bar will absorb the shock instead.

On final thought on effort. David Durante said, “It isn’t about how well you train on the days you feel good. How many days do you actually feel 100%?” I completely agree. The kids aren’t 100% very often. Tired, sore, sick, or whatever the ailment… Do the best that you possibly can with what you have on that day. And just so we are clear, I don’t mean bad sick or exhausted, but a cough or sore throat or when they are a little run down. Do the best that you possibly can on that day. There are all kinds of other cliches I could throw out like, “Don’t train until you get it right. Train ’till you can’t get it wrong.” There are tons. One large idea continues to stick out to me. Focus and effort are a minimum requirement for success in anything you do and especially in gymnastics.

Weekend Observations

There were good kids in every group at camp and there were several stand out kids at the camp at different levels. The overall level of the athletes and groups was just not the same. I didn’t expect it to, but the camp did not have the same look or feel of a Region Five or even Ohio camp.

Before I get started with the details, I know that all of these things are not exclusive to this camp, state, or region. I see a ton of the same stuff at Woodward every summer from all kinds of other states and regions. I see the same problems at Region Five camps, Ohio camps, and even in my own gym. I seem to see less of in in my own state and region.

One of the biggest things I noticed immediately was form. On bars toe points were scarce, in particular. The body shaping was generally okay but it didn’t have the same look of the athletes I am use to seeing. There were a lot of flat backs with a pike and not the smooth, even round shapes I am use to seeing. I quickly spotted a couple Region Five girls on bars. You could just tell from the body shapes and the details.

I spent a lot of my time on vault, bars, and floor talking about the usual things that I do with kids at camps. On vault I talked a lot about being aggressive and actually sprinting, as well as long hurdles. For the yurchenko kids I talked a lot about being ready for the blocks and punches. So many kids would try to bend and push off the hand mat and then punch the board with their chests leaning forward. When they touched their hands they would bend and then try to push out again. I instructed a lot of kids to make sure they were anticipating the contact instead of reacting to it. Most of them got the idea. One other problem was kids doing layouts over the table. I know a lot of coaches explain yurchenkos as a layout over the table but I disagree. It is a whip. The athletes should be in a strong hollowed position when they contact the board and then transition quickly into a long, stretched arch position over the table. The bigger the athlete can change their shapes and remain tight, the more snap they will get off of the table. I told a lot of kids to open and stretch back over the table instead of doing a hollow layout. I had vault the second day and at the end of the day, so to be completely honest there was not a ton of productivity there. The kids did make some good, small corrections for me. A lot of the problems came from a lack of aggression, in my opinion. The kids weren’t attacking vault, they were hoping to survive vault.

On bars there were several things I came away thinking about. Number one, there were not very many good, strong clear hips or giants from the younger kids. I did a lot of talking about keeping the belly and hips away from the bar on clear hips and opening early and strong. They didn’t seem to want to do that. Clear hips seemed scary and hard and not something they got good at during their level six year and were working to perfect in their optional years. The usual early arch and early tap was ever present on giants, as well as girls not curling around the bar. Lots of giants were finishing before handstand in an arch and momentum was barely pulling them on around the bar. One huge problem was head position. Not the normal head back position, but chin on chest position. The kids couldn’t tap properly from that position so they kept doing glide swing giants and falling off the front of the bar. For the older kids there were a lot of overshoots and straddle backs and some releases. There were some girls working on pirouetting and dismounts as well. Those were all sort of the usual mistakes that were pretty easily identified and helped. One thing I kept telling girls was to make sure they were aggressive on their giant fulls. So many girls did tiny, wimpy taps into them and then hoped they would make it over the bar. A lot of times they would come up short and fall off or split their legs to try and help shift their weight and then end up falling into the second half of the full. In my opinion, a lot of problems can be solved by making sure the athlete knows to be aggressive on the tap swing into the blind or the giant full instead of trying to just make it barely into handstand. A lot of the weight shifting problems and form deductions started to disappear when the girls started to be aggressive.

I seemed to do a lot of twisting work on vault, bars, and floor. For all of the events, twisting was a big problem. I understand it on vault and on bars, somewhat, but on floor I don’t. I did a ton of talking on floor about actually throwing the arms up and out wide for front or back twisting. I explained to the kids that as you are punching forward or backward that you should be extending your arms upwards and out a little bit to set the flip. The reason for the out part was explained like this. If you spin in a chair with your arms and legs out and then bring them in tight, you spin faster. If the kids set the flip and initiate a little bit of their twist as they rise then the twist will accelerate much better as the arms come in high and tight to the chest. This is especially important when an athlete gets to double fulls and rudis. The flips almost have to stall out in the air and twist just a little on the way up before the athlete brings the arms back in to spin faster. This keeps them on their feet and helps them spin fast enough to finish the double full or the rudi before they contact the ground. There were so many kids that got so much better at twisting over the weekend. I changed arm positions and emphasized the arms throwing upward and forward or backward. I also emphasized the wide arms, but not too wide. I felt really good about all the twisting improvements. I even taught a few kinds how to deal with the twisties.

The other thing I found myself thinking over the weekend was… why is vault so damn hard? I don’t mean physically or mentally or even for the athletes. I mean… why do we have ten million board settings in one group and how do people arrive on these? Personally, I have two. All vault boards go two feet from the mat or table with the hand placement mat long ways against the board, except for yurchenkos. They go one foot away from the table with the long mat against. One quick side rant, there are two sides to a hand placement mat. The flat side is designed to fit against the front of the board and the angled side is designed to point towards the athletes so they don’t trip over the lip. Back on topic. The reason I have two feet as the setting for all vaults from dive rolls to tsuks and front-fronts is something I will explain more in depth in another post, but basically it is a happy medium so they don’t have to go straight up or straight out. I want those vaults to leave the board at basically a forty-five degree angle. The one foot setting for yurchenkos is because I want them contacting the table on the rise. I want their hips going straight up as their hands go back to the table. If it is too far away from the table for yurchenkos then the angles are all wrong and they contact on the way down. I don’t mind helping the kids on vault and working with them, but why the hell do we have short mat four inches away and the board at five foot, nine inches? Put the board at one foot, put the long mat in front (the proper way) so there is no gap, and see what happens. Another thing, the rectangular mat is three feet by four feet. The square mats are three by three. If I have the short mat six inches away from the board, why not just turn it long and put it up against the board? Take away the ability for them to miss their hands on the mat or for the mat to slide.

Another vault thing. We were vaulting into a pit. In previous posts I talked about how we do one timer and then flip. One of my athletes came over quickly to vault for her rotation. I set her board and said, “Flip the first one.” She confidently nodded and then easily did a very nice tuck yurchenko into the pit. The second turn was a pike, also done very well. The third and fourth turns were layout attempts. They were not done as well, but they were not bad. At this time, the rest of the group came wandering over and one girl asked what my athlete was doing. I told them that she had already taken four turns and they were just getting over there. The girls all kind of put their eyes down and then looked at each other. I tell this story because my athlete went on to take at least another ten or so turns and make significant strides on her vault, while the other girls only did probably one or two flipping vaults.

I got some great experience for my future as well down at camp. I got to work on tons of double twisting, double flipping, bar changes, pirouetting, and flipping vaults. There were a few full-ins done at camp that I got to work on, I got to help with some single rail releases, and I got to coach a lot of girls doing twisting vaults. I have had experience with all of those before but to me… the more the better!

All in all the camp was great. The form, the twisting, and all the millions of vault settings were the things that stuck out to me. In my opinion, those are all easily correctable things that need some focus. All of the problems I encountered at this camp had been encountered before at Woodward, Region Five, or Ohio camps. It just seemed to be a large concentration. I believe I helped the kids, as did all of the other coaches. I was impressed with those good kids and those standout kids I mentioned earlier.

Perspective was a common word used on Saturday between one of my new friends and myself. I mention this because that is the number one thing I am coming back with. I have a better perspective on what other gyms, states, and regions are doing. I see that these problems are all extremely common. I see that I am spoiled to have so many great athletes, coaches, and gyms in my state and region.

Again… thanks to everybody who helped make the weekend so great. It was a wonderful learning experience for me and I am coming back with more knowledge and a better perspective than before. If anybody has any questions or wants more details about the trip, feel free to contact me.