Gymnastics

What’s New

Well… It’s been a long time. I haven’t been on here for several reasons. I was just down in Charlotte, North Carolina again last weekend for the camp at International Gymnastics and I had some good conversations with people down there that told me they still read my blog. I was surprised at that because I see the numbers, but it was encouraging to hear and made me want to start getting more information out. I also confessed to some people that I felt like nothing I did on here would ever be as important or relevant as what I was able to do in the wake of Andrea’s accident. Seventeen-thousand people viewed that blog post in about a week, which was incredible for me and for her friends and family. Not that I want to one-up that, but it just doesn’t feel as important.

I have also had my fair share of struggles recently. We have two level tens, two level nines, and a level eight boy. I have been working with several kids in the afternoons, which has kept me really busy. This is my first experience with having athletes at this level in my own gym and there has been some learning I have had to do. I have started to do TOPs with my kids and that has me pretty excited. My level eight boy finished third at Future Stars Regionals with a bad showing, but still qualified to Nationals in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He did well there, but ended up finishing just barely in the bottom half of his age group. On top of all of this… I have been devoting almost all of my free time to golfing. I have gotten to the point where I can shoot even par or several over just about every time I go play. The other big thing that has kept me busy is the best news of all. We purchased the building, property, and equipment from the other gym in town and we are in the process of renovating it to be a world class facility. It won’t be huge, but it will be laid out perfectly with pits and resi mats for every event, boys and girls. We will also have a trampoline into a pit and a resi mat, which I am excited about. I will hopefully get to flip again like I use to!

Here is a little bit of what we have been doing…

I haven’t done a very good job of videoing everything that I want to. The two nines have been doing well and so has my other ten after being out of the gym for another sport. The boy has been working on, and getting, a bunch of skills that will stick with him for the rest of his career. Tippelts, Yamawaki, Diamadov, Stutz, ect. It is an exciting time for me and for my gym. We have several youngsters that I am excited about and all of the kids have been working hard for the season. I have also begun to work every week with all of the coaches in the gym to share my knowledge and experience with them and try to make them better at what they do. We are going to continue to meet every week to try and make SOGA the best facility for gymnastics, tumbling, and cheerleading that it can possibly be.

I mentioned before that I was in North Carolina again… The camp was amazing. They added Alex Bard, a Canadian National Team coach and repeated Olympic coach, to the roster of great coaches this year. I met Alex several years ago at Woodward and he is amazing. Camp was great for all the kids and the coaches and I look forward to going back next year. The week before I was in Cincinnati at Gym Nation to work the Region Five Forward Progress camp. That was also great. The region looks strong and ready to do great things. It was wonderful to be able to work a high level camp with so many friends and I learned a lot from them while I was there. I am finally home for a couple weeks and then I get to go back down to the TOPs A camp at the Karolyi Ranch.

So… I am posting this and then I am going to work on bar changes and the tap swing in every flip, possibly some other posts. I know I have a lot to learn and I am extremely far from the best coach around, but I want to share what knowledge and experience I have with everybody. So… here goes. I guess since it is cold I have time to devote to this instead of golf.

Sunrise

I woke up this morning angry, frustrated, and disappointed. These emotions quickly were replaced with confusion… I forgot about the time change. After I realized that my smartphone was smarter than me, I went back to being frustrated and exhausted. Yesterday was tough, to say the least… And six in the morning has never agreed with me.

I got ready and took off in my car. I was headed to a meet in the pitch black darkness of the morning. I continued to brood and steam as I drove for the next forty-five minutes… And then… I looked in my mirror.

I saw no headlights, no darkness, no problems, no frustration. I saw the beginning of the sun rising. I began to think about how beautiful it was. Quickly all of my emotions changed. My thoughts did as well.

I realized that this could very possible be the last time that I ever get to see the beauty that is a sun rise. I realized that every day is another chance to get it right, to get better. Every day is another chance to live beautifully. I remembered that we aren’t promised anything in this life and to appreciate everything you have and make the best of every opportunity and situation.

It is amazing how something so simple can change your attitude completely. I just wanted to share this experience with any potential readers.

Quick Thoughts

I have a ton of things I needed to get out of my head in out into the world. Here they are.

Education is not an option. It is a requirement. Not just gymnastics. Nutrition, psychology, kinesiology, exercise physiology, teaching, coaching, and everything else that is related to our sport. Can you ever get too smart? Can you ever know too much? Uhm… No! So keep looking for new information, training plans, ideas, and anything else you can find to help make you a better teacher, mentor, coach, and person.

Use your brain. Just because somebody said it or did it, doesn’t mean that it is best or right. Not all information is good information. You have to filter what you see and hear. For examples, I got a ton of information from a congress this summer and I set up a bunch of drills everyday. The kids did the drills really well, but I found that their vaults were getting worse. They were getting really good at doing all these drills and not at vaulting. I cut all the drills out and had them do their vaults and a couple drills that simulated the actual vaults. Since then, our vaults have gotten much better.

Organization is not a good idea. It is necessary. Every rotation, every day, every week, every month, every year, and even years down the road. You have to be organized. I don’t want my kids to get bored by doing the same thing, but I want them to know the plan for the event, day, and week. They should know what is expected of them and how they are going to get to where they need to be. My kids all know the rotations each day, the length of the rotations, and how we will work during the rotations. Most of my kids even know what the other groups are going to do as well. We are consistent and we are organized.

Having a plan isn’t something you do when you have time enough to think about it. Failing to plan is planning to fail. See above. Planning and organization make everything so much easier. Every kid, every skill, everything. It all needs to be planned. And after you have a plan, you need need to have a backup plan. And the backup should have a backup plan. There are so many uncertainties in this sport. Plan it out and then have backups. Follow your plan, but be flexible enough to adjust as needed.

Strength, flexibility, and basics are the most important thing in gymnastics. I believe that pain is weakness… If it hurts, it is weak and needs to be strengthened. Many injuries come from a lack of strength and/or flexibility. Every muscles and joint needs to be strong and flexible. Also… For me, bad basics is bad gymnastics. Period. Bad basics usually lead to some sort of injuries as well. Put a lot of time and effort into strength, flexibility, and basics and I am certain you will see better gymnasts and better gymnastics.

Scary gymnastics should result in at least a five point deduction. Coaches should be fined… Or maybe thrown out of the meet. I understand the occasional silly mistake, but kids should not be allowed to continually practice or compete scary gymnastics. For instance, I saw a girl do a really, really horrible tucked yurchenko vault. She nearly missed the landing mat entirely. Her next turn she did one of the prettiest layout full twisting yurchenkos I have seen. She messed up and it scared some people, but she obviously didn’t do scary gymnastics all the time. That same meet I had to tell my kids to turn away and not watch the other team warm up or compete their events. Scary doesn’t begin to describe what these girls were allowed to do. Dangerous comes to mind. Hideous does as well.

If you teach “chuck it” gymnastics, you should be chucked off a bridge. That is kind of harsh, but I really hate the whole “chuck it” mentality. There are a few “do it” skills in gymnastics, but there are no “chuck it” skills. For example, double fronts. Especially into pits. There have been many times that I have given kids instructions on how to do double fronts into a pit, what they will feel, and what they should avoid. I have then said… Do it and then we will talk about what you need to change and do better. These kids have all had the ability to do double fronts into a pit and they have always been successful on their first try, as well as every try after. I have always made sure to give them as much information as possible before they try it. “Space for your face” is a concept I always teach. I tell them to spread their knees a little bit so if they hit their feet first they don’t smash their face on their knees. I have never had a kid “chuck” a skill, but I have had them do some skills to get the fear and nerves out of the way. On a side note, I believe that pits and resi mats have helped to further the whole “chuck it” mentality.

I could be wrong, but I don’t see any of the best coaches in the world saying they don’t spot. Get your hands on the kids and work with them. I am really curious to see if I am wrong about this. Every great coach I have ever met or seen has spotted, or at least been able to spot. I believe it creates trust and helps create a bond with the kids. I don’t mean you should always spot or that is all that is important, but I do believe that it is a huge tool that should be in your tool box. I know a few coaches that don’t spot at all. I know a few coaches that don’t spot on certain events. I also know coaches that spot everything, all the time. I have a previous post about spotting that I think you should read if you are interested in spotting. Simply put… I believe you should know how to, when to, and why to spot. And be able to do it!

I don’t believe that injuries are okay, ever. Aside from the random freak, uncontrollable accident, most injuries can be prevented. I said before that strength, flexibility, and basics can prevent a lot of injuries. I believe that proper organization and planning can help as well. Knowing your kids, reading their body language, and communicating with them will help also. Chucking skills is never safe. Allowing scary gymnastics to be practiced or competed is asking for injuries. There is so much that goes into keeping your kids safe and healthy. I get really tired of hearing people say that it is just the sport or shrugging and saying… “What are you gonna do?” I do think that there are some random, freak accidents that will happen in this sport and any other sport. But if your athletes are strong, flexible, have good basics, are mentally conditioned and prepared… Don’t you think they will tend to be healthier?

Just because you have been coaching gymnastics forever or you coached one or two good kids, that does not mean you are good. I believe that you are only as good as your worst kids. I read that after winning a world all around title, a coach and athlete both said that they knew they were only as good as their next meet. I absolutely loved hearing that, especially after winning a world all around title. At the risk of over sharing my thoughts…. I want to have a kid sweep every event in all around and event finals in the Olympics. I want to have an entire Olympic team come from my gym. I have lofty goals and they are probably out of reach. If I ever do reach them… Then I have to repeat! My point is this. I have met tons of coaches that hang their hats on what they have done in the past. I have respect for previous accomplishments, but what have you done lately? Keep putting everything you have into your athletes and your staff. Always try to get better and make your athletes better. No matter what you have done in your career, there is always something more you can do.

If you are in this sport to make money, you are in it for the wrong reasons. I believe that you can make a good, maybe even great, living in this sport. If money and profits are the main concern, I don’t believe you will be successful. Focus on your plan, organization, and coaching the kids. I am willing to bet that you will start to see more profits when you have a good plan, organization, and good coaching.

I was told once that it didn’t matter what you said or did to kids as long as they made nationals. Take a second… Digest that. Think about what that statement really says. I can verbally, emotionally, or physically abuse kids as long as they make nationals? I can have them vault or tumble onto hard surfaces when they are exhausted, even though I think it is dangerous? I can have them do skills that they aren’t ready for or haven’t had proper instruction on? I can sit on my ass and drink coffee while three groups work unsupervised? No… Everything you do matters. Every day. Results are a product of the process. There are so many things wrong with that statement and that mentality.

I might just be young and naive. I might just be idealistic. It is entirely possible that I am way off the mark. But I believe that the status quo in this sport isn’t where it should be.

More Memories

I wanted to share this video on my blog for everybody to see.

This was the routine that earned her a state title on bars. By no means was it perfect, but it helped the team win bars and helped them take second overall. I can’t remember ever being more proud of her than this day. I remember the feeling when she landed her flyaway. At the time, I choked back the emotions as each kid successfully landed. I was so proud of her and those girls for everything they did all year. I told Andrea’s mother that after I watched this video it brought all the memories back to me. All of the work we did together to get to this point.

The really sad realization that hit me at some point last night was that this was the last routine she ever competed. We finished on bars on this day. That was her last salute, the last high five that I gave her after a competition routine, and the last time she got to experience what she loved to do so much. There were many more high fives and memories in the gym and at camp after this, but this was the last time in competition. Around twelve hours before she was set to compete her first level seven routines, she was involved in the accident that took her from us all.

I am going to keep trying to acquire videos of her. I almost have enough pictures to put another montage together. To be honest… It has helped me to have the outlets that I have. The Blog, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube… I have been able to memorialize Andrea for myself and everybody else and it makes me feel so much better to be able to do that.

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.

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.

Weekend Recap

I was planning on doing live updates throughout the weekend, but I have been way too busy to do that. My flight into Charlotte was on time but everything was just sort of slow. I had to wait a while on my bag as well as the usual docking and unloading and all of that. Two of the Woodward directors picked me up at the airport. We used the ride to the gym to catch up on life and gymnastics. It was nice to see them and catch up. They have been part of my life for the last four years. We had to stop and grab food on the way to the gym and we arrived exactly at noon, when the camp was supposed to start.

I quickly rushed into the gym and changed into my athletic clothing to coach. I hate being on time and I hate being late even more. I am always early, but this situation was out of my control so I just let it go. I went into the gym and was greeting by lots of yells and smiling faces. I looked around for my athletes and quickly found them. I checked with them to make sure they were fine and ready to go for practice. I went around the gym and said hello to everybody that I knew and gave out high fives and hugs all around.

I had no idea what events I was coaching or how everything worked at camp so I found the camp director and got the necessary information. I started with bars for five straight rotations before our snack break. There were levels seven-ten at camp and I got to see almost all of them in the first morning of camp. I used the snack break to finally eat the food that we had purchased before camp started. I was starving. After the quick snack break I had another rotation of bars and then floor for the rest of the evening.

After the camp finished for the night I went back to find the camp director again to find out about my hotel and transportation information. I found out that I had a room mate and he would be my transportation as well. It was a new friend that I had made earlier in the day. I met a lot of great people down at camp this weekend including athletes and coaches. I got to meet some college coaches as well. After a little chit chat in the gym, my new friend and I headed over to the hotel and decided to go to grab a night cap and talk for a while. We talked for a good few hours about gymnastics, coaching, sports, and all sorts of other things.

Finally, bed time. I fell asleep later than I wanted to, but it wasn’t too late. The alarm came quickly and I rolled out of bed, noticing how sore I was from all the spotting the day before. My room mate and I got ready and then walked across the parking lot to grab some breakfast. We came back to the hotel and ate while we waited on two other coaches that were riding to the gym with us. Saturday morning brought rotations on bars, floor, and then a lot of vault. I had the level tens on floor and vault, which was really exciting for me. The only real hitch of the day was just how tired the kids were. They had done a lot of work the day before and they were all feeling it. It really caught up to the kids that were on vault for the final rotations. I had to give them some soft, easy drills to do to try and save their bodies. They appreciated it greatly. There was an open gym rotation at the end of the day that wasn’t as productive for my athletes as I had hoped, but we made due. They all went to beam and showed me what they were working on during the weekend and then we went to the tumble tracks and worked for quite a while on front and back twisting.

I made my girls stretch well and then we huddled up and talked. I told them I was proud of them. They worked hard all weekend and they did it with great attitudes. I got many compliments on the kids and I told them that. I asked how they felt about the weekend and they all gave me positive feedback. They accomplished just about everything I had hoped that they would during the weekend with some small misses here or there. All in all… great job. The parents took some pictures and we talked for a while. I thanked them again for bringing the kids down and then I headed back to the hotel.

Now the really fun part. The coaches all went to dinner at a nice bistro outside of Charlotte. The food was delicious, the drinks were strong, and the atmosphere was great. We were in a small side room all together. I have said before that I am always the youngest person around and yet again this was true. I took some gently teasing from everybody about this and other things, but like I always I laughed it off and tried to give it back. For me… sitting back, listening, and watching these veteran club coaches, college coaches, directors, and young aspiring coaches all talk and interact was the best part of my weekend. We sat and talked for something like five hours and I will never forget that small room in the bistro. I hope I will have the opportunity to do it again in the future.

Finally, my new friend and I went back to the hotel and went to bed too late again. And yet again, the alarm came way too early. The camp director picked myself and another coach up to take us to the airport and I found out I would be flying to Cleveland with this coach. We said our thanks and then headed into the airport. The trip back was completely uneventful for me, which is just the way I want my travels to be. The one great thing was being able to talk to the other coach on the plane. We spend the entire time talking about everything under the sun and it was great. We got into Cleveland and said our goodbyes there. I walked away from him feeling like I had a good friend for life and I will happily be seeing him at some meets this year.

So that’s what happened. Cut and dry. I come away from the weekend feeling like I have made some new great friends, some new connections, and bonded much more with the old friends that I have. I cannot remember ever having a more fun weekend and I can’t thank everybody enough for all of it. It is wonderful to be asked to come to a different state and region and be accepted by everybody. Especially by the old farts that have laid the groundwork for people like me.

I am going to type up a separate summary of my observations on the camp. Up soon!

Departure

My day is well underway already and it is 8:30. This is extremely unusual unless I have a gymnastics meet or I wanted to get up early to golf. I have never been a morning person. I stayed with my friend in Columbus last night and he drove me to the airport this morning. So far so good, except I forgot my sun glasses and TSA took my Red Bull. I am not sure how I will survive the day.

Of course I went and purchased another Red Bull for a small cost of nine million dollars inside the concourse. Anybody who knows me knows that I love Red Bull, but I don’t drink it very often anymore. Anyways… we start to board the plane in about fifteen minutes or so and then a couple hours later I will be in Charlotte. I can’t wait. I was told that the kids at camp were excited for me to come. It was flattering, but I think they are just excited for camp. I am excited to see all of them. I was told that a girl started doing tkatchevs by herself that I worked with this summer at Woodward. I’m excited to see that and all of the other wonderful athletes and the coaches.

I am not sure how much time I will have when I land. I think I am being picked up by a friend at the airport. Hopefully I will get some food because I’m already kinda starving. After that it will be time to coach! I find myself with some butterflies as I type that, but I just remind myself to focus on making the athletes better and I take a deep breathe. Approach every situation with calm confidence. I tell myself that every time I step into something new. I can’t wait to start the camp!

I will post my next update when I can. I think I have a break sometime today, but I can’t remember for sure. I am trying to mentally juggle this trip, a camp that one of my boys is doing this weekend, and my trip later this month. All the schedules have sort of blurred together. Out for now!