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.