Subject: Coach Yells
My 12-year old daughter is a 2nd year level-8. She has been in gymnastics since she was 3 years old. Gymnastics is her life. She eats, drinks and breathes gymnastics. Unfortunately, her coach is mentally unstable and goes-off on an abusive rant for no apparent reason.
Tuesday was Kathryn’s turn to be yelled at. I saw it first hand and heard the coach screaming at her from across the floor. It was all I could do to restrain myself. The coach was angry because she didn’t want to do a double layout off the high bar. There is NO reason for a level-8 to do that. She asked if she did her back handspring, back handspring, back tuck off the beam and my daughter told her yes. Then she asked if she did it without the crash mat and she said no. Anyway, her coach screamed and yelled again and told her to take-off her grips and go home. She also told her to do as she is told or find another gym.
At this point, Kathryn doesn’t want to return to the gym. She cries all the time and is very upset. Frankly, I don’t know what to do. She’s been at this gym for many years and her friends are there. But she told me “Dad, I love gymnastics, but I just can’t take this for another 5-years.” Again, this is a girl who has never missed gym. When she’s not at gym, she’s doing her routine at home.
We haven’t heard anything about your gym or any of its coaches (other than what you have told us). That may tell you something. We are not usually really in favor of “gym-hopping.” We would rather educate coaches how much better and more successful they can be using positive coaching techniques. But parents and gymnasts are in the position of having to make decisions as to what is best for their daughter right now (not in some future time when all coaches are better informed and educated). We do have the knowledge and experience to respond to your questions and to your daughter’s situation and we do have firm beliefs about situations of negative coaching.
Almost all coaches go on a rant from time to time. Coaching competitive gymnastics is a very competitive, high-pressure job and dealing with sometimes fearful and sometimes rebellious tweens and teens (not to mention pushy parents) can take its toll on anyone from time to time. And many coaches send gymnasts home from time to time for a variety of reasons.
HOWEVER, we have no doubt that constant negativity and verbal attacks can have a long-lasting psychological effect on gymnasts that can continue far beyond a gymnast’s career. A gymnast’s self-esteem, self-confidence and attitude toward themselves can be greatly affected by coaches who have control over them for hours every day over many years. These positive or negative effects can last years after gymnasts are out of the sport.
We are firm and adamant advocates of a positive coaching style (Catch them doing something right and build upon their positives) and our position is backed by a host of scientific research and studies. There is no doubt, though, that gymnastics has a reputation, in some cases deserved, for having too many coaches that yell, scream, belittle and intimidate young gymnasts. The success of certain high profile coaches using these methods sometimes lead coaches of less talent to try to use the same techniques but without gaining similar results.
Sometimes, it takes what we call intensity to get gymnasts to do difficult skills or to overcome their fears. This is different from attacking gymnasts personally and belittling them. If this kind of thing is happening or has happened regularly, then it may not be too soon a time to get her out of that gym and somewhere else. Your daughter is so correct. She can’t and shouldn’t take this kind of behavior anymore or at all.
Lets’ face it, your gym is really not that successful a gym competitively compared to many in your area. They are not producing Elites and National Champions on a regular basis. There is a reason for that. The other gym’s coaching and programs are better and you know that because they do produce Elite gymnasts and their teams win.
You are also right. In general, Level 8 gymnasts will not be doing double layout dismounts off bars, certainly not without a pit, and certainly not out of the blue without having mastered the necessary lead-up progressions. It certainly sounds like a totally unacceptable safety risk situation. If jumping out of progression like that is common, then your daughter will be physically safer somewhere else with coaches who teach those skills every day, knows proper progression and provides a safe training environment.
You are within driving distance of some of the most famous and successful gyms in the country and there are numerous gyms with better coaching and teams than your current gym for you to choose from. You have many more choices in your area than many gymnasts and parents do. You may have to drive a bit farther, but your daughter’s mental state is more than worth it.
Your daughter is a talented gymnast (any gymnast who can score 37+ in the All-around has some talent) and most any gym will be glad to have her. She will find and make friends at any gym she goes to. If she is being affected too much by the treatment of her coach(s) (and why else would a talented gymnast who has always loved gymnastics not want to go gym) then you need to rescue her from that situation and get her into another gym.
Our suggestion is that you make a list of four or five gyms that she and you would like to investigate and make appointments to visit them and perhaps even try out a practice. Tell them up front why she left her previous gym and ask them what their coaching style is like and how they will handle her.
One of the primary reasons we have put up our web site and are writing books is to promote the successful use of positive coaching style. We know from personal experience that coaches can produce Elite level gymnasts without all the histrionics, yelling and other negative behaviors.
We couldn’t really tell from your letter for sure if you or your daughter or both of you were having trouble with the idea of moving to a new gym. But if this has been a regular pattern of coaching behavior, this is an obvious opportunity to make a change and move up to a better gym.
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