Coach with Attitude or the Right Stuff

Subject: Coach Attitude

My daughter has had her coach now for 4 years. She is 9 1/2. Lately, she is expressing she doesn’t want to go to practice or her wrist hurts, etc. After meet season, she was not on bars for close to a month with no explanation as to why, but was expected to pull off giants out of nowhere at practice one day. I have started coming to practice the last 30 minutes or so and noticed that the coach has become very sarcastic with her. Particular attitudes and behaviors are allowed from one specific gymnast, but not my daughter or the other girls. This one specific girl also “coaches” and when my daughter tells her to hush, my daughter and anyone else that does the same is “kicked off” whatever event. Corporal punishment has become popular lately. She is very in-tune with all of this and we have approached the coach and nothing has changed. She has qualified for TOP’s so there is some talent, but she is quickly losing interest because of what is going on. I have stayed out of the way but now feel I need to do more because the coach certainly is not listening to her. Is it time to find another coach? HELP!

One of the parental responsibilities in a gymnast’s family is the initial choice of which gym to attend. From our perspective, we always look for the gym that has the best opportunity of producing high level optional gymnasts – Level 10 and Elite gymnasts. If you did not do that four years ago when your daughter signed up at this gym, this is a good excuse to look around to see if there is a gym more likely to achieve that goal.

Being a TOPs qualifier, means your daughter is one of the “top” physically gifted gymnasts out of the 3500 plus gymnasts who tested for the TOPs program. It means she has the requisite strength and flexibility to successfully learn and progress through the sport physically. While producing a TOPs qualifier means a gym has, at least for your daughter and the others in the TOPs program and likely the team, done the physical training to allow her natural physical abilites to develop, it does not also always mean  they have the high level skill training system needed to produce top gymnasts.

To know this, you need to see if they currently have any Level 10s or Elites and/or if any other gym in the area has more Level 10s or Elites. If you are already at the best gym in your area, then you may wish to work much harder at rectifying the situation with the coach in your current gym.

Even if you move to another gym, coaching “attitude problems” are rampant in the sport. I asked one of my friends who is the coach of an Olympian and many National team members if he knew of an Elite coach anywhere in the country who was able to work with an extremely talented but psychologically fragile gymnast. He told me that all the Elite coaches were “jerks” and you just had to pick which “jerk” you wanted. Actually, he used a much harsher word than jerk, but the concept is clear.

I don’t necessarily or capriciously recommend switching gyms. Moving to another gym may or may not get you a coach with the right attitude. You might walk into a better situation or a much worse one. That’s why I always use Elite and Level 10 success as my criteria for choosing gyms, because regardless, then your gymnast is in a program that at least has the capability to get her to the top of the sport. Why put up with attitude if your daughter can’t, at least, reach her ultimate limits in the sport?

If you stay in your current gym and your coach is not the owner of the gym, then if working with the coach produces no change, set an appointment and talk to the owner of the gym about the coaches attitude and its negative effect on your daughter. Find out what the policies are about corporal punishment and express your views. Go into the meeting knowing exactly what you are looking for in terms of change.

One of the main problems with gymnastics coaches in America is that they do not coach in a systematic manner. I call it “flavor of the day” coaching where the coach comes in all excited about one aspect of coaching like conditioning or discipline and ignores other areas. Later, they realize all of a sudden they haven’t done bars for a month and its gung ho bar workouts. Expecting gymnasts to do a skill they are not completely confident in after a month lay-off could very likely be a safety issue and your daughter may have been the most sane one in the situation to be hesitant and want to back up in the progression until she was sure.

It is impossible for me to evaluate her skill readiness for giants when I can’t see her working out, but I tend to trust the judgement of gymnasts most when it comes to their own safety. They are the ones doing the skill and they know best whether they are not just physically ready but psychologically ready as well.

Systematic, consistent coaching with agreed-upon written short-term, annual and career goals for every gymnast is the best way to proceed, rare as that may be.  Real professional coaches should be expected to come into the gym every day with a coaching plan and coaching strategies that fits the agreed-upon goals. It is a scientific fact that those with a written plan are the most likely to achieve any goal or success and there are only a few, very experienced coaches who do not need to plan.

As far as the situation with the bossy gymnast, unless she is officially “coaching”, your daughter should just ignore her or anyone else who does not provide useful feedback. There will always be gymnasts in your own gym and at meets that will be saying things to try to throw off their competition. Gymnasts have to learn to deal with that, usually by ignoring people like that. I teach gymnasts to listen to comments from anyone for any possible useful advice they can use but to just ignore any negativity in their comments or tone. For example if a gymnast does a vault and all the coach says is, “That sucks.” The gymnast translates that into, “My vault probably needs more work.”

So look around and see if you are in the best gym in your area for producing Level 10s or Elites. If you are not, check the other gym(s) out for quality and style of coaching. If you are in the best gym in the area, insist to the coach and owner that your gymnast receive systematic professional coaching, which wouldn’t include things like long gaps in bar training.

Good luck. If I can answer any other questions or be of further help, let me know.

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