If you demand respect before you will coach a particular gymnast or a whole class or from the whole team, psychologists have bad news for you. Respect can not be demanded. It can only be earned. Fear and intimidation can be demanded from (imposed on) younger gymnasts, by adult, especially male coaches, but not respect.
When They’ve Had Enough
There comes a time in almost every gymnast’s life, especially good gymnasts, when they refuse to be intimidated. This is a very imperfect teenage maturation (or preteen) process, that often is reflected by insolence, rebellion, challenging authority. But also, in the case of a gymnast, it can easily be highlighted by leaving the sport when they have had enough of a coach who insists on treating them and coaching them by methods of fear and intimidation.
Welcome to America
Everyone would like nice, pleasant obedient children, both as gymnasts and sons and daughters. There are TV shows, newspapers and books decrying the decline of such things in America and they are to some extent true. The American culture is so wide open and our children are exposed to so many peer and media influences, other than just church and parents, that it is difficult to impossible (and virtually a full time job) to raise perfectly behaved children. There are so many factors, many uncontrollable by parents and certainly uncontrollable by coaches, that this task becomes difficult.
Do You Want Respect or Winners?
To limit yourself to only those gymnasts who meet some artificial standard of “respectful” behavior is to limit yourself to very few gymnasts, especially over the period of teenage years. This problem is further aggravated by the new international raising of age limits for international competition, since it is no longer possible to compete gymnasts before they hit that stage in life. Worse, many of your best gymnastic talents are exactly the athletes who will be the most stubborn and rebellious.
You Don’t Have Time To Demand Respect
You, as a coach with limited time, will always have to determine how much time you are going to devote to each aspect of training. This is the essence of coaching in America, where you have difficulty in tearing athletes and parents away from other activities to spend the necessary hours in the gym. There are few systems and situations in America where athletes of these ages are in a total training situation all day, every day. Gymnastics in America is a part-time activity, to at least some degree. If you choose to devote your time to “demanding respect:,” you will just naturally have less time to coach skill and techniques. Get used to it and get over it.
Want Respect, Earn It
The good news is that while demanding respect is a useless activity, Americans accord respect to those who deserve it as readily as anyone else. Competent, talented coaching achieves respect of its own accord, especially when coaching and discipline are applied fairly, equitably and professionally. Successful coaching and running of a gymnastics program is accorded the respect and admiration of the whole community when operated professionally.
Do What You Have To Do
To some extent, the professional coach must subvert their own emotional reactions for the higher purpose of achieving the athletes’ goals. A professional should not expect to return home every night feeling emotionally satisfied from everything that happened in the gym that day – their gymnasts should. Coaches should expect to have to sacrifice their own emotional satisfaction for the improvement of their gymnasts’ emotional state and well-being. If you want emotional satisfaction, try volunteer work for a worthy non-profit cause or invest in your personal relationships outside of the gym. You cannot reasonably expect your emotional needs to be satisfied in a gym from the athletes.
How can you increase your chances of earning gymnasts’ respect?
- Have and demonstrate positive expectations for each gymnast. Positive expectations have been scientifically proven to be a more important factor in success than ability.
- Provide a personal example to the gymnasts in terms of healthy and positive lifestyle choices.
- Display a positive, enthusiastic attitude during all your contact with your athletes.
- Administer your coaching in a fair and even handed manner.
- Be 100 % consistent in your coaching and discipline.
- Control your own emotions, emotional responses, language and negativity.
- Provide a personal model by always showing respect to other athletes, coaches, parents and staff members.
- Be above reproach in terms of honesty, loyalty, trustworthiness, kindness, courtesy, generosity and other admirable characteristics.
- Do not participate in negative psychological “games” with athletes, coaches, parents or staff members.
- Be attentive and responsive to the psychological state, stages and needs of your athletes.
- Sacrifice when necessary for your athletes well-being.
- Take responsibility for your athletes’ problems, deficiencies and learning needs to the same extent that you plan to take responsibility for their athletic successes.
Who’s The “Man?”
Remember that you are the “adult” in the coaching relationship and act like it. They are only children and not extensions of your ego. They do not exist to satisfy or live out your dreams or expectations. You can help guide them toward positive choices in their life, but the choices remain theirs.
A Positive Coaching Style
Adopt a coaching style that involves teaching, instructing equality, respect for the athlete and their opinion and does not require intimidation, threats and negativity.
Don’t Go For The Short-Term Fix
Don’t expect that because intimidation and fear are a technique that works “successfully” in the short run that it will work in the long run. Don’t expect that negativity, criticism, unfair, inconsistent application of discipline won’t drive even a great athlete out of the gym. There will be a point of no return – a point past which nothing you say or do will entice that talented athlete back in the gym. It is your responsibility never to reach that point during their entire multiple-year, teenage rebelling career, so they may pass through to the other side of adulthood and the benefits of personal drive, motivation and emotional self-control.
Respect is a simple human concept and yet difficult to achieve. It takes a lifetime of positive activity and lifestyle to achieve and can be ruined in an instant of poor choice.