The interaction between a coach and an upper level gymnast should be a one to one relationship. Gymnasts have, at the higher level, enough experience in the sport that they can provide important feedback that makes it easier for the coach to do their job.
Men’s coaches at the collegiate level and above are not intimidators. Face it, male gymnasts in peak shape are not going to be physically intimidated by an older coach. They act and interact on “man-to-man” basis. Coaches provide information, feedback and support. They do not attempt to control their athlete’s every move and they are open to suggestions from the athletes themselves.
Young gymnasts, especially young female gymnasts, are relatively easily intimidated and can be forced to do what the coach wants. At some point and at some age, most gymnasts “rebel” and begin taking their own counsel. Many can only be pushed so far before they quit and leave the sport unless the coach learns to moderate his coaching style and accommodate the growing independence and maturity of the gymnast. The coach must do this at the right time and not wait too late or the gymnast will be lost, because ultimately the primary power a good gymnast has over a coach is to quit.
The “man-to -man” approach of coaching works equally well for young gymnasts. They are coached and their fears and feelings are taken into consideration. It also works with mature gymnasts. This even-handed approach works along the entire spectrum of athletes and does not require a coaching change mid-stream or rely on making that change at the appropriate time. Why not just use that approach with all gymnasts all the time?
Another way to look at the coach-gymnast relationship might be as dual drivers of a car. Both have previously agreed upon a mutual destination and are headed there with all due speed. The coach has the steering wheel to guide the gymnast in the right direction and the gymnast has their foot on the gas and brakes, so they have control of the speeding up or slowing down of the journey as they may require.
There is no doubt that a coach will have an agenda for each gymnast and that gymnasts will not always follow the best laid plans of mice and coaches. The real goals are progress, improvement and success, though, and not just to do it the coach’s way.
A good coach will learn from each and every gymnast and the individual path adjusted to accommodate one gymnast may be the key to a new successful coaching concept, progression or drill.
In the final analysis, the sport is really a gymnast-centered sport. There are no coaching medals. There are no spotting Olympics. Gymnasts are more beloved than coaches. The gymnasts are out on the floor competing and they are the ones upside down twisting and flipping. The coach’s only responsibility is to take each gymnast from where they currently are and help them move forward toward a common goal.