Not Moving Up to Level 5?

Hi, I am writing on behalf of some very frustrated moms of level 5 gymnasts.

I am not going to identify the gym.

There are 11 girls on level 5 this year. 4 of the girls competed level 4 for 3 seasons, 2 of the girls competed level 4 for 2 seasons and the remaining 5 girls competed level 4 just last season. The girls range in age from 8 to 14, most of them are 10. The girls practice 7 hrs/week…….but the total time actually spent on bars, beam, vault and floor is much less than 1 hour/week on each apparatus. They have 2 coaches that I guess are “assigned” to them, but each coach can only come 1 day/week – each on a different day….so on their 3rd day of practice they get anybody that has the time to “fill in”.

They get to practice their round off, flic flac, flic flac once or twice a month.

The girls had a meet last weekend. The last practice before the meet each
girl got to :

  1. do the floor routine w/music 1 time.
  2. do the bars routine 1 time – ONLY IF they managed to do their glide kip – if they did not make the glide kip, their turn was finished, so they never got to do the entire routine.
  3. do the beam routine once

  4. vault twice.

As unhappy as the coaches are with the girls’ scores – mainly 7’s and 8’s (& most of them are scratching bars) – the moms are pleased that their daughters can do so well with so little practice, so little time spent working with the girls who are struggling on certain skills and no coaching consistency.

Of the 11 girls, only 1 girl is able to do both kips and do them correctly and consistently.

The coaches have issued a deadline by which the level 5 girls either do all their skills consistently or they do not compete for the rest of the season (or they go back and compete level 4 for the rest of the season). NONE of the parents are upset with this exactly.

They ARE upset that the coaches are blaming the girls’ for their lack of success at the level 5 skills.

If you have 11 on a team and only 1 can do her kips – then to the moms’ thinking that is a coaching problem – (a couple of the girls are using correct form, but aren’t consistent on making their kips, the rest just “muscle” their way through when they do manage to make their kips). if you have 11 on a team and only 2 can do the level 5 vault safely (not putting themselves in danger)…that is a coaching problem. if you have 11 on a team and 1 does the cross handstand and the dismount 100% perfect each time and her cartwheel correctly 98% of the time, while the other 10 fall somewhere around 50% at doing the beam skills – it is a coaching problem.

One of the coaches REFUSED to work with the girls who can’t do their kips consistently — not only would he not spot them while they tried to do their kips – he ignored them on every other event as well. This was a safety hazard for the girls! Plus a waste of their time since they aren’t allowed to be on the apparatuses w/o a coach to watch them….so they ended up making up their own stretching and conditioning routine so that they were doing something while at practice.

The girls are leaving the gym in tears at least once a week. And yet none of them want to quit or have to either go back to competing level 4 or not compete at all the rest of the season. The girls aren’t giving up and yet it seems to the moms that the coaches have given up on their girls.

The moms feel that the girls are not getting enough time in the gym, enough time on each event when they are in the gym nor are they – the parents – getting their money’s worth. They have gone to gym owner and he told them that

  1. they could sign their girls up for private lessons and
  2. perhaps none of the girls should be at level 5.

ALL 11 went to the level 4 state meet last year and NONE of them had AA
scores less that 35.00 – the moms all feel that their girls ARE ready for
level 5, but they need more time in the gym and better coaching.

What can they do? Any ideas on how to resolve this? As I stated, they went to the owner and he seemed to care less if these girls were getting their skills or not.

Thank you for any suggestions you can give me for them.

We have to tell you that we are not really in the business of pitting parents against their coaches and gym owners. However, your letter reveals many of the problems that motivated us to write our books and put up our web site. Some of the problems sound like communication problems. Some of the problems are widespread in our sport. Other of the problems likely have to do with coaching issues.

Please keep in mind first, that gyms do not often make money on team programs and must provide time, equipment and coaching for class and preschool gymnasts. Many gyms must subsidize their team program from the profits of class and preschool programs. Limitations on team programs, especially Compulsory programs, are often for financial reasons.

There is a shortage nationally of knowledgeable, experienced coaches. Most coaches in this country either coach like they were taught themselves or how they have seen some other coach in their own gym coach. One of our prime motivations in writing our books and articles for our web site is to help provide accurate training information to gymnasts, parents and coaches from high level coaches.

While your letter only dealt with Level 5, we are assuming there are higher level gymnasts at the gym. It is not uncommon for more coaching time and resources to be spent with higher level optional gymnasts. Often, there are not enough “coaches” available to coach at the lower competitive levels and gymnasts are stuck with class level instructors instead.

There is no doubt that this is a difficult to solve problem for gym owners as there are often simply no real “coaches” available to hire. Often the only real solution (and it is not a short-term solution) is for the best coach (coaches) to offer in-depth coaching training and mentoring to the younger coaches. This is very difficult (and expensive) to schedule and complete with so many other coaching duties required by coaches of the highest level gymnasts that it is rarely effectively done.

We should tell you up front that our prime gymnastics philosophy is to coach gymnasts to become Level 10 or Elite gymnasts. Our programs, training and goals are based on that philosophy. We do not consider Compulsory Level 4 – 6 gymnastics routines as useful or valuable for anything but gaining competition experience. For example, there are no skills in the Level 4 bar routine that are ever used in high level gymnastics, so we do not wish to spend time training skills that lead nowhere.

One of the first things we mention in our books is that we do not consider the Level 4 compulsory level to be worth competing. We advocate doing strength and flexibility training (like in a TOPS program) and training gymnasts for Level 5 immediately and skipping Level 4 entirely. You are not required to compete Level 4. The number of years that gymnasts in your group have spent at Level 4 is suspicious to us and we feel indicates a potential coaching problem.

Our philosophy obviously conflicts with your gym’s point of view and with the point of view of many other gyms in the country. It is in line, though, with the philosophy of gyms that are producing Level 10 and Elite gymnasts. Our goal is to produce Level 9 – Elite gymnasts in 4 – 6 years. That can’t be done if you spend more than one year at any Compulsory level.

A program or gym that does not design its whole selection, training, competition program and expectations to develop high level gymnasts has little chance to ever produce Level 10 or Elite gymnasts. Some gymnasts are so talented that they are going to reach Level 10 almost regardless of coaching, but to produce high level gymnasts regularly requires goals and long-term planning and training.

You first ought to have some idea what type of gym you are in to really understand what problems you are facing and what, if any, solutions there may be. Are there a number of high level gymnasts in the gym – Levels 9, 10 and Elite? Are there any coaches who have coached gymnast to those levels in the gym? Is the gym fully equipped to produce high level gymnasts, e.g, pits for vault, bars, tumbling and beam dismounts.

If your gym is not equipped to train high level gymnasts in terms of both equipment and coaching, then either your own gymnast’s goals must be modest or you need to look elsewhere.

There is not a lot of consensus about the number of hours necessary in the gym. We look at hours in the gym to be more related to age and goals than level. Gymnasts older than 9 years old, as all of your level 5 gymnasts are, could easily handle twice as many hours in the gym or more (assuming the gym could handle it). Whether your gym is able to provide the coaching, time and available equipment for that is another story.

The practice right before the competition is not necessarily indicative of any problem. It mirrors what the gymnasts are actually going to do in the meet. We don’t agree with not letting gymnasts continue if they miss a skill (any skill, including a kip), but the real problem does not appear to be the before meet practice, but the lack of skill progress.

Having any number of coaches is not in itself a problem, but it sounds like these are not necessarily full-time professional “coaches” but instructors who are assigned to Levels 4 and 5. It is not likely that gymnasts will progress as they could and should without full-time professional coaching.

In regards to getting scores in the 7.00 – 8.00 level, you must realize that many gyms against which you are competing may be practicing every day, up to six days per week. And even assuming comparable coaching, they are likely going to be the ones scoring in the 8s and 9s. There is no substitute for time in the gym.

Kips are definitely the most difficult Level 5 skill for most gymnasts to learn. There are two ways to learn a kip – get exceptionally strong or learn perfect technique (preferably both at once). The strongest girls always make kips first. With as few of your level 5s making kips, it would be our guess that their strength and conditioning program is not adequate. It is certainly difficult to both learn skills and do adequate conditioning in only 7 hours per week.

Kip skills took us from one hour (for a talented gymnast with above-average strength) to 15 hours (for a very spacey 7-year-old with very bad habits from working on kips by herself for a year). While we don’t usually do private lessons on bars, we recently did teach 9 gymnasts kips, in a five week period at another gym as a favor, so we know exactly how long it took us.

Less experienced coaches would likely need longer. Gymnasts who are not strong enough to do kips might need 6 weeks to 6 months or more of effective and intense strength training specially designed to build upper body and kip strength.

Without sufficient strength and flexibility, certain skills (including kips) are impossible to learn. We, also, do not like to waste our time spotting gymnasts who are not strong enough to do kips on their own. On the other hand, even untrained gymnasts should be able to get strong enough to do kips in one year on any team.

Unless the coach who refused to work with the gymnasts without kips is a high level optional coach, we have to say it sounds like their opinion of their value and worth is an overestimation. It is the job of Compulsory coaches to do whatever is necessary to teach gymnasts all the compulsory skills and the basic skills required for their future optional careers. Most of the high level coaches I know don’t mind teaching kips or any other useful basic skill to younger lower level gymnasts (given sufficient time), who may then possible become high level gymnasts.

As for solutions to your problems and not knowing much about your gym, we can only offer some ideas for your consideration. You should evaluate all of your options and then make a decision. Working as a group will likely give you a larger voice and influence with coaches and gym owners than as an individual, but it can be a real problem to get 11 sets of parents to agree on anything.

While we could offer more specific training advice, it seems as if you need to deal with training concerns that relate to the gym owner and coaches as a first step. Training suggestions from us that would not be implemented would be a waste of everyone’s time. You and the gym owner and coaches need to get on the same page to do what is best for your gymnasts.

You might want to carefully prepare a list of your concerns and requests and present them to the coaches and gym owner and request that they meet with you and address them. We suggest that parents, gymnasts and coaches communicate and agree on long and short-term goals, skill level requirements and movement and program expectations.

We don’t mean to push our own products, but Secrets to Level 5 Gymnastics gives a very broad perspective on training and competing Level 5 that we feel is worth reading.

Team training fees are usually high and we would expect that our gymnasts would be making skill progress if we were paying them. Winning meets and high scores can be a very subjective and inaccurate way of evaluating gymnasts (judges are not always, maybe even rarely, the best method of evaluating a gymnast’s progress). We believe that if gymnasts are making steady skill progress (learning new skills on a regular basis and improving their skill execution) that parents should be satisfied (assuming their gymnast is happy). If skill progress is not evident (as seems evident here), we feel that there are most likely training issues or coaching problems that need to be identified and resolved.

Strength programs can be done outside of the gym at home during off days. With only 7 hours of practice, there is little to no danger of overtraining, and strength is beneficial to all gymnasts. Strength training is one of the only aspects of gymnastics training that parents are likely to be able to become knowledgeable and competent enough to help their gymnasts at home. In strong programs, all of the strength work necessary is done in the gym.

Private lessons are always a possibility but are infinitely more expensive than more team training time. We typically only use privates for floor and beam one-on-one training although we do sometimes do bar privates to fix specific skill problems. High turnover practice events like vault and tumbling, we rarely do in private lessons. We sometime do trampoline in privates to improve tumbling skills. We would request more training time (and expect to pay more) rather than pay a much higher hourly fee for private lessons.

As a last alternative, for general knowledge research or as back-up plan, look around and see if there are real alternatives to the gym you are currently attending. The thought of losing 11 team fees can cause gym owners and coaches to take more notice. And there may be a nearby program, that doesn’t take three years to teach (or not teach) gymnasts kips and is capable of moving gymnasts up to higher levels, that you should possibly consider.

Please keep in mind that our advice is given knowing very little about your specific gym and coaching situation and that we cannot realistically evaluate what we cannot see (either in your gymnasts’ performances or in the gym situation). We would likely not appreciate outside advice, but we firmly feel that parents and gymnasts are owed the best advice and knowledge possible and we certainly try to provide that.

Feel free to contact us if you have any more questions or if there is anything else we can do.

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