When the Coach Becomes the Student

One of the real reasons I love to coach gymnasts is that I learn so much from them. Often, those lessons have to do with how to coach better. Every day I coach I learn something, but occasionally I learn a lesson so large and profound that it moves beyond the realm of gymnastics. Many gymnasts are talented and intelligent, but sometimes they are also such special people and have such high standards and morality that I cannot help but to be impressed with how they could possibly be so evolved at such a young age.

A Great Example of What a Gymnast Should Be

Brittni was one of those gymnasts — still is, for that matter. Brittni is a gymnast I have known for most of her gymnastics/team career and have worked with privately on occasion. She is one of the most talented, motivated and driven gymnasts I have ever known. I undoubtedly will write other stories about her because she is a great example of what a gymnast should aspire to and be.

Early National Meets for Young Lower-Level Gymnasts Are Now OK?

In the last few years, the State and National Judges Associations have taken to hosting an annual meet as a fundraiser for their organization. It is early in the gymnastics season and they advertise that Level 7 gymnasts can qualify to a “national” meet. While it is interesting that they and USA Gymnastics have now ignored decades of the common wisdom that younger and lower level gymnasts were not ready for the pressures of a national competition in order to raise money, this meet has quickly become a fixture in many states.

Coaches Commonly Hold Back Gymnasts Just for This Meet

What has also become a fixture, has been that many of the participants (and “winners”) in the meets are really Level 8 gymnasts (former Level 7 gymnasts who definitely already know they are moving up to Level 8 that year and already already have all their Level 8 skills, but “pretend” they are still Level 7 gymnast to qualify for the “national Level 7 meet”).

A Memorable Experience For Any Young Gymnast

I have to admit that I have always been a coach who was looking for the best results and best experiences for my gymnasts and who studied the rules to gain any legal advantage for my gymnasts. Whatever the quality of the judges at this meet, it is a chance for gymnasts to experience a large optional meet with a majority of states participating. That would be a memorable experience for most any gymnast in their career, whether it was the highlight of their career or just the beginning.

We Were Going To Go With Conventional Coaching Strategy

I was at Brittni’s gym and was discussing with her coach exactly which gymnasts should be held back for this meet and Brittni was an obvious choice. She had qualified to the judges cup “national” meet the year before as a first year Level 7 and was moving up to Level 8 and had a real chance to do well at the “national” meet. Brittni was standing a few feet away working on bars and we called her over to talk about the plan and help her figure out how to water down her new Level 8 routines to stay within the Level 7 guidelines.

“It’s Time for Other Gymnasts to Have Their Chance”

As soon as we told Brittni about the plan, she looked me straight in the eye and said, “I don’t want to do that. It’s time for other gymnasts to have their chance. I want them to have that opportunity.” And she walked away. I was instantly overwhelmed with the perspective, her instant instinctual response, the deep moral stand and her absolute calm confidence that she was right about this. I can only tell you that I was left speechless and incredibly impressed.

Gymnastics is a Sport in Which Every Gymnast Deserves an Equal Chance

Now at this point, I had only been considered what I thought would give some of the gymnasts (Brittni, included) from this team their best chance for success and a great experience. What Brittni reminded me that I had forgotten, or conveniently ignored, was that gymnastics is a sport in which every gymnast requires fair treatment and an equal chance. Brittni clearly understood that and was going to do her part to make sure that they did, even to the point of missing out on a great experience for herself.

The More I Thought About It, The More Right I Believe She Was

When I went home that night, I thought about what Brittni had said and done and realized I had learned important lessons from her. At first, by thinking that she was looking to give other gymnasts on her team the chance for the experience, but I became increasingly more impressed as I considered what she had said and done meant. As I thought about it later, I realized that while allowing her teammates a chance was part of it, she had also meant that she wanted “real” Level 7 gymnasts at both the state and national meet to have their chance to succeed.

Have I Been Reading My Own Articles?

One of constant themes of my gymnastics coaches’ and parents’ education process is that gymnasts should not be held back, especially at the compulsory levels. And it is a common argument that coaches and parents constantly make – that gymnasts need to win at a compulsory level so they feel good about themselves even if they have to stay at that level for multiple years. My position has always been that “Beating first-graders at kick ball doesn’t make older kids feel like winners. Deep down, they really know it wasn’t really a fair contest or a win they are really proud of.”

A Level 8 Winning a Level 7 Meet Signifies Nothing – Nothing But Lack of Fairness

But here I was on the wrong side of this. Winning a Level 7 meet, when you know you are really a Level 8, is not fair or anything gymnasts are really going to be proud of deep down or for very long. If that were to be the highlight of a gymnast’s career, it would actually be a sad thing.

Choose The Right

Brittni reminded me of what is and isn’t fair in the sport of gymnastics and that choosing to do the right thing will ultimately give you more satisfaction than winning an unfair competition.

The Student Becomes the Master and the Master the Student

I love it when the gymnasts become the teacher. I want to thank Brittni for reminding me of something I already knew and for impressing and inspiring me with her innate sense of fair play. For this and many other reasons, she is a role model to be emulated, not just by other gymnasts but by all of us.

“Your character is based on what you stand for, your reputation on what you fall for.” – Anonymous


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