Winning is Only Important to Coaches and Parents

OK, saying winning is not important to gymnasts is somewhat of an exaggeration. Gymnast like to win and there is a small minority of gymnasts for whom winning is their biggest motivation. Everyone likes to win but, in general, gymnasts are not as concerned about winning or not winning as their coaches and parents are.

For a long time, I have maintained that a great meet for gymnasts is a meet where they get to compete, swim in the hotel pool, go out to dinner and stay up late with their teammates after the meet. If the hotel had a pool, it was a good meet for the gymnasts.

I always liked to plan special activities in conjunction with meets, like trips to the aquarium or the zoo. However, I have to admit that sometimes the special activity at meets was shopping at a nearby mall. I do not admit that our meet schedule was planned to match the list of the best malls in the country.

Don’t get me wrong? I have every much passion and desire to win as any coach, but I am also aware that gymnasts may or may not be equally passionate. I have spent massive amounts of money, effort and time to prepare gymnasts to win.

Coaching is a pressure filled profession. In most sports, coaches are fired on a regular basis if they do not meet expectations for winning. In gymnastics, where gymnastics coaches are often the owners of the gym as well and good coaches are in extreme short supply, the firing of coaches is not as common as in most sports.

So the pressure on coaches in gymnastics comes mainly from parents, who have the power to pull their gymnast form the gym and move to another gym. That is the pressure on coaches in gymnastics usually. And parents, because they are inordinately more interested in their gymnast winning than their child is, often put on an incredible amount of pressure on gymnastics coaches.

The situation is somewhat different in colleges where gymnastics coaches seem to keep their jobs for an incredibly long number of years, even when they show no chance of winning a National Championship or even a good winning record. Maybe that is one of the factors in why gymnastics programs in colleges are being closed down at such a rapid rate.

Gymnasts are also usually incredibly loyal to their coaches even, when perhaps, they should not be. Coaches who are not producing winning gymnasts and teams or are excessively negative receive almost as much loyalty from gymnasts as great coaches and positive do. So parents do often have to be the judge of which gym and program is best for their gymnast (taking into account their gymnast’s wishes).

But parents also need to understand that the sport is designed to have relatively few “winners.” A large competition can have up to 120 gymnasts in an age group/level session. 120 gymnasts and only 15 medals (3 medals for each event and all-around) available for all those gymnasts. Now the numbers are different if you go to smaller meets, but you should then be wondering why you are going to smaller meets (a topic for another time).

There are only a few important meets each year and indeed in a gymnasts career. Gymnastics, like life, is a process. While you would like to win every meet along the way, steady progress (and loving the gym life) is just as important. Which career would be better – a gymnast who wins every meet but stays at the compulsory level for their whole gymnastics career or a gymnast who never wins any meet except Nationals, the World Championships and the Olympics. Obviously, those are extremes, but they point out that how unimportant in the long run winning low level meets really is.

There are only five meets that matter in U.S. gymnastics – States for Level 7s and below, Regionals for level 8s, Nationals for Levels 9 and 10 and the Elite level and the Olympics and World Championships for International Elites. If the meet is not one of those, it is really only a training meet for a meet that is much more important and coaches and parents should likely not be treating it like it is anything else. Even if it is one of the five important meets, it is not the end of their career, so their is always next year or the next Olympic cycle. Parents and coaches should certainly not treat any meet or their gymnasts like it was a deciding factor in their long-term gymnastics career, or their life in general, because it is not.

Gymnasts love to learn new skills and make progress. They usually love it even more, I think, than they like to win meets of little importance. Gymnastics is very much a life-style, most of which occurs in the gym, out of the sight of most team parents. Perhaps, because parents see meets more, they have more value for them. Gymnasts have a much larger experience with the sport and new skills, progress and lifelong friendships and life lessons are more important to them.

For many parents and coaches, winning a Level 4 meet is more important than their gymnast learning a full. On balance, though, progress is more important in the long run. Winning a meet now, especially if you are winning it because you are being held back to give you a better chance to win, is a popular philosophy of parents and even many coaches, but not a concept you will find Elite coaches using.

Parents and coaches should celebrate their gymnast’s wins and maintain perspective on less than positive meet outcomes. Decisions on a gymnast’s career should be made on what will help them progress in terms of learning new skills and improving execution and consistency, not on whether they are winning essentially unimportant meets or not.

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