Gymnastics Coach – Talent Transfer

Transferring talent – it isn’t poaching talent, promises professional gymnastics coach and consultant Nick Ruddock.

Gymnastics Coach

 

Nick Ruddock, our resident International Gymnastics Coach, wants to strengthen the link between clubs and their coaches and offer solutions to coaches who need support and mentoring for athletes. Perhaps they feel themselves out of their depth. They have someone who is elite.

If you’re training someone and you don’t think you can give them what they need, should you transfer them to an environment where they will flourish? Yes.

Any true gymnastics coach who is athlete-centered will want to do everything they can to ensure the athlete reaches their full potential – even if that means they do it away from you. It’s still natural to worry about the repercussions on your career and how this makes you look as a coach.

As coaches, we have many opportunities, while this young athlete might only have one. This applies particularly to young gymnasts who have a very short window of opportunity to show their competence. This is a huge responsibility – coaches hold the keys to people’s futures.

That future might include medals – but it’s also about travel, teamwork, life experience, goals, self-belief, opportunity and much more. Can you as a coach justify not letting this happen?

Many things might run through a coach’s mind, preventing him or her from picking up the phone to a club that can offer more for an athlete.

What will the other parents/athletes think? I’d miss this person. How can I progress as a coach? What if my gymnast makes the national squad and I miss out on out being part of that?

Nick urges coaches to become better at collaborating between clubs and supporting one another. Athlete transitions should incentivise coaches with high-performance coach education support and mentoring programmes.

Take these two scenarios:

The current situation
Sarah coaches nine-year-old Millie. The child has won her first national level competition and shows tremendous potential for the future. She’s Sarah’s first national champion, but Sarah doesn’t have a track record of previous results at this level or above. She has no mentor, personal development plan or experiential learning to help her achieve better results in the future.

Sarah keeps trying, working hard to keep Millie at a high level for her age. In time, though, lack of preparation and poor habits exceed her potential. By the age of 11, Millie starts to plateau. Her performance declines. She doesn’t reach her performance potential.

Sarah hasn’t developed much as a coach either. The same will happen the next time an athlete of Millie’s calibre comes along. And the time after that. And the next time too.

A better solution?
Sarah recognises that Millie is an extraordinary gymnast. Sarah also has the self-awareness to know that as a gymnastics coach, she isn’t yet good enough to help Millie reach her potential. Following consultation with Millie’s parents, she contacts some of the high-performance clubs to ask if Millie can transfer there.

The new club has an education and mentorship programme, which incentivises Sarah to transfer Millie. Sarah gets regular ‘coaching’ from the gymnastics coaches in this club, she gets to watch her prodigy train (and helps too) and receives one to one mentoring designed to improve her own coaching skills.

The next time an athlete as good as Millie walks into Sarah’s club, she has the expertise and support to coach them competently.

Scenario two is the best of both worlds. It gives both coach and athlete a better shot of fulfilling their potential, as they are supported and coached by experienced people. It takes humility and vulnerability to admit that you aren’t the right gymnastics coach for an athlete, but both are essential qualities for the very best gymnastics coaches.

It will be forward-thinking clubs that will be the first to adopt such mentoring and coaching programmes. They will incentivise and provide support for club coaches who want to ‘up their game’ and do the best they can for the athletes they coach. Are there coaches out there who have the self-awareness and vulnerability to facilitate such a move?

As a club, you might think it would be easier to employ another coach who does have the experience to ensure an athlete can reach their potential on the home turf. A great solution – but only if the club has the money and there is a good enough coach who is nearby/can relocate. The organisation’s leadership and current coaches also need to be happy to accept a new gymnastics coach, who might well be ‘above’ them. Can the collective coaching ego take it? This isn’t really an easy solution at all.

An incentive programme, on the other hand, could have an incredible impact on the national and international results. And think what it would do to the lives of those athletes who get to achieve their real potential.

There IS an abundance of talent out there – the problem isn’t finding it, it’s nurturing it and ensuring it is in the right place.

Nick Ruddock is a coach, consultant, clinician and speaker. He has been the junior national coach for British Gymnastics, and his GBR junior team made history in 2014 with the first ever junior team medal at the European Championships. He formed Nick Ruddock Gymnastics in 2015 and has consulted for more than a dozen international gymnastics federations including Australia, Germany, Japan and Switzerland, and provided services to professional sports teams such as Manchester United and Manchester City Football Clubs. You can connect with Nick through his Facebook page or email him at nick@nickruddock.com

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The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

What is a self-fulfilling prophecy and how does it affect coaching?

Professional gymnastics coach and consultant Nick Ruddock has plenty of experience of self-fulfilling prophecies and their limitations. If you tell someone something often enough, they might just end up believing it. True.

As someone who regularly travels the UK and the world teaching, coaching and consulting, coaches often introduce athletes to Nick in a certain way – ‘This is Ella, she’s nine years old, and she has the worst legs in the world’. Or, ‘This is Caitlin, and she’s the one I told you about who can’t jump’. Another alternative might be ‘Meet Sarah, she doesn’t like to straighten her legs at all’.

URGH. Talk about naming athletes by their poorer qualities. And what the heck are such statements doing to their self-belief and esteem?

How often must a coach repeat such statements – the ‘worst legs’, the ‘can’t jump’ – until the gymnast or athlete starts to believe it’s true? I have the worst legs in the world. I can’t jump. I can’t straighten my legs. What might also happen is that the gymnast or athlete will choose to become powerless to those weaker qualities, and develop a mindset that is fixed – instead of a growth mindset.

Is there anything at all to be gained from a nine-year-old believing that her legs aren’t designed to jump? (Clue – it’s the opposite of ‘yes’.)

When you coach, you will be aware of everyone’s weaknesses. But as a coach, it is your job to frame them properly in the mindset of your young athletes. This isn’t just about sporting performance. It covers life skills too.

Nick’s up front that he’s been guilty of this in the past too. Years ago, he’d worked with a fantastic athlete – a very talented girl, who did everything else at a snail’s pace. She went to the bathroom, moved between apparatus, fetched her equipment and read her programmes super slowly.

He took to calling her ‘Sloth’ – and now wonders if that made her even slower and if she carried that belief into her adult life.

It’s incredibly easy to influence young athletes, and coaches play a crucial role in forming their unconscious and conscious thought patterns and beliefs. These will become embedded in their behaviours and habits as they go through life. The mind hears much more than we think – and it stores all that information for later use.

You should use this opportunity to reflect on the ‘stories’ you have told your athletes. And what have you heard about yourself that has defined your current thoughts, behaviours and habits?

A good place to start is to make sure you introduce your athletes by focusing on their better qualities such as hard work. Let’s take nine-year-old Ella. Next time, present her this way:

“Meet Ella – she’s working on her superhuman legs that will one day let her do a Yurchenko double twist.”

Can you imagine how magically that will work on her self-esteem and beliefs?

One final point… We want to make sure you can devote as much time as possible to your athletes, and not waste time on activities such as club administration. If you use GymnasticsClubManager, for instance, this membership software tool will do all the hard work for you, saving you time, increasing membership numbers and engagement. Why not contact us today on help@paysubsonline.com or book a demo to find out more?

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Nick Ruddock contributed to historic medal winning performances on the international stage throughout his four-year term with British Gymnastics as National Coach. A former personal coach to Amy Tinkler; European, World and Olympic Medallist, Nick has been mentored by some of the world’s most experienced and accomplished coaches throughout several influential countries.

Nick has lectured as a Technical Expert for the UEG (Union of European Gymnastics) for 7 years, and has consulted for over a dozen international gymnastics federations and a variety of performance sports, with a mission of optimizing athlete and coach performance for the world stage.

For more information on Nick’s services, including online courses, conferences, events and coaching programmes, visit www.nickruddock.com

 

What Makes A Great Gymnastics Coach?

Gymnastics Coaching

There is one question that troubles me greatly, and it’s one that arises in nearly ALL gymnastics coaching courses and workshops I have attended:

‘What makes a great gymnastics coach?’

Just writing it is making my blood pressure rise!

Some years ago, I would have put together a long list of qualities that great coaches have … but not today.

The thing is, I’ve travelled the world and worked alongside a tremendous number of coaches, many of whom are at the height of their respective fields. And it is during this time that I’ve come to recognise that many high performing coaches are totally flawed in the characteristics we often associate with high performance.

High technical knowledge? Not always important.

Organised? Quite the opposite.

Positive? Nope.

‘People person?’ …. Definitely not!

Growth mindset? … I wish.

You get the gist

Jigsaw Pieces Or Cogs?

I used to see the gymnastics coaching world as a jigsaw puzzle, with coaches who are lacking in important qualities as being ‘incomplete.’

I’ve now moved to a ‘cogs’ model.

The more cogs that are moving, the more efficiently a system runs. But even with fewer cogs (or in our case desirable qualities) the system still runs, albeit not quite as efficiently. The coach can still produce results, but it might require more work, or have a few more bumpy roads to ride down first.

What Makes A Great Gymnastics Coach Anyway?

Yes, there are some characteristics that many great coaches will have in common, and it’s wonderful to dream about what qualities a ‘complete’ coach would have, but we shouldn’t delude ourselves that ‘great’ coaches hold all of these.

Besides, what does it mean to be a ‘great’ gymnastics coach anyway?

The status of being a great coach often gets attributed to those who produce gymnasts that can (and do) win medals at an international level. But I’m often a little more curious (don’t mistake this for being pessimistic or cynical) as to how those results happened.

A coach whose gymnast’s win international medals, but are left emotionally broken wouldn’t earn my badge of being a ‘great coach.’ That would be mistaking being a great ‘technician’ for being a great coach. A BIG difference.

Neither would I consider a coach great who manages to squeeze one gymnast into the top spot, but in the process manages to physically or technically ‘wreck’ another 40 gymnasts.

You could say a wealthy drug dealer knows how to make money, but you’d question their ethics and are unlikely to hold them in high esteem. In much the same way, this is how I view unethical coaches who leave a path of destruction in their wake. They don’t get my vote, regardless of the size of their medals haul.

Some of the best gymnastics coaches I know have never actually coached at a high-performance level. They are, however, in the elite at running a recreational gymnastics class or a class full of pre-school children. That’s an art in itself and requires a mass of experience and skills.

So what do YOU think? I’d be interested in what you attribute the status of being a ‘great coach’ to?

Article by Nick Ruddock, Gymnastics Club Manager’s resident coaching expert and International Gymnastics Coach and Consultant.

Why The Attraction of Drills Could Be Hindering Your Gymnastics Training Plan

Gymnastics Coaching

It can be said of many coaches, that they are magnetised by preps and drills. The proverbial moth to a flame. But why? You would think a press conference had just commenced each time a new drill is introduced to the gymnastics training plan – such is the buzz that ensues.

Don’t think me judgmental in my assessment, I do understand the appeal – I’m not averse to introducing a good drill too, even to the point of filming it for my archive. Yet I recognise that the inclusion of drills is just another ingredient in the training pot, that too often does not attract the attention or thought it deserves.

Less is Definitely More

There are many things we use to train our gymnasts that probably don’t matter, and I always look for ways to reduce the number of steps or processes used in training.

An example would be a caddy advising a golfer, the number of good options when it comes to which club to use next are often limited, especially when there aren’t many to pick from in the first place!

For context let’s use a back flick (or ‘back handspring’) as an example.

There are thousands of drills and exercises to choose from to teach a gymnast a flick. Some good, some fantastic.

So how many do you need?

In my experience you can teach most skills in just a handful of stages – 4-5 steps say, assuming the gymnast has refined the prerequisite skills already.

4-5 drills which include specific performance and learning benefits is sufficient to teach gymnastics skills. More than this and your training plan could actually hinder a gymnast’s rate of learning and retention.

Balancing Gymnasts ‘Needs’ With Your Own Desires

If we were to leave out the impressive or glamorous drills we spend hours searching for on YouTube, we can teach an exceptionally good ‘flick’ in just 4-5 drills, simply by focusing on teaching high quality, basic movement.

Yes, the internet is a great place to find ideas and to share content, but it lacks any form of quality control. This means before you charge ahead implementing a new idea into your gymnastics training plan, you should stop and consider the following first:

  • Is it what the gymnast needs?
  • Is it simple enough to implement?
  • Can my gymnast already perform the pre-requisites?
  • Is the video from a credible source, with someone of experience?
  • Do I know what the learning outcomes are of the drill?

What is important to remember is that what your gymnast needs, may be at odds with what we like the look of as coaches…

I like to think of it as ‘shiny object attraction.’ The new Galaxy S8 smartphone looks amazing, but my current ‘older model’ will still perform just as well for the tasks I want it to do – make calls, send emails, receive texts etc. Having the latest ‘thing’ is not necessarily going to improve performance and there are better things to spend money and time on.

There are often many better ways to improve performance than perhaps some of the drills and preps you might be coaching your gymnasts.

It’s All In The Details

It pains me to say that I’ve failed to see significant improvements in gymnasts coached by those who spend many hours each week scouring online for more drills and exercises to add to their training program. It’s safe to say the internet has not helped them at all – they should really have been looking for the best recipe, rather than the individual ingredients.

Techniques do not really change much over time, but innovation has. Gymnasts of 30 years ago were performing some of the highest complexity acrobatic elements we see today but without the luxury of modern day equipment.

How?

It all comes down to using simple methods and exercises, and concentrating on the attention to detail when it comes to technique. 30 years ago much of the innovation we enjoy was not there, and neither was the virality of sharing ideas and content.

Let’s use a chef baking a dessert as an analogy here.

How many recipes do you think an experienced chef could come up with given basic, quality ingredients such as sugar, eggs, flour, butter and chocolate.

I’m guessing it would be a pretty extensive list and one which, with the right love and attention, would include a masterpiece or two.

My point is that you don’t need lots of ingredients. You just need the right recipe and attention to detail.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t be obsessive in other areas. I often see the top performing coaches excel in these three areas:

  • Being PRODUCTIVE.
  • Being ACCOUNTABLE.
  • Having exceptionally HIGH STANDARDS.

No matter how awesome your drills are, without these 3 qualities, you will never progress in the high-performance world.

So before you start searching YouTube for more drills to use, take a moment to reflect on your gymnastics training plan and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are my gymnasts able to perform the current drills with great execution (if not then a new drill won’t suddenly help them to perform it better either.)
  2. Are the drills the problem, or is it the ratio of drills to practice?
  3. Do I have clarity on exactly what the finished skill should look like?
  4. Are the gymnasts physically prepared for the elements?

When you have the answers…then head off to YouTube 🙂

Article by Nick Ruddock, Gymnastics Club Manager’s resident coaching expert and International Gymnastics Coach and Consultant.

The World of Gymnastics Coaching: Lovers, Haters, Critics and Fans – Part 2

gymnastics coaching

In part 1 I talked about how individual views and opinions are often at odds with each other. I then went on to talk about FEAR and it’s impact on our everyday lives, and in a gymnastics coaching context, the mindset and performance of gymnasts at all levels.

In this second part, I look at the world of haters and how they seek to disrupt others with their toxic outlook on life.

Haters

The destructive breed commonly known today as ‘Haters’, poison the minds of others with their toxic and often distorted view of the world derived from their own insecurities and limiting beliefs.

A hater can infect a team or culture in rapid time.

Haters don’t love themselves, making it impossible for them to love others, or publicly express praise or recognition for others.

They have low self-respect, and often fail to demonstrate respect for others either.

On the flip side of the coin, those with high levels of self-awareness, content with who they are, do not need the approval of others to pursue their dreams, nor do they have any qualms about praising others who succeed in their field. They understand there is plenty of success to be gained in life.

Now I hold my hands up, I’ve ridden the negativity bandwagon too, but am well and truly off it, having spent a great deal of time in self-reflection, self-discovery and maturing through personal development and philosophy in recent years.

But what about you? Are you happy for others when they succeed? Do you celebrate others’ success or let it threaten you? Do you invest time and energy in criticising others? Are you an energy angel or energy vampire?

The worst kind of hater is the one who criticises others for following their dreams or standing up for their beliefs. Yet they are usually too fearful to take any action themselves.

The very reason they are critical in the first place is often down to jealousy and their insecurities, created by a fictional fear which is paralysing them to take any action.

Gymnast Simone Biles received criticism on social media following the Rio Olympics, despite being arguably the greatest female gymnast of all time. She’s a phenomenon, and we are truly blessed to have the opportunity to witness her ‘awesomeness’.

It makes you wonder what kind of person finds it necessary to invest time in broadcasting such a low opinion of her to the world? It can only be someone so insecure, unmotivated by goals, lacking inspiration, and with far too much time on their hands.

Few of us can accomplish in a lifetime (in their respectively equivalent fields) what many elite gymnasts achieve before they even turn 15. But haters always seem to find fault somewhere.

Perhaps society is to blame? Turn on the news or open the tabloids and it’s filled with negativity and all the problems with the world. It would be great to turn on the news and hear about all the good that is happening in the world (there’s plenty of it!)

Limiting beliefs, insecurities and fears paralyse people to move forward. Successful people (open for interpretation as always) find ways to manage their emotions and remove limiting beliefs from taking charge of their destiny. They optimise their mental state to aid performance. Focusing on hate will make you a more hateful person, and that’s not conducive to accomplishing your goals.

I won’t be paralysed by the unimportant opinions of others, will you?

You may instead choose to use hate to feed your success …

I’ve received my fair share of criticism to date, and still do of course. As a young coach of about 16/17, I received counselling for it. I’ve never shared that before, apart from my closest friends and family, but I’m not ashamed or embarrassed. Young minds can struggle to deal with negative criticism, and lead to further insecurities.

Not everyone’s comfortable with my vision, energy or accomplishments, and not everyone will be comfortable with yours either. Some criticism is rightly justified, through errors in my behaviour or judgment (we’re all human remember, and we only act at any given time in the best manner we know how.) But much has been uncalled for, demonstrating a real lack of professionalism, particularly by people in positions who should be leaders and role models.

As a young coach, it affected me hugely, tormenting me for several years. It’s only recently, through self-discovery, awareness and being content with who I am that I can now rise above (sometimes even laugh at) the transparent behaviour of others who are throwing out hate and negativity.

When you understand what drives this kind of behaviour, it becomes easier to ignore.

I’ve had ‘experienced’ coaches, 50 years old plus, publicly ridicule me whilst delivering a coaching clinic. I’ve watched them high five and laugh with each other afterwards, congratulating themselves for their disruptive behaviour.

I could write a book about the different lengths some coaches have gone to in a bid to cause me harm or to suppress me, but I don’t need to share it, nor do I need to play the victim.

The old Nick would be deflated, intimidated, even paranoid from this kind of behaviour. It’s upsetting to be treated in this way, but I now think and understand, that these types of behaviours came about because of the individual’s’ own insecurities.

Ridiculing me in public elevated these coaches own sense of power and significance amongst the group, something insecure people need in abundance. Sad really, but it’s reality, and the more you understand of human behaviour, the easier it is to be more content with oneself.

What This Means For Our Gymnasts

In the information age we now live in, it has never been easier to access content and media. This brings an abundance of positive things along with it, but one challenge the younger generation faces today is exposure to hate, criticism and negative comments.

It’s all over the media, magazines and social media. People can hide behind a profile without ever being identified. Opinions from all over the world are instantly visible, the moment they are published. Times have changed.

I’m aware of several high profile athletes being subjected to aggressive trolls and hateful people, whose sole purpose is to disrupt their emotions.

I’ve watched young gymnasts break down in tears after reading a blog post which is critical of their performance in podium training the day before a major event (for my non-gymnastics audience that is basically pre-competition training in the same arena and conditions as the event will be taking place to familiarise themselves with the equipment, environment etc.)

This ‘opinion’ comes from a blogger with no competitive experience in any sport, who seeks to criticise and affect the performance of a gymnast who has represented her country, travelled and competed all over the world, and still manages ‘normal life’ all before the age of 16.

Unbelievable.

Words are weapons. Most adults can’t cope with criticism, let alone young minds.

You can’t escape it or police it. It’s here to stay. Quite frankly, it’s life, and our young gymnasts will be exposed to it pretty early, commonly at school too.

Our gymnasts need educating in this area as well. YOUR gymnasts need educating in this area.

Gymnasts need to know that ‘where focus goes, energy flows,’ so when getting caught up in negativity, be it through the people they surround themselves with, the media they engage in and the thoughts they ultimately run through their minds, they are making a conscious choice to become powerless to external factors.

As coaches, we are a gymnast’s most important critic. Our opinion, matters to them. It’s why we are the perfect person to educate them in the way of the world, advise on best practice, teach them to stay goal oriented and not let the opinion of others paralyse their performance.

It’s important too we demonstrate this kind of mindset to our gymnasts also. We have to walk our talk.

It’s pointless telling them not to get upset about criticism if we ourselves demonstrate a lack of emotional intelligence in front of them when we receive a score we don’t like or get beaten by a competitor.

Our own self-control, emotional intelligence, mental resilience and self-awareness comes first.

This means understanding our flaws as coaches as well as our strengths, understanding human behaviour (what causes or motivates people to do what they do,) and understanding our values and thought patterns/limiting beliefs.

It also means recognising that none of us is perfect, we all make mistakes, have dark moments, and we all need to be supported, not suppressed.

When our inner world is complete, our outer world and the way we interact with others improves greatly. If we are not content with who we are and where we are going, it’s going to be difficult to demonstrate positive actions and behaviours towards others, or in front of our gymnasts.

If you missed part 1 in this series you can read it here.

The World of Gymnastics Coaching: Lovers, Haters, Critics and Fans – Part 1

gymnastics coaching

One of the great things about our world is that no two people see things the same; we all view the world through a different lens, one which has developed through our own life experiences, opinions and circumstances.

If we all viewed the world the same, life would surely be much duller. After all, where would we find the room for creativity, flair or uniqueness?

We’d be little more than mindless automatons, with nothing to differentiate our lives, loves or passions.

Obviously, differing views mean debate often becomes inevitable, including disagreement and maybe even conflict. And, alongside different opinions, comes different values.

What is important to you could be less important to me. What you may love, I may hate.

Where there is passion, conflict can often be found – a sign that people care perhaps, which can only be a good thing …

Consider for a moment, the reality TV competition Masterchef. I often find it comical that even among their ‘expert’ panel of food critics and restaurateurs, feedback ranges from ‘world class’ to ‘I can’t even finish it it’s that bad.’

This is funny because they all taste the same dish, yet some hate it, whilst others love it. Fancy that!

It begs the question, how can the average restaurant hope to get rave reviews from critics if even top food critics can’t decide.

Thinking about gymnastics in this context, what hope is there for your gymnasts to meet the expectations of the entire world with their routines and performances?

There isn’t, and you shouldn’t try either.

The only thing that matters is the judge’s score, and even in gymnastics, there is a little room for subjectivity in that. It’s simply impossible to please EVERYBODY.

Do you think Ricky Gervais is concerned if the audience doesn’t enjoy his stage show? Absolutely not. He’s more interested in the segment of the market that does.

I’m not worried about people who don’t enjoy reading my posts, attending my events or clinics, or watching my videos. If they are not my target audience, they are not my concern.

I work for a community which loves my content and gets great value from it. Anyone else doesn’t matter. But when they are ready or willing to engage in it, the door is wide open, come on in.

Subjectivity and opinion in life is welcome, but problems arise when this becomes direct criticism or hate towards gymnasts and coaches who take an alternative path or vision, one which doesn’t align with their thoughts and views of the world.

This doesn’t just apply to gymnastics coaching of course, it applies to all aspects of our lives.

FEAR

We’re not born with fear, but it doesn’t take long for it to become ingrained in our daily thoughts and habits. By the time we’re teenagers, we become subject to a host of newly found fears, and the associated mental disruption and anxiety. These fears can increase further into adulthood.

Watch children play for a few minutes and witness an untainted mind in action. Young children believe they can conquer the world (and one day they might too!), they are not limited by beliefs, fears or destructive thought patterns.  

Adults are nothing more than deteriorated children, tainted by a combination of fear, society and the suppression of others’ opinions …

Does she like me?

What did he say about me?

What if this happens?

What will they say?

Did they see me fall over?

Did they like my routine?

What are they saying about my athletes?

Why are they laughing at me?

What if I fail?

What happens if he is successful?

What if she beats me?

Fear is probably our most common emotion, and certainly a great suppressor. As with other emotions, fear isn’t based on fact, but on fictional stories, circumstances and worries created in our heads.

To be clear, fear is FICTIONAL, not FACTUAL. It creates a host of limiting beliefs that either stops us from pursuing our dreams OR influence the way we see the world.

Leonni (my much, much better half) and I booked a holiday to Turkey last year, which coincided with the coup that was taking place back in July. I lost count of all the people that tried to instil fear into our minds, giving us a whole host of reasons why we shouldn’t, couldn’t, mustn’t go.

We went. We also had one of the best holidays we’ve been on.

I’ve recently returned from my third trip to Tel Aviv. It’s a beautiful place, I love taking a stroll along the beach at 6am to get my head together and to do some of my daily rituals. I could be forgiven for thinking I was in Miami, but rarely is Miami the picture painted by those who try to instil fear into me for visiting the Middle East.

Fear is fictional, not factual.

None of us is perfect. We’re all flawed in many ways. We all have demons, ‘skeletons in our closets,’ emotional baggage we’d rather forget, moments we are ashamed of and times we wish could be erased from history forever.

Whether gymnastics coaching related or not. I certainly have many.

Everybody has a story and has faced some form of adversity (some on a far greater level than others in comparison.) I’m frequently reminded of the importance of not judging people, especially after discovering the difficulties they have faced and by understanding more about why people are they way they are.

All coaches and gymnasts have bad days, bad seasons even, but it shouldn’t and doesn’t have to define somebody and become who they are.

The 10-year-old gymnast that just failed her grade may be being brought up by a single mum, struggling to support her, get her to her classes on time and look after the rest of her family. Her life is a country mile from high performance, yet she’s there everyday ready to train and commit to her cause and goals. That’s impressive, even if her level of performance isn’t.

Then there’s the 12-year old that just fell 5 times in competition, she recently lost her mother to illness but has shown immense strength by continuing to train and compete, albeit at a diluted level.

All too often we are quick to judge and criticise. This reminds me of the iceberg principle: the snapshot we see of a gymnast in training, competition or on the television, is a mere drop in the ocean of what they commit to (the tip of the iceberg). But we are oblivious to the conditions or circumstances that they are training in (the remaining part of the iceberg, which accounts for around 90% of it, and that is never seen.)

It’s human nature. At any one time, we’re only acting in the best way we know how. I don’t know anybody who is intentionally reckless or destructive to their own lives or performance. Mistakes come often through an error in judgement, simply because we didn’t know any better.

Can you think of any one coach who wouldn’t provide a better service, better level of support, or coach to a higher standard if they knew how?

Criticism of others is often a bi-product of insecurity, which is a by-product of fear, and all of this creates one thing …HATERS

Part 2 of this post will be published soon…

Why You Should Add Mental Skill Development To Your Gymnastics Training Program

Have you ever heard the saying: “gymnastics is 80% a psychological game and 20% skill”?

I’m guessing you probably have, or at least something similar.

While I wouldn’t disagree, it should be noted that this saying does not just apply to gymnastics, I’d say it is relevant to most aspects of life. Assuming this is the case, and coaches truly believed it, why do they not allow time within their gymnastics training program to work on the mental muscle power of their gymnasts?

It could be argued that logically, if gymnastics was 80% a mental game, then 80% of training time should be spent focusing on just that.

That may sound ridiculous, after all, it would be unrealistic to spend 80% of the training session on non-physical/technical activities. But here’s the point: coaches understand the importance of developing mental skills in their gymnasts, yet seldom put into action the strategies needed to build them.

Gymnastics clubs often host specific interventions every 6 months, where they invite in a sports physiologist. The question is, how can a visit once or twice a year impact the 80% ratio we attribute the mental side of the sport to?

I’m no psychologist, but I don’t need a degree or PhD to understand the important role emotional intelligence, mental resilience, mindfulness or coping strategies, to name just a few, have on gymnast performance.

Bringing in a sports psychologist is not really necessary (although could be a good option), instead, think about allocating a dedicated time in the weekly or monthly schedule to devote to building mental muscle. Great coaches will have those tools in their armoury.

I’ve attended several first aid training courses, as well as the recommended refresher every two years or so. Despite all this training, if presented with a gymnast with a broken arm or nose I’d have difficulty remembering ‘procedure’ even a few months after taking the course.

Fortunately, I’m not called upon to deliver emergency aid on a daily basis, the downside is it’s easily forgotten. Which brings me back to mental training sessions and interventions which are held only once or twice a year.

The mind, like other muscles, can be trained to improve, and just like every other muscle, it needs frequent training in order to do just that.

Drip feeding mental messages through the use of frequent interventions, with further reinforcing from a coach echoing the same messages during training, is a good way to make sure gymnasts have been proactively prepared for the many challenges gymnastics throws at them OR will just optimise their mindset for performance.

Article by Nick Ruddock, Gymnastics Club Manager’s resident coaching expert and ex GB National Coach.

Gymnastic Vault Moves: 6 Mistakes To Avoid

gymnastics vault moves

When it comes to vault coaching, it seems to be the one piece of apparatus that coaches either love or loathe! Personally, I’m drawn to the power, technical characteristics and variety gymnastic vault moves can offer.

Yes variety, vault doesn’t have to be boring!

Just as with other apparatus, it’s the bringing together of different constituents in your gymnast’s training programme that creates a great vault, not just the time spent on the runway.

I’ve been consulting extensively across Europe, sharing my expertise and model for vault development. As a Vault Expert for the UEG (European Union of Gymnastics) for 6 years, I’ve helped several national teams advance their gymnastic vault moves and strength prior to major championships and qualifications.

In this post, I list the 6 Biggest Mistakes I see coaches make (in my humble opinion) when coaching vault moves, and with a particular focus on vaulting at the foundation level.

  1. Not ensuring the vault height is relative to the gymnast

It’s painful to see young gymnasts try to vault when the table towers over their head. Vaulting effectively in this form is often unachievable for the gymnasts to fulfill, as well as understand the principle of vault: repulsion.

Vault put simply, requires the conversion of horizontal velocity into vertical velocity. To achieve this, the gymnast needs minimal ground contact time when running, board and vault contact.

If your gymnasts are executing a vault which is so high that they cannot make it without keeping their hands on the vault for a long period of time, you’re contradicting that message.

Stop.

Give them a vault height which enables them to bounce off their hands.

You wouldn’t ask a 12-year-old gymnast to hurdle over the same height as Jessica Ennis-Hill now would you? It’s not relative!

Vault is not only about making it over the top. It’s about how long you can spend in the air after repulsion.

Gymnastic vaults such as yurchenko’s, handsprings, kazamatsu’s etc, can and should be coached to young gymnasts at low vault heights, which are relative to their size, and which maximise their individual power and weight ratio.

Often, for young gymnasts to fully grasp and understand the principles of vault, you don’t even need the vault itself, which brings us onto the next point …

  1. Too much work on the vault itself

Vault is often considered boring when the coaching program sees gymnasts spend 40 minutes every lesson lining up at the end of the run, with a pile of mats behind the vault, executing the same uphill drills.

The beauty and intricacy of vault are that there are so many elements to it. In sequence these elements form a domino effect:

Run > Hurdle > Round off > Board Position > Flight onto Table > Repulsion > Flight Off Table > Landing

These elements make vault a diverse piece of equipment to coach, with a great deal of scope for variety. Here are just a few of the components that you can use for vault development:

  • Running drills
  • Speed, acceleration and power development
  • Trampoline spatial awareness and coordination work
  • ‘Mini trampoline’ drills
  • Somersaults over the vault to improve board positions and understanding of key positions
  • Specific landing exercises, drills, and games
  • Isolated drills for specific phases of the vault
  • Vaulting off low blocks and inclined surfaces

I’ve used as little as 25% of coaching time on the actual vault itself, even with gymnasts who execute double twisting Yurchenko’s on the international stage. It’s not necessary to perform hundreds of reps there. But I still get hundreds of reps done, albeit in different environments.

  1. Not respecting the importance of the run

Running and speed development is a technical skill in itself, with many physical benefits:

  • Strong running develops plyometric qualities, it is one of the most plyometric activities out there.
  • Strong running aids body alignment and posture.
  • Strong running increases body stiffness on ground contact.
  • Strong running is economical, reserving energy for the vault itself.

You won’t see many high-level vaults being executed without serious acceleration and effective speed in the approach to the table.

Young gymnasts (or those with a slight frame/build) who cannot muster as much force, need to learn to run effectively even more so than a senior gymnast, in order to depress the springboard.

Without board depression, there is no power.

Short steps, under striding and over striding are all ‘red flags’ for technique and risk injury. By investing a few minutes each vault session with some basic running drills, you could improve power and therefore the end result.

It’s important to remember that it takes a few sprints before the legs are warm enough to produce optimal force, so try to spend this time on drills rather than wasting technical turns when the body is ‘cold.’

  1. Using a springboard straight away for yurchenko’s

I’m sure you’ll agree, round off’s are one of the most frustrating basic elements that exist. I’ve spent hours and hours on remedial coaching, trying to ‘fix’ poor round off’s which are either crooked, too short or too long,  too slow or not smooth.

Executing them uphill onto a springboard only emphasises the problems further.

Knees rolling forward and collapsing, chest too low, feet on the edge, head backward. These are all common problems that may stymie the effective learning of a yurchenko vault.

Personally, I like to start the theory of yurchenko without a board, using just a floor and a block. In this environment, you are still able to teach the principle of executing the flick (back handspring) ‘uphill’ and the importance of lifting hips, keeping the head in line etc. without undergoing a poor springboard position or lack of tension.

  1. Not thinking long term

A tsukahara may be adequate in the short term, but looking at current trends, this will not provide much value long term. Your gymnasts will improve at whatever they spend their time on. If you’re spending most of your vault time on a pike tsuk with an eye on a quick competitive ‘D’ score, then that’s short sighted and may impede your gymnasts vaulting performance when it really counts.

I could say the same about coaching pike positions in yurchenko’s and tsuakhara’s, but that’s opening a whole other can of worms …

  1. Not respecting the importance that conditioning plays

I think you’ll agree that vault is about power and force development.

And we’ll also agree that without body tension, a high-level vault cannot be achieved.

Strength underpins power.

Strength, power, body tension and force development are all secondary products of physical preparation.

You are asking the gymnast to do something they are not physically strong enough to execute. Therefore it is better to invest time in physical preparation, rather than trying to draw blood from a stone on the vault itself. Yes, gymnasts will develop some enhanced strength improvement from executing repetitions, but not at the same level as under an optimised physical coaching programme.

Happy vaulting

Article by Nick Ruddock, Gymnastics Club Manager’s resident coaching expert and ex GB National Coach.

Gymnastics Lessons: Dealing With High Performers & The Overshadowed

gymnastics lessons

This may divide opinion a little, but I want you to think about the following scenario, which may be happening in your gymnastics lessons right now.

You have a top gymnast, who regularly outperforms the rest of the group/team.

You also have a gymnast who is second to your top performer in the way that they train and perform. They work hard, but may never reach their full potential, not as a result of a lack of promise, but because they are consistently overshadowed by their higher performing peer.

True?

I want you to consider this hypothetical scenario for me;

If your top gymnast moved on to another club, were injured or retired for any other reason, would your second best gymnast take their place?

Creating Favourites

It’s widely frowned upon to have ‘favourites’ when coaching, but higher performers do often receive greater attention than their lower performing peers. Something that is often seen as ‘favouritism’ by their rival teammates. If time was split equally for everybody, would the gymnasts with the highest potential reach optimum performance?

Probably not. And while that doesn’t seem fair, it might just be the truth.

So if your second tier gymnast suddenly became the top gymnast in the club, and therefore demanded more of your time, would they realise greater potential than if they were still in the shadow of their higher performing peer?

I’ve seen many cases where potentially great gymnasts are in the shadow of a higher performing team mate. Instead of being motivated and driven by their peers’ performances and results, they suffer a decline in their own self esteem and self worth.

They struggle with being in the shadow of somebody else’s spotlight. It’s not always motivating, and more often it’s demotivating for young gymnasts. They may not have the mental capacity to understand and cope with other people’s success.

The two types of mentality here are known as ‘scarcity’ and ‘abundance’.

A person with a ‘scarcity mindset’ will be threatened by another person’s success, as they believe that another’s achievements are depriving them of their own slice of success. Furthermore they believe there is only so much ‘success’ to go around.

On the otherhand, someone with an ‘abundance mentality’ is happy for others to succeed. They understand that their success does not threaten their own chances of success also. They believe there is room for everybody in life to be high achievers.

Healthy Competition?

Steven Covey, author of the legendary book the ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People‘, talks about the 5 emotional cancers that we should stay away from:

  • Complaining
  • Criticising
  • Competing
  • Contending
  • Comparing

Being competitive in a sporting setting is a key attribute for gymnasts and coaches to be internally driven to improve performance. Competition within a club can be exceptionally healthy and when in place, can ease the job of the coach when igniting the gymnasts’ self drive to perform better.

But a) wanting to beat somebody to ensure they don’t win, and b) wanting to beat somebody in order to be the best, are two contrary philosophies. Only one can result in sustained happiness, as the reality is everybody will be beaten at some point, and many will be beaten a lot.

The worst thing a coach can do when a coaching an overshadowed gymnast is publicly or openly compare them to their team mate, cementing in their mind their inferiority to their higher performing peer;

‘What are you doing, you don’t see ‘Katie’ performing like that do you?’

‘Katie can do these in her sleep, why are you struggling so much?’

‘If you want to be more like Katie you’re going to have to work harder.’

Feedback like this creates a self fulfilling prediction which is being cemented into the gymnasts’ belief system, breeding a mindset of jealousy (contending), bitterness (complaining/criticising) and lack of self esteem (comparing.)

Nick’s Tips To Improve Your Gymnastics Lessons

  • Praise progress. However small. It’s the small daily wins that amount to serious growth, and gymnasts of all abilities like to be informed of each positive step in the right direction.
  • Educate the gymnast to focus on bettering their own performance, and by benchmarking success against their own development, not always the results of others. Another gymnast’s performance is not in their control (always control the controllable.)
  • Educate the gymnast (all of them!) about the road to success, the trials and tribulations on the way and the pitfalls they will experience.
  • Educate the gymnasts that life is not fair, it never will be. Not in business, not in relationships, not in careers and not in sport. Nobody is entitled to anything. You achieve what you work for, but often in sport, it’s not always the hardest worker that wins. It’s just the way it is, get over it and get used to it.
  • As a coach, never speak to your gymnast about the lack of fairness in performances, scores or rankings. Your emotional intelligence and rational thinking is contagious, and I have seen several gymnasts adopt the bad attitudes of their coaches as they are conditioned by their influence.
  • Avoid comparing gymnasts performances to the whole group in a bid to try and create motivation. It is demotivating, lowers self esteem, and provides a false reference for their progress.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, your top gymnast will someday finish, get injured, lose interest or transfer to another club. The depth of your gymnastics programme is vital to sustained success.

Article by Nick Ruddock, Gymnastics Club Manager’s resident coaching expert and International Gymnastics Coach and Consultant.

Gymnastics Training Plan Failing? There’s More Than One Way To Skin A Cat!

gymnastics training plan

How often have you heard the phrase ‘there’s more than one way to skin a cat?’

Maybe, you hear it ALL the time in your sport, and maybe, (like me) you hate the saying!

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s value and reasoning behind it, and I am not against its principle, HOWEVER, all too often it is incorrectly used and taken out of context.

The saying, which can be traced back to the 1850’s, clearly refers to there being more than one way to do something. That is plain, and can’t really be disputed.

Yet I am often exasperated by it, and its prolific use within gymnastics; just because there are 10 different ways of teaching a skill, doesn’t mean you should use them all.

In fact, using them all is often counter-productive! Nothing is more complicated than trying to teach a gymnast a skill multiple ways, simultaneously.

It’s great to be experienced enough to be able to deploy multiple methods to deliver the teaching of a skill, and I would encourage gymnastic coaches to know as many different methods of teaching a skill as possible.

Problems arise however, when coaches shift from method to method without allowing them to run their course or permitting enough time for a gymnast to understand and learn a concept.

I’ve observed coaches undertake to teach a skill multiple ways within a single session, looking for assurance that the gymnast will pick one up. This is possible in training camp environments, when a number of coaches, working within a group, all attempt to teach a gymnast ‘their method,’ often resulting in a Feedback Frenzy.

An early sign of a gymnast performing a drill well isn’t always a sign that they can grasp the whole skill using that method. We must also remember that early adoption of skill learning can be harmful to the learning process.

Keep in mind, there are not many shortcuts in skill learning worth taking in gymnastics.

Adhering to a single method in which you have belief and confidence is NOT CLOSED MINDED. Presuming that you have considered alternative approaches, be aware that there may always be a better, faster, safer, more accurate way to teach a skill.

If for example, you’d been coaching at a high-performance level for a decade, teaching a particular skill multiple times, to multiple gymnasts and to an international standard, I would expect you to have great confidence in your approach and not want to move to other methods just because you can or because another coach tells you to.

That isn’t being closed minded, that’s having knowledge and belief in your current method.

BIG DIFFERENCE.

There are more ways to skin a cat, YES, but that shouldn’t mean you skin the cat 5 different ways at the same time.

Article by Nick Ruddock, Gymnastics Club Manager’s resident coaching expert and ex GB National Coach.