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.

Gymnastics Training Plan: Inciting A Feedback Frenzy

Before we get into feedback and your gymnastics training plan, let’s begin with a golfing scenario!

You are standing at the driving range, with your golf club in hand and a few balls at your feet. Chances are unless you are in training for the next PGA Tour, you will spend the next 30 minutes or so just ‘hitting a few’. And that’s perfectly fine, but let’s assume you have a qualified professional coach by your side.

Someone who is determined you will master your driving shots and make good progress during each and every session you have with them. After all, that is what you are paying them for…

A return on that coaching investment is not a lot to ask for, so how much information would you expect to receive from them by way of feedback on how your game is (or isn’t) improving?

Probably a lot, right?

Feedback is a wonderful thing, but just as with a comedian playing to a tough crowd – delivery is everything. So would you expect that feedback to come all in one hit? Or in small, easy to digest pieces? Maybe you want constant feedback before, during and after each strike of the ball?

Finally, consider this – what if you received different feedback each and every time you hit a ball? It would be technically correct feedback, based on valid coaching points, but it would be something different each time.

How would that make you feel?

Adding Feedback To Your Gymnastics Training Plan

Let’s now move to a gymnastics training scenario, a Yurchenko vault. This is a skill that comprises several stages:

Run up > hurdle > round off > board position > 1st flight to table > strike > repulsion/flight phase > landing.

That’s a lot of technique to remember. But as with any skill like this, there can be a domino effect when changes are made to any of the phases. The net result being detrimental to subsequent phases of that skill.

From a coaching standpoint, the logical thing to do would be to tackle the skill from beginning to end. Make mastering the early stages of the skill a priority and the learning process for the latter stages will become easier.

However, in reality this is difficult to do and bad performance habits can become ingrained if the latter stages are being performed poorly.  

In the end, coaches resort to coaching all of it, all at once.

Let’s look at an example:

‘Lucy’ is performing the Yurchenko skill in training:

After Repetition 1 – It’s only the first rep and therefore she is not fully warmed up, but the gymnastics coach gives her feedback anyway to help her in the next vault: ‘don’t step across in your round off.’

Before Repetition 2 – Lucy is thinking about ‘not stepping across in the round off’ and performs the vault again. This time the coach provides different feedback: ‘your hurdle was too low, keep your chest up.’

Before Repetition 3 – Lucy is now thinking about the ‘hurdle’ as that was the last bit of feedback she remembers. But prior to performing Rep 3, her coach provides a different cue: ‘run faster.’

Let’s STOP for a moment.

Can you see the ‘feedback frenzy’ that is occurring? In just 3 repetitions, Lucy’s coach has offered several coaching points. While they are all relevant, they are also all different.

If Lucy is attempting to improve on these points one at a time, and it is unlikely she can concentrate on all of them at once, then she is in fact learning through repetition within certain conditions, and not necessarily the feedback itself.

On top of this, there is of course, an assumption the feedback being given is CORRECT. However, even if the feedback is not technically accurate, gymnasts are still able to improve their performance over time.

The Power of Practice Within Certain Conditions

These conditions are that:

  1. a) the gymnast is focused
  2. b) the coach has a high expectancy of the level of performance
  3. c) the drill/exercise is a logical progression being used to help the skill learning process.

Under these conditions both coach and gymnast have an eagerness for progress, and the gymnast can self-regulate their performance by repetition, as well as trial and error.

This is different to low-performance conditions. Here there is little emphasis on technique, or a patient step-by-step progression, or attention to detail/desire to improve.

Here are a few ‘guidelines’ to follow when providing feedback to gymnasts:

  1. Feedback = information. For information to be retained, it should be short, sticky (easy to remember) and understood. Feedback should be repeated and reinforced, and may be delivered in different ways. There is only so much information a gymnast can consume and retain, so it is vital they can retain the important bits. Consider giving ‘tweet’ length feedback – that is feedback in 140 characters or less!
  2. To ensure your gymnasts are listening to the feedback you give, ask them to explain their understanding of it back to YOU. If the response is a shrug and a blank look, you may need to deliver it in a different way.
  3. Always use language that is age-appropriate and in line with the technical expertise of the gymnast, to allow them to understand more of the feedback. It is not an opportunity to showcase your knowledge of science and biomechanics.
  4. You do not always have to provide feedback, especially within the first few repetitions of performing a skill. Let the gymnast warm up and get a feel for the skill first. If an error is obvious to both of you, is it necessary to say anything at all? Perhaps providing a ‘cue’ before their next performance is all that is needed (see point 6.)
  5. Gymnasts will feel far more empowered and powerful if they are aware of their technical faults themselves, rather than their coach telling them. Asking them for their feedback on where a skill could be further improved, is a good way to assess their understanding and focus.
  6. Providing a ‘cue’ (ahead of performance information) can be more helpful than feedback (after performance information), especially with a waiting/rest time between each rep. A ‘cue’ is a little bit of information which will remind the gymnast to think about a particular facet of the skill. For example, if you were to say ‘lift your hips’ just before performance of the skill, it is far more likely to be applied than if it was said 2 minutes earlier. By the time the performance start came around it may be lost after other discussions, or simply forgotten.
  7. Try working on a particular theme for the session, or break it into multiple themes. With the ‘Yurchenko’ example: Running warm up, followed by hurdle and round off development, followed by 2nd flight phase. This allows you to regulate feedback and not focus on too many aspects of the skill. Look at this as a way of ‘isolating’ the technical points of the skill into just one or two areas. Drills work on the same principle, here you can focus on one or two key aspects of a skill, repeated often to ingrain positive performance habits.
  8. Ask your gymnast ‘what are you thinking about on this turn?’ to ensure they are listening and focused for each and every rep.

Have you ever watched a movie for the first time, but not understand the plot until you watch it again a few months later?

Or consider a book you read a few months back – how much of it can you remember? Of a book with just 300 pages, it would be surprising if you could write just a couple of sides of A4 retelling whole the story.

The point? We can only retain so much information over time…

Make your feedback ‘sticky’ and obvious. Don’t speak unless it improves on silence.

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

Gymnastics Coach Training: Are You A ‘Cotton Wool’ Coach?

gymnastics coach training

You are probably asking: just what is ‘cotton wool’ coaching?

Have you ever heard the expression: ‘she’s wrapped up in cotton wool’? It’s often applied to those people (usually children) who are perceived to be ‘overly protected’ by their parents.

In the same way, ‘cotton wool coaching’ could be applied to coaches who are overly protective of their gymnasts. It is often caused by a fear or reluctance to expose them to any potential failure or risk.

Let’s be clear: we are not talking about exposing gymnasts to DANGER here, instead we are referring to exposing them to failure and the potential learning opportunities failing can provide.

Gymnastics Coach Training Needs To Embrace Failure!

Failure is a fantastic opportunity to learn and improve. Perfection can only be achieved if we reflect on our past performances and learn from what went wrong – and things do go wrong! In this sense, failure is therefore critical to success – you cannot have one without the other.

So why seek to protect gymnasts from it?

Let’s look at some of the ways gymnastics coaches often use to protect gymnasts, without embracing the potential lessons and learning opportunities that could be applied:

  • Putting gymnasts into competitions that they could win easily or rank highly.
  • Avoiding providing honest feedback because of fear of upsetting the gymnast, even if that feedback could help them improve.
  • Not allowing gymnasts to train in pressurised training environments, because of fear it would upset mindset and disturb balance (exactly what it is intended to do!)
  • Avoiding fun competitions during training because it may upset those who lose.
  • Making excuses for gymnasts when things do not go to plan, instead of holding open, honest discussions to help improve future performance. The knock-on effect of making excuses for gymnasts is to develop gymnasts who make excuses for themselves. And that’s a bad place to end up.

The 100% Syndrome

Chances are you will have come across gymnasts who suffer from ‘100% syndrome’. These are gymnasts who simply cannot cope when performances go wrong, poorly or inconsistently.

Poor performances can lead gymnasts to become demoralised and develop low self-esteem. In turn this fuels distractive emotions and they find it difficult to focus on making the improvements needed.

Furthermore, coaches can add to this by themselves responding emotionally to poor performances, instead of rationally.

Putting these two things together makes for a dangerous combination.

Striving For Perfection

While not a bad thing, indeed it’s a great trait, gymnasts who strive for perfection need to understand that the path to success is not a linear process. Inevitably, they will encounter bumps, roadblocks and diversions along the way.

Such hurdles should be seen as a positive and that adversity helps develop resilience.

Resilience and grit are excellent qualities for gymnasts to possess. Both help develop the determination to persevere in adversity, and to confront their fears in uncomfortable situations.

Gymnasts who cannot cope under physical and mental stress have limited potential. A more important ability is durability.

Confronting Failure

Just as a gymnast is unlikely to perform a competent double back somersault without prior coaching from you, they are also unlikely to possess the mental tools to cope with and confront failure without your support and guidance. Failing is a scary prospect to children and adults alike!

Facing failure and adversity in a positive way requires mental strength and proactive coaching.

When coaching technical skills you will break them down into bitesize chunks which you deliver ‘little and often.’ The same technique applies here too. Drip feeding mental training is a daily part of your training sessions, added into the messages you give gymnasts, your review processes following competitions and your approach to facilitating failure in training.

Yes, … FACILITATING FAILURE.

In fact actively encouraging it, by creating an environment where failure is an inevitable, natural and importantly, acceptable part of every training session. Shouting at your gymnasts when they make a mistake is not accepting failure, but instead being critical of it. Such an action does not help your gymnasts, but rather increase their fears of poor performances and contribute to them developing ‘100% syndrome.’

You may be reading this and feel skeptical, maybe even curious about how you can maintain high standards and accept failure. It is important to understand that embracing failure is by no means lowering your standards – the bar remains high, the difference is in how you get there.

Let’s consider some fictional examples:

FICTIONAL EXAMPLE 1

You are working with a young gymnast and training them on a new skill; a ‘stalder’ on bars. The gymnast, (let’s call her ‘Lucy,’) falls three times in a row attempting the skill, yet she has performed it fine in previous training sessions. There appears to be no reason why she shouldn’t be able to perform the skill successfully on this day also.

Scenario/Coaching Response 1

‘Lucy this is ridiculous, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do this, drop your hips harder and snap faster under the bar.’

Scenario/Coaching Response 2

You ask Lucy a question;

‘Why don’t you think you are able to get around the bar?’

Together you have a conversation about it. She tells you her opinion. It isn’t the correct answer, but that doesn’t matter.

‘OK, what do you need to do to fix that?’

Lucy answers.

‘Great, give it a go and see if it works.’

It doesn’t work. She did what she said, but what she said wasn’t the correct answer.

‘OK, so that didn’t work, can you remember the coaching points that we were talking about the last few days?’

Lucy details the coaching points which she remembers and understands. She applies the points and successfully performs the skill.

Scenario 1 and 2 delivered the same result. Scenario 2 actually took longer BUT:

Scenario 1 motivated through fear and didn’t encourage her to think for herself. This is the worst kind of motivation.

Scenario 1 was critical of failure.

Scenario 2 empowers gymnasts to think and REFLECT for themselves, and holds them accountable for their decisions.

Scenario 2 builds the gymnast – coach relationship by talking to Lucy like an adult, and having a conversation with her.

Scenario 2 accepted failure as part of the process to get to the desired outcome. There was little consequence of failure.

Scenario 2 didn’t require a raised voice or harsh words.

Let’s look at another fictional scenario:

FICTIONAL EXAMPLE 2

Lucy has a major competition for her age group in a few weeks time and is performing her routines well in training. Consistent performances during training is building her confidence and her self-esteem.

Scenario 1

What you’re doing seems to be working and you don’t want to disrupt this so continue to train in exactly the same manner towards the competition.

Scenario 2

You understand that training within the confines of a home gym is vastly different than training in a pressurised or competition environment.

Lucy’s current performances are great, but you need to apply pressure and challenge her consistency to mimic competitive environments and stimulus which she will experience on competition day.

You decide to create a competition preparation strategy which intentionally puts Lucy out of her comfort zone, knowing that it will likely disrupt performance:

  • 1. The next practise competition will be performed in another local gym, on equipment and surroundings unfamiliar to Lucy.
  • 2. Lucy’s warm up length will be minimised prior to performing routines.
  • 3. It will be necessary to perform routines on consecutive days in the gym, even if Lucy is tired from her previous day’s performances.
  • 4. Her routines will be performed under different conditions, some in silence, some with a noisy environment, some without a warm up, some with a long wait.

Scenario 2 will result in several errors in Lucy’s competition routines and superficially this may appear to knock her self esteem and confidence towards the event, BUT in parallel to this strategy you are educating Lucy on WHY you are going through the process and what she and you should expect on its journey.

Lucy can benefit significantly from pressurised training scenarios, the benefits of which will present themselves when she performs her routines in an uncomfortable environment – competition day!

Sometimes, it is necessary to unwrap the cotton wool. And while it may be perceived as ‘tough love;’ being cruel to be kind, you shouldn’t think of it as being cruel. It’s ‘coaching’, and it’s your job  to prepare a gymnast physically, mentally, emotionally for their performances in and out of the gym.

The key to profiting from failure is in how you follow up from it. If you don’t reflect on losses or mistakes, you stand to learn little from them. You have to make a few wrong decisions to know what the right decisions are.

Or to put it another way – a little trial and error.

Are you educating your gymnasts to reflect and learn from their mistakes? Are you facilitating these discussions with them?

There are many high achieving gymnasts and individuals with stories of failure and adversity prior to achieving greatness. Exploit these and use them as fantastic examples of how even the world’s greats fail.

For instance this famous Michael Jordan quote:

‘I’ve missed over 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.’

Is that not a great quote to discuss with your gymnasts?

Fail and fail often.

Reflect.

Don’t make excuses, make progress.

Article by Nick Ruddock, Gymnastics Club Manager’s resident international gymnastics coach and consultant.