Gymnastics Coaching: Why It’s Time To ‘Own The Energy’

We’ve talked in previous posts about the key attributes the best gymnastics coaches have. Without a doubt, most or maybe that should be all, bring an infectious energy to their gymnastics coaching.

Coaches who have this ‘energy’, are typically more engaging, compelling and importantly – ‘present.’

They have an energy you can feel, hear and see right from the start, and a presence which commands your attention and focus. These gymnastics coaches have a far better chance to sustain their gymnasts concentration, making them far better motivators and engineers of the environment they coach in.

Simply put – when it comes to gymnastics coaching, if you don’t have energy, you can’t share it.

What Separates Good and Great Coaches

There are a great many coaches who have solid technical knowledge of gymnastics. It’s quick to learn, accessible and fairly simple to adopt. However, changing gymnastics coaching habits and behaviour requires self-awareness as well as drive and action.

Consider a comedian’s skill in using and manipulating language and body language to make something often seen as normal, absolutely hilarious. It’s less about the words used, but instead the compelling and humorous way they deliver the joke, that engages their audience.

This is both energy and engagement.

Attributes of Coaches Who Lack Energy and Engagement

Let’s look at some of the key attributes possessed by coaches who have low energy and engagement with their gymnasts. (This is not an exhaustive list, neither do these attributes indicate poor coaching or bad practice).

  • Monotone in their voice, never varying in tone, pitch or volume, often quiet
  • Closed body language
  • Standing distant from their gymnasts when coaching
  • Sitting down whilst coaching
  • Standing in the same place each and every time a gymnast visits an apparatus (most coaches always stand/sit in the same spot every session, do you?)
  • Using the same feedback methods, language and drills, never changing the stimulus for the gymnast
  • Does not set out clear goals for training
  • Appears generally lacking motivation

Qualities of a Compelling Coach

By contrast, this list shows the qualities of a compelling gymnastics coach who possesses a high level of energy and engagement:

  • Varied pitch, tonality and volume of their voice
  • Open, confident and approachable body language
  • Always standing, moving around and never in a predictable spot to watch training
  • A varied style of delivering feedback
  • Asks the gymnast questions to test their focus and understanding of their own performance (athlete empowerment)
  • Unpredictable, (yet still consistent) approach to their coaching methodology and progressions
  • Sets clear goals and objectives for the session so each gymnast is task orientated and practicing with purpose
  • Is proactive in their instructions, clearly leading the session as opposed to being reactive with feedback based on gymnast performance.

Energy and Persistence Conquer All Things

Energy can also be a byproduct of the environment you coach in – music choice for example, can be a key factor and when used in conjunction with a good warm-up session can really set the tone and energy for the whole session.

Owning the energy in your gymnastics training will help you command attention and motivate your gymnasts. Before you go, look at the above lists and see if you can identify one area to improve; perhaps you could try an alternative approach within your gymnastics coaching sessions and then evaluate the impact it had on your results.

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

Gymnastics Training Plan: Are You Creating Robots or Building Relationships?

Gymnastics Training Plan

We’ve often said that any gymnastics training plan should focus on building positive relationships, through communication, trust, and engagement.

In a previous blog post, we talked about how great gymnast-coach relationships do not happen organically. As with any other kind of relationship, they develop over time and often require work to make them great.

A love for the sport of gymnastics is what drives many coaches, along with valuing the time they spend with their young, budding gymnasts. Why? Because they discover coaching children is FUN! As the years go by many fond memories are linked to times of happiness and laughter with these gymnasts and not just when they have achieved something great or won medals.

This is why it can be hard to understand why some coaches choose to develop a gymnastics training plan which sees their gymnasts train like robots. It may not be a deliberate act, but is often inevitable under the coaching regime and conditions their training plan provides.

Let’s explain further….

The Robot-Building Gymnastics Training Plan

Just like their metal, sci-fi-born counterparts, robotic gymnasts give the impression of being devoid of emotion, lacking personality and often fear being expressive and creative in their routines.

Furthermore, they often lack the ability to properly communicate with their coaches.

One thing they can do well is follow instructions.

This may appeal to you and your coaching philosophy. But honestly, does the thought of spending countless hours with gymnasts who cannot be expressive or creative, or even fun, appeal?

By creating ‘robotic gymnasts’ you manufacture them to behave in a specific way and apply endless limitations, restraints, and rules. These gymnasts often lack self-esteem, simply because they cannot be themselves.

Fear of consequences also influences their behaviour, leaving them preferring the sterile-robot approach rather than risk getting into trouble.

And that’s just tragic.

Creativity Or A Lack Of Discipline?

Coaches also fall into the trap of associating creativity and fun, with a lack of discipline and carelessness. Many feel that if their coaching focused on creativity and having fun they would never get anything done.

Injecting fun, character, laughter, energy and happiness into your gymnastics training plan does not need to be to the detriment of structure, discipline, commitment and work ethic. Indeed the best gymnastics clubs manage to achieve the perfect balance of all of the above.

It is laughter, fun, and happiness that helps to build a gymnast’s confidence and strengthen their passion for the sport. In turn, this builds a strong desire to come back to each and every training session.

Morale Comes Before Medals

Building good morale helps build a positive environment and culture. In turn, this makes your gymnastics classes more enjoyable – and ultimately more productive.

To put it simply: Happy People Perform Better.

Surviving in the sport of gymnastics relies on many things, but one of the most important traits a gymnast should have is character. Few make it ‘all the way’ in this difficult sport, so it is vital they learn to embrace it positively.

If your young gymnasts are often miserable, prone to crying, lack expression or character, you could be missing a vital component in your training skills, or conversely, something needs to be removed.

It’s important therefore to encourage diversity, personality, and creativity in your gymnasts.

Before you go, consider the following questions:

  • How do you want your gymnasts to remember their training in years to come?
  • How do you want them to remember the time you spent with them?
  • Would they have positive memories or negative thoughts?
  • Are you suppressing character or allowing it to flourish?
  • Are you facilitating creativity or restricting it?
  • Do your gymnasts laugh and smile whilst training?
  • Are you having fun coaching them?
  • Do you enjoy the time spent with your gymnasts?
  • Do you regularly laugh and smile whilst training?
  • Most importantly, does the thought of spending another ten years in your current conditions and environment scare you or excite you?

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

Gymnastics Coaching: Helping Gymnasts “Be More Confident”

Gymnastics Coaching

How good are you at giving your gymnasts feedback? It may sound like a strange question, but when it comes to gymnastics coaching, this is something I think about often…

…helping gymnasts “be more confident.”

On its own, telling a gymnast to be more confident is not going to magically flick a switch which will make them immediately feel competent enough to perform gymnastics skills they previously struggled with.

As a form of feedback, “be more confident” is pretty useless!

Tackling A Lack Of Self-Belief

By definition, confidence (or self-confidence in this case) is ‘belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities.’ Ask a gymnast to perform a skill they lack self-belief in, and their chances of performing it with ‘confidence’ are limited.

Could confidence be something a gymnast could fake? Could it be something they can simply ‘switch on’ when asked?

No.

Feedback to your gymnasts would need to be more appropriately communicated. For instance, “be more aggressive.” Aggression is something a gymnast can consciously adjust, be it performing harder, faster or just with more conviction. You could say that aggression can be interpreted as a byproduct of confidence.

Gymnastics Coaching That Develops And Nurtures

Confidence is something that develops over time, and when coupled with careful nurturing on your part, comes through a gradual progression of skill development and a positive training environment.

Of course, there are other factors that can influence levels of confidence in a gymnast when performing a particular skill. These include environment, equipment, mood, warm up techniques, your expectations and attitude as a coach, and your relationship with the gymnast.

Your job as a coach is to build an environment that helps breed and nurture confidence, raising gymnasts self-esteem and psychological stability.

Building Confident Kids

I asked professional stunt man, Richard Dwyer, for his view of ‘building confident kids,’ – a motto he employs in his company, Flair Gymnastics:

Being a confident person is your God given right and without confidence you will certainly NOT be performing, achieving or living, loving or being your best in life.

There are many opinions and definitions of what confidence is, so to keep things simple and for clarity of the word ‘confidence’ in this blog, when I use the word confidence I mean;

‘Complete and total belief in yourself and in your own powers and abilities’

Confidence truly is a state of mind.”

He goes on to say:

“When someone is in a position of authority, as a child you take their words as ‘gospel,’ believing them to be speaking the complete truth and their words can powerfully flatten that inner confidence that you were born with, so we end up having our minds poorly programmed.

Sports like gymnastics, where goal setting and reinforcement of positive behaviours is rewarded and celebrated, breeds a confident self. Correctly trained sports coaches who OWN their minds and love passing on their knowledge to others are trained to use confidence as a tool to help achieve goals and this becomes a positive feedback loop in the brain leading to more and more confidence and more and more goals being achieved.”

No surprise then that as coaches, our role is crucial for the development of gymnasts confidence. I asked Richard for his view on what is it that prevents gymnasts feeling confident when it comes to performance:

The one and only ‘thing’ that stops us from choosing to feel confident, or as I have heard some people say “I’ve lost my confidence” is the same thing that stops us from doing anything in our lives and that one thing is FEAR.

In summary, FEAR is a thought about a future event that may or may not happen.

It’s our mind working out the worst possible scenario of what the future looks like and then our minds meditating on (going over and over and over) that negative thought or event, that is actually unlikely to happen.”

So how do we grow, build and cement our confidence? I asked Richard …

“I believe the answer to this is simple, but it takes consistent practice – by achieving goals. And to go for our goal we must first eliminate fear and see failure as feedback.

Here is my simple confidence formula; Confidence is a MASSIVE contributor to happiness because progress = happiness.

Confidence is a by-product of achieving goals so you MUST first be able to overcome fear if you are to gain true inner confidence.”

Richard’s advice is truly valuable, especially when you consider how he himself has confronted fear as a high-level athlete, professional stunt man and now a business man.

Next time you feedback to a gymnast to ‘be more confident,’ think about how they are able to apply that feedback. More often than not, feedback needs to be more constructive and be part of a wider, smarter gymnastics training plan, which will build confidence more organically.

To see more great content from Flair Gymnastics CEO Richard Dwyer, head over to his blog by clicking HERE or follow him on Twitter @Richard_Dwyer

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

When Gymnastic Routines Don’t Go To Plan!

gymnastic routines

It’s safe to say, gymnastics is a complex sport, and things don’t always go to plan in either competition or practice. To deliver hit gymnastic routines in competition, it is likely, even necessary, for the gymnast to have failed in delivering the perfect performance many, many times in training.

The saying “practice makes perfect” is never more apt than when it comes to gymnastics!

It might seem obvious to say it, but practise is an inevitable part of any gymnastic routine. Gymnasts need to rehearse not just the elements of a new routine but build the physical and mental strength to deliver it from start to finish.

No Two Gymnastic Routines Are Ever The Same

This is particularly true in the case of BAR routines. Great importance needs to be attached to the construction, practise and performance of BAR routines, because of the long series of elements involved with competitive exercise.

No two routines are ever the same and as a coach, your role is to develop gymnasts who can adapt to these changes, and become comfortable with subtly different routines.  This may be a short upstart (kip) handstand or catching the bar too close (or far) during a flight element.

“By Any Means Necessary”

Many gymnasts will look to restart a routine following a mistake or failure. However, it is better to instill a ‘keep calm and carry on’ mindset and encourage your gymnasts to keep going to the end of the performance.

After all, they will not be allowed to start again in competition, so they shouldn’t look to do it in training. Enforcing a ‘get to the end by any means necessary’ rule will allow them to learn to get back on track if they fail a handstand or other movement.

Alternatively, you could be smart and develop great gymnastic routines which offer an escape route should something go wrong. This would allow gymnasts greater room for error, but would not be detrimental to the quality of the final performance and difficulty required.

Performing Persistence

It’s simple, if your gymnasts haven’t taken a persistent approach to practising a routine cleanly in training, then you cannot reasonably expect them to perform it in competition.

Desire, or should that be desperation, to perform a perfect routine, can be detrimental to a gymnasts mindset if they are not familiar with coping with such emotions. Alongside this, performing a longer routine is more physically demanding and needs to be prepared for.

Errors and failures happen at the highest levels of gymnastics but often go unnoticed. Disguising errors is second nature to experienced gymnasts, who are able to apply clever escape routes while continuing their performance – escape routes they will have practised many, many times in training!

Nick’s Top Tips: Preparing Gymnasts For Non-Perfect Gymnastic Routines:

  • If your gymnast fails during a routine, don’t let them start again! Gymnasts need to get into the habit of always continuing a routine from start to finish. They’ll soon learn it’s far easier to perform it clean than to keep stopping and starting. If they have the opportunity to start again too often, there is potential for them to perform the final parts of their routine significantly less than the those at the beginning.  
  • Practice basic elements which a gymnast can use as an escape ’strategy’. Useful elements include switch glides, swinging turns, handstand turns, and giants in both directions, and should be part of your gymnast’s basic repertoire.
  • Encourage your gymnasts to ‘fight’ to continue routines from start to finish at all times, and not simply give up if things don’t go as planned. Plan for the unpredictable, become comfortable being uncomfortable and prepare them to deliver the best possible gymnastic routines in the worst possible conditions.

Good luck!

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

Teaching Gymnasts How To Fall

how to fall

In any sport, there is increased potential for accidents and injuries. Participation at any level carries risk, but in the world of performance gymnastics, this risk is heightened due to the very nature of the sport.

Gymnastics coaches work hard to reduce and manage the risk of accidents and injury, but it is impossible to protect gymnasts entirely. Although there has been a gradual methodology in developing technically accurate skills, improving the training environment and equipment, and in decision making, there still remains a high chance of an injury-causing scenario where a gymnast may fall or fail in a skill.

As coaches, we still cannot completely control what our gymnasts do.

Sometimes it’s just bad luck

While much of your coaching time will be spent teaching gymnasts how to do things right, with skill and accuracy, a portion of this time should be devoted to teaching them what to do when things go wrong.

And things will go wrong. Which is why gymnasts need to learn how to deal with it.

When a gymnast is performing a skill for the first time, ask yourself:

  • What will happen if this goes wrong?
  • What could go wrong here?
  • If the gymnast makes an error, can they escape without harm?
  • Are they coordinated enough?
  • Have they been trained to fall correctly?

Learning how to fall

One of the biggest causes of injury in the workplace is slip, trip and fall accidents. In the world of gymnastics, a significant number of injuries are caused by gymnasts not falling correctly. Just to be clear, when we talk about ‘falling’ we are not just talking about dropping safely from the beam or bars because of technical error. We are talking about gymnasts losing control or a lack of awareness in how they are moving, and then simply ‘falling over.’

Self-preservation is in our nature and it is instinctive to try and brace or break a fall with outstretched arms or hands. This action exposes in particular the shoulder, elbow and wrist joints to potential dislocations and fractures.

Any sport which challenges us through balance, stability and spatial awareness, such as skiing and skating, puts us at risk of falling. But we shouldn’t overlook everyday activities and the potential for tripping on an uneven surface or slipping on a wet floor.

So what can be done?

There are easy steps that can be taken to help improve your gymnasts ability to control falls. The critical element is to teach them how to roll safely when over rotating in the direction in which they are travelling.

Nick’s top tips:

  • Use drills: for skills involving rotations, twisting or carry a high risk of falling, use drills to teach your gymnasts how to fall safely. As a rule, gymnasts should NEVER USE THEIR ARMS OR HANDS to brace themselves, regardless of whether they are falling forwards, backwards or sideways.
  • Cross their arms: teach gymnasts to protect themselves in a backwards fall by crossing their arms over their chest. Alternatively, if over rotating then they should backwards roll.
  • If falling or over rotating forwards: teach your gymnasts to quickly turn on to their back before hitting the floor (with their arms crossed over their chest) or add a forward/diagonal shoulder roll. Both of these require excellent reactions and awareness.
  • If falling flat to the front: coach them to land with their arms outstretched flat. Their legs need to be flush to the floor and they should never land in a hands and knees position. This is especially important for the bars when gymnasts miss-release or catch elements. This is something you need to plan for – it will happen A LOT! Gymnasts may be ‘winded’ depending on the surface they land on, but this is nothing compared to breaking or dislocating a joint or bone.
  • Include regular drill exercises: improve the familiarity and general awareness of ‘safely’ falling with regular drill exercises in your coaching sessions. It may only require a few minutes a week but it will keep things fresh in the mind of your gymnasts.
  • Make gymnasts consciously aware: if a gymnast falls with ‘poor technique’ you need to make them aware of what they did wrong and emphasise the importance of falling correctly.
  • Recognise mental state and fatigue: if a gymnast is not focused,  or is fatigued, distracted, or unprepared, then you could be exposing them to a higher risk of making a mistake. (There may be times when you NEED the athlete to train fatigued, or under pressurised scenarios to develop mental and physical robustness, but these times must be CALCULATED, with appropriate measures taken to manage risk.)

Take a look at this video of MAG Vaulters. You can clearly see they are intentionally over rotating their warm-ups and using safe rolling technique throughout.

Training your gymnasts for just a few minutes a week on how to fall safely is a wise investment of time. Managing risk appropriately can save you weeks, if not months, and potentially a career.

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

Coping With Pressure & The Unexpected

gymnastics coaching tips

The World Championships in Glasgow provided the inspiration for this post; the gymnasts involved were exposed to many high-pressure scenarios on top of the pressure they would normally expect when in competition. Such intensity required impeccable planning and preparation.

Those of you familiar with the boy scout movement will be more than aware of their ‘Be Prepared’ motto. This was never more apt, that at the World Championships which produced many situations where contingency plans came into play.

Not everything runs smoothly…

Sometimes even the best-laid plans go awry…floor routines had to be performed without music, 10-minute waiting times for judges, loosening hand guard straps, and gymnasts running out time after falls on apparatus. These things happen, even at the highest level and on the international stage.

Unfortunately, at the World Championships, they happened a lot.

Yet these ‘mishaps’ highlight the need for impeccable preparation, and to always be prepared for the unexpected.

When It Comes To Gymnastics Coaching, Experience Is Your No.1 Asset

gymnastics coaching

Whether you are a young coach or, shall we say, more mature for your years, it can be difficult to fully appreciate the value of experience when it comes to gymnastics coaching. Often it is simply a term thrown around – young, ambitious coaches have to gain it, while those who have been coaching for long periods are, it seems, automatically assigned it.

But does the length of your time coaching gymnastics really translate to experience? Is a coach with a career spanning 20 years at club level really more experienced than someone who has coached for just 2 years in a high-pressure environment?

What Constitutes Experience?

Our interpretation of experience has always placed it relative to time spent in a role. Yet it is perfectly conceivable that much experience can be gained over short periods of time.

Talking in terms of a sporting environment, the coach who has worked for 2 years in a high-performance environment may be just as experienced (perhaps more so) than the coach who has worked 20 years in a low-performance environment.

Consider also the coach who spends just a few hours a week in his local gymnastics club for the last 10 years and the coaching assistant working in a high-performance gymnastics team for the past year. Both coaches will have developed vastly differing levels of experience and knowledge.

It can, therefore, be judged that it is not time that defines experience, but action.

Gymnastic Champions: The Mindset to Medal

Olympic gymnastic champions

In recent blogs, we have looked at the skills coaches need to build rapport and trust with your gymnasts. Bringing out the best in people is crucial. This is even more relevant for the world-class athlete aspiring to greatness. So what motivates the reigning all-around gymnastic champions Kohei Uchimura and Simone Biles? What gives them the mindset to medal?

Hard work makes it easy

The legendary Nadia Comaneci, when asked about her perfect ten’s at the 1976 Olympics, is quoted as saying “Hard work has made it easy. That is my secret. That is why I win.”

It goes without saying that the gym where you train is effectively every world-class gymnasts ‘other half’. It becomes a home from home, a workplace and sometimes a sanctuary. Some have called Biles and Uchimura robots but they are not programmed to succeed, they have strained muscle and sinew to get to where they are.

World champion Biles trains six days a week, notching up 32 hours of gym work per week all year round. Mornings are dedicated to basics and skills enabling Biles to move on to honing her routines in the afternoon. Sunday is her only day of rest.

King Kohei’s rivals often compare him to a machine. But he’s happy with that. “I take that as a compliment. To me, moves and performances that are mechanical are perfect.” He aspires to be as good as a robot.

Gymnastics Coaching: What Does Great Coaching Look Like?

gymnastics coaching

In one of our recent gymnastics coaching posts we discussed the importance of coaching the mindset, not just technique. Closely aligned with this is the importance of developing a strong Coach – Gymnast relationship.

Creating a positive working environment is a great motivator for both gymnasts and coaches alike. As our previous post suggested, coaches who approach training through military style ‘shout and command’ tactics will quickly find their gymnasts demoralised and motivated only through a fear of failure.

Let’s look at this from another perspective.

Imagine sitting in your workplace each day, with your boss shouting at you for the entire day? How long could you last? How long before your motivation wanes and resentment towards your employer builds?

In such an environment it doesn’t take long before your performance levels drop as your self-esteem hits rock bottom. The same is true in the coach – gymnast relationship.

Remember Who You Are Coaching

The big problem here is that the gymnasts in your charge are children, not adults. As adults we are able to express ourselves, communicate discontent and take action to remedy the situation.

Children however are not as adept at communicating their feelings. They arrive at each training session with a desire to learn and trusting in your coaching methods. They have no flexibility in the training provided and no ability to defend themselves.

Are You Pulling In Opposite Directions?

This kind of ‘yelling and telling’ environment is a slippery slope. The more demands placed on them, the greater the chances they will not want to perform. At this point a tug-of-war then develops between unhappy gymnasts and an aggravated coach.

Within any high performing culture morale is an important asset. In gymnastics, the rapport between coaches and gymnasts must take precedence over the potential rewards.

Rapport Must Come First

Building rapport is easy. Truly it is. The first thing to remember is that you should treat others as you would expect them to treat you. Be courteous and respectful – they are a child first, gymnast second.

This is the secret to long term morale, not winning medals, titles and tournaments. Sure, these things bring about a sense of accomplishment and an injection of confidence. Sadly, these quickly fade once training resumes again.

Often coaches become immune to the emotions of their gymnasts, developing instead an inferior, sterile form of teaching.

The coach who invests in the emotional well-being of their gymnasts and takes time to build a rapport with them will discover happy gymnasts perform better.

Rapport Building Gymnastics Coaching Tips

Where many coaches come unstuck is in failing to get to know the gymnasts they teach. Find out more about them and their life – Do they enjoy school? What did they do last weekend? What are their favourite things?

The most important element in building rapport is trust. Make sure you build it. Don’t break it.

Being approachable and showing empathy will make it easier for your gymnasts to share their concerns with you. Children will not communicate if they feel intimidated or fear consequences.

Show you can cater to the needs of individuals as well as the group, and treat everyone equally.  And when it comes to giving feedback, make it positive and authentic – they need to feel it is genuine.

The Best Gymnastics Coaches….

Are those who have the best understanding of their gymnasts. As Tony Robbins said –

“Most teachers know their subject, but they don’t know their students.”

While it may be easier to build rapport with the parents than the gymnast themselves, shifting your focus to the child is essential if you are to develop a deeper understanding of them.

Why? Because this is the only way you can hope to discover what drives them, what motivates them, their inspiration, their goals. More than this, you will learn how to read their emotions, feelings, their body language….

The time you spend developing a great coach – gymnast relationship is an investment. One which will save you time, and make your gymnastics coaching much more fulfilling.

And whilst on the subject of saving time – have you checked out how Gymnastics Club Manager can automate many time consuming tasks? Take the Video Tour to find out how.

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

Why Gymnastics Coaching Is About Mindset, Not Just Technique

Gymnastics coaching tips

When you think about ethical gymnastics coaching, what values and philosophies do you attach to it? Many coaches will have their own ideas about what it should look like, along with a number of irritations firmly placed under the umbrella of ‘bad coaching practice.’

New coaches often begin filled with a sense of power and authority over the young gymnasts they are coaching. If there is one thing Spiderman taught us it is that “with great power comes great responsibility.”

This responsibility doesn’t just apply to the physical aspects of coaching, but emotional well-being too.