Nick Ruddock, our resident International Gymnastics Coach, wants to strengthen the link between clubs and their coaches and offer solutions to coaches who need support and mentoring for athletes. Perhaps they feel themselves out of their depth. They have someone who is elite.
If you’re training someone and you don’t think you can give them what they need, should you transfer them to an environment where they will flourish? Yes.
Any true gymnastics coach who is athlete-centered will want to do everything they can to ensure the athlete reaches their full potential – even if that means they do it away from you. It’s still natural to worry about the repercussions on your career and how this makes you look as a coach.
As coaches, we have many opportunities, while this young athlete might only have one. This applies particularly to young gymnasts who have a very short window of opportunity to show their competence. This is a huge responsibility – coaches hold the keys to people’s futures.
That future might include medals – but it’s also about travel, teamwork, life experience, goals, self-belief, opportunity and much more. Can you as a coach justify not letting this happen?
Many things might run through a coach’s mind, preventing him or her from picking up the phone to a club that can offer more for an athlete.
What will the other parents/athletes think? I’d miss this person. How can I progress as a coach? What if my gymnast makes the national squad and I miss out on out being part of that?
Nick urges coaches to become better at collaborating between clubs and supporting one another. Athlete transitions should incentivise coaches with high-performance coach education support and mentoring programmes.
Take these two scenarios:
The current situation
Sarah coaches nine-year-old Millie. The child has won her first national level competition and shows tremendous potential for the future. She’s Sarah’s first national champion, but Sarah doesn’t have a track record of previous results at this level or above. She has no mentor, personal development plan or experiential learning to help her achieve better results in the future.
Sarah keeps trying, working hard to keep Millie at a high level for her age. In time, though, lack of preparation and poor habits exceed her potential. By the age of 11, Millie starts to plateau. Her performance declines. She doesn’t reach her performance potential.
Sarah hasn’t developed much as a coach either. The same will happen the next time an athlete of Millie’s calibre comes along. And the time after that. And the next time too.
A better solution?
Sarah recognises that Millie is an extraordinary gymnast. Sarah also has the self-awareness to know that as a gymnastics coach, she isn’t yet good enough to help Millie reach her potential. Following consultation with Millie’s parents, she contacts some of the high-performance clubs to ask if Millie can transfer there.
The new club has an education and mentorship programme, which incentivises Sarah to transfer Millie. Sarah gets regular ‘coaching’ from the gymnastics coaches in this club, she gets to watch her prodigy train (and helps too) and receives one to one mentoring designed to improve her own coaching skills.
The next time an athlete as good as Millie walks into Sarah’s club, she has the expertise and support to coach them competently.
Scenario two is the best of both worlds. It gives both coach and athlete a better shot of fulfilling their potential, as they are supported and coached by experienced people. It takes humility and vulnerability to admit that you aren’t the right gymnastics coach for an athlete, but both are essential qualities for the very best gymnastics coaches.
It will be forward-thinking clubs that will be the first to adopt such mentoring and coaching programmes. They will incentivise and provide support for club coaches who want to ‘up their game’ and do the best they can for the athletes they coach. Are there coaches out there who have the self-awareness and vulnerability to facilitate such a move?
As a club, you might think it would be easier to employ another coach who does have the experience to ensure an athlete can reach their potential on the home turf. A great solution – but only if the club has the money and there is a good enough coach who is nearby/can relocate. The organisation’s leadership and current coaches also need to be happy to accept a new gymnastics coach, who might well be ‘above’ them. Can the collective coaching ego take it? This isn’t really an easy solution at all.
An incentive programme, on the other hand, could have an incredible impact on the national and international results. And think what it would do to the lives of those athletes who get to achieve their real potential.
There IS an abundance of talent out there – the problem isn’t finding it, it’s nurturing it and ensuring it is in the right place.
Nick Ruddock is a coach, consultant, clinician and speaker. He has been the junior national coach for British Gymnastics, and his GBR junior team made history in 2014 with the first ever junior team medal at the European Championships. He formed Nick Ruddock Gymnastics in 2015 and has consulted for more than a dozen international gymnastics federations including Australia, Germany, Japan and Switzerland, and provided services to professional sports teams such as Manchester United and Manchester City Football Clubs. You can connect with Nick through his Facebook page or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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