A Response to “Expectations and Their Consequences”
The following is a response (partial) to the post “Expectations and Their Consequences” from Valentin Uzunov. I have italicized the parts that hit me as especially insightful:
I did start doing one thing at the end of training last year that helped me to keep things in perspective and that was to ask the gymnasts what they felt they had improved on during that session (thinking about it more I also should have asked them what they felt they could have done better and how they could fix it next time). I found that helped me to remember that even though things might seem like they are(n’t) where I want them to be (level or performance wise) with each step we are getting closer. The definition of the kind of coach I aim to be is “easy to work for, but hard to please”. I don’t particularly feel that having realistically very high expectations is in any way detrimental to the gymnast or myself, the problem is really always one of motivation and the fact is that intrinsic motivation is more powerful than extrinsic and maybe it’s not that the coach is able to get more out of the gymnast but rather the coach is able to get the gymnast to want to get more out of themselves. I will have to think really hard on this…. I look forward to all replies.
I think there are some very valid points to what you are saying, Valentin. I appreciate the response. I definitely agree that there is nothing wrong with realistic high expectations. The problem that many of us run into, I think, is having the ability to be completely certain, when including all of the variables that come into play in dealing with human beings, what is actually realistic, and what might be unrealistic. On top of that, for me, is the constant battle to be “okay” with the inevitable failures to reach some of these expectations.
Another point you made that I really appreciate, is taking stock of where you are currently and appreciating the process. We all agree that we want our athletes to become better and better, and it is important that we have the confidence in our coaching that they will do just that. But, we (I) need to do a better job sometimes of letting the athletes know how proud I am of where they have come from to get to this point. Gymnastics is the worst sport for allowing time and opportunity for that, I think. The sport itself is very much about constantly striving to do another skill or reach another level. This is different than most other sports in the fact that most of these other sports involve a certain skill or set of skills that, upon being accomplished, are simply refined over the rest of the time that the athlete is involved in the sport. There are definitely challenges to all sports and other enhancements are added (a new pitch for a pitcher, etc.) along the way, but, for the most part, once you have the skill, then the rest is just making that skill better than all of the rest of the people who do that skill.
Gymnastics doesn’t operate that way. Can you imagine if it did? Your athlete gets a back tuck and then, all she has to do for the next 7-12 years is make that back tuck better and better. Pretty boring, for sure, but talk about making things easier! It would also make for much more time to be appreciative of how good the athlete really is, in comparison to others with the same experience. Unfortunately, the reality is that once a gymnast gets a back tuck, now she has to get a layout, then she isn’t happy with just that, so she has to get a full. Well, there’s no stopping now, she needs a double full, and on and on and on. This mentality leads to a constant “what have you done lately” atmosphere, and, while it is what makes our sport the greatest on the earth, it cuts down considerably on the “wow, look how much you have done” mindset.
I took the time the other day to discuss this with my gymnasts, and I feel really good about the fact that I reminded them how much they have accomplished in the last year, last three years, and their careers. I reminded them that, even though I do have very high expectations, I am very proud of them as well. I told them that I want them to feel pride in themselves, and to appreciate just how good they really are. I am not sure how much of a difference this will make in their training, but I guess that’s not really the point. It made me feel great, and I’m pretty sure it made them feel good as well! And that, I think is what it is all about.
Thanks Valentin for your very insightful comment, and please keep them coming. Everyone else, we are anxious to hear what you think as well.