Why Spend More Time on Basics?

There were several comments on my handstand post about coaches not spending time on basics.  You can read these comments, and add to them if you would like, but I wanted to address the other end of it.

I think there are multiple reasons why coaches skip through the basics and jump into more advanced skills sooner than what might be beneficial to the gymnast.  What is important to remember, though, is just that – “what might be beneficial to the gymnast”.  I know that we all have personal goals with our coaching (I do for sure), but I think we have to start by really thinking about where we would like to see our gymnasts “end up”, and more importantly what they are getting from being involved in the sport.

Too many times, in my opinion, I see gymnasts competing “over their heads” and training skills that are beyond what they are physically ready for.  Whatever the reason for this, it is not, in most cases, what is best for the gymnast. 

If we are genuinely concerned with what is best for our athletes, and we really want to see them come out of the sport better prepared for life, then we must weigh all of these things before we start planning our training, etc. 

Some questions that I would ask myself first and foremost:

  • What lessons do I feel are important for my gymnasts to learn through their involvement in the sport?
  • How would I like them to feel about their experiences in the sport when they are through with it?
  • How do I want to be perceived by my gymnasts when they are done with the sport?
  • What is most important to me for my gymnasts: their self-worth, their accomplishments, my accomplishments, their opinions of me, or other coaches’/parents’ opinions of me?

I have always tried (not always succeeded however) to make sure that the decisions I make and the following actions are based on the athletes’ feeling of success in the end.  This does not mean that I do what will make them happy right now.  This is one of the things that leads to doing more advanced skills earlier than we should…it’s more fun for the gymnast and the coach.  I have never been about immediate satisfaction or temporary happiness.  I want to keep the “big picture” in my head.  How many times in our coaching careers have we seen the gymnast that feels like a failure because she can’t get that next skill?  Well, in my opinion, many times this gymnast is frustrated because the foundation wasn’t laid out correctly, and the result is that the next skill can’t be learned.  If we care about our athletes, then this is a very painful experience for us as well as the gymnast.  I don’t want to be a contributor to that frustration and therefore I try my hardest to follow the proper progressions.  I can’t stomach the possibility of my impatience leading to a girl’s thinking she is a failure.  This sometimes puts me into a “too slow” approach, but I have chosen that as an acceptable fault, at times.

I remember an old quote from David Adlard many years ago that I feel is very true, “Learning a double back can be just as easy as learning a cartwheel if the proper progressions are followed.”  I para-phrased this, so I’m sorry Dave, if this is not exactly how you worded it.  I am a firm believer in this, as I have seen it played out through the coaching of myself and others.  It’s not easy to stay dedicated to the basics and the mastery of step 1 before step 2, but it does lead to easier progression to the next skill.

It takes enthusiasm on the part of the coach to get the athlete excited about doing hollow body work or cartwheels from a lunge for the 100th time.  But, it is this commitment to the bigger picture that leads to the greatest success, and the greatest feeling of success in the mind of the athlete.

A few years ago, a coach asked me how we got our kids to be so excited and motivated to do conditioning.  It was funny, because I hadn’t really thought about it, as our kids have always been that way at a certain level.  The reason for this “excitement” by our gymnasts is that WE are excited about conditioning.  It has never been something that we do just because we have to, or a time for us to take a break and get a drink, etc.  It has always been, to us, the most important thing that our athletes will do, so we are very focused on it and excited about the way the kids do it.  We encourage them by telling them how strong they will be and how great they will be at their gymnastics because of it.  This conditions them mentally as well, to look at conditioning as a means to a greater end.  They have, in essence, “bought in” to the idea of conditioning, and are therefore excited about it.  Imagine what this will do for them in their lives later on, when they are done with the sport.  They won’t exercise because they have to, but because they look at it as the work necessary to achieve a desired goal.  Kids who learn and understand what proper progressions are, will also gain the lesson that life is not just about doing what you want when you want, but putting in the time to be able to get what you want down the road. 

Another favorite quote of mine is one I saw on the wall at a Jimmy John’s Sandwich Shop.  It said,

“If you do the things you need to do when you need to do them, then you will be able to do the things you want to do when you want to do them.”

This quote, in a nutshell, is what it is all about.  Thanks all.

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4 Comments on “Why Spend More Time on Basics?”

  1. Chris Says:

    Not only does it take excitement on behalf of the coach with regards to getting the gymnasts to “buy in” to the importance of basics, but two other key factors also play into this: environment and “upbringing.”

    1) The gym culture as a whole – if the other staff/coaches do not buy into this philosophy, especially those in charge, it’s a worthless proposition.

    2) It is important for this mentality to be established very early in the gymnast’s career so that he/she basically knows no different and the expectations are what they are.

  2. Ryan Says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! Thank you for saying exactly what I want to say to every other coach I see not spending time on basics. I videoed a good bit of basics from my kids. The youtube videos are here: http://www.youtube.com/user/Beechurst10#grid/user/175951CA6AB46C5B

  3. wordsmith Says:

    The reason for this “excitement” by our gymnasts is that WE are excited about conditioning.

    ~~~

    We encourage them by telling them how strong they will be and how great they will be at their gymnastics because of it. This conditions them mentally as well, to look at conditioning as a means to a greater end. They have, in essence, “bought in” to the idea of conditioning, and are therefore excited about it. Imagine what this will do for them in their lives later on, when they are done with the sport. They won’t exercise because they have to, but because they look at it as the work necessary to achieve a desired goal.

    Excellent post and very well-stated!

  4. Josh Says:

    I love the philosophy and mindset that you have, I jsut wish ed that everyone thought the same way. I do have a couple questions though. I really like conditionaing and love to do it at the end of class, however my classes are very short and there is not much time. What are some things that you can do during class to “make-up” for this? Another thing is how cna you make the kids feel like they are not being punished? I try being up beat about it, even join them every once in a while but they seem to still act like its because they have done something wrong. Thank you!


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