A Comment about Basics and Conditioning

Josh submitted this comment about basics and conditioning:

I love the philosophy and mindset that you have, I just wish that everyone thought the same way. I do have a couple questions though. I really like conditioning 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 can you make the kids feel like they are not being punished? I try being upbeat about it, even join them every once in a while but they seem to still act like it’s because they have done something wrong. Thank you!

As to your first question – – – If you are coaching a class that is only 1 hour, it is very tough to get in any great amount of conditioning (especially if it is a tumbling or cheerleading type class with teenagers), so your options are limited.  One thing that I have done in the past is to try to come up with drills that involve much more strength, so that they get some conditioning as we are rotating through a circuit.  This can be as simple as doing a handstand against a wall for 30 seconds, or roll and jumps 12-15 times in a row, or jumps to the back on to a resi several times in a row.  The success in this comes from the fact that these are all things that the student understands to be important to their acquiring certain skills.  This is completely dependent, however, on how great a salesperson you are, which brings us to your second question…
How do you get the students to feel like they are not being punished by conditioning?  The answer to this is that you have to change their mindsets as to what conditioning is.  You have already done step 1 by being upbeat about it.  The next step is to continually re-enforce to them how great they are going to be at the skills they want if they continue to condition properly.  Your excitement and their belief in your sincerity are the big keys here. 
One of the things you can do to emphasize this importance and how successful it will be is to use examples among your students.  Find the kid in your group who is excelling at something and point out how her strength is helping her to this result.  Or, even better, find the student who is finally making a skill, and point out how her conditioning and strength has helped her to have this success.  Every time a student has success with a skill, it is an opportunity to promote your agenda.  This is true not only about conditioning, but drills, flexibility, mental dedication, hard work, etc.  Use the girls’ (or boys’) successes as a tool toward future successes for them and their classmates or teammates.  DO NOT POINT OUT ATHLETES WHO ARE FAILING BECAUSE OF A LACK OF STRENGTH!!  This does nothing but alienate that student and make her feel like giving up.  The stress should be on the success that can be had by all of the students by doing something as simple as consistently working hard at a few exercises.  Again, it is the “selling” of this idea that is the key.  Your challenge is to get the students to want to do conditioning because of how much they want a certain skill.
Also, a huge key to the students “buying in” to the idea of conditioning is your consistency with it.  If they know what is coming every week, then they start to prepare themselves for it, rather than having it tossed on to them randomly.  This is when it feels like punishment or just a coach trying to “push me around, because he can”.  There was a great quote last year (and very funny, I think) on the awesome show “Glee” by the cheerleading sponsor.  It is very extreme, but kind of sums up this idea:
I empower my Cheerios to live in a state of constant fear by creating an environment of irrational random terror.
Obviously, this is an exaggeration, but I think it makes the point that things that are random create questioning and uneasiness on the people who are targets of it.  Also, I just always wanted to share that quote with everyone, and so I took my opportunity.  A benefit of blogging, I guess.
So, be consistent, and be a great salesperson, and you will be fine.  Thanks for the great questions, Josh!  I hope this helped.
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3 Comments on “A Comment about Basics and Conditioning”

  1. I have found two methods to get kids excited and motivated about conditioning.

    First, with my younger kids, I treat conditioning skills the same way I treat any other skills. That is, the goal is not to do 398547397598 push-ups, but to learn to do a SINGLE correct push-up, and then practice that movement. This is how I try to approach all conditioning movements with my lower-level athletes.

    Second, with my older and higher-level athletes, I try to allow them to have as much control as possible of their own conditioning. Currently, my level 6 and up boys do not have any specific numbers they need to do in conditioning; rather, they are given a list of “sets,” each set consisting of multiple options (for example, they can do a planche in a tuck, open tuck, straddle, or straight-body position), and I allow them to choose both the intensity and the duration/number of repetitions. The result? They all want to see how strong they can get. I don’t have to push them, because their motivation comes from within, which is exactly what I want. Nobody ever cheats; how could they? If they’re having a bad day, they can simply drop down to a lower intensity for that practice, and I do nothing to discourage this — in fact, I ENCOURAGE them to do this, and it seems to have an interesting reverse-effect (especially on boys in the 12-14 age range).

    One other thing I do is that I keep some strength skills restricted to kids of a certain age and level (cross variations on rings, for example). The privilege of working crosses is one they have to EARN, and so when I finally give them the go ahead to do it, they see it as a real treat, and they truly enjoy it.

  2. Just Another Opinion Says:

    My addition is a further emphasis of a point Troy touched on: most kids will find conditioning much more enjoyable when they see the direct correlation between what they’re doing and what they want to do. If conditioning is associated in their minds with just general hard work, sweat, pain, discomfort, then all that will ever grow is their resentment to hard work, sweat, pain, and discomfort. If “conditioning” is random, varied, unspecified, or has the appearance of being thought up on the spot, the kids won’t see the point of it. They’ll work up a sweat, but they can do that in a half hour squatting on the john after eating too much cheese, and neither one will make them better at gymnastics.

    I’d come in with a plan, written out if possible, and take the time to explain to them the correlation between Work X and Skill X. “This conditioning exercise here is exactly the same shape/action used in this skill, etc.” and then walk them through the process, “after we master this, we move on to this, which is even more like Skill X.” Make sure they know you’re doing conditioning for a purpose relating to gymnastics, and not just the purpose of making them tired and sweaty so their parents think they’re working hard. Grant it, every coach preaches to their kids that if they get better at conditioning they’ll get better at their gymnastics, so in that sense, your greater concern is probably to make sure you’re also doing the RIGHT conditioning. Kids won’t be able to tell you what conditioning is right or wrong, but they will be able to recognize when they see one exercise that looks exactly like the skill they want, rather than some general exercise which is generally like the skill they want, and when they see that, they’ll buy into it.

    And, as for time constraints go, I never understand a coach, rec or team, that doesn’t have a half dozen side stations or return stations set up. Those can frequently be skill-specific conditioning.

  3. 5centz Says:

    I agree with JAOS. I toss in a lot of conditioning stations at every event for my rec classes through team kids. With my rec kids, I try to make the conditioning kind of fun by giving them an exercise with my magic number of the day. If my magic number is 4, they have to do 5 of whatever exercise that is. They eat that up! Pre-team and team kids get the full explanation about why I give them a certain form conditioning station at each event. I usually tell them its a drill, so they’re more willing to do it. Since they have the explanation that it’s reinforcing the good position habits I want them to learn, they’re a lot more willing to do it. Now, I think many groups are peppered with a few kids who are there to have fun and learn the fun skills, but they aren’t as willing to put in that extra bit of work, no matter how we spin it. To those kids, I occasionally point out that not doing the stations/drills/conditioning exercises is a matter of choice and it doesn’t do me any harm whatsoever. They’re the ones who are hurting themselves and their gymnastics. When they see their friends start to surpass them in strength and skill, they usually get the picture.

    Geoffrey, I love your idea about giving sets and the kids determine their own numbers! The only caveat I can see to that approach with the girls I work with is that some gymnasts will always go with the lower numbers and intensity. Granted, those gymnasts will fall behind the others in skill and strength and it would be completely their choice. Some of the pushier gym parents would then blame us coaches for not pushing their kids hard enough. It’s a tricky situation, but I wouldn’t mind exploring the option a little more.

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