Archive for the ‘Mental Training’ category

Perspective

January 14, 2015

IMG_896630472959849NOTE TO SELF (and anyone else who cares to read it):

I am well aware that coaching/teaching can feel:
HEARTBREAKING (when a gymnast leaves)
CHALLENGING
FRUSTRATING
THANKLESS
MENTALLY EXHAUSTING
DISAPPOINTING
even
EMBARRASSING

If I remember one simple fact, I can make…
HEARTBREAK turn into AWARENESS of the gymnasts/students I may have neglected,
CHALLENGING SITUATIONS turn into INSIGHT and CREATIVITY,
FRUSTRATION turn into PATIENCE,
a feeling of THANKLESSNESS turn into RECOGNITION of what is important,
MENTAL EXHAUSTION turn into UNLIMITED ENERGY,
DISSAPOINTMENT turn into EMPATHY,
EMBARRASSMENT turn into PRIDE in what my gymnast/student HAS accomplished.

The fact that I need to remember?

*** None of this. Is. About. Me. ***

Solving Problems

January 5, 2015

I promise this is not a post about religion…

A while back, I was reading about the story of the farmer and Buddha. If you  haven’t read this story, I have written it in a more relatable way below. I think this story could be very beneficial to your gymnasts (older) and your coaches. Hopefully, everyone gets similar value from it that I have.

A gymnastics coach visited a veteran coach.

“I have read lots of your articles, watched many of your videos, and have heard from several friends how much you have helped them in their careers to be better coaches. I especially enjoyed your cartoon, ‘When will my Natasha start doing back handsprings?’ I have some problems and I am hoping that you can help me.

“I love coaching, but it is often incredibly challenging and sometimes I feel underappreciated. I have great friends in and out of the sport, but sometimes they don’t understand the pull I feel from each side. I coach a lot of great kids, but sometimes I feel they aren’t very confident or aggressive. A few of them can even be lazy. Most of the parents of the gymnasts I coach are great! They are supportive of my philosophy and I am really happy with them, but I do have some who are unreasonable. I know that I am lucky to be involved in such an incredible occupation, but I have to live paycheck to paycheck and it stresses me out. And I really like the coaches I work with and the owner of the gym, but we don’t always see eye to eye on things and I feel like my opinion is undervalued.”

“I can’t help you with these.” The mentor said, without hesitation.

The coach was surprised. “But…your videos…my friends…they were sure you could help me with this! You’re famous!”

“I can not help you with these types of problems, Christopher. We ALL have 83 problems. It is the reality of life and coaching. Or anything we do. Of course, you should never stop trying to solve your problems, but you have to understand. If you solve one of your problems, another will pop up in its place. If you solve another, the same will happen and on and on, until you die. We will ALWAYS have 83 problems. I may be able to help you with your 84th problem, however.” the mentor finished.

The coach was confused, “And the 84th problem is…?”

“The 84th problem is your desire NOT to have problems.”

What I have taken from this story is that life itself is never without its challenges. Our “problems” are often amplified by our desire to have a “problem-free” life. The challenges themselves have no natural, real value (good or bad). They are simply challenges. Their value only exists in our own perceptions.

So, to me, this means that our biggest challenge is in accepting that we will always have many, many “problems”. This does not mean that we should do nothing about these challenges. Of course, this is what defines our successes and, especially in the coaching profession, it is part of our daily routine. But we can handle the challenges better, if we can focus on what is real, rather than what we create from this desire to be without problems.

I really feel this can be of help to everyone. This idea can be applicable to most of the challenges that arise during a high level (or moderate/low, for that matter) of gymnastic training for our athletes. Fear, frustration, sacrifice, pain, being tired, lacking confidence, performance anxiety, etc. are much more easily dealt with when the athlete doesn’t already feel like a failure for experiencing the “problem” to begin with.

I would really be interested in everyone’s thoughts on all of this. Please comment, if you would like to join a discussion.

What are We Teaching our Kids?

March 4, 2010

This is a post I did a year ago, and recently (going to meets this season), it has become apparent that these things can never be said too much.

These are some areas that I feel we, as coaches, are underacheiving.  I have thought about these things for the last few years while attending meets and clinics, etc., and think now is a good time to discuss them.  I guess you could say that these are my pet peeves, but I really don’t want anyone to look at this as a negative attack on anyone personally, but more of a “hey, we have a great opportunity to have a profound effect on these young peoples’ lives, so let’s work harder to accomplish that mission” type of thing.

Here they are in no particular order (I am aware of how “long-winded” I am, so please, no comments on that, haha):

1.  All athletes should remain in the competition arena until the last competitor is done competing. It amazes me sometimes when I see coaches allowing their kids to leave the competition area before all of the teams are done competing.  What we are saying to our athletes is that the only thing that is important is their performances and maybe the performances of their teammates, but no one else.  This is such a missed opportunity!  While kids today sometimes seem to have less empathy than I can ever remember, we have this great platform to show our athletes how much everyone else wants the same thing that they do.  This is the beginning of their ability to look outside of themselves and feel for what other people go through.  It can be the start of true altruism for that individual child.  And this, in turn, makes the world a better place.

We try very hard with our program to remind our kids that what the other girls are doing is just as important to them as it is to us.  We tell them that we will always remain in the competition area as long as there is a girl competing in our session.  And here is a big key to this…we, as coaches, remain seated with them (there is always at least one of us who does this).  We do not allow them to run around unnecessarily, but remind them to sit, facing the girls that are competing.  We also make it a point to our girls to go and thank teams that stay until the end if we are the last ones competing and there are only one or two teams left watching.  Unfortunately, this happens often.  It disappoints me to know that we are missing the boat on making our gymnasts more respectful and mindful of others.

2.  Athletes should put their things into their gym bags (all of their things), zip them up, and put them out of the way.  This could be under or behind the chairs that are provided for the athletes to sit, or along an “out of the way” wall.  When we allow our athletes to come into a meet and we do not remind them to put things away, we are again missing an opportunity to make them more mindful of others.  We should be telling them that they would not like it very much if they came over to sit down on the chairs and there was no where to sit because of the laziness of others (unfortunately, we are able to give them very clear examples of this at every meet that we attend).  We should also mention how they would feel if someone was walking in that area and tripped on their belongings and had to go to the hospital or missed the rest of her season because of the injury she sustained because of our bags.  I realize some people find this to be far-fetched, but I have seen some major messes at meets, and very recently.  This is unacceptable on our parts as coaches!  Kids are going to do whatever they are allowed to do.  It is our job to teach them how to behave in these situations, and this is an important one, in my opinion.

3.  There should be no talking during the presenting of awards.  This is so disrespectful to the athletes on the award stand!  I know that many coaches do not go to awards because of the limited time between sessions, and we are no different.  What we have done though, is to go to them whenever we possibly can, and speak to them about behavior as often as possible.  Our kids rarely go to awards without being first reminded of our expectations.  I, personally, am not above going up to the front where the girls are sitting to reprimand them for talking during this time.  I have done this a few times.  I feel very strongly though, that after an adequate number of times of this, and several discussions with them, that when they do have to go to awards without us, I can trust them to behave appropriately.  This makes me very proud as I know that they are learning something that many gymnasts are missing out on.  Again, it is our responsibility to help these girls become better people through the opportunity that gymnastics provides.  It is not just about teaching the sport!

4.  All athletes should stay until the last award is handed out.  This one is exactly the same as not leaving the competition area before the last competitor.  We need to make sure our gymnasts know that what they want is not more important than what all of the other girls at the meet want.  They are all there for similar reasons, and no one is better than anyone else as people, or more important.

5.  Scores at a meet are the least important thing about the meet.  I know we all know this, but putting it into practical application can be a different thing.  Scores are, after all, one of the few tangible evaluation tools that we have in this sport.  I am fairly sure that most coaches remind their athletes that the score is not the most important thing, but these same coaches (myself included) sometimes over-react to scores when they are at a meet.  If we are to truly convince our gymnasts that scores are not so important, then we have to be very careful about our own reactions to those scores.

Another thing that we have to do to help our athletes focus on the right things is to give them plenty of feedback on their performances, so they have a better idea where they stand.  I usually try to give my gymnasts a critique on their performance before the score is posted.  Many times I will tell them during this critique, that “I really don’t care what score comes up, that was the best vault you have ever done!”  It is very important, in my opinion for them to understand that one (or two or four) person’s view of their performance on one particular day for one particular routine, is not a real evaluation of where they are with their gymnastics.  What is important in this setting is how they handle the pressure, how mentally strong they are, and how much their performance reflects their training.  These are all things that we talk about when we are evaluating their performance when they are done.  It is through these discussions with them, I believe, that our athletes really do understand where their scores fit in relevance terms.  This does not mean, however that our girls aren’t proud of where they end up in a meet.  But there is always a balance, and finding it with your athletes is a very important life lesson.  We must teach them that if they are happy or unhappy about a performance, that evaluation should not change when the score is flashed.  The gymnast has either done the best she could or she did not.  A score doesn’t change that.

6.  An athlete should definitely have goals, but the process is the absolute most important thing.  For a gymnast to be successful in her sport (or any athlete in any sport), they obviously need to have goals.  Without these goals, the day-to-day training that is necessary for success would not be possible.  One of the things that is overlooked sometimes, though, is the trip to those goals.  So much focus is placed on the goal by the gymnast that she may not really appreciate what she has already achieved.  This, in my opinion, is another of our many jobs in coaching.  We have to remind our athletes of all of the great milestones in their career, and more than that, the lessons that they have learned along the way that will make their lives even better.

The reality of this sport is that most athletes will never achieve their ultimate goal, and the more intense the athlete is, the more likely she is to feel like she has failed because of this.  I really believe that the atmosphere and example we set in the gym is the determining factor to whether the gymnast feels like a failure or a success at the end of her career.  I have even seen in my career (too many times) the gymnast who actually does achieve her ultimate goal and feels more relief than happiness.  I think this is a little bit of a tragedy, and more than that, I believe it is preventable.  The whole point of this incredible sport is to build stronger, happier, more successful people.  How can we do that if our athletes come away feeling like they have wasted a good many years of their lives, because they didn’t achieve ultimate success (Vanessa Atler, anyone?)?

We try very hard in our gym, as I know many other gyms do, to actively search for small successes on a daily basis.  We want to remind our athletes as often as we can all of the great things they are accomplishing, so that they feel successful more often.  Trust me, they are going to beat themselves up plenty, and we are going to criticize them plenty as well, but I am always looking for that genuine opportunity to let them know that they are succeeding.  It can be anything from “I am so proud of you for coming into this meet after being sick, and doing what you did today,” to “There are lots of athletes who would have given up way before this if they had to deal with what you had to.”  We all know things like this, but I think we all have to do it even more often.

7.  Athletes on the award stand should congratulate the athletes on each side of her.  This is something that we just started requiring of our athletes this season, and I feel like it is so valuable.  It really makes the girls remember that they are not the only ones trying to achieve their goals.  It opens their eyes to the feelings and realities of other girls, and I can’t think of many things that I would rather have them learn.  I strongly suggest that we all have our athletes do this.

8.  A great athlete learns to keep reactions on a fairly even keel.  This means that they should never get too high or too low about what is going on (especially in reaction to scores).  One of the biggest examples of this, to me, is when an athlete begins her warm-up on a particular event, and it doesn’t go well.  We have to teach them, and ourselves, that this beginning of the warm-up is not more important than it is.  It is not enough though, for us to say to the athlete that “your warm-up is not a reflection of the gymnastics you are going to do.  What you do the majority of the time in the gym is what is important,” and then we turn around and get frustrated or angry at a gymnast for blowing a turn in warm-up.  This has always been a tough one for me.  I can remember many times getting very nervous when an athlete was not doing in warm-up what I had seen her do in practice.  We, as coaches are human after all, and while my motivation is almost 100% in the realm of wanting her to do well for her, there is a little piece of all coaches that desires success for ourselves.  We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t have that longing.  So, I would get aggravated when those things happened, and that frustration would show through to the athlete and then they began to doubt themselves, and then their performance was very likely to be affected.  I’m not promising that I didn’t get frustrated a little over the last weekend when we hosted our St. Louis Classic, but the difference now is that I am more aware when this happens and the result that can occur, and so I hide it and turn it around.  I remind myself that they will always fall back on their training if I can help them to control their emotions and wandering thoughts.  What I have found is that, if the training has been done the right way and the athlete truly is prepared for what she is doing and she isn’t stressing because of this or her coaches reaction to it, then the “crappy” turns that happen in warm-up from time to time really don’t have an effect on the performance of the athlete when she competes.  This was an awesome discovery for me, and I hope that all of you can use it!

By the way, when I talk about controlling reactions, I don’t mean that we want our athletes to never get excited or disappointed about things.  That is what humans do, and there is a time and a place for each.  We shouldn’t really expect our kids to have the desire necessary to put in the amount of time and hard work that this sport requires if they could not express their excitement when they actually accomplish these things.  And we should not expect them to spend that energy and time and heart, and then be bubbling over with joy when they fail at the goal they had set for themselves.  Our job is to teach them the things that are okay to react to and the things that are not, and what to do next.  This takes things from a reactive state to a pro-active state.  Now, we are going to do something about the negative situation, or remember what we did to accomplish the positive and repeat it.  A great example of this “right time and wrong time” scenario is when an athlete is not doing what they need to in the gym and then cries because they fail at the meet.  I, personally, try to use this (as I try to use every situation) as a teaching opportunity.  I let them know two things – – the first is the fact that they can do something about this situation by changing their behavior in the gym – – the second is that they have not earned the right to cry when they have not done everything they can to keep this from happening.  In other words they contributed to this, and I tell them that it is like pouring water on your own head and crying because you are getting wet.  I use this time as an opportunity also to inform them that if they calm down, then the first time is okay, but the second one is not.  They are told that they will have to leave the meet and go and sit with their parents.  I have only had to send a girl out of a meet for this once in over 25 years.  Most of the time, if the athlete knows that you will follow through, and you are doing your job in the gym to continue this lesson, this warning is all that it takes.  Sometimes, the athlete changes their training habits, and sometimes they don’t, but they most always change their reactions when this approach is taken and is consistent with the team and philosophy of the program.

9.  Support and cheer for the other teams in your rotation.  This one is a lot like the awards stand, but even more personal.  If we encourage our athletes to go and meet the girls in our rotation and root for them, then they are not only learning empathy, but social skills as well.  They are finding new friends that have similar experiences, and maybe even friends that they will have contact with for several years.  We can’t possibly know what the future holds for that friendship.  Could one of them donate a kidney to the other one someday, or something simpler, like saying the one thing the other needs to hear when losing a loved one?  This dynamic is again, a very much underappreciated aspect of our job as coaches.

10.  We can set an example for our athletes by helping each other out as coaches.  This includes, when possible, blocking time together when a team has only 2 or 3 athletes.  Even making the offer to a smaller team by a larger team really shows the athletes what is important.  Our athletes look up to us like almost no one else in their lives.  They emulate us without really even knowing it.  When they see us helping out others, they will respond by doing the same in their lives.

11.  We control what we can control, and don’t worry about things we can’t control.  The judges are not in our control, and therefore it does us absolutely no good to worry about what they did or didn’t do.  Our athletes have to believe that they can do enough to change anything.  That means that, even if they have been underscored, they can get back in the gym and train even harder and do such great gymnastics that it will be impossible for someone to deny them.  The greatest athletes have to believe this is true!  Notice, however, that I did not say that it is completely true.  If an athlete wants ultimate success, though, this has to be their mantra.

In closing…

I think that it is extremely important that we remember how valuable an opportunity we have with these children.  What we are teaching in respect to skills and routines is important, but this only occupies about 1/7 to 1/5 of the athletes’ lives.  We have to remember that the lessons they can learn from the sport can help them with the rest of their lives.  What a great gift that can be!

Thank you and I hope this is helpful to all of you.

A Comment about Basics and Conditioning

February 2, 2010

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.

Why Spend More Time on Basics?

January 20, 2010

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.

A Response to “Expectations and Their Consequences”

January 6, 2010

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.

Expectations and Their Consequences

January 1, 2010

So, here’s something I was thinking about recently….What is it that makes certain coaches able to get that little something extra out of their athletes?  What characteristics do these coaches have that others are missing? 

The reason I thought about this is that I consider what we (at our gym) do to be very strong fundamentally.  We believe in the basics, including shapes and levers and handstands and strength and flexibility.  I have, at times, been so determined about this “perfection”, that it becomes a fault.  This fault lies in my level of expectation and the consequential effect that this has on my athletes’ level of expectation.

When you are as intense as I am about these basics, then your expectations sometimes become extreme.  The expectation is that everything has an ideal execution, and if the athlete is not close to that ideal, then there is really no point in moving on to the next thing.  I have worked very hard over the last few years to do a better job of balancing reality and perfection, thanks to long conversations that I have had with several different coaches.  And I think, as a matter of practicality, I have become better at this. 

The problem, though, is that these expectations lead to constant disappointment.    Currently, for me, my challenge is the difference in my emotions between summer training and “during the season” training.  In the summer, it seems there is nothing but potential.  There appears to be so much time before the season, that it is easy to get excited about what the athletes will be doing when it finally rolls around.  Because my expectations are so high, it is almost impossible for my athletes to live up to them when the season actually starts.  So, at that point, for me, it seems like a constant struggle to just get out and compete what they can and do the best with what they have.  I know that the reality is much different than what I feel, but it is what I feel.  And if I actually stop and think about it, I am very proud of everything that my athletes have accomplished, as I am well aware of the incredible hard work and time they have put into their training.  Many times, however, my  “in the gym” coaching, involves completely different emotions.  And, in as much as I would like to believe that I can operate around my athletes without my frustration affecting them, the reality is that I cannot always do this.

Now, back to my original question.  What is it that some coaches have that gets that something extra from their athletes?  One of the things that I think they have is a genuine excitement about their athletes and their potential.  They have an overwhelming belief that their kids are going to get better.  This is even true of some coaches who are not necessarily the strongest technical coaches.  There just seems to be certain coaches that have the ability to get athletes to do more than they normally could have just because the athlete can feel that optimism and excitement from the coach.   I think that this leads to more excitement in the athlete, and more accurately, her belief in her own potential, and in turn, more success.  It is comparative to the times when a coach is “new” to a certain team or group of girls.  With that “newness” comes very little expectation.  The coach doesn’t really know the athletes yet, and so everything they do earns fairly positive remarks and excitement.  Everything they do “looks” like potential, and not the lack of achievement that coaches often see in athletes whose potentials they have already decided on.

Sounds simple enough, right?  So, why do some of us have so much trouble with something that seems so simple?  The question itself, makes me understand a little better the failures that some of my athletes have with mental challenges that I consider very simple.  Some of the most basic mental challenges in front of us are the hardest to break through.  I can remember being a teenager, and being very aware of how terrible I was making my mom feel with my disrespect toward her, and feeling pretty horrible about it myself.  I truly wanted to change and be more respectful, but could not always make myself put that desire into a practical effort.

My guess is, that we sometimes get an idea in our head, and depending on the intensity or passion that we have for that idea, we just cannot compromise with it.  It is such a powerful thing that it even clouds our reality, and makes things even worse.  I am assuming that we have all had those days where no matter what our athletes do, it looks bad to us.  The reality of this situation is probably not nearly as bad as our perception.  Unfortunately, our perception creates our response and our response affects our athletes.

I just talked to a coach today who is going through some of the same types of feelings.  So, what do we do?  I am asking all of you to contribute an opinion to this topic.  I do have a few ideas myself, and will share those after some feedback from everyone else.  I know that the first step is recognition.  I, personally, have done that.  But, I am not afraid to admit that I could use any and all advice I can receive, and I hope, in turn, that people who read this and are in the same boat, can benefit from my very public therapy.  Thanks everyone.