Posted tagged ‘Training’

Why Spend More Time on Basics…part 2

January 28, 2010

The following is an excerpt from JAO‘s comment on the training of basics, and why some coaches don’t train them enough.  I think this is pretty accurate, and definitely something we should think about.

Coach A, maybe only even subconsciously, wants to prove to the world he’s an awesome coach. Why else would Coach A be coaching team? If Coach (A) *just* loved coaching, he could coach rec kids and not have to worry about levels and meets and stress and fears and injuries and crying and nagging parents (or at least not to the same degree). So, on SOME level, at SOME point, we’re all coaching competitive stuff because we like competing, and we like competing because we like winning.

So, we can probably agree Coach A wants to win, and accept that as a reasonable premise? Now, perhaps at some level, Coach A has begun to notice his kids aren’t winning at meets. That’s ok, Coach A thinks, because there are other ways of measuring how good his kids are, i.e., how good of a coach he is. Coach A can persuade his girls, his parents, and most importantly himself, that it’s ok not to win at meets, for any of a number of reasons (we don’t train for this level, we train for the next level, the other teams have older girls, second year girls, they only practice meet stuff and we work on next year stuff, etc.) And those are all plausible, believable, and even potentially valid reasons for why Coach A’s girls did not place very well at a meet. Indeed, there are effective gyms that train ahead, practice other things, and only compete at certain USAG level because they have to in order to move their girls up, etc. But that’s not Coach A, and Coach A doesn’t understand that.

Coach A’s problem may be that he subscribes to a very dangerous and sadly all too common perception of gymnastics, which incorrectly states: If Coach A and Coach B both have a girl competing the same skills in Level X, but Coach A’s girl is younger, then Coach A must be the better coach, because he got his gymnast to do Level X before Coach B.

For a million reasons, we know that’s not a true conclusion. But it is in Coach A’s mind, though Coach A might not even admit it out loud, it nonetheless exists on some level to some degree. We’ve all been guilty at some point of seeing a team with a dozen babies at whatever level and thought “holy cow, I wish I had that.” (Which is the sister perception, also incorrect: If Coach A has 10 kids in optional level X and Coach B has 5, Coach A is a better coach)

So, if this is an operational thought in Coach A’s mind, it’s going to affect his philosophy and approach toward coaching. Which means instead of trusting patience and discipline, he’s going to equate greatness with earliness, and if he’s in a large enough market or has even just a little bit of luck, there’s going to be a girl who moves through his program every once in a while (just frequently enough to convince him his approach is right) who is going to be able to pick things up at the speed at which he coaches. She’ll look narsty, (that’s intentional) but he either won’t care or won’t know. It will justify him to himself, and be reason to be upset with the other girls who aren’t picking things up.

So why would Coach A spend any more time on a handstand than is minimally necessary? He won’t, because he needs to feel like he’s a great coach, and, unfortunately for him, he thinks that means getting kids to do things before other people can get their kids to do things. If he slows down, he’s going to feel like he’s behind, like he’s losing the race, and like he’s a bad coach; and his kids, who have been raised on speed, will suddenly be resistant to this new type of slow coaching, which will create chaos, argument, etc., and he won’t have the courage to keep the foot down, the kids and parents will run over him, and he’ll be forced back into speed-coaching in a few months with nothing to show for it but a few angry quitters and some mean emails from parents accusing him of not knowing what he’s doing, which is every insecure coach’s nightmare.

I think the key here is that JAO‘s description of this type of coach is exactly the opposite mentality of what I wrote about on my post on “Why Spend More Time on Basics”.  Coach A is mostly concerned with his own ego and reputation.  Coaches who are more concerned about their athlete’s well-being and goals are much more likely to spend the time necessary on basics for ALL of their athletes to be more successful, and not just the ones who would be successful in any program. 

Thanks, JAO for an awesome comment!

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.