Coach’s Corner: What All Gymnastics Coaches Know

Posted by Greg Larson on

What All Gymnastics Coaches Know

Coaches see the gym in a different light than anyone else. Parents might think of it as the smelly place their daughter lets their energy out. Gymnasts might see it as a playdate with friends.

But for coaches? It’s a different story.

If you’re a new coach, you’re likely coming fresh out of the competition circuit. That means you took the sport very seriously very recently. You’ll still take it seriously as a coach, but if you’re starting by coaching little ones, the sport will feel very different than it did before.

If you're thinking about getting into coaching, here are 8 things every gymnastics coach will either need to know or learn along the way.

1. You’ll Learn Even More About the Sport You Love

No matter how much experience you have, being a coach will test the limits of your knowledge.

At times, it will test the limits of your patience, too. But that’s another story.

You may have thought you knew gymnastics before you became a coach. However, being forced to break fundamentals down into actionable steps will help you see gymnastics through new eyes.

In fact, some coaches find that teaching lower levels forces them to be on their coaching game even more than higher levels. Why?

Because if you can’t explain something simply to a child, then you don’t fully understand it.

Which leads us to the next point:

2. Just Because You Were a Gymnast Doesn’t Mean Coaching Will Be Easy

To coach gymnastics, you have to love working with children of all ages. Each child is different, so you have to adjust your teaching style to bring out the potential in each of them. By the same token, be sure you don’t come off as a know-it-all at first. That can intimidate younger gymnasts.

Project authority and warmth––that’s the coaching sweet spot.

Your athletes will take their cue from you, but you’ll also feed off of them. For example, it’s exciting to re-experience the adrenaline rush of being in season and the excitement of competitions. 

But the grind of the season gets coaches and gymnasts alike. Kids love learning new things. Doing the same skills and routines can become tedious for them and for you. Be sure to switch things up every once in a while to keep everyone (including you) on their toes.

3. You’ll Become Dr. Coach

No matter what, gymnasts get hurt. And if you're coaching little ones, they don’t understand pain as well as older kids, so the smallest ache or sting can feel like the end of their career.

Some children, on the other hand, will hide their injuries to keep training. Part of your job will be keeping an eye out for two types of injured gymnasts:

  • The ones who keep their injuries a secret from you
  • The ones who are faking

You’re not a doctor, but showing genuine empathy and a bit of basic first aid will do wonders.

4. You Will Become Obsessed

You’ll dream about floor routines.

You’ll watch YouTube tutorials.

You’ll write down lists of how you can teach your gymnast a new skill, step by step.

In short, you’ll spend most of your days at the gym. But even when you leave the gym, the gym won’t leave you. Does that sound like heaven? Then you’ll love coaching.

5. Bring Plenty of Back-Up

You're not a gymnast anymore, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for packing a meet bag. No matter how many times you remind your gymnasts, they’re still liable to forget:

  • Hair ties
  • Hair spray
  • Tape
  • Notebooks
  • Snacks
  • First aid kits

Keep doubles, triples, and quadruples of everything in a bag and don’t let it leave your side for practice and competitions.

6. The Nerves Are Somehow Worse

When you competed in gymnastics, you could set your nerves aside and focus on your performance. Now as you watch your gymnasts from the sidelines, it’s somehow even more nerve-racking than when you were out there. What gives?

You’re not in as much control of competition when you’re the coach.

And yet you experience the same heartbreak watching them fall or cry as when you were a gymnast. Embrace it. Seeing the joy on their faces when they succeed will make it all worth it.

7. You’ll Be a Role Model

As a gymnastics coach, you may see your gymnasts more than their parents do. That’s a huge responsibility. But if you’re diligent, you’ll be rewarded for your hard work and you’ll get close to your gymnasts.

They’ll look up to you (if you can believe that) and they'll love you. The best part is that they can carry the lessons you teach for years to come.

8. You Can Create Your Own Teaching Style

You’ll discover your own teaching style. However, studies show that a specific coaching model based on 5-step format is most effective to increase skills performance.

The model focuses on you giving feedback in the following 5 steps:

  1. Executing the skill
  2. Judging correct execution
  3. Describing the incorrect position
  4. Modeling the correct position
  5. Imitating the correct position

Here’s a good feedback template, based on the study. Tell your gymnasts:

"We’re about to work on front handsprings. If you do the handspring incorrectly, I'll say freeze, just as you land on the mat. If I say freeze, I want you to stay in that position. Do not move until I tell you. I'm going to try to see what you're doing wrong so I can help you learn better. If you land off balance and fall, freeze like that. If you do a good front handspring, I won't say freeze and you don't have to freeze. Let's get started!"

No matter what particular coaching style you choose, be sure to:

  • Have Clear Rules—Rules about food in the gym, proper equipment, and horseplay will all need to be addressed. Your gymnasts want direction, and if you have clear rules they’ll be more likely to respect you and your gym space.

  • Create a Lesson Plan—Prepare which skills to work on, the warm up routine, your cool down routine, and how much time to allocate to each activity.

  • Quiet Signal—Gymnasts can get rowdy. Create a quiet signal, such as a quick clapping sequence or a hand motion––anything to get them paying attention.

Coaches See Gymnastics Differently

Gymnastics coaches operate with a different mindset than other people. Whether you’re a coach yourself or you’re a gymnast, it’s important to understand what that mindset is and how it affects your gym time.

What to expect when your kid starts.

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