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Nov 15, 2022
46
I know the gymnastics community has strong opinions about what "potential" looks like in a gymnast. Some students are just born bouncy, swingy, and handstand-y. (Bonus if they pass the marshmallow test.)

But what about coaches? What does it take to be a good coach?

Let's assume we have a coach that is punctual, educated, and dedicated. Is that enough? Or is there some proverbial "natural aptitude" that destines a coach to be great?

More about me: I am a (new) coach and retired gymnast. My experience as a gymnast informs my coaching—but that experience only goes so far. At some point, I am going to need to coach gymnasts who can do things that I never could. Am I doomed for failure, or are there strategies for coaching beyond one's physical ability?
 

gymisforeveryone

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Nov 16, 2012
902
It is definitely not needed to have personal experience of the skills you are coaching - not even in the higher levels. I personally know many many coaches, who were only rec level gymnasts but turned out to be excellent high performance coaches. And of course there are several former MAG gymnasts coaching WAG gymnasts skills they never did themselves.

I wasn't the most athletic kid, but I enjoyed gymnastics at rec level. I always wanted to become a coach - I didn't care about my own success, I was way too scared of all the skills and lacked the physical abilities, but I wanted to coach others. I remember teaching and even spotting gymnastics skills to other kids in kindergarten. I even made participation prizes for every kid that joined the class! And I was 6 years old. At gymnastics practice I spotted the younger kids through handstands and walkovers when the coaches were busy. At 11 or 12 I became my mom's assistant coach (she was coaching beginner class) and I have not stopped ever since. I was a super mature kid and teen! And I always enjoyed the teaching process, especially drills and progressions of more complex skills. I also loved making lesson plans! I have several notebooks from those early coaching years and the plans are very well documented. I also love children, and that is the biggest factor that keeps me going! Sadly I have not kids of my own, hopefully one day I will, but at this time coaching children gives me so much joy!

At first I coached in the gym that I grew up in. It was a small rec competitive gym with not very good equipment or other resources. When I graduated from high school and moved away for university, I joined another, bigger and well known high level gym and started working there. I have climbed up from coaching rec and pre team to coaching national level athletes. Now I am in my third gym in third city, where I moved to continue my studies. Even if I have a degree from university, I just always wanted to coach instead, so a few years ago I made the decision to drop my academic career and pursue full time coaching. It's been great and I highly recommend it, if you truly enjoy coaching!
 

Aussie_coach

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Jan 4, 2008
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What makes a good coach?

Commitment and dedication. Passion for the sport and for helping children.

Positive attitude and energy, the type of person that lifts others up and builds their confidence.

Open to learning, what’s to learn as much as they can.

Hard working, eye for detail, creative, quick thinking.
 
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JBS

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Sep 3, 2005
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At some point, I am going to need to coach gymnasts who can do things that I never could. Am I doomed for failure, or are there strategies for coaching beyond one's physical ability?

Experience in coaching higher level skills doesn't come from doing them yourself at one point in time... rather... it comes from your experiences in coaching that particular skill.

In other words... while a person may have a hard time coaching a skill the first time... they will most likely be better the 2nd... 3rd... 4th time around.

The one thing I will say... and this is definitely my opinion...

Don't get stuck on making drills perfect... instead... use drills as the medicine to make the skill better.

ChalkBucket is a great place to ask questions and learn... so you are off to a great start.
 
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ReluctantGymMom

Proud Parent
May 11, 2020
354
32
Besides ability to break down skills into building blocks, I’m pretty sure the most important component of being a coach is actually wanting to work with children. And then being able to understand children’s needs at different points of development - a 6 year old who doesn’t understand what the word heel drive means and is seemingly lost requires a different approach than a 13 year old who just got dumped at school, has exams to study for and is going through a grow to spurt. A lot more leeway is given to the little ones (obviously), but you can’t pull more out of that middle school crowd without being able to connect to the kids on some level.

We have a coach that outwardly, I thought was very mean, but the girls LOVE her. They call her mom! She does little things that they appreciate because it makes them feel like she gets them.
 

JPC13

Proud Parent
Mar 25, 2022
448
It's not gymnastics, but Bill Belichick was a D3 football player and arguably one of the greatest defensive minds in the history of sports. So being a good athlete isn't required, and might even be a negative, to be a good coach.

I think being flexible in your approach goes a long way. It's known in pedagogy circles that not all kids learn the same way -- yet waaaaaaay too many coaches that I've seen know how to coach in exactly one way. If that way works for a kid, then they're "a natural" or "talented." If it doesn't, then they're "not USAG material." It's sad because I think some diamond in the rough probably got thrown away due to their learning style.
 
Nov 15, 2022
46
It is definitely not needed to have personal experience of the skills you are coaching - not even in the higher levels. I personally know many many coaches, who were only rec level gymnasts but turned out to be excellent high performance coaches. And of course there are several former MAG gymnasts coaching WAG gymnasts skills they never did themselves.

I wasn't the most athletic kid, but I enjoyed gymnastics at rec level. I always wanted to become a coach - I didn't care about my own success, I was way too scared of all the skills and lacked the physical abilities, but I wanted to coach others. I remember teaching and even spotting gymnastics skills to other kids in kindergarten. I even made participation prizes for every kid that joined the class! And I was 6 years old. At gymnastics practice I spotted the younger kids through handstands and walkovers when the coaches were busy. At 11 or 12 I became my mom's assistant coach (she was coaching beginner class) and I have not stopped ever since. I was a super mature kid and teen! And I always enjoyed the teaching process, especially drills and progressions of more complex skills. I also loved making lesson plans! I have several notebooks from those early coaching years and the plans are very well documented. I also love children, and that is the biggest factor that keeps me going! Sadly I have not kids of my own, hopefully one day I will, but at this time coaching children gives me so much joy!

At first I coached in the gym that I grew up in. It was a small rec competitive gym with not very good equipment or other resources. When I graduated from high school and moved away for university, I joined another, bigger and well known high level gym and started working there. I have climbed up from coaching rec and pre team to coaching national level athletes. Now I am in my third gym in third city, where I moved to continue my studies. Even if I have a degree from university, I just always wanted to coach instead, so a few years ago I made the decision to drop my academic career and pursue full time coaching. It's been great and I highly recommend it, if you truly enjoy coaching!
This is a fascinating journey! Thank you for sharing. I especially relate to this bit: "I always enjoyed the teaching process, especially drills and progressions of more complex skills. I also loved making lesson plans! I have several notebooks from those early coaching years and the plans are very well documented." At my core, I really do love teaching, but I usually teach things that I can already do (or have done) myself.

I think being a new coach in a new gym has surfaced a lot of insecurities from my childhood gymnastics career. What if I'm not smart enough? What if I'm not strong enough? (And so on...) Perhaps coincidentally, all of my coaches were accomplished gymnasts, so I falsely concluded that being a good gymnast is a prerequisite to being good coach. Your story makes me more confident that I, too, can climb the coaching ranks—even if my students ultimately progress beyond my personal gymnastics accomplishments.
 
Nov 15, 2022
46
What makes a good coach?

Commitment and dedication. Passion for the sport and for helping children.

Positive attitude and energy, the type of person that lifts others up and builds their confidence.

Open to learning, what’s to learn as much as they can.

Hard working, eye for detail, creative, quick thinking.
I personally think I check all these boxes. Thank you for boosting my confidence! I probably need to be more patient with myself in my learning journey. But I'm happy to know that I have potential!
 
Nov 15, 2022
46
Experience in coaching higher level skills doesn't come from doing them yourself at one point in time... rather... it comes from your experiences in coaching that particular skill.

In other words... while a person may have a hard time coaching a skill the first time... they will most likely be better the 2nd... 3rd... 4th time around.

The one thing I will say... and this is definitely my opinion...

Don't get stuck on making drills perfect... instead... use drills as the medicine to make the skill better.

ChalkBucket is a great place to ask questions and learn... so you are off to a great start.
Thank you for offering your opinions! I can already relate to this piece of wisdom: "while a person may have a hard time coaching a skill the first time... they will most likely be better the 2nd... 3rd... 4th time around."

When I started coaching rec, I was struggling how to explain to my students the mechanics of a pullover. (I pretty much knew how to do a pullover out of the womb, so this was the first time in my whole life thinking about pullover progressions.) I asked a fellow coach for some tips, then I applied those tips to ~50 students over the course of a few months and now I am better at teaching pullovers!

Note to self: (1) Ask for advice early and often. (2) Be patient. (3) Lurk on ChalkBucket
 
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Nov 15, 2022
46
Besides ability to break down skills into building blocks, I’m pretty sure the most important component of being a coach is actually wanting to work with children. And then being able to understand children’s needs at different points of development - a 6 year old who doesn’t understand what the word heel drive means and is seemingly lost requires a different approach than a 13 year old who just got dumped at school, has exams to study for and is going through a grow to spurt. A lot more leeway is given to the little ones (obviously), but you can’t pull more out of that middle school crowd without being able to connect to the kids on some level.

We have a coach that outwardly, I thought was very mean, but the girls LOVE her. They call her mom! She does little things that they appreciate because it makes them feel like she gets them.
"I’m pretty sure the most important component of being a coach is actually wanting to work with children." <- This made me LOL . I took a 10-year break from even thinking about gymnastics because I probably just needed a break from dealing with children. That 10-year break was also known as "my twenties".

I really like this piece of advice: "And then being able to understand children’s needs at different points of development - a 6 year old who doesn’t understand what the word heel drive means and is seemingly lost requires a different approach than a 13 year old who just got dumped at school, has exams to study for and is going through a grow to spurt." I definitely think I could benefit from learning more about the Child Brain™ and the Child Body™. Most of my knowledge stems from my own experience (N=1) which is not enough evidence to produce a well-rounded coach.

Are there external resources you recommend for sport pedagogy?
 
Nov 15, 2022
46
It's not gymnastics, but Bill Belichick was a D3 football player and arguably one of the greatest defensive minds in the history of sports. So being a good athlete isn't required, and might even be a negative, to be a good coach.

I think being flexible in your approach goes a long way. It's known in pedagogy circles that not all kids learn the same way -- yet waaaaaaay too many coaches that I've seen know how to coach in exactly one way. If that way works for a kid, then they're "a natural" or "talented." If it doesn't, then they're "not USAG material." It's sad because I think some diamond in the rough probably got thrown away due to their learning style.
Oooh I love this hot take: "If that way works for a kid, then they're 'a natural' or 'talented.' If it doesn't, then they're 'not USAG material.' It's sad because I think some diamond in the rough probably got thrown away due to their learning style."

I realize that the framing of my original question stems from a personal bias that I adopted over the years. I think you are correct in that some students are easier to teach an others, and those students often get the most attention and resources. This teaching strategy is short-sighted because a typical gymnastics career is "nasty, brutish, and short"—even for top performers. Being a "flexible" coach maximizes the potential for all students, not just an arbitrary subset of students.
 
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JPC13

Proud Parent
Mar 25, 2022
448
Oooh I love this hot take: "If that way works for a kid, then they're 'a natural' or 'talented.' If it doesn't, then they're 'not USAG material.' It's sad because I think some diamond in the rough probably got thrown away due to their learning style."

I realize that the framing of my original question stems from a personal bias that I adopted over the years. I think you are correct in that some students are easier to teach an others, and those students often get the most attention and resources. This teaching strategy is short-sighted because a typical gymnastics career is "nasty, brutish, and short"—even for top performers. Being a "flexible" coach maximizes the potential for all students, not just an arbitrary subset of students.
Even more, I think inclusivity (along all degrees, not the just obvious ones) leads to better gymnastics. There was a time when this woman
Simone-Biles-Biography-Facts-Childhood-Life-Net-Worth.jpg


Probably wouldn't have gotten a serious look in a lot of high level gyms because "gymnasts look like this"
1669912148584.jpeg
 

Geoffrey Taucer

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Jan 21, 2007
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In order of importance:
1) Theatrical stage presence. Coaching is theater before all else. You can know everything there is to know about gymnastics and it will still be completely useless if you can't engage an audience and get them excited about the work. A coach should be able to be energetic and entertaining and hold an audience's attention

2) Patience. Kids can be exhausting and frustrating, and parents even moreso.

3) Humility. The ability to admit to -- and learn from -- mistakes.

4) Analytical acumen. A coach needs to be able to look at a skill and figure out how to break it down into parts. A coach needs to be able to see what a kid is doing, identify the root cause of the problem, and be able to isolate it to address it. Often, this needs to be done creatively on-the-fly.

Technical knowledge comes in a very distant 5th
 
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JBS

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Sep 3, 2005
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Even more, I think inclusivity (along all degrees, not the just obvious ones) leads to better gymnastics. There was a time when this woman
Simone-Biles-Biography-Facts-Childhood-Life-Net-Worth.jpg


Probably wouldn't have gotten a serious look in a lot of high level gyms because "gymnasts look like this"
1669912148584.jpeg

I think I know where you are going with this... but these two have basically the same body type. The body type that is considered "ideal" for gymnastics by many.
 
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Nov 15, 2022
46
In order of importance:
1) Theatrical stage presence. Coaching is theater before all else. You can know everything there is to know about gymnastics and it will still be completely useless if you can't engage an audience and get them excited about the work. A coach should be able to be energetic and entertaining and hold an audience's attention

2) Patience. Kids can be exhausting and frustrating, and parents even moreso.

3) Humility. The ability to admit to -- and learn from -- mistakes.

4) Analytical acumen. A coach needs to be able to look at a skill and figure out how to break it down into parts. A coach needs to be able to see what a kid is doing, identify the root cause of the problem, and be able to isolate it to address it. Often, this needs to be done creatively on-the-fly.

Technical knowledge comes in a very distant 5th
I was just talking to the owner of my gym about stage presence! She has casually said things like "I wish Coach X smiled more." I finally asked her why she thinks smiling is important. She basically covered exactly what you said in (1). I guess I never thought about stage presence in the context of coaching/teaching before. But it totally makes sense! The most inspirational teachers in my life were extremely animated and engaging, which probably wasn't just a coincidence.
 

Aussie_coach

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2 coaches can give a gymnast the exact same correction. One will manage to help the gymnast apply the correction and the other will not, simply by the way it’s said.

If the gymnast feels that you care about, you believe in them, you are excited about their progress, you want them to succeed etc. they will go to the ends of the earth to make it happen.
 

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