Learn To Ask The Right Questions

In my opinion, to be a great gymnastics coach you need to learn to ask the right questions. Be willing to ask the hard questions others are unwilling to ask. Here are some questions I find myself asking quite often:

What is the difference?

Can I replicate that?

Will that work in a different environment and situation?

Is that result an outlier?

Where do I go from here?

How do you dial it up or dial it down?

Is what I am doing  dependent on the facilities, equipment and technology?

Can I do it without facilities, equipment or technology?

How can I measure the effectiveness of my training program?

Where can I get new ideas?

Who or what inspired me today?

Where do I want these gymnasts to be in a year? 5 years? 10 years?

What am I personally doing to get better as a coach?

Where will the biggest gains in our sports come from?

Have I mastered the basics as a coach? Have the gymnasts mastered the basics?

Do I review the basics everyday?

Is my technical model sound?

Who is my alter ego? Who keeps me on track and honest?

Is what I am doing proactive or reactive? Why?

Who are my role models?

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Folding Towels

When my wife and I first moved in together I was doing laundry and folding towels to Putting them away.
I returned later that day to see her refolding all the towels. Apparently I had folded them “wrong“. I am not sure how they were wrong, they were folded, they were away, they were not hanging out of the cabinet. But she assured me, they were wrong. She then proceeded to show me the correct way to fold the towels.
(For the record, a triangle is not the accepted way. )

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I am eager to please the women I love. I want to do this right. But I had to ask “WHY ?” was this wrong.
She told me that this is the way her mother taught her.
A year later I got up the nerve to ask her mother how to fold a towel. She showed me. I asked “WHY ?”. She said that was the way her mother had taught her.

As luck would have it, my grandmother-in-law was coming for dinner.
After dinner as we were sitting enjoying a glass of wine I asked her how to fold a towel. She showed me.
I asked “WHY?” 
She told me that when she first got married they had a very small apartment in Austria and that she found that this way was the only way her towels fit in her cabinet. After a decade in that apartment it had just become habit. She then said, “There is no right or wrong way. As long as they fit.”

As coaches, how many things do we teach, not based on mechanics and technique but on a habit passed on by our coach and possibly their coach before them?

I do approximately 50 lectures a year in a variety of countries. Some at formal congresses, some in gymnastics clubs, and some informal discussions in the bar following competitions or clinics. I am used to professionals asking me “WHY?” Questioning technique or a drill or progression I’ve used. It is those questions that have made me a better coach. I have had to justify nearly everything I do, hundreds of times a year.

Your coaches may have been brilliant and correct with their drills. But they also could have come up with a drill or technique just to fit a situation.

Learn from everybody, questions others, question yourself.

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Am I a Fraud?

Real Smart People
I don’t why it took me twenty five years of coaching to figure out that the smartest people are NOT the ones who are always talking and telling you what they know. The real smart people are those who are listening and asking questions. Stay away from the “experts” with all the answers – chances are they are selling something or have had one experience many times with no breath or depth to the experience.

I have learned to find someone who has fallen and gotten back up and forged ahead and is better for the experience. The real smart people have skin in the game, they are on the firing line working, trying, failing and getting up and getting better. This is experience that is meaningful.

My take home lesson after 25 years of coaching is to learn to ask smart questions, sharpen your listening skills, be true to your beliefs and practice what you preach.

Am I a fraud?

People ask me many questions on technique, preparation, managing a team or a business. I answer as honestly as I can. I never hold anything back. In the end- my answers are just my opinions. Things that have worked for me in my situations. The more questions you ask me, the less I feel I know and the more I want to go out and learn.

Keep asking

I will keep sharing  and learning. I hope to NEVER disappoint you.

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Coaching Thoughts from Iceland

In my apartment here in Iceland I have a TV but there are few shows for me to watch in English. So I watch a lot of sporting events and cooking shows. (I guess my TV experience isn’t that different that when I am back in USA!)

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Yesterday I caught the end an interview with noted chef Bobby Flay. He offered two pearls of wisdom that I found very appropriate for coaches. The first one was to never rest on your laurels, constantly strive to get better, keep an edge. The second was to stress the fundamentals everyday. He reminds his chefs everyday to salt and pepper both sides of the meat. Everything is based on repetition of sound fundamentals. Food for thought and action as you begin your week.

THE JOB OF COACHING?

Watching a variety of different sports while not understanding the commentators gives you time to see more. Watching plays develop, watching what players are doing while they are not involved in a play or rush, and watching how coaches interact with the athletes. What occurred to me is that coaching is not a job it is not an industry! It is a way of life, a lifestyle, a profession. It is fueled by passion and driven by dedication to improving the lives of the athletes we work with work. To adopt this lifestyle is not for the faint of heart or the dilettante. Extrinsic rewards are few, fame and recognition is minimal and fleeting. The joy of coaching is not in the championships and the world-class athletes it is the day-to-day and week to week satisfaction of seeing athletes focus and dedicate themselves to excellence.  My greatest accomplishments were not the talented athletes who achieved success at JO Nationals or at the Elite level. It was the marginally talented gymnasts who I was able to get them to believe in themselves, to compete skills that seemed “above their ability” to shave a few tenths of a point in execution and get them to JO Nationals (or even State or Regional Championships depending on the level). No one notices that but you and the athlete, but that is enough. Those are the intrinsic rewards, the things that make it all worthwhile. At the end of the day it is the satisfaction of knowing that you the coach can make a real difference. To those gymnasts- I dedicate my career to you.

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Neuroscience Myths That May Be Getting In Your Way Of Being A Great Gymnastics Coach

As gymnastics coaches we are educators first. What we teach is the science of movement. How we teach is an art. Knowing this I tend to read many science bases educational journals (to improve my art).  I recently did a little follow up reading on research in neuroscience.

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It is important to cut through the neuroscience buzz and extract real information that can improve any learning program. Paul Howard-Jones, a researcher at the Centre for Mind and Brain in Educational and Social Contexts at Bristol University in the United Kingdom, cautions that neuromyths, or the “misconception generated by a misunderstanding, a misreading, or a misquoting of facts scientifically established by brain research to make a case for use of brain research in education or other contexts” are more pervasive in the educational field than we might think—and that these neuromyths may, ultimately, work against educational achievement.

In a survey of educators across the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Turkey, Greece, and China, Howard-Jones found that teachers were quite susceptible to neuromyths, including the idea that humans only use 10 percent of their brains and that children are less attentive after consuming sugary snacks. The results were published in a Perspectives piece in Nature Review Neuroscience in October of 2014. And while Howard-Jones’ survey did not include American educators, he believes he would find similar results in the United States, as these ideas have become quite commonplace across the globe.

To help out with the process, Ann Herrmann-Nehdi, CEO of thinking research and learning organization Herrmann International, said there are a few neuroscience myths that learning leaders should recognize right away as false:

Myth: We only use 10 percent of our brains, and it’s slowing us down.
Fact: As much as Hollywood would like us to believe through movies like “Lucy” and “Limitless” that we could all be superhuman if we unlocked 90 percent of our brain capacity, Ann Herrmann-Nehdi, CEO of thinking research and learning organization Herrmann International, said that’s simply not true. We have full use of our brain but only so much of it needs to be working at a time for us to fully function.

Marcus Raichle, a neuroscientist at Washington University in St. Louis and a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives (DABI), was one of the first scientists to suggest that, even at rest, the brain is working at full capacity. Since then, most neuroscientists have accepted that the brain has a so-called “default mode,” a sophisticated network of brain areas that remain active even when the brain is resting.

“When I’m asked what the brain’s job is, if I can sum it up in one sentence or so, I always say the brain is in the prediction business. We’ve learned that it’s always on—and most of its energy is devoted to trying to predict what’s going to happen to you next,” says Raichle. “And I don’t see how the brain could be in the prediction business if it was working at only 10 percent capacity.”

Myth: We can multitask.
Fact: A simple examination of how many car accidents happen because of people eating, texting, talking or otherwise not devoting all their attention to the road can discredit this theory. We feel like we can do many things at the same time, but really we’re just switching between the different parts of the brain handling each task. Herrmann-Nehdi, said “The brain is not a parallel processer, There’s at least a 50 percent increase in error rate and it takes you 50 percent longer to do something while multitasking.”
Myth: The right puzzles and classical music can boost intelligence.
Fact: Although there are short-term benefits of using mind-strengthening games and listening to classical music, there’s no long-term efficacy, Herrmann-Nehdi said. But hey, if you like Beethoven, it can’t hurt to listen to the fifth symphony every so often. Personally, I’m more of a Gershwin fan — “Rhapsody in Blue” is my jam.

Myth:Eating sugary snacks results in hyperactivity and reduced focus and attention.
Where It Comes From:As researchers study the effect of diet on cognition, one thing is becoming abundantly clear: diet matters. Understanding how, where, and why, however, remains a bit elusive. In the 1970’s, many researchers believed that sugary foods and food additives were linked to cognitive deficits—particularly in school-aged children. Several correlational studies showed a link between sugar intake and hyperactive behavior. These results were only fueled by parental and teacher anecdotes. They consistently reported that children are less attentive (and more active) after consuming sugar. Even today, if you offer elementary schoolers a cookie near bedtime, you’ll likely get an earful from a parent about how that sugary snack will only rile them up.

FACT:This particular neuromyth has been around for quite some time—and Harris Lieberman, a researcher who studies diet and cognition at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, says that, despite several studies debunking it, it still remains a popular belief among both parents and educators. It’s a case where anecdote seems to have a stronger pull than sound scientific experimentation.

“For some reason, nutrition and behavior generates a lot of mythology. But in the controlled studies that investigated whether sugar versus placebo made children more hyperactive and interfered with their ability to concentrate, it’s clear that sugar was not linked to hyperactivity in kids,” he says. “But it’s very difficult to convince people once they think they are observing a relationship that it doesn’t exist, regardless of how many scientists say so and how many studies have been done.”

Myth:Hemispheric dominance (whether you are “left-brained” or “right-brained”) determines how you learn.

Where It Comes From: In the 1960’s, Roger Sperry, Joseph Bogen, and Michael Gazzaniga undertook what are now known as the “split-brain” studies. The group studied patients, usually epileptics, who had undergone a surgical procedure that severed the corpus callosum, or the white matter neural fibers that link the two hemispheres of the brain. The group discovered that this procedure resulted in some striking hemispheric differences on cognition. Gazzaniga, in an essay written for Nature Reviews Neuroscience about his split-brain research, says, “Nothing can possibly replace a singular memory of mine: that of the moment when I discovered that case W.J. could no longer verbally describe (from his left hemisphere) stimuli presented to his freshly disconnected right hemisphere.” The group went on to demonstrate that severing the corpus callosum in its entirety blocks interhemispheric communication—influencing a patient’s ability to perceive and describe information, depending on which side of the brain it was presented to.

More than four decades later, the split-brain work has undergone a metamorphosis in popular culture. It has been co-opted to describe visual and verbal learning styles, as well as different personality types. Books and popular periodicals argue that “hemispheric dominance,” or which side of the brain is more active, tells us about who we are as people. That “left-brainers” are your more analytical types—while “right-brainers” are more creative and expressive. And today, you’ll find all manner of educational books instructing teachers on how to harness the two different hemispheres to encourage optimal learning in the classroom.

Fact: Gazzaniga, now director of the Sage Center for the Study of Mind at University of California Santa Barbara (as well as a DABI member), says he couldn’t have predicted that his split-brain work could have become such a part of popular culture when he started the work more than 40 years ago.
“It took off and really had its own life,” he chuckled. “And it makes sense if you think about it in terms of a very easy way to explain what you knew about brain mechanisms and cognitive abilities. But it’s overly simplified and overstated.”

Gazzaniga says that the split-brain work has become “mixed up” with sound psychological and educational work that demonstrates that children use a variety of cognitive strategies to solve problems. “There are some kids who visualize problems and other kids who verbalize them. And some educators use those terms, visualizers and verbalizers,” he says. “That reality has been mapped on the right brain/left brain anatomy as an explanation. But that’s where it falls down. Because the actual neural mechanisms for how these cognitive strategies work are much more complex than that. Cognition, in general, is much more complex than that. That’s what we’ve learned over the years and continue to learn as we study hemispheric differences. It’s all just a lot more complicated than we ever thought.”

Myth: After a certain point, the brain is permanently wired and cannot change.
Fact: Herrmann-Nehdi said this is her favorite myth to debunk. Originally scientists believed the brain stopped growing at a certain age, but in the last 15 years researchers have found that it changes throughout life. “Learning can produce new connections, but it takes energy to do that,” she said. “That’s an important implication for corporate learning because it means all dogs can learn new tricks.”

Neuroscience

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Howard-Jones PA. Neuroscience and education: myths and messages. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2014. 15(12): 817-824.
James W. The Powers Of Men: The Keys Which Unlock Hidden Energies, and Stir Men to Achieve—Such Keys as Love, Anger, War, Duty, the Temperance ‘Pledge,’ Despair, Crowd-Contagion, Christian Science, Conversion, Prayer, Resistance of Temptation and Other Excitements, Ideas and Efforts. The American Magazine, 1907. 65: 57-65.
Penfield WP. The Mystery of Mind. Princeton: Princeton University Press; 1975.
Lashley KS. In search of the engram. Physiological mechanisms in animal behavior. 1950, Society for Experimental Biology, 454-482.
Raichle ME. The restless brain. Brain Connect, 2011. 1(1): 3-12.
Raichle ME, MacLeod AM, Snyder AZ, Powers WJ, Gusnard DA and
Shulman GL. A default mode of brain function. Proc Natl Acad Sci, 2001. 98(2): 676-682.
Langseth L and Dowd J. Glucose tolerance and hyperkinesis: A Meta-Analysis. Fed J Cosmetic Toxicol, 1978. 16: 120-133.
Wolraich ML, Wilson DB and White JW. The Effect of Sugar on Behavior or Cognition in Children. JAMA, November 22/29, 1995. 274 (20): 1617-1621.
Gordon HW, Bogen JE and Sperry RW. Absence of deconnexion syndrome in two patients with partial section of the neocommissures. Brain, 1971. 94: 327-336.
Gazzaniga MS. Forty-five years of split-brain research and still going strong. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, August 2005. 6: 653-659.

Jokes to Play in your Gymnastics Club Today.

Happy April Fools Day.

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I spend a great deal of time writing and coming up with serious things to post at Gym Momentum. Today we will depart from that. Life is too short not to have a little fun.

Those who know me in the gym know that I enjoy a good practical joke. I’ve been known to play a few as well.

Share your best Practical Joke and I will hook you up with a prize.

BEST PRACTICAL JOKES I”VE PLAYED. (my apologies to my children as they are often on the receiving end)

When the kids were younger I switched their beds while they were sleeping. Putting my son in my daughters’ room and visa-versa.

Used GREEN Hair spray and colored the kids hair while they were sleeping.

Had all the forms for my children to be legally named Rutabaga and Monkey Butt

Had our daughter convinced that she had an older sister we put in a convent. (This went on for 3 years)

Replaced Vanilla yogurt with mayonnaise

Filled a piñata with guacamole (the looks on their faces when it started oozing after they hit it was AWESOME)

Another time my wife and I pretended that THEY were invisible. (That may have crossed the line. They were 3 and 6 and my son cried).

As they have grown their revenge has been sweet and deserved. They replaced my deodorant with Cream Cheese and the best/ worst was when they scraped out the filling from Oreo’s (my favorite cookie) and replaced it with tooth paste.

Jokes I have played on my Neighbor

I was asked to take care of my neighbors cat. I sprinkled POP ROCKS in the cat litter box.

(same neighbor) Was gone for 3 months. I was helping his wife walk his dog. Every time I went over I would get a dog treat and say “Tim’s an A** Hole” and give the dog a treat and then take him for a walk. After 3 months All you had to do was say “Tim’s an A** Hole” and the dog would go NUTS.

Spur of the moment- I have a friend who is a cop. He stopped by to drop off some tickets to baseball game. One of my employees asked why I was talking to Cop. I said, “It appears you have a stalker. We will talk about it later. You probably need a lawyer”

Things I’ve done in the gym.

Replace the Windex with Blue Gatorade and drink it in front of kids. (Works well as long as you remember WHICH bottle you’ve filled)

I had a number of gymnasts that instead of spraying their grips would spray the water bottle in their mouth and then spit in their grips. A little SOAP in the water bottle does the trick. They no longer do that!

One that involves team work and acting- Threw one of the best (and nicest) kids out of the gym for not putting her grips on fast enough. She and I thought it was pretty funny!

A very realistic stuffed rat works great to get the kids out of the pit fast.

A few Balloons in a vaulting board that POP when the first kid hits the board.

A “woopie cushion” under a sting mat.

Go into the locker room and tie everyones shoes together

A little bit more work, but worth the effort, put a small hole in the spray bottle nozzle so that it usually sprays THEM or someone next to them as they try to spray their grips.

A well placed air horn behind the door

A well placed air horn behind the door

OR

Under a Chair

Under a Chair

[Read more…]

Managing Your Gymnastics Program

“The best boss I ever had.” That’s a phrase most of us have said or heard at some point, but what does it mean? And what can we do to have our employees say this about us?

The first thing we need to do is answer a few key questions:
What sets the great boss apart from the average boss?
What do great managers actually do?

While there are as many styles of management as there are managers, there is one quality that sets truly great managers apart from the rest:They discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it.checkers-chess1

 Average managers play checkers, while great managers play chess.

The difference? In checkers, all the pieces are uniform and move in the same way; they are interchangeable. You need to plan and coordinate their movements, certainly, but they all move at the same pace, on parallel paths. In chess, each type of piece moves in a different way, and you can’t play if you don’t know how each piece moves. More important, you won’t win if you don’t think carefully about how you move the pieces. Great managers know and value the unique abilities and even the eccentricities of their employees, and they learn how best to integrate them into a coordinated plan of attack.

Think about some of the techniques you used in the gym when you were “just a coach”.

You had some go to drills for certain skills to get you started but then you had to individualize training based on the physical and psychological needs of each gymnast. The longer you were in the gym you were able to spot trends. “Paige reminds me a lot of Lexa. Her shapes are similar. I will take the same path on her Tkatchev”. Then as you get further down the road you individualize even more. Possibly based on new pieces of equipment now available or just things that meet Paige’s needs better.

Managing your gym is no different. You need to know what makes each person tick. A critical part of you job, therefore, is to put people into roles and shifts that will allow them to shine—and to avoid putting clashing personalities together. At the same time, you need to find ways for individuals to grow.

Emma is a former level 10 gymnast who competed through college. I almost didn’t hire her because I thought she was a bit of a “princess”. During our cleaning week before we started our fall classes I asked her to clean and straighten up the bar area. A job which should have taken a few hours took her ALL DAY and it was not done that well. The next day I asked her to clean out the pre-school closet (where we keep all the props and things for lesson plans). In a very short period of time she had that closet organized with the props that were used the most in the front, everything in a very logical and easy to get order. Give Emma a generic task, and she would struggle. Give her one that forced her to be accurate and analytical, and she would excel.

3 important steps

First, identifying and capitalizing on each person’s uniqueness saves time. No employee, however talented, is perfectly well-rounded. Find the right job for that person. Time is much better spent carving out a role that takes advantage of someone’s natural abilities than to try to turn your preschool teacher into your head team coach.

Second, capitalizing on uniqueness makes each person more accountable. I didn’t just praise Emma for her ability to execute specific assignments. I challenged her to make this ability the cornerstone of her time in the gym. To take ownership for this ability and to teach others. Emma’s confidence bloomed and has become one of the strongest and most organized teachers in my program.

Third, capitalizing on what is unique about each person builds a stronger sense of team, because it creates interdependency. It helps people appreciate one anothers’ particular skills and learn that their coworkers can fill in where they are lacking. In short, it makes people need one another. The old cliché is that there’s no “I” in “team.” But as Michael Jordan once said, “There may be no ‘I’ in ‘team,’ but there is in ‘win.’”

To excel at managing others, you must bring that insight to your actions and interactions. Always remember that great managing is about release, not transformation. It’s about constantly tweaking your environment so that the unique contribution, the unique needs, and the unique style of each employee can be given free rein. Your success as a manager will depend almost entirely on your ability to do this.

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