Balancing Art & Science in Coaching Gymnastics

images-1Balancing Art & Science in Coaching

I am fascinated by science. The empirical nature of the scientific method has an innate appeal. (This may be a big surprise to my high school science teachers! Let’s just say- this love came later in my life.)  It allows us to study and explore the deepest dimensions of our being and our existence in the world. That being said at the end of the day I try to be a practitioner. My job as a coach is produce results, to apply the science to the best of my ability by transferring it into practice (and practices). The nature of this leans heavily on the art that is based on practice-based evidence. You can learn the SCIENCE but you have to practice the ART to get better at it. Maintaining a healthy balance between art and science is essential to progress as a coach.

In the words of Winston Churchill at the end of the day to get results “Science should be on tap, not on top.” 

I firmly maintain that for the gymnastics team to produce repeatable excellence that the coach must drive the bus but if the coach does not know the science then he will driving the bus without a map or a GPS. You might get there but who knows when and how?  And will you ever make it there again? Science can help provide needed direction and purpose.

The Art of Coaching

If you give two people the same number of guitar lessons with the same teacher and the same content, you will not produce two guitar players who are the same, or even at the same proficiency level. One of the students will get better more quickly because there is an art to music. There is innate talent. There are anthropomorphic advantages as well.

The same can be said for coach and leadership skills. ART is intuitive, SKILL is mechanical. ART is something innate that is nurtured, SKILL is something learned that is developed. SKILL is the execution of a theory while ART is the execution of a theory using instinctive and intrinsic traits causing a positive result.

In gymnastics coaching, skill would be designing a training time with gymnasts  that involves techniques and theories you have learned and then executing that plan in the actual session. The art would be in communicating the plan to the gymnasts and helping the client absorb, believe, and see the value of what you have designed.

Coach and Leadership Science and Art

Combining the science of coaching with the art of coaching is what makes a truly phenomenal coach. Just as most anyone could learn to play a guitar and even be proficient enough to play in a band if they worked diligently enough, not everyone would become a guitar virtuoso. There are countless numbers of three-chord teenage garage band guitarists, but very few who play with the innate and interpretive ability of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, or B.B. King.

Though the ultimate goal the USA Gymnastics University or other federations coaching programs and schools is to not create or discover the next Jimi Hendrix, it is to create the best coach by combining the art and science of coaching. This is done by developing the innate and intuitive talents of each student and then providing them with the tools of the trade. Likewise, leadership programs seek to nurture the innate ability of each individual to become a leader and merge this with powerful leadership techniques and skills.

Avoiding an Argument in your Gymnastics Business.

imagesIn the last year I have been asked a few times  to mediate a meeting  between a club owner and coaches (or a head coach and assistants). Although every situation is unique I want to focus on the similarities. I was called in because both parties felt they were MILES apart in finding a solution to the problem.

All business is about personal relationships. Instead of focusing on the differences between the parties I like to focus on the common goals. In gymnastics situations both the owners and employees share a common goal of gymnastics success. Most want a harmonic situation in the gym and in the business. Few people go in looking to make someones life miserable or to start arguments,

An example from my life. A few weeks ago as I was preparing for this trip to Iceland I had been really busy. I was feeling stressed getting everything ready at my gyms before I left. Making arrangements for plowing, cleaning etc. When I got home I thought it would be great just to go grab some take out with my wife.

During the trip I began sharing some of my recent thoughts and frustrations. One thing led to another and pretty soon I found that she was getting angry and us nearly getting into a full-fledged argument.

argument5The key here is that I said nearly got into an argument. It was weird because we didn’t really end up actually arguing. She was frustrated with me  maybe a little angry but that was as far as things went. In fact, things diffused so quickly that by the time we got home we were hugging and exchanging “I love yous.”

How did we do it? How can YOU do it in your gym?

Here are steps to follow to help you diffuse any argument before it actually starts:

Step 1: Remain calm. Whenever the conversation starts to get a bit heated and different views and opinions are conflicting, we tend to get very angry. As a result, we can end up saying things that we didn’t really want to say or saying things that we later regret. When this happens, we are caught up in our ego (aka our fear-based mind) rather than our true  selves.

When in this ego-driven mode of being, we can tend to really hurt other people and, most importantly, ourselves. So one way to get out of our fixation on our ego is to get calm. Bring your focus back to your body and to your breath. Take deep breaths and check-in on how your feel in your body and overall being — both physically and emotionally.

Simply making the effort to get and be calm alone can be an incredibly powerful tool, as it prevents us from saying anything that we don’t really mean or anything that we will regret later on.

Step 2: Let go of need to be “right” or heard. The second thing that we often do when we find ourselves getting into an argument is that we experience this strong need to be heard and to be “right.” This need to be “right” is also an ego-driven response.

Though seems completely contradictory, the reality is that when we let go of the desire to be “right,” it gives us more strength and power.

So let go of any drive or desire to be heard or right in the argument and allow things to simply be as it is. A reoccurring theme is going to be- Focus on your common goal.  Move forward, choose cooperation rather than fear.

Step 3: Listen. Whenever there is some kind of conflict or problem, many of us start feeling like we need to say something in order to make things better or justify our actions. However, I must say that the older and older I get the more I realize that the opposite is true.

Let me be clear: We don’t always need to verbally talk about things to “clear the air” and make things better. Many times, all that needs to happen is for someone to really truly listen. When someone is really truly heard and another person really truly listens, this is where true healing and progress can actually take place.

But Tony, whenever I do that I feel like a doormat! They feel everything I do is wrong! Oh trust me — I totally feel you there! That was like the story of my life for several years, but here’s the thing: We will only feel like a doormat when our underlying motivation is fear rather than progress and cooperation. We will never feel like a doormat when we see the situation finding resolve and that we are moving towards a common goal.

So if you ever do feel like a “doormat” then sit back and ask yourself: Am I calm? Have I fully let go of a need to be “right”? If not, then take the time to do so.

Step 4: Wait patiently. Once you have made the conscious decision for yourself in the previous steps to choose cooperation over fear, now the only thing left to do is wait. Simply allow things to be and allow the other person to process whatever they need to process.

During this time continue to remind yourself that you have a common goal.  No one is perfect. You may have said somethings you regret you may have done somethings in the gym you know you need to fix. Now is a good time to apologize and state what you will do to fix the mistakes.

Remember to be open and receptive. Don’t necessarily expect an apology or a reconciliation right away, as that will take you out of a place of cooperation and back into ego. But simply remember to be open and ready to receive so that if it does happen naturally then you are ready to receive it.

Take action now!

Think of an argument that you have been in recently. How have these steps may have changed the outcome? Is there any step that you feel may be more difficult for you to do rather than the others? How will you handle your next potential argument?

USE YOUR BRAIN…A bit of a rant

coach_gymnastics_postcard-rc6e7e47ad6a8429c91fd08c2838aec12_vgbaq_8byvr_324Apologies in advance. This is just something that has been bothering me for a while.

Lately I have been spending a great deal of time in gyms throughout North America and into Europe. No matter what gym I am in I hear the same complaints from coaches. “We would be better if we only had…. (insert name of piece of equipment)” 

I am not giving myself a free pass. I have my wish list like everyone else. I just do not believe that it is the newest piece of equipment that is going to change gymnastics. I LOVE MY PITS, MY TRAMP, MY TUMBL TRAK. But the majority of the drills I use were drills that made me really break down skills and think around problems.

A brief history- I taught my first double back and full twisting double back with out a pit. I am a good spotter but I didn’t rely soley on spotting. I stacked mats, we did drills, I broke the skill down to its smallest parts and made sure they were solid before we moved on.  I made sure the girls were strong enough to do the skill (and to take the inevitable bad landing). In the end, these gymnasts competed these skills successfully.

I am a far cry from the smartest coach. I over trained. I don’t think I developed a real systematic approach until about a decade after that first group. I picked the wrong skill for the wrong kid and wasted time. With time, I got smarter. More efficient. More organized. I spend hundreds of hours at conferences and clinics learning from the best gymnastics minds. I remember having the chance to analyze triple twists on floor on super 8 film (Thank you Don Tonry).  I traded videos tapes (Yes VHS tapes- I am that old) with other coaches of skills and drills (Thank you USECA Video club for making that easier).  As I tasted success, thanks to a group of very talented athletes, I started being a clinician at conferences.

I had two goals  at every conference and every clinic.

#1 was to share what I could. To make the next generation of coaches job easier. Very few coaches are inventing skills. Someone has already done the work. Share the knowledge.

#2 to learn something every day. Each coach has unique situations that come up in training. If another coach shares something, possibly I can avoid that problem or at least know what to do if it does come up.

No matter how big your gym is, how much equipment you have in it, The most important piece of equipment in your gym is your brain. You need to organize and run a practice based on the needs of the group as well as the individuals. You need to be part of a team of coaches. No equipment will help you with those tasks.

Remember- you are NOT alone. Seek help. Offer help. Gymnastics is the most beautiful sport because of YOU.

Words of advice-

– Learn to fail quickly and move on

– Be a better communicator.

– Make corrections, not observations

– Remember: We are all in this together

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Things That I am Thankful For 2014

Things That I am Thankful For

Dear Gym Momentum Coaches, Camp and Clinic Attendees, and Gymnasts.

Like every year this year has had its ups and its downs.  The constant is YOU. Your support, your friendship, your dedication and enthusiasm is why I do what I do.  When I hire my staff  for Gym Momentum Camps or Clinics I’m looking for people who, like me,   strive to be amazing and go beyond the expectations of all attendees.

I’m hoping that my staff will also be friends. What I’ve discovered though is that you’re not just friends you’ve become my family (Kelsey realize that they’re not really my family).

The coaches and gymnasts who attend Gym Momentum Camps and clinics. The energy you bring to these camps, your willingness to try new things and technique is why I believe in your success.

There are so many things I can be thankful for. I’ve made some great contacts this year, I’ve been able to work with great gymnasts and coaches, I’ve even made some friends.

BUT- most of all. I am Thankful for you. The Coaches, the Gymnasts who make it all possible and worthwhile.

Thank You and Happy Thanksgiving.

You can Read my other blog VACILANDO to get a list of Unconventional Things I am Thankful For

Dear Gymnastics Coaches

This morning I came across this article posted by WENDY BRUCE MARTIN on her blog GET PSYCHED. I couldn’t contact her fast enough asking permission to repost.

Please take the time to follow her blog. You will NOT be disappointed.  I am very excited to announce that Wendy will be working at GYM MOMENTUM CAMPS this summer!

View original article 

Dear Gymnastics Coaches,

Since working with athletes over the past years I have found a few common themes that I hear from the athletes. Since most of these themes have to do with the relationship between coach and athlete I felt it important to inform the coaches of these situations.
First, high-level gymnastics draws in a certain personality type. This gymnast is what we call a perfectionist; generally this gymnast is hard-working, determined, and pays attention to detail. Since gymnastics requires mastery of skills, consistent practice, and a huge time commitment, a perfectionist is usually a good match for the sport of gymnastics. The challenge comes in when a perfectionist knows that they must be perfect but they simply cannot reach the expectations placed on them by their coaches or even themselves.

A coach’s job is to teach gymnasts how to perform their skills with the least amount of deductions possible. In order to do this the coach trains the gymnast to be strong, flexible, and spends many years training body positions, drills, and the skills needed to master routines. From the time the gymnast enters the gym they’re constantly learning how to be stronger, how to punch higher, how to squeeze tighter, how to run faster, and how to hopefully one day be good enough.

For the gymnasts, they are constantly hearing that they need to be stronger, punch higher, squeezed tighter, run faster, and many times they find themselves feeling that they will never be good enough.
Many of the athletes I work with feel that they are failing at gymnastics and in life. In the perfectionist’s mind they feel that every time they get close to success that success is pushed a little further away. And because success is always dangling in front of their nose and they are never able to grab it, they are a failure. Perfectionists think in a world of black-and-white, right and wrong, good and bad, and success and failure. So for a perfectionist if they are making mistakes or not able to succeed then they feel that they are failing.
Because coaches are the ones whom are consistently giving them the instructions on how to make improvements (because that is essentially the job of a coach) it is the coach that the perfectionist also feels that they can never please. If the coach is consistently asking the gymnast for more and more and more than the gymnast feels that they will never be able to please their coach.
I hear gymnasts tell me that they feel that they are disappointing their coaches if they fall at a competition, they can’t get a skill fast enough, if they are scared to do a skill, if they have trouble understanding what is asked of them, or they simply are having a bad day. Gymnastics coaches of course are not disappointed in their athlete but they may be frustrated, stressed, or annoyed because the gymnast did not perform the way the coach was hoping. That in many ways causes the gymnast to have more fears, performance issues, and a lack of confidence because they are so concerned about disappointing their coach.

Coaches need to take the time to reflect on how far their athletes have come and how far they have improved. The athletes need to hear that you are proud of them. The athletes need to hear more then just corrections. Especially perfectionists, they need to hear that they are succeeding.
Next, coaches also must remember that their word carries more value to the gymnasts than that of an average person. Gymnasts place their coaches high on a pedestal where most of everything that they say is believed. If the coach tells their gymnasts that they need to keep their head in when they punch for a back tuck, they believe it. Just like if they tell them that they need to have a strong core to be able to hold body shapes, they believe it. If they tell them that they are not trying hard enough, they believe it. And even when they tell them that they are lazy and that they are wasting their time and their parent’s money and they should stop doing gymnastics, they believe it.

Coaches have been known to say even worse, I admit I have caught myself saying some harmful things in my past as well, and we all need to know that we must be careful what we say to our gymnasts because they are listening, and they are believing.
I truly believe that coaches are doing the best that they can and that they put 100% of their heart into the development of their gymnasts. And I truly believe that if some of the coaches knew that their gymnasts were scared of them, they thought their coaches hated them, they thought that they disappointed their coaches, were sick to their stomachs when they knew they were going to coach them on an event, and some gymnasts even wanted to quit because they are so fearful of their coach, the coaches would certainly not want their gymnasts feeling this way.

And finally, during practice today pay attention to what you say to your athletes, and how you say it because these are children’s lives you are molding. Do not try to break them down to build them up. Most will stay down. Build them up. Empower them. As coaches, YOU have more power than you may understand. YOU have the power to mold children into fierce, strong, and unbreakable athletes, so use your power wisely.

Love Always!!!
The Gymnastics Mental Coach

 

A good read as well Whats happening with Gymnastics Coaches

Habits of Productive Gymnastics Coaches

This will be the first in a series of articles that I intend to write. Some will be here, hopefully some will be published in magazines that I contribute to. (But don’t worry- if they don’t get picked up- I will put them here!)

Heading to the Region 6 Development Camp last week Neil Resnick and I had a great conversation about what the most successful coaches do (possibly differently from others). What makes them a success.

The most successful coaches I know are also the most productive day in, day out. They run incredibly efficient training sessions.

photo 3“Productivity” is such a buzz word these days that hundreds of books, apps and systems have popped up hoping to teach us the magic formula.

But at the end of the day, really getting the most out of your practices comes down to the fundamentals.

Successful coaches  have known for years that to stay productive, it’s essential to build habits that organize your day and help you get the most out of your training time.

Here are 3 of the habits that I feel highly productive coaches do every day — even when they’re pressed for time. (and please- if you feel you are a successful coach and disagree or want to share your thoughts- do so. This website has always been about the sharing of information and knowledge).

1.) They’re early risers.
There was probably a period of time in your life where it was easy stay up late into the night (or early into the next morning) trying to get things done. If your anything like me, however, that period was over a long time ago.

Recently, I’ve come to realize that all eight-hour periods just aren’t created equally.

Even when we do not have morning training before school I try to stick to a schedule. Going to bed at 10 p.m. and waking up at 5 or 6 a.m. is exponentially better than going to bed at 3 a.m. and waking up at 10 or 11 a.m., even thought the time frame is the same.

Early risers really do have a distinct advantage when it comes to mental clarity, acuity and energy. Simply put: Waking up early works better than any other strategy for becoming more productive. But you have to make sure you get enough sleep to back it up. So get to bed!

2.) They start every day with an intention, focus or meditation.
Starting your day with a clear idea of what you want to do changes everything.

Have you ever had a day where as soon as you woke up, there were already missed calls, text messages and emails screaming for your attention — and you felt like you were struggling to stay afloat before breakfast? Oh, that sounds like every day, you say? That needs so stop.

If you like, you can meditate. You know, cross-legged, a candle, with some nice music playing in your ridiculously expensive Beats headphones.

I find the time I spend with a coffee before anyone else is up in the house is very centering and helps me focus for the day.

But if that’s too much, you can just “take 10.”

Take 10 quick breaths, think about your main objectives for the day, and then get moving. This seems too simple to have an effect, but it’s not. If you’re used to getting up already in battle mode, then you’ve probably forgotten how it feels to have a moment to yourself.

Take a few of those minutes back and refocus yourself. It really helps.

3.) They train their bodies.
Working out is probably the highest leverage tool in your arsenal that can make you feel predictably better and keeps you both physically and emotionally healthy year round. If you want to have the mental energy to take on an endless competitive season and countless training sessions,  you need to be physically (as well as mentally) strong.

What are your thoughts? What do you do to be more productive?

Let us know. Share your thoughts and keep the momentum going.

I AM A REFLECTION OF YOUR LIGHT

November 4, 1994

First day in the gym.  My Gym. Wow. This place is HUGE. I hope we can get to 280 students this year. This is going to be great!

November 4, 2014

Tuesday. My Gym. Things are really tight in the gym. I may have to cap enrollment at 600. I wonder if I should expand or look at opening up a third location? This is going to be great! 

I AM A REFLECTION OF YOUR LIGHT

The last 20 years have been pretty amazing. (Read Letter To Myself) On the way into work this morning I was listening to Carlos Santana and thinking of all the great things that have happened here. All the great gymnasts, parents and coaches that I have been able to work with. The TONY I am today is because of the interaction I have had with everyone through the years.  THANK YOU ALL!

WHAT I HAVE LEARNED IN THE LAST 20 YEARS IN BUSINESS

1. Run With Blinders On

We spend a lot of time wondering what is happening over there in the gym. “What are they doing over there? What is that group doing? Wait, why are they doing that ” At best this is wasted energy, and at worst a real distraction that keeps you from being fabulous you. It is a surprisingly simple message: run like no one else matters.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean be an isolationist and it doesn’t mean you don’t work with other people, but if you see yourself wondering what someone else is doing and it isn’t something you can directly incorporate into making you better, it is wasted energy – pure and simple. Put your blinders on and focus straight ahead – all of that other stuff wont matter.

2. It Is All Personal, Not Business

Contrary to Hollywood screenwriters and every movie Michael Douglas has ever been in, business is personal. Telling yourself anything different may be a necessary rationalization to help you sleep at night, but the sooner you admit it, the quicker you can learn to lead. Every decision you make to “buy” or “not buy” has another person on the other end of that sale that impacts them directly.

Knowing this is personal should not stop you from doing what is right for the business and the hardest decisions I have had to make have been about whether to hire or fire people. I have had the privilege of hiring someone (who had been out of work for awhile) on Christmas Eve and of making tough decisions to let someone go. The faster you can get used to personal, the quicker you can learn how to properly react to your business decisions and garner the respect of your ecosystem.

3. Think Marathon, Not Sprint

Your world will get smaller and smaller as you grow in it. You encounter the same situations and people over and over. After awhile, you wont even bother saying “deja vu” anymore. With this in mind, often the best decisions are made with a long-term goal in mind, even at the cost of sacrificing short-term gains. But, thinking of this as a long-term race, instead of your short-term goal this week, will help you make smarter decisions.

4. Find A Mentor

Always have someone as your coach, your confidant, and your advisor. This can be formal or informal, but you need a “go-to” person at every stage of your life. This person may change and you may add mentors over time. Find them. In case you were asking, “why would they help me?” it is because they get the better end of the deal. I see that now that I am fortunate enough to be a mentor several times over.

5. There Are Incredibly Smart People Who Will Help You If You Ask

One of my mentors told me how he would reach out to people he admired and ask them a few questions – their expert advice. Always done in a respectful way and mindful of their time, he was significantly more successful than not in getting some great counsel and often a new friendship or relationship with this person. And damn if he wasn’t right – it totally works.

6. Leadership Doesn’t Need A Title

Don’t wait for the title to lead. Leadership is about helping the business succeed and helping those around you make that happen. Leadership is also about trust and those around you knowing you have their back. Too many young employees, head coaches and/or gym managers feel like “When I get that title, I can really guide this place.” You should be thinking about how you can show leadership on your first day. If you know nothing else about what is going on, start to get to know people and what they are doing or working on, their background, and what makes them tick. Your influence starts with orientation. Good leaders don’t wait for titles.

7. Learn to Eat S**t

Everybody has someone who has power over him or her – no one is immune. For you proud, independent sorts – this one will be a challenge. Get used to doing things you don’t want to, don’t like doing, or aren’t in your comfort zone. Yes, you can quit or complain or stage a sit-in or whatever. But there is another big plate of it waiting at your next job.

Oh, by the way, starting your own gym and being your own boss doesn’t get you out of this – you have parents or MORE kids, possible investors, partners, and customers who own you. So, get used to it, accept it, and grow your career so these times are fewer and farther in between. Or plan on winning the lottery and living alone on your own island, but then you are going to want satellite TV and now you are dealing with DirectTV and now you are right back to having to eat s**t – never mind.

8. Your Business Network Should Grow Inversely Proportional To Your Personal Relationships

When I opened up my gym I was 28.  In your 20′s, you will have access to some of the greatest people who will eventually become life long friends. You cannot predict who these folks will be – some that I was sure would be with me for life have dropped out of sight, only to be replaced by some fantastic friends who I did not see coming. You will have a bigger network of friends and personal acquaintances at this age as you aren’t saddled with bigger responsibilities of life (kids and their schedules, aging parents, etc.). Meanwhile, your business network is in its infancy.

Over time, your business network should grow, as you see your personal relationships grow smaller in numbers (fewer, but – hopefully – deeper relationship). Knowing this is coming can help you select your core friends and help you effectively grow your business network.
9. What Is More Important Is How You Handle The Big Screw-Up

If there is one thing I have gotten good at- screwing up. AND THEN FIXING IT. Over time, you are going to make some colossal blunders. Epic screw-ups. I have always been a bit of a perfectionist.  I have a history of making all the right moves – uncannily so. Then 1-2 big missteps sent me rocketing backward. When failure eventually happens, how you handle it will define you. Do rise to the occasion and accept responsibility or do you fall in a pit, never to be heard from again? Do you blame everyone else, or do you face it head-on, smile, and say, “what’s next?” How you handle it sends a clear signal of your mettle to both friends and your business network. Leadership is as much about defeat as it is about success.

10. Get Knocked Down 6, Get Up 7

This one didn’t make sense to me earlier in life. “Of course you get up,” was what my head said an age ago. ”Why wouldn’t you?” Over time, I have seen folks make a few mistakes, but find it harder to get back up the 4th or 5th time. Remember, this is a marathon so think long term. Keep getting up and stick it out, even when you want to just lie down on the mat for the 10- count. Those that keep getting up when life knocks them down will soon find that there are great leadership opportunities for those that are weathered by experience and keep showing up.

Bonus: Wait It Out

Change is inevitable.  The great economy now will falter. Can you stick it out until the next “Olympic Boom”? When the economy tanked a few years ago, we ran the gym on our credit cards. We used a line of credit. We became a stronger and more efficient machine. We knew it was going to be OK if we could wait it out.

Similar to “Run With Blinders On,” when you see some big new thing that you think is going to cause some disruption in your life, there is a tendency to want to react immediately to the situation. Don’t. Most of these are minor inconveniences – nuisances at worst. Take a breadth.

I have learned – over time and “the hard way” – that if something is standing between my goals and me, I can wait them out. They move on, flame out, and sometimes become my advocate. Usually they just implode and you are in a greater place for sticking it out. Wait them out (or see “win the lottery, move to island” strategy above).

 

Dealing With Difficult Parents

You probably never imagined contending with difficult parents when you dreamed of becoming a coach. Unfortunately, almost every coach is faced with an irate parent at some time. Not only is dealing with an angry or unreasonable parent upsetting, it’s time consuming. It’s only natural for parents to want the best for their child. Every now and then there are parents who refuse to accept that their child struggles in the gym. It can be easy for them to make excuses and blame others for their child’s troubles. Before you know it, you have a huge problem on your hands. Here are some tried and true tips to help you resolve difficult situations with parents.

Dealing with difficult parents requires that coaches first deal with themselves. There are few absolutes in gymnastics. Every rule has an exception and no matter how consistent coaches attempt to be, there are times when plans must be adjusted. But however flexible coaches must be about some things, there are a few absolutes that involve the coaches own actions and approaches. I have a general rule. Never make the exception the rule.  The best advice I ever received was, “You do not have to prove who is in charge; everybody knows who is in charge.”   Think about the best teachers you had in school. How often must they prove who is in charge in their classroom? Almost never. Now think about the least effective gym managers you know. How often do they try to prove who is in charge? Most likely, several times every hour! And, as a result, the gymnasts and coworkers may often try to prove them wrong. This same idea applies when working with challenging parents.

Effective coaches and gym managers never argue, yell, use sarcasm, or behave unprofessionally. The key word in that sentence is NEVER. There are several reasons to adopt this credo. One of them is that in every situation there needs to be at least one adult, and the only person you can rely on to act as the adult is you. I also believe that it isn’t a good idea to argue with difficult people. You will not win. Difficult people may argue a great deal of time in every aspect of their lives. They argue at home, are confrontational at work, and probably have a great number of tense conversations on a regular basis.

People can control how many arguments they get in. People also determine how often they yell or use sarcasm to make a point. As a coach you can teach others—students, parents, and other staff members—new ways to interact, not merely polish others’ inappropriate skills. If I, as a coach and gym owner believe that the difficult people I encounter are doing the best they know how, then one of my missions should be to help them learn better behavior. I believe we gymnastics educators have a responsibility to consistently model appropriate behavior to everyone with whom we come in contact. We should do so 100% of the time. If you question this, ask yourself two questions: Do I expect the students in my gym  to behave appropriately 100% of the time? and Do I hope that parents treat me with respect and dignity 100% of the time? If your answers to these questions are yes, then you must behave professionally 100% of the time

1. Let upset parents know that your goal is to help every child succeed. Look for ways to find common ground. Tell parents that both of you want what’s best for their child and that you want to find ways to work together. When parents are able to look at the big picture and realize that you are on the same side, you can begin to work together to help their child succeed.
2. Be sensitive! No matter how tense a situation becomes, always remember that the gymnast is also someone’s precious baby. Open your conversation with parents by acknowledging the child’s strengths before you focus on areas of concern.
3. Good records that document dates, times, notes and decisions about the gymnast can be invaluable if problems arise. Keep track of communication you’ve had with parents throughout the season. I know record keeping is a pain in the A$$ but keeping track of the everyday progress of a gymnast can make your life so much easier. We all know that the parents are only ever getting one side of the story.  Often you will have near constant communication with a parent. I would encourage you to also keep detailed records of these meetings. Your job may rely on it. Make a set of parent communication folders by labeling file folders with the names of your gymnasts. Staple a few blank sheets of paper inside each folder. Use these folders to jot notes with details of important conversations and keep notes from parents organized. Inside each folder, write the date, name of the parent with whom you spoke, and any actions that need to be taken. Make a separate folder on your computer and keep every e-mail and letter you send. After making phone calls to parents to discuss problems, take a few minutes to record any important information that was discussed. Parent Communication Files come in handy if you ever need to document how you’ve involved and informed parents after an incident at the gym.
4. Be proactive! Contact parents as soon as you see  problems or negative behavior patterns develop. You’ll have a better chance to change these patterns if you catch them early. Here are some things to discuss with parents:
• areas where their child excels
• if their child is attentive during practice
• their child’s progress
• specific areas where their child experiences difficulties
• specific ways they can help their child at home
• how well their child gets along with teammates
• allow parents to share their concerns and ask questions
• if you are unsure what a parent asks about, request specific examples
5. Be prepared to give specific examples to illustrate the points you make. You may need to show parents examples of average and above average work the level. DO NOT USE NAMES. The idea isn’t to compare students to one another, it’s to give parents a clear idea of exactly what your expectations are for your gymnasts.
6. Have you ever been caught off guard by a parent and answered a question in a way that you regret later? If a parent asks you a question that floors you, don’t be put on the spot. It’s fine to let parents know that you need some time to reflect on their question before you respond. Let them know that you’ll get back to them. Relax—you’ve just bought yourself time to explore options and perhaps bounce ideas off of a colleague before you respond to the parents.
7. Don’t be afraid to end a meeting with parents who become confrontational. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to provide an opportunity for all parties to cool down and reflect on the issues at hand by bringing the meeting to a close. Set a time and date to meet again. If you feel threatened, ask a colleague or your boss to attend the next conference.
8. It’s awkward when parents share too much information with you. While it’s helpful to know things that directly impact a gymnast, it can be problematic when parents disclose too much personal information. It’s not your job to be their therapist. Remind parents that during the limited time you have to speak with them, that you need to focus on their child and not on them.
9. Sometimes neighborhood issues spill over into the classroom. Don’t let yourself get dragged into disputes between families of children in the gym. Problems escalate quickly if it’s perceived that you’re siding with other parents. When parents begin to share information about neighborhood squabbles, jump right in and tell them that it’s information that you don’t need to hear. Let parents know that you’re receptive to their thoughts and ideas about their child, but you must stay out of personal issues between the families.
10. Watch for parents who hover relentlessly. I had a parent my second year of coaching who expected to volunteer in the gym   every day. I welcome parent volunteers for some jobs (press releases, communication etc), but this was ridiculous! I let her know that her daughter needed the space to develop social skills and gain independence.
11. Be prepared for a worst case scenario. Read your contract or board policy and make sure you understand your rights and the steps to follow if a parent files a formal complaint.

Managing difficult parents can be one of the hardest parts about coaching and working in a gym. It’s easy to dwell on negativity and begin to question your skills as a coach. Instead of worrying about how those parents perceive you, approach them and offer them the opportunity to join you as you help their child have the best year possible. Chances are the vast majority of parents of students in your gym are thrilled that you are their child’s coach! Focus on all that positive energy and have a great rest of the school year!

27 things parents of gymnasts should avoid

I recently came across the article. I cannot remember the first time I read this but I remember being a VERY rookie coach handing this out to all the parents of my current team. It was written by J. Howard, Professional gymnastics coach since 1980, Tumbling, Double mini and Trampoline coach since 1986, gymnastics author of 26 books, Gymnastics/Sports hypnotist, Coach of Gymnastics, Tumbling, Double-mini, Trampoline and Cheer-leading State, Regional, National, Jr. Olympic National, Jr. Elite National and Jr. World Age Group Champion medalists, commercial gymnastics web site designer, consultant and owner, gymnastics business consultant, Gymnastics staff trainer, Gymnastics equipment and facility layout designer, NCAA Division I cheer-leading coach for two years, Company CEO, business, business strategy and computer consultant. Enjoy…

Gymnastics in and of itself is beneficial for gymnasts at all levels of participation.
Here are 27 things parents of gymnasts should avoid doing so they don’t interfere with the positive benefits:

1 Don’t compare your gymnast’s progress with that of other gymnasts.
2 Don’t become overly ego-involved with your gymnast’s success or lack of it.
3 Don’t take judge’s scores too seriously, especially at the lower levels.
4 Don’t forget the need for fun in gymnastics.
5 Don’t stand for unacceptable behavior from your gymnast during practice or competitions.
6 Don’t participate in gossip about anyone in the gymnastics community.
7 Don’t interfere with coaches and their coaching duties during practice or competitions.
8 Don’t pressure your gymnast regarding skills or competition.
9 Don’t set unrealistic goals for your gymnast.
10 Don’t predicate your love or attention on your gymnast’s competitive success.
11 Don’t base your own ego or self-esteem on the success of your gymnast’s progress or competitive success.
12 Don’t lose your long-term perspective about the importance of your gymnast’s participation in the sport.
13 Don’t let yourself care too deeply about your gymnast’s competition results.
14 Don’t undercut your gymnast’s confidence in their coaches or coaching.
15 Don’t show any negative emotions while watching your gymnast practice or compete.
16 Don’t try to make your gymnast talk with you immediately after a gymnastics meet, especially if they performed poorly.
17 Don’t do or say anything to make your child feel guilty for the time and money you are spending on their gymnastics or any sacrifices you feel are making for them to participate in the sport.
18 Don’t badmouth your gymnast’s coaches, your gym or other gymnasts in front of your gymnast.
19 Don’t attempt to coach your gymnast yourself.
20 Don’t alienate your gymnast’s coaches.
21 Don’t predicate your support for your gymnast’s participation in the sport on any expectation of a monetary return like receiving a college scholarship.
22 Don’t try to recreate your own career or live out your own sports dreams through your gymnast.
23 Don’t do anything to make enemies with other gymnast’s parents.
24 Don’t expect anything more from your gymnast except their best effort.
25 Don’t ever do or say anything that will cause your gymnast to think less of you.
26 Don’t use sarcasm, threaten or use fear to try to motivate your gymnast.
27 Don’t expect anything more from gymnastics than physical fitness, life skills and fun for your gymnast.