Kids Learn from our examples

I was recently reading this article in The Huffington Post. Unfortunately I cannot find the original article to give proper credit. But it made me think of how we can be better examples to the kids we coach. You may want to share this with all the parents on your team.  I also wrote about this in my other blog Vacilando. 

Remember the 1987 PSA about kids and drugs? A father finds drug paraphernalia in his son’s closet and questions him about where he found the drugs, how he even KNEW about drugs. The boy starts in with the standard excuses and finally explodes I learned it from watching you, Dad!

It was a groundbreaking commercial back in the day when stirrup pants were the rage and Bon Jovi was on the stereo and Dirty Dancing was in the theaters.

Here we are, a zillion years later, and things have changed. And stayed the same. Stirrup pants have been replaced by yoga pants — Bon Jovi seems to get better looking every year, and lines from Dirty Dancing are still quoted regularly (right now you are saying to yourself “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” — admit it).

There is one thing about the drug PSA that hits home in today’s modern world. Actually, it’s a phenomenon that’s always been there.

Children learn from their parents.

And our gymnasts learn from us. You can tell them what to do over and over and over again, but it’s really by watching that they learn. We’ve all witnessed gymnasts (for good or bad) mimic the behavior of their coaches.  We have see toddlers ‘cooking’ like mommy or mimicking their father’s voice or copycatting something on television.

Why, then, are we so surprised that the teens in the world are attached to smartphones? Addicted to their devices? Aren’t we, too, “just checking Facebook” or “sending a quick text” or “making a call” when we are with our children? Aren’t we teaching them by example?

I had a parent come up to the front desk at my gym and she was checking her phone for 30 seconds or so until she acknowledged me. She was attempting to sign her child up for classes and during to 5 minutes it took to do this she sent and received a dozen text messages. Completely ignoring her child (Who was pretending to text on what I HOPE was a pretend cell phone) A recent study by Boston Medical Center shows some scary facts. According to the Boston study, 40 out of 55 caregivers at a fast food restaurant used their devices and their “primary engagement was with the device, rather than the child.” I think the word here is distracted.

Parenthood is not an easy job, and the few minutes parents of young children get to themselves is precious. I know, because I’ve been there. Anyone with small children has been there — that moment when you think if I don’t get 13 seconds to myself I am going to lose my mind. And parents need that. Everyone needs that. Really.

The bigger issue is how we interact with our children when we are, in fact, trying to interact with them. Are we constantly on our iPhone, checking work email or Facebook or whatever?

Technology is not going away, so it’s our job to use it wisely, and, by doing so, teach our children how to use it wisely. There is a place for technology — it’s just not at the very tip top of the list. I hate sitting with my friend, a smart, attractive, interesting young women who lives way too many miles away, whom I rarely see and happen to think the world of, tapping on her cell phone. I want to say HEY — OVER HERE! I AM YOUR FRIEND. I AM BUYING YOU DINNER! I THINK YOU ARE, BY FAR, THE ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING PEOPLE IN THE UNIVERSE AND I LOVE YOU AND I WILL ALWAYS HAVE YOUR BACK!

I don’t say that, of course, because she would be horrified and I would be on the first bus to the asylum.But if I am feeling that way about her lack of attention, what would my kids be feeling about my lack of attention? And, more importantly, what would they be feeling about my lack of attention if they were still three years old and thought I was still magical?

Along with our many, many other jobs as parents, we have to model a healthy relationship with technology. We want to have a real relationship with our children so they can forge real relationships with others. I don’t know about you, but I am hoping for grandchildren some day. If I don’t teach my children how to connect with the human race, I may miss my chance. Sitting around the Thanksgiving table with a bunch of little iPhones just doesn’t have the same je ne sais quoi, does it?

Here are a few tips on ways to form relationships with people you coach and work with instead of dependent relationships on inanimate objects:

When you are in the gym, DON’T BRING YOUR CELL PHONE IN WITH YOU.I know you “just want to video that skill” Don’t just put down your smartphone, put it away. Once it is out of site, it’s less likely to distract you and shows your gymnasts that they are  priority.

If you have to use your phone- let people know why.  “I am going video a routine and then post it on our youtube page for college coaches to see”.

Create boundaries around technology and apply the rules to everyone, gymnasts and coaches. If you’ve agreed to a no phones in the gym  rule, it should apply to everyone, not just the gymnasts. (Revisit the “I learned it from watching you, Dad” commercial when tempted.)

Teach your gymnasts the art of conversation by practicing with them. Ask open-ended questions of them and answer their questions to you thoughtfully and thoroughly. Skip the one-word answers or the distracted “uh huh” when you are with them.

When you do, in fact, have to  call them on their phone, set the expectation that they should answer or call you back. Too often phone calls receive a text in return. Why? Text is easier, safer and less taxing than a phone conversation.

Keep private information private. What might seem cute or funny or endearing to you (Your 8-year-old son dressed up in his sister’s dance costume! Your 3-year-old is finally potty trained! Your high-schooler made the chess team!) is not for public consumption. Show your gymnasts you respect them by using discretion at all times. THAT GOES FOR YOUR LIFE TOO! Your gymnasts would be horrified if they ever saw some of your Facebook statuses!

Most parents and coaches  are hoping to instill a strong sense of self-esteem in their children. We want them to be capable, responsible, happy, healthy members of society. Sitting with heads buried in laptops or eyes scanning phones tells them that we think very little of them. We devalue them.



Saw this in the Huffington Post the other day. Always a good reminder

Shannon Babineau, MD
Assistant Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
Director of Pediatric Headache Medicine, The Mount Sinai Hospital

A new school year has begun. Playgrounds are full of children chasing, tumbling and climbing. Sports fields teem with young athletes practicing football, field hockey, and soccer. And, emergency rooms this fall will see thousands of pediatric concussions resulting from head injuries sustained during these and other activities. Unfortunately, sports-related concussion is a common injury among children and adolescents, and symptoms can seriously intrude on children’s lives, especially if not recognized and addressed early on.

What is a concussion?
A concussion results from either a direct blow to the head, face, or neck, or to another part of the body where the force transmits to the head. Because it changes the function — not structure — of the brain, we cannot see a concussion by taking a picture of the head with a CAT scan or MRI. It’s as if the nerve cells are shocked and their electrical signals malfunction for a time; with proper treatment, the brain eventually will “reset” itself and the concussion will end.

What symptoms does concussion cause?
In concussion, short-lived impairment of neurological function will quickly follow the head injury. This can range from feeling dazed or “out of it” to experiencing such symptoms as headache, dizziness, nausea, or changes in personality or levels of awareness, such as temporary loss of consciousness; however, one does not need to be knocked unconscious to have suffered a concussion.

What should I do if my child shows signs of concussion?
Fortunately, most athletic trainers and coaches have been trained to identify concussion, and know to immediately remove the child from the sport or game. If your son or daughter suffers a blow to the head or has a big fall during an unorganized sport or on the playground, immediately stop the activity. If he or she is awake and communicating well but complaining of symptoms like headache and dizziness, consult your pediatrician and try to get your child evaluated in the next couple of hours. If your youngster loses consciousness or seems confused and not aware of who or where they are, it’s time to call 9-1-1.

How is concussion treated and how long will it take my child to recover?
When a child breaks a leg, we put a cast on it and tell the patient not to walk on it for several weeks. With concussion, we can’t apply a cast and tell children to stop using their brain entirely. Like a broken limb, their brain needs rest and time to heal. It’s difficult to predict which children will take a couple of days and which will take several weeks to recover from concussion. On average, most kids recover in 10 to 12 days, but it can vary from three days to a month or more, according to a recent study in Pediatrics.

Usually in the beginning, we want them to avoid all the stressors and stimuli of school, so we recommend they stay home and rest for at least a couple days. This means no physical activity, no homework, no reading, and limited screen time. It’s difficult to get kids to quit their electronics altogether, so we try to give reasonable limits, such as an hour a day in 15- to 20-minute increments. But if light aggravates their headaches, dizziness, or nausea, we recommend that they stay away from all screens — smart phones, computers, television — and instead try a more restful activity like listening to books on tape.

When can my child go back to school?
One of the more frustrating aspects of recovery is that every kid heals at a different rate. Headaches can linger, and children may have difficulty paying attention and concentrating. Typically, we want children’s symptoms to improve before they return to school. We often will recommend they start on a modified schedule, such as a half day, with no homework assignments, and build up from there as symptoms allow. Communication among the child, parents, doctor, and teachers is critical during this period.

When is it safe to return to sports?
Light aerobic activity, such as walking, is okay as long as their dizziness has abated and their headache is mild or gone, but children should be 100 percent symptom-free for one week before returning to their sports program. Most athletic trainers and coaches know about the “return to play” protocol in school sports, which calls for a graded approach, rather than putting the kids back into full competition mode. For instance, youngsters may start with basic running and if their symptoms don’t return, they progress through sports-specific drills, then practice, then — if still symptom-free — they can return to the full game.

We know that children who receive a second concussion while already suffering from an initial concussion have more symptoms and take longer to recover. Some schools screen their athletes at the beginning of the year with a computerized “baseline test” to evaluate a child’s ability to pay attention and focus. Then, if the child suffers a head injury, subsequent tests can support a concussion diagnosis, and help in determining the child’s readiness to return to sports.

How can concussions in youth be prevented?
Accidents will happen — as will concussions. The risk for concussion is greater in certain sports, such as football, ice hockey, lacrosse, and soccer. If you are worried about concussion or if your child seems accident-prone or has previously suffered multiple concussions, you may want to choose a lower-risk sport, such as swimming or cross-country. Beyond that, we don’t have good preventive measures. We think helmets may help, but there is no data yet to suggest they dramatically change the concussion rate, and we don’t want to give a false sense of security. The most important thing to remember is that early recognition and management of concussion symptoms are vital to helping your child recover fully and return to school and play.



Lately I have been writing a lot of leadership and that has created many questions. As an educator I feel obligated to find answers to these questions. Here was my response to a friend and colleague who was looking for ways to motivate staff.

What makes a leader great?
Ask most people and they’ll say “intelligence” for starters. Vision, drive, people skills, being able to communicate well, blah, blah, blah. Those are the crap answers you’ll get from all the Ivy League wimps who orate from behind their oak desks. They’re forgetting the big stuff; the stuff you don’t learn in prep school.
Sure, every leader needs brains (or in my case , people around them with brains) and vision, but that’s only to get the top job. Staying at the top involves possessing completely different skills. Not every clown has them. What are they?

1- Being respected — unequivocally and indisputably.
2- Being street smart — It’s self-explanatory, if I need to explain it, you’ll never have it.
3- Being feared — Make people around you pee in their pants.
4- Being a good bluffer — That’s the nice way of saying “being a good liar.” Just ask any politician
5- Getting your fingernails dirty — Leading by example.

Today’s lesson, my dear friend, is about the importance of number five. If you can do whatever you tell others to do, no one can ever say “I can’t.” Leading by example does two very important things; it inspires people and it garners you respect. It helps you keep your job as top dog and ensures you always get the big bologna sandwich
Get your hands dirty. Do the work and know your job and theirs! You don’t have to be the most advanced technician on the team, but you must have an in-depth understanding of your industry and your business. Leaders have many responsibilities, but it is important to work alongside your team. This is a great way to build trust and continue to develop your own knowledge and skills.
Watch what you say. Actions do speak louder than words, but words can have a direct impact on morale. For better or for worse. Be mindful of what you say, to whom, and who is listening. Always show support for all team members. If someone needs extra guidance, provide it behind closed doors. I have a rule- praise in public- punish in private. There are a few times when you need to break that rule. If you are especially close to an employee and they fuck up. Everyone needs to know you called them out on it. Years ago at camp- Jose’ came late to a meeting and then practice. As one of my best friends, I had to make sure everyone knew that I called him out on it. Otherwise I would have no authority.
Respect the chain of command. One of the fastest ways to cause structural deterioration, foster confusion, and damage morale is to go around your direct reports. All team members need to respect the leadership at every level. If tyou don’t respect the chain of command, why would anyone else?
Listen to the team. As leaders, sometimes we are so consumed with providing directive, giving orders, and, well, talking that we forget to stop and listen. If the recruitment and training engine is functioning well, you should have a whole team of experts to turn to for advice. One sign of good leadership is knowing that you don’t know everything. Listen and get feedback from your team regularly.
Take responsibility. As the saying goes, it’s lonely at the top. Blame roles uphill. Great leaders know when to accept that mistakes have been made and take it upon themselves to fix them. It doesn’t matter if one of your team members messed up or you did. If you are the leader, you need to take responsibility.
Let the team do their thing. Stop micromanaging. Communicate the mission, vision, values, and goals. Then step back and let the team innovate. Setting this example for the team will encourage your other managers to do the same.
Take care of yourself. Wellness and fitness are essential for good leadership. The more you take care of yourself, the more energy you will have and the better work you will do. The only way to build a fitness oriented culture is to lead by example. Get in shape and lead from the front.
Have a great day!


The other day I posted about being a good leader and a good example. I found this great photo the other day.


There is probably no better goal in life.

I recently taught a course on MOTIVATION for the Icelandic Gymnastics Federation. In general I do not believe in overt external motivation. These are children, not dogs. As much as sometimes I would like to, I am not going to hit their nose with a rolled up newspaper because they didn’t keep their legs straight. NOR am I going to offer them a piece of candy or a donut if they do keep their legs straight. I praise them when they make a correction and try to catch them doing something right (Thanks Doc Massimo for this lesson).

In they end I must remember that each child is an individual and to coach the AGE not the LEVEL. Developmentally children need different input at different times in their lives. Where as a younger gymnast will be motivated by the new trick (finish 5 of your old flight series then you can go on to front tucks) a more experienced gymnast may focus a little more on perfection and refinement as well as wanting to help the team. (As a team- we need to hit 5 Bar routines in a row with all handstands.)

Deliver your message at the right time and your job will be relatively easy. Stop trying to make an Apple into an Orange.

Actions always speak louder than words. Before you can inspire with your words you must inspire with your actions

The Real Rewards of Coaching Gymnastics

Real Rewards of Coaching
As a young coach I knew there was more out there but I was not 100% sure what it was. It was the human element, the emotional intelligence piece, appreciating people and what they offer beyond their athletic skills. I must admit I took that for granted. I was into training, the X’s and O’s of coaching. I read and re-read books by Bill Sands and Gerry George. I read every article in Technique and every article printed by USECA. I was focused on designing better workouts and refining technique. There were championships, big wins and some disappointing losses. As I progressed in my coaching career and climbed the ladder so to speak I saw there was more to it. I gained a balance, a perspective. I realized that that yes the X’s and O’s were still important but it was the people I was coaching, the relationships, the satisfaction of seeing these gymnasts grow into responsible adults and move on with their lives outside of gymnastics.

At National Congress in Pittsburgh this year I ran into a gymnast who I had worked with nearly 30 years ago. Lizzy was part of an amazing group of young athletes I coached in New York in the late 80’s. They were amazing NOT because of their athletic accomplishments, but more because of their focus and dedication, the togetherness and team unity, the willingness to help each other be better. Lizzy epitomized what this group was about. She was not especially athletically gifted but she worked hard to get better and maximize her skills. What made Lizzy stand apart from everyone else was her love of the sport. Visiting with Lizzy brought back many fond memories of those days. It made me regret that I did not take more time to smell the roses and appreciate those kids for what they were. During our visit we barely talked about gymnastics. We talked about the progress of her career and what she had been doing in the last few decades. She is still involved in a type of gymnastics (circus arts) and is one of those people who jumps up on the flying trapeze in a heart beat. Visiting with her reminded of the real rewards of coaching – the people and relationships that endure after the championship trophies tarnish and the medals are stored in a drawer somewhere.

Make sure you take the time to appreciate what is going on around you.


What we are seeing today in big time professional and collegiate sports is no surprise to me. It is the result of a broken sports system and a society that has comprised basic standards of behavior. As coaches and sports administrators we are responsible for what we are seeing. Sport does not exist isolated or separate from society.

I know gymnastics is “different” than some of the other sports but the lessons learned are still important. I firmly believe that WHAT we teach is WAY more than just gymnastics. Gymnastics is a metaphor for life. As coaches we often proudly point out that our sport is a microcosm of life, if that is the case should we be surprised by the aberrant behavior we are seeing in top athletes?

Some sports have created several generations of athletes with a distorted sense of their importance, not to mention never having to account to any semblance of reality in regard to their behavior. They begin the process young by entitling the stars, allowing them to miss practice and violate teams rules as long as they deliver performance in the game. It gets worse in the recruiting process where immature youngsters are wined and dined and pumped full of inflated opinions about their self-worth. This all coupled with the decline of the family makes what we are seeing very explainable.

This does not make it right or acceptable. As coaches and athletic administrators we need to put development of the person above winning. We must stop accepting this deviant behavior as normal. We need to hold the athletes to a higher standard. A standard of behavior that is expected of a good citizen in the normal world not the distorted world of big time sport.

As gymnastics coaches we are artists. Before we can create the masterpiece we must prepare the canvas. We are in a fairly unique situation where we can work with the same group of athletes for a decade or more. The lessons they learn while they are young are lessons that will stick with them for life.

If you want your gymnasts to be HARD WORKERS- They must see you working hard.

If you want your gymnasts to MANAGE THEIR TIME- You must be on time and organized.

If you want your gymnasts to be GOOD TEAM-MATES- They need to see you work with your coworkers.

If you want your gymnasts to be RESPECTFUL- You need to show respect to them.

If you want your gymnasts to be SMART- The gymnasts need to see you spend some time on your own education.

If you want your gymnasts to understand the importance of a PROGRESSION- You need to be organized and teach them each step.

The list goes on.