I Have a Problem with my Coach
Dr. Joe Massimo & Dr. Sue Massimo
Excerpt from Psychology and Gymnastics by Drs. Joe and Sue Massimo.
Over the years, we have received hundreds of letters from gymnasts, coaches and parents concerning issues raised in our articles or other concerns of a “psychological” nature regarding our sport. In the majority of cases we answer these letters one by one and that has proven to be satisfactory. It is always nice to hear from readers and feedback, whether positive or negative, keeps a person on his or her toes.
On several occasions we have received a surprising number of letters, mostly from gymnasts, asking for help with a personal problem or with some special situation in their gym. Although all of our answers are of course confidential, enough letters have come in talking about similar difficulties in the gym of a general kind that we felt some type of larger response might be useful for more readers.
In any setting where people are striving for the kind of creative expression, as required in gymnastics, there are bound to be some problems. Since everyone is unique, with varied backgrounds and genetic dispositions, any given situation will be seen in a different way by each individual. It would be impossible to talk about all the various problems that might arise in a gym, and, because of our uniqueness, even more difficult to make suggestions that would always work for everyone. However, there are some basic issues that have continually been raised in our mail which many gymnasts apparently experience in common (individually or as a group) when it comes to their coaching situation.
In this article, we felt it would be valuable to consider a few of the more often raised issues or problems that gymnasts have written to us about. And yes, we’re talking about “The Coach.”
First, we need to say something about the notion of the coach as a Superman/Super person, an often assumed and stated myth. Coaches are, as a matter of fact, very human! They are subject to the same stresses and strains of all of us, and very often more so. This might seem like a very obvious and foolish thing to say, but it is amazing how many gymnasts apparently feel that their coach is superhuman in some way. Usually this attitude is found in the youngest gymnasts, older ones with more experience having learned that it is not the case.
Most coaches are dedicated, caring, hardworking people who have your best interest at heart. They love the sport and try to help their gymnasts achieve to the best of their ability. All of these are surely important characteristics. They do, like everyone else, make mistakes from time to time, but they learn and grow as the result of such errors just like you do. If the coach you are currently working with doesn’t seem to have any of these qualities, then you’re probably going to have to look for a new one soon. That is sometimes easy to say, but very hard to do. Maybe the gym you’re working in is the only one to be found and in that case, you are pretty much stuck and will have to make the best of the situation to continue in the sport. Such a bleak situation is not common and fortunately, more options become available every year. In any event, if your coach has some of these characteristics, including the human capacity to make mistakes, you’re most likely okay. Some gymnasts are looking for the ideal, dream world in which to do gymnastics and such athletes are probably going to be unhappy no matter where they are. Basically, it is a matter of finding the best match. Most gymnasts are looking for a setting where they feel pretty good most of the time, where they are learning slowly but surely, and where they have reasonable happy relationships with the other kids. Remember, whatever the combination you find for yourself – coaches are human with all the emotions, faults, and desires that condition implies.
Respect the coach who has earned your trust and confidence, but don’t expect miracles.
With that as a general background, let’s turn to some of the specific situations gymnasts have written about concerning the coaching area:
The Coach Who Insists You Do Something You Don’t Feel You Can Do or Are Ready For.
This is a big one! A real problem here is the question of who is right. Does your feeling of not being ready come out of expected, natural fear only? Is the coach correct but you are not willing to accept his or her judgment? On the other hand, are you quite right realizing that you really do not have a sense of near mastery or mastery, that gaps in your learning of a particularly difficult skill are truly there, and that you are being asked to do the impossible, both physically and mentally? These questions are very hard to answer since they are so very much dependent on the individual circumstances.
What is most important, and everyone can do in such a situation, is to let your coach know how you are feeling. In many cases, it will be apparent—you’ll cringe, shake, cry or whatever. Most coaches will sense your discomfort and respond accordingly. Some gymnasts try to be brave beyond the call of duty, not wanting to betray a mutual trust or appear afraid. For some, that attitude will work, for others it will definitely get in the way of success if it is not you, or not really your style. In other cases, if you are a faker about these things, you might not receive any sympathy and will, depending upon past experience, be pressed very hard at these times. We have to assume that you do not behave in this doubtful way on all skills when the time has come to do them in the past. Therefore, although you have a responsibility to the coach, you also have one towards yourself.
Make your feelings known if they are not obvious in a non-emotional way and work out with your coach what additional steps need to be taken to get where you both want to be together. You may need to go back to some fundamentals to correct the current situation so see our articles entitled “My Goal is to…” and “Coaching through Goal Setting” for helpful tips and steps. If worse comes to worse and you are really so terrified of a coach’s demands that you are incapable of thinking, you may have to just refuse and pay the consequences, whatever they might be. Talking to an assistant coach should be an option as well. No sane coach wants you to get hurt and promising spotting is usually not the answer to your gut feeling. It will boil down to respect and openness in communication. Up to a point, you should expect this from your coach, especially if you are not a chronic psyche out person.
The coach’s job, in part, is to direct your spirit, not break it. On the other hand, once you have decided to commit yourself to the sport of gymnastics, you have also agreed in principle to allowing and welcoming control from a professional coach. This often means that for much of the time you are not making decisions, but following directions. That is the way it has to be or there would be nothing but chaos in your gym. In the case under discussion here, we are talking about a very strong reaction that is not often felt by you and will get in the way of concentration. You may go ahead out of loyalty and, unfortunately, sometimes out of fear about the coach’s response, but real learning will be hard to maintain under such circumstances. At the very least, you need to be straight with your coach and share your concerns.
Coaches are not always right, but they should strive to always be sensitive.
Part 2 of this article will be posted tomorrow.
Drs Joe and Sue Massimo are in the final stages of editing Psychology for Gymnastics and it should be released very soon.
Massimo, J. &. Massimo, S., (2012). Psychology and Gymnastics. NY, NY: Morgan James.
Massimo, J. & Massimo, S., (2012). “Abuses of Anger in the Gym,” in Psychology and Gymnastics, NY, NY: Morgan James.
Massimo, J. & Massimo, S., (2012). “Behavior Change: Part II- Self-Evaluation,” in Psychology and Gymnastics, NY, NY: Morgan James.
Massimo, J. & Massimo, S., (2012). “Coaching through Goal Setting” in Psychology and Gymnastics, NY, NY: Morgan James.
Massimo, J. & Massimo, S., (2012). “My Daughter the Gymnast,” in Psychology and Gymnastics, NY, NY: Morgan James.
Massimo, J. & Massimo, S., (2012). “My Goal is to…,” in Psychology and Gymnastics, NY, NY: Morgan James.