Dear Fellow Coaches,
Thank you for the work you do every single day in gyms across our country. You have such impact on the children with whom you work. You teach them skills so far beyond cartwheels and back handsprings. The lessons you teach them are so far reaching that they will carry them with them for the rest of their lives. Never under-estimate the impact you have on their lives every day.
I was utterly flattered and totally thrilled when Tony asked me to help out with his new project. He asked me to write an article about anything I wanted to cover. I racked my brains for days trying to come up with something I wanted to cover; a drill, a lesson plan, something about early childhood development. There were numerous topics I could choose from, but none of them jumped out at me. I kept thinking, and trying to wring it out of my brain. ..but I couldn’t come up with anything that really struck me in the moment.
Our girls competed at Judge’s Cup a couple of weeks ago. Like many meets, there was a photographer there taking pictures of the meet for later sale. When they posted the pictures up on their website, I went to look at the pictures some of my parents told me about. There were several really good pictures on the site, but four stood out to me as extremely special.
They weren’t pictures of perfect performances or awe-inspiring skills. They were snapshots of the moments immediately following each girl’s performance at beam. They were snapshot of the moments we share after each event when we touch base before going back to our seats. I’m sure many of you know the moments of which I speak. When the kid knows they did well, and walk over to their coach beaming with pride or they know they have blown an event and they run to their coach for comfort.
So, I ordered the pictures.
They arrived in my mailbox today, and as I opened them and looked at them, my singular thought was, “These are the moments for which I coach.”
Let me share some of the moments I cherish…
I coach for Austin. I coach for the moment he struggled with learning circles on dome and the opportunity to walk him through his frustration. It is a blessing to each of us to be offered the opportunity to help a child reach within themselves to overcome adversity.
Austin started with me as a preschooler when I first opened my gym. He is one the most brilliant children with whom I have ever worked. I remember him sitting in the preschool warm-up circle explaining to the rest of the class his design for a hover-craft and why it had to be configured a certain way because if done differently, it would not be a viable design.
Austin went on to team. I remember at one meet, he saw another kid picking on one of his teammates. He would have none of that. He stood up for his teammate at the ripe old age of seven. His compassion for other people was always very strong.
As he grew up, while other kids were hanging out at the pool, he spent his summers at science camps at Stanford University. His father is a neuro-surgeon, and he had already set his goal to be a neuro-vascular surgeon.
He graduated high school two years early, and went on to college. He is currently close to having his Bachelors Degree at the age of 18. I have no doubt that he will achieve his goal.
So, what does that have to do with his time in gymnastics? I remember the times he struggled to learn dome and pommels. I remember how hard he tried, and how he never gave up. I remember spending extra time with him after workouts and giving him private lessons, talking him through the frustration and helping him to keep going until he got it. …and he did get it. His Class 5 season, he placed first on pommels at state.
I coach for Austin’s moment of frustration. To help him walk through adversity and to learn the affects of hard work and to never give up. As he aspires to become one of the few people in our country who dare to perform neuro-vascular surgery, I pray that those lessons learned so long ago stick with him. I hope that even if our time together is a long-ago memory for him, that he carries the impact of the lessons he learned forward and they help him face even more difficult tasks. I have no doubt that he will do great things. His gifts and his compassion for other people will carry him far.
I coach for “The Kaitlyns.” The Kaitlyns are current teammates on our team. When they joined our gym, they were both Level 4, and they were each a little tentative in their gymnastics. They were unsure. I remember watching one of the Kaitlyns on beam for the first time as she shook like a leaf and struggled with her movements. Over the past two years, I have watched them both grow in confidence. They are now both Level 5.
When she first started with our gym, one of the Kaitlyns would fall into tears if things didn’t go the way she hoped with workout or at a meet. Now, if she messes up an event at a meet, she walks up to me already analyzing her mistakes and considering how she might be able to improve for the next meet.
At Judge’s Cup this year, she fell on beam on a relatively simple skill; split leap. When she finished her routine, and walked over to me, she laughed and said, “Split leap? Really??? I fell on SPLIT LEAP?” Instead of falling into tears like she would have done a two years ago, she took it in stride because she knows she has that skill and she will nail her routine at the next meet. I chuckled, we hugged, and moved on to the next event. I coached for her ability to keep perspective and learn from her mistakes.
She recently performed in her school play and had the lead role. None of the other children in her class had the confidence to stand up on stage and sing solos. Kaitlyn was the first to volunteer. Performing in front of people in a solo situation, is nothing new to her now and she isn’t afraid of “putting herself out there” with the possibility of mistakes. She has grown so much.
Our other Kaitlyn had difficulty taking correction when she first came to our gym. She took correction personally, and had confidence issues as well. Now, a year and a half later, she nods, repeats the correction and then tries her hardest to fix her skills.
When I give her a correction, I watch her process the information and visualize the correction. Instead of trying to make excuses, she owns the responsibility for fixing the skill.
I coach for her understanding that correction is not always an attack. Rather, it is given from concern and for future benefit.
I coach for both of the Kaitlyns’ confidence. I hope that the confidence they gain through their gymnastics, gives them the internal fortitude to continue to challenge themselves to greater tasks, and to understand that making mistakes is simply part of the process of learning. I hope they learn to keep perspective on their mistakes in life, analyze how they can improve, and have the confidence to try again.
I coach for Blaine. Blaine is a very gifted young gymnast. He started with me as a Level 4 when his father was stationed at Ft. Hood. Like many military children, his life has been an emotional rollercoaster each time his father has deployed for extended lengths of time.
After his first season with our team, he decided he wanted to try football. As talented as he was, he wasn’t sure if he really wanted to go on with the sport. So, he left gymnastics for about eight months. Then, one day, I looked up to see him and his parents walking back into my gym. He was done with football, and wanted to come back to gymnastics. He missed our sport too much and he wanted to come back.
He had lost some skill in his absence and had to repeat Level 4 again. After that season, however, he moved through Level 5 and Level 6 in two seasons. So, he found his footing again.
His last season with me, his family faced a crisis, and his father was deployed again as well. Many times, his mind was simply not in the gym. He worried about his father. He worried about his family. His heart was heavy with so much, it was hard for him to focus. Still, he plowed on, determined to get his skills.
Sometimes, he would come into the gym obviously out of sorts, but by the end of workout, he was laughing and cutting up. The gym was like his second home, and gymnastics was his outlet for releasing some of the stress he felt. Even on the days that he had to force his focus, when he made a mistake, he’d get back up and try again. and again. and again. ..until he was able to gain his focus and get the skill. It was sheer determination and strength of will.
At the end of his Level 6 season, his family moved away. It was very hard to see him leave. He was such a part of our gymnastics family and we had been a huge part of his life as well. The last day he was in the gym with us, he gave me a picture of the two of us at one of our meets, with a handwritten inscription on the frame. It proudly hangs in my gym.
I remember my eyes tearing up as I hung that picture after he left. It’s hard to send them off into the world, but we coach them for that moment, whether they leave due to a family relocation, or to head off to college. That moment inevitably comes when we have to hug them, remind them that we love them, and let them go. We coach for the hope that our time with them has had positive impact on their lives, and that they carry memories with them.
A few weeks after Blaine’s family moved, I was working at my desk in my office when I felt a body slam from the back and two arms hugging me around my neck, “COACH BETH!”
I turned around to see Blaine standing behind me in my office. He and his mom were in town for a couple of days, and he had come by to see us. It was such a special moment. He worked out with us while they were in town. He came in again on another trip as well.
Each time, it was like a homecoming. All his teammates were thrilled to have him in the gym with them again, and he picked right up where he left off, cracking jokes while he worked out with unending determination.
I coach for Blaine’s love for the sport. I coach to give him a strong foundation in his skills, and a strong sense of the gymnastics family. I coach for Blaine’s memories of his gymnastics family in our gym, and I hope that someday, I’ll get another body slam from behind as he unexpectedly shows up in my gym.
As I saw him off into the world for the last time, I coached for him to continue to grow wherever he moves. I have faith that he will. ..and I told him that if he ever achieves his dream of making it to National Team, he can expect me to be sitting in the stands, cheering him on.
Oftentimes, when I speak at a congress or clinic, I ask coaches what their teaching philosophy is. What guides them each time they step on the floor to coach their kids?
I also ask them why they are coaching in the sport of gymnastics. They could choose any career. Why do they choose this one?
I get a range of answers when I ask those questions.
I have had the same teaching philosophy for as long as I can remember. It’s simple. “To do whatever is best for the kid. Period.” It has nothing to do with teaching skills or producing high level athletes. It has everything to do with helping them face adversity, overcoming fear, gaining confidence, building a strong foundation for their growth, and giving them a safe place to breathe when life is too heavy for them to handle.
It’s about the snapshots, the moments in the gym.
The milestones. The victories wrought from adversity. The personal growth. The life lessons that will carry them through the rest of their lives. The love for our sport, and the gymnastics family.
These are the moments for which I coach.
Never under-estimate your impact on your students’ lives. It is immeasurable. Thank you for everything you do.