Ever wonder what makes a good gymnastics coach?
If so, read on.
But first, remember that your gymnast's coach will spend a lot of time with her throughout your gymnast's career. With many gymnasts training upwards of 16 hours per week, your gymnast's coach is a highly influential person in her life.
Good gymnastics coaches have the ability to foster a sense of self-worth and confidence in your gymnast. On the other hand, bad coaches can rip those same feelings away, leaving your gymnast feeling worthless and incapable.
Having the right gymnastics coach is crucial, then, to your gymnast's success and well-being as a gymnast.
Unfortunately I often talk to parents who just assume that the methods their daughter's coach uses are acceptable because that coach is considered a "good" coach. Sadly, it is these assumptions that can lead to some rough and often terrible times in the gym with lasting consequences.
So what makes a good coach?
While every gymnast is unique and needs different coaching techniques to help motivate her, there are some qualities that are considered more ideal for fostering a sense of self-worth and confidence in your gymnast as a whole.
These traits are:
1. Your gymnast's coach is positive but firm.
It has long been proven in the sport psychology literature (including in my own masters thesis written almost 20 years ago) that coaches who use positive reinforcement have a more positive impact on their athletes. Positive reinforcement includes using positive words and positive body language when correcting skills or giving feedback.
On the other hand, negative reinforcement such as saying negative things about a gymnast or withdrawing attention or feedback, can have a detrimental effect on your gymnast's sense of self-worth and accomplishment.
A good coach is one who mainly uses positive reinforcement while also understanding when to be firm. Firm doesn't imply mean or negative. It means being able to push your gymnast when she needs it in a way that your gymnast will respond to it positively.
2. Your gymnast's coach is a good communicator and listener.
A good gymnastics coach is one who is able to communicate to his/her gymnast what he/she needs or wants from her in a way that the gymnast understands. While communication is a skill that many humans, regardless of whether they are gymnastics coaches or not, need to improve upon, a good gymnastics coach strives to have a good understanding with his/her gymnast.
In addition, a good gymnastics coach listens to what his/her gymnast says (or doesn't say). Often coaches are either too busy to really listen or they brush off a parent or gymnast's concerns without acknowledging the issue. This can lead to a misunderstanding and lack of trust between a coach and his/her gymnast.
3. Your gymnast's coach enforces a climate of trust and security in the gym.
Your gymnast should trust her coach. That bond is something that helps your gymnast try new skills, get over fear, and build up confidence. If that bond is broken, your gymnast will not be able to fully trust her coach or herself.
This means when your gymnast asks for a spot, her coach should give her the spot if he/she said they would. Coaches who pretend to spot or hold out a hand and then take it away when your gymnast is doing a skill will slowly chip away at the trust your gymnast has for him/her.
In addition, your gymnast's coach should foster a sense of trust amongst all the gymnasts on your daughter's team. Your gymnast should feel safe in the gym. Safe to do skills, safe to speak up, and safe as a member of the team. Relationships between teammates should be monitored so as to spot and stop bullying amongst teammates.
4. Your gymnast's coach is open-minded towards mental training.
I work with many gymnasts who have mental blocks and must also contend with coaches who are fixed in their methods. A supportive gymnastics coach is open to trying new methods and working with his/her gymnast instead of always pushing his/her gymnast through the block.
In general, I find that the coaches who don't believe in mental training or aren't willing to listen to what their gymnasts really need are the ones who inadvertently keep their gymnasts stuck in mental blocks the longest.
A supportive gymnastics coach is open and willing to learn more about the mental training side of gymnastics or at the very least, try methods suggested by a mental performance coach. Remember that gymnastics coaches are not trained in the mental side of gymnastics performance. They often coach in the way they have learned or seen from other coaches, and most often this way is not the most effective way.
5. Your gymnast's coach is humble and always willing to learn.
When gymnastics coaches think they are the best, it often gives them the fuel to employ coaching methods that are negative and punitive. It's that cockiness that can create a "monster" and when left unchecked, will be detrimental to your gymnast.
While you want a confident and skilled gymnastics coach, you also want to look for one who is willing to admit she/he was wrong, one who is open-minded when it comes to listening to his/her gymnasts, and one who is willing to keep learning and trying new techniques and methods to improve on his/her own training methods.
If your gymnast has a coach who is the opposite of these things, it can make becoming a successful gymnast more challenging. And most importantly, can affect your gymnast's mindset and sense of worth in a negative way.
Always know that a supportive coach will never:
- Tell your gymnast she is not good or that she should just quit
- Yell at or berate your gymnast in front of her teammates and make a big scene
- Ignore your gymnast if she isn't performing well
- Punish your gymnast for any reason (punishment is negative reinforcement that can have a negative effect on your gymnast's sense of self-worth)
- Put pressure on your gymnast to get a skill by a certain date or else give her consequences (such as not being able to compete that event in the meet)
- Put unrealistic physical demands on your gymnast such as conditioning that is above what is reasonably expected of your gymnast's ability
- Threaten your gymnast in any way
- Pay attention to only the "good" gymnasts and ignore your gymnast if she doesn't fit into this category
At the end of the day remember that a gymnastics coach is someone you pay to train your gymnast. If your gymnast's coach interacts with her in a way that is having a negative affect on your gymnast, then she/he isn't the right coach for your gymnast. Please don't assume that a coach's methods are good because he/she has trained high level or elite gymnasts in the past. Just because a coach produces Olympic gymnasts doesn't mean he/she is the best coach for your gymnast.
We have many examples of this negative coaching in the old-style culture of gymnastics coaching. And many of those gymnasts have spoken out about the "abuse" they experienced.
Again, just because a coach produces champions doesn't mean he/she is a good coach.
Above all, remember that if your gymnast is being treated in a way that you don't agree with or like, you have a right to say something or change coaches. Think of all the hours your gymnast will spend with this coach and in this environment. Also think about all the damage that can be done when your gymnast is constantly around a coach who tears her down instead of builds her up.
Hopefully this can help those of you who feel like something might not be right with your gymnast's coach but who lack the knowledge of what makes a good coach. There is a big difference between firm and berating. A good coach can be firm without negatively affecting your gymnast. While a bad coach will use his/her power to instill negative and/or avoidant feelings in your gymnast.
Bottom line, if the environment doesn't feel right then it probably isn't. Trust your gut and take note of how your gymnast feels. You want a happy, healthy gymnast who feels better about herself because of gymnastics, not worse.
Do you think your gymnast has a great coach? If so, let me know in the comments. Let's shout out the great gymnastics coaches out there.
If you or your gymnast needs support, in addition to the resources below I also offer one-on-one coaching sessions via Zoom.
- Stick It Girl Academy: For competitive gymnasts who want to live into their potential and need that extra push in mental training
- Mental Health Training for Gymnasts: Help your gymnast learn about her brain and the fight-flight-or-freeze response.
- Free Facebook Group for Moms of Gymnasts: Join this group to chat with other gymnastics moms and get tips for how to help your gymnast navigate through the mental ups and downs of gymnastics