Benefits, Coaching, Communication, Evaluation, Skill Development, Training

A Coaches Guide to Seeking Help on Skill Development: How Do I Fix That?

 

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There are many articles, videos, pics and more that are designed to help athletes in skill development. The “how to’s” are posted everywhere on social media and other publications. These methods of training can be effective and is useful for many. However, what is needed more in training that is difficult to publish and define, is fixing the problem areas that athletes are challenged with.

The objective of the coach is to train the athlete in all areas of skill development. This starts with training each student from the ground up, so they can develop a strong foundation of basic elements to build upon. We see, in many cases, athletes who have missed learning the basics which results in many challenges in developing more advanced elements.  Without a strong foundation of basic elements, the student will have challenges learning more advanced skills.

A common problem we see in many gyms is that there may be several members of the coaching staff that do not have the experience and knowledge to teach skills with proper technique or fix a problem area that a student is struggling with.  We see this most in recreational programs where competitive gymnastics is not the major focus of the program.  However, many of the students who participate in these types of programs may have a desire to move up in the sport and try a competitive program.  When this occurs, the student will have challenges if they have not learned the proper basics with good technique.

I have seen many video clips posted to social media networks where coaches are requesting help in fixing a technical issue a student may be having.  I have seen clips of round-offs, back handsprings, front handsprings, and many more in tumbling.  There are also many clips requesting help for skills on the bars and balance beams.  These video clips are a great tool to assist the coach in fixing problem areas.

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I have found that on-line training is becoming more and more popular.  I have begun doing lessons via Skype and they have been extremely successful.  However, it does have limitations.  Although Skyping a training session is beneficial in helping with teaching proper technique, it will never be as good as the “hands-on” approach.  Especially if the student needs spotting to help improve the skill.

One of the biggest issues I have seen with posting video for corrective comments on group posts, is that the recipient may receive many comments from many different coaches.  Although it is great that so many are responding and attempting to assist with the problem, it can be somewhat overwhelming for the coach posting the video.  For example, if there are 30 responding comments on how to fix the problem, there may be 20 comments that have different views on how to fix the problem (i.e.: “too many chefs in the kitchen”).

Another concern is that many coaches have different opinions on how skills should be learned.  It’s not that different opinions are wrong, but what may work for one athlete may not work for another athlete (The Technique Controversy).  It is good to have several opinions to work with, but not to get overloaded.

An alternative to consider when looking for help with teaching or correcting a skill is to post and send to only a select few that you may have collaborated with previously or know has the knowledge you are seeking.  There are many experts out there that can be of great assistance.  Much depends on the skill you are needing help with.  Is it a tumbling skill?  Or a bars or beam skill?  You may even want to ask for referrals.

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The ultimate fix is for the coaches to become knowledgeable in the skills they are teaching.  For those programs that are lacking in this knowledge, it is beneficial to participate in local clinics and seminars.  If these are difficult to locate or not available in your area, you may consider bringing in a professional to run a coach’s clinic at your facility or program.

When coaches have the proper knowledge of skill development, not only will their athletes be more productive and successful, the entire program will benefit and be successful.

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I hope this article is helpful for those seeking training information.  I will soon be releasing a series of manuals and video’s that will be beneficial for many.  These will include skill development, safety and spotting, program development, training atmospheres, and many more subjects to enhance the development of coaches and athletes.

If you have concerns or need assistance with your training program, do not hesitate to contact me.  If you would like an on-line training session via Skype, please contact me for scheduling.

Email:   scottjohnsongymnastics@gmail.com

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Coaching, Communication, Training

Consistent Communication Brings Positive Results: Corrective Coaching

When athletes are learning new skills, it is important to learn them correctly. From the beginner to the most advanced athlete, skill training needs to be done through corrective coaching. So, what is corrective coaching? It is the manner in which the coach communicates to the student throughout the training process. In this discussion, I will share my thoughts on the importance and consistency of Corrective Coaching.

There is much discussion on the importance of building a strong foundation of basic elements, so the athletes can progress in a positive manner (Tumbling: Importance of Building a Strong Foundation). Even the most basic elements need to be learned properly with good technique. When skills are learned with poor technique, the student will have challenges learning more advanced skills. In the sport of gymnastics and tumbling, all skills are somewhat related, so it is imperative to learn even these basic elements with proper technique.

For the student to learn the proper technique associated with each skill, the coach needs to communicate and explain the technique in detail. This communication needs to be done consistently to ensure the students are performing the skill with the correct technique at every attempt. This is how good habits are created.

If a student performs a skill with the wrong technique and they are not corrected, the student will continue to perform the skill the same way every time. Thus, creating a habit that will need to be corrected later. We all know that habits are difficult to break, and it takes time and consistency to fix these bad habits. The objective of every coach is to train the students properly, so bad habits are not created.

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I make it a point to try to make a correction to the student every time they perform a skill. No matter how small the correction may be, it is a process that is important for the student to understand what their body is doing while performing each skill. Through this type of communication, the students will begin to acknowledge and identify their own mistakes without being told. This can only happen if there is consistency in corrective coaching.

Of course, corrective coaching will not occur if the coach does not have the experience and knowledge of proper technique. Therefore, it is so important that the coaches are trained to instruct the skills at the level they are assigned to work with (Gymnastics: Training Your Staff). I train my staff by asking them what they saw that needs attention when a student performs a skill. A newer coach to the industry will probably not be able to recognize the mistakes. This is a great opportunity to train them on what to look for in skill development.

Since gymnastics and tumbling skills are so complex and are performed quickly, it is difficult to see every body angle and movement. The experienced coach has a trained eye to spot these mistakes, and this is what newer coaches must learn as well.

It is not uncommon to see students in a class where they are attempting their skills with no corrective instruction. It is difficult for a coach running a class with numerous students that are rotated through several stations. The problem we see with this structure is the coach is not able to watch every student as they rotate through the stations. As the coach is working one station, the other students basically work on their own as they perform their required curriculum on the other stations. Thus, they are not being corrected on wrong technique at every attempt.

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It is this scenario that brings to light the importance of class structure and controlled student to coach ratio’s. If the students are to learn in a constructive and productive environment, the class structure should be defined and completely controlled (Class Structure). In addition, the coach of each class needs to have the knowledge to not only know the technique of the skills, but to know how to run a productive class.

Training, training, training!! Not only for the students, but for the coaches as well. A well-trained coach in skill development and class management will have the tools to create and develop good athletes. In addition to the students learning their skills properly they will also be learning them safely. This creates an environment where the students can thrive and pursue their dreams and goals.

Athletes, Coaching, Evaluation, Training

Student Evaluations: Where to Place New Student Athletes

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There are many sports that place their athletes in particular groups based on the age of the student. We see this in sports such as football, baseball, and other such team related sports. This is to ensure an even playing field among the athletes. However, there are other sports where placement of the students is based on experience and skill level. This is common in sports like gymnastics, cheerleading, and dance. It is important to evaluate and place new students in the appropriate level so they can be in an environment that can maximize their potential.

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Proper placement for students in any group setting is a critical issue that needs to be considered. There are a number of factors that should be recognized in placement practices. Most importantly is the social environment created in group settings. It is this reason that most sports use age as the criteria for placement. Grade levels in most school systems are based on age. People at all ages tend to feel most comfortable with other people in their age range. For example, it can be extremely awkward for a teenager to be placed in a group of 5 and 6 year olds. It is the same for adults as well. Although an adult usually has the maturity to adjust to almost any environment, it still may be somewhat awkward if the age range is extremely different.

Children are very vulnerable to their social environment and it should be a major objective for the coaches and parents to ensure the child is placed in an environment where they will feel comfortable and thrive. In the sports of gymnastics, cheer, and dance, this scenario becomes challenging at times. If the student has little or no prior experience in the sport, they would certainly be considered a beginner. In many programs, beginner students are much younger, usually falling in the 5 to 7 year old age range. Students of these ages usually will get along well together in a group environment. As the students progress, they may be moved up to the next level. This mobility is relative to the ages participating at each developmental level. However, as sports increase in skill levels, the age ranges tend to expand and this can be a challenge for many programs.

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A common scenario is when a student categorized as a preschooler, for example 3 or 4 year olds, that has excelled to a higher level than what is structured for that age group. In this case, the student should be place in a higher level group so they can maximize their growth and ability. Although this placement may become necessary, it places the student in a group of students much older. When we place a 4-year-old in a group of students that are 6 to 8 years old, it may create a strong feeling of anxiety for the student.  In addition, skill levels may be much different than the maturity levels within a group.

This situation occurred in my program recently.  We have a 5-year-old student who has developed quickly and needs to be challenged at a higher level.  We placed this student in the next level up, however, the students where much older.  This was a disaster!!  The 5-year-old was so intimidated being among (giants) that she completely lost all interest in the class and sat out.  We determined it is best to move her back to her original class and the coaches will work her at a higher skill level.  Upon maturity, she will grow and be able to handle an older age division.

In addition, not only is the maturity level a huge difference, the social environment and attitudes are also different. Topics of discussion are very different among different age groups and the coaching staff needs to make sure that any discussion is appropriate, especially for the younger students in class (although there should not be much discussion among the students while in class:)

cheerleading group with young one   In the sport of cheerleading, it is very common to have a large range of ages among participants within a same squad. Due to the dynamics of this sport, students that are the “fliers” are, in many cases, smaller and much younger than the other students on the squad. We often see young elementary age students on the same team as middle school students. The age ranges can be as much as 5 or more years difference. Many people may wonder if this is appropriate. It certainly may not be a positive or appropriate environment for an 8-year-old to interact with a group of teenagers. This is where the coaching staff is challenged. Although it is difficult to monitor, the coaches should communicate to the students that conversations be limited to protect the younger students from inappropriate influences.

Another challenge that is common in most programs is when an older student with little or no experience needs to be placed in a beginner class. As mentioned earlier, most beginner students are early elementary school age. When we get a teenager wanting to learn gymnastics, it certainly can be an awkward situation to place them in a group of such young children. It may not only be awkward for the older student but also for the younger ones as well. So, what can be done? Possibly, through a trial class to see how the dynamics work in this situation. In many cases, it works out fine. In other cases, it is usually the older student who feels the most uncomfortable. One option is to offer private lessons to the older student to get them to a level where they can be placed with older students.

Some programs are large enough to have classes based on ages. For example, a program may offer classes for middle and high school students. Although, the ability and experience levels may be drastically different, the dynamics and environment are more positive for the students.

parent conference animWhat are the criteria for student placement in a program? All gyms are different in regard to their structure and class curriculum. When a new student is interested in signing up, it is important that the student is evaluated. We do this by communicating to the parent some general questions regarding skill level. For example, we may ask if the student has had experience and for how long. Questions should also be asked in regard to specific skills: can they do a great cartwheel or round-off? However, it is important to not allow the parent to dictate where a student should be placed (Coaching the Parents). We see this scenario often. Some parents may say their child is at a certain level or able to do particular skill, but when they participate in the class for the first time, the story is completely different.

I great way to evaluate the student is to offer a free trial class. Through initial conversation with the parent, the coach will have an idea of what may be the best level to start. It is better to place a student in a group for their trial class that may be under their ability level. This is to protect the student from embarrassment. I have seen students placed in a higher level than their own ability for a trail class that has resulted in embarrassment and humiliation. Sometimes to the point where they won’t come back. It is important to try to create a positive and exciting environment for all new students.

Evaluations are an important element to the success of every program.  All students are different in many ways and should be placed in a system where they can thrive and have a great experience.  A trial class or trial period is essential for the coaching staff to determine what is best for the child and the overall program.  Most importantly, the coaching staff needs to make the final decision of where the student needs to be placed.  In the proper environment, students will have a much greater chance to grow and achieve success.

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Communication, Program Development, Skill Development, Staffing, Training

Gymnastics: Training Your Staff

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I have touched on this subject at different times in previous posts and wanted to elaborate in detail due to the importance of having a quality staff to grow the business.  In sports that are highly complex and carry a particular risk factor, the importance of having a well-trained staff is going to determine not only the success of the business, but also the success and safety of the student.  All sports have their own specialized means of technique in training skills, which the athlete must accomplish in order to progress.  Since the sport of gymnastics is one of the most complex and complicated sports, it requires that the coaching staff have the proper knowledge and experience to train the athlete at their participating level to ensure quality and safety in the training environment.

At the recreational levels of gymnastics, the experience and knowledge requirements for the instructors are much more basic than the higher levels of sport. The students are learning basic elements like forward and backward rolls, bridges, and cartwheels.  Although there are specific techniques required to perform these basic skills, it is not so complex that the coaches can, in most cases, be easily trained in a short period of time.  However, with this stated, the trainer still needs to have extensive knowledge when training the technique to new coaches.  Even the simplest of skills like the forward and backward roll has a particular set of technical rules that should be followed.

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I have found that when training our coaches, it takes them some time to recognize and actually see what actions the student needs to improve.   To train the eye of what to look for takes repetition and constant reinforcement from the trainer so the new coach can learn to recognize the areas of concern.  One great training method is to ask the new coach what they see when a student performs a skill and what areas need to be fixed.  Many times, they will not recognize the problem which is a great opportunity for the trainer to explain in detail what to look for specifically.  Just as the athlete needs to train their skills, the coach needs to train their eye’s.  Since the skills can be so complex, there are usually several different issues that can be corrected.  What makes this even more difficult is that many of the skills move quickly so some issues are difficult to spot. For example, when a student is performing a run- hurdle – cartwheel, the run should be correct (not baby steps for example), the hurdle can have many issues like the length, height, arm and body position, and of course the cartwheel may have another set of issues to address.  Most experienced coaches can see these concerns whereas a new coach may see very little of these same concerns.

20180606_172240.jpg   The coaches job is to teach skills to the athlete so they can master them and improve their skill level.  When a student is performing wrong or incorrect technique, the coach needs to correct this technique Every Time!!  If this doesn’t occur, the student is reinforcing the wrong methods that will create bad habits.  We all know that bad habits are hard to break.  The coach needs to create good habits through consistent communication.  The student needs to hear these corrections as much as possible so they can begin to understand what to focus on while performing the skill.  And how should we communicate?  always in a positive and constructive manner.

Another task that the coach needs to learn properly is how to physically spot the students on their skills.  I discussed this in my post (The Art of Spotting) in detail as this is an important requirement for all level of coaches.  We need to not only keep the students safe from injury, but spotting correctly also teaches body positioning on the skills which reinforces teaching the proper technique.  Spotting is also a skill that takes new coaches time to learn.  It is important that the coach is not put in a position to spot a student that they cannot physically manipulate or a skill that is more advanced than they are trained to spot.  Both of these factors can cause injury to the athlete and/or the coach.

It is always best to have the new coach train and shadow other coaches initially so they can become comfortable with the environment and class structure.  I have heard many stories of coaches being forced to run classes on their own their first day of work without any training.  This can be stressful for the new coach and the students of the class.  Remember, usually the parent is observing and if a class is not run efficiently, this willy look unfavorably for the gym program.  When one parent is unhappy with a situation, they will certainly tell others and this can potentially spread rapidly within a community.

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The success of every business is determined by the quality of the staff running that business.  We are providing a service to the community and we have many competitors that are providing programs for children.  Not just other gymnastics related businesses, but dance, martial arts, baseball, etc.  The higher the quality of training and service the more opportunity the business has to achieve a greater market share.  Remember, a business is only as successful at its staff.  Let’s train them the correct way!!

I would love to hear your comments. Also, if there are any subjects you would like me to cover, let me know and I will do my best to post my thoughts.  Please Like and Share to all you believe will benefit from the information.

For clinics, seminars, or special events, please contact me at: scottjohnsongymnastics@gmail.com

www.scottjohnsonstga.com

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Communication, Parent, Program Development

Coaching the Parents

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The three highest priorities in any youth sports program should be the student, the gym and staff, and the parent, in that order.  The objective of the coach is to train the athlete and provide an environment that will produce positive results. This is a challenge in itself and takes much planning, development, and effort on part of the program directors and the entire coaching staff. What is seldom discussed and in some programs even avoided is how to coach the Parents. This can be a trying endeavor, and one that should have its own set of rules and objectives in every program. In this discussion, I will reflect some insight and thoughts on this important topic and its effect on the operations of  youth sports programs.

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All parents tend to see their children through rose-colored glasses, and will at times assume both the talent and passion to achieve are inherent.  Unfortunately, in some cases, a parent’s passion to achieve can be stronger than the child’s, and will frequently attempt to direct and control how their child is trained.  This is a common recurrence in all youth sport programs.  When this happens, the parent can create a difficult and stressful distraction for the child, and the program. This is not only a challenge to deal with but often results in conflict and an end to the child’s participation. I believe this issue can be controlled but it takes the effort of the entire coaching staff and administration. The parent needs to be educated and coached just as their child is in the program. This is certainly a sensitive issue as no program wants to lose a student, however, if the issue cannot be resolved amicably it will almost assuredly create a toxic environment.  In this instance, it may be best to part ways with the parent for the sake of everyone involved

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Each program should have an established set of rules and regulations in written form that every participating parent should read carefully.  By signing they acknowledge they understand and agree to adhere to the terms in the document.  It is also advisable for someone in the administrative staff to verbally go through the specifics of the document when the parent enrolls the child.  This should help to address any questions regarding the document.  And finally, I would suggest even posting the rules and regulations where it is visible to all that enter as a constant reminder.  Although the administration staff introduces these policies to the parent, it is usually the coach’s responsibility to enforce the rules and if necessary speak with the child and parents in the event there is a violation of gym policy.

We often hear a parent requesting special or private instruction for their child, and in some cases even suggesting the child be placed in a specific class. These suggestions should always be considered, but not decided by the parent. When this occurs, the coach should have a conversation with the parent explaining the training process and how mobility works in the program. Details should be given about how the student is doing and what factors are taking place in their development. Many times, this communication is effective and the parent will have a better understanding of the training process.

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Unfortunately, there will always be the parent that is adamant and not open to the coach’s reasoning.  If this happens, it should be addressed immediately and the coach must stand fast to gyms policies for the benefit of all the students and the program.  The longer this type of parent is permitted to stay involved with the program, the greater the possibility the parent will bad mouth the program to other parents creating negative drama within the system. It’s like a virus, it can spread and create havoc. It needs to be eliminated!!

There are also those parents who hop from gym to gym assuming the “grass is greener” at the other program. It is apparent that there is not a program that fits the desires of the parent in these situations. And who suffers most? the child!! It always takes time for a child to adjust to a new environment with new coaches and teammates.  Even when the staff creates a positive inclusive environment, the student may still have a difficult time building trust and confidence.  On the other hand, there may not be a large selection of gyms in a particular area so a parent may try several before finding the right fit for their child.  I always suggest this to parents who are asking about competitive programs for their child.  There may be several in the area to choose from, so I suggest visiting several to find the right fit.  The student needs to feel comfortable with the environment if they are to progress.

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I have also found that one way to help prevent parent issues is to not allow the parents to get involved with the operations of the program.   Having a Booster Club program is an excellent way to support a program, but should not be involved in any way with the programs instructional operations.  A common problem is a parent developing a close friendship with one of the coaches or owner.  Favoritism will almost assuredly create a corrosive competitive environment between parents and students, and should be avoided at all costs.  Every program should have a staff policy not allowing any fraternization with parents.  In addition, the parent viewing area should be monitored as closely as possible.  We all know that some serious drama can occur in these areas.  Some gyms have even eliminated the viewing area for this specific reason.  I personally believe the gym should have an area where the parent can view their child, especially in non-competitive environments.  They are paying for a service as well as wanting to make sure their child is receiving the attention they expect (refer to Class Structure).

mom and daughter animatedThe financial success of any program is dependent on student enrollment.  Since it is the parent who is paying for the instruction, we depend on their support and want to retain them as long as possible.  If the program is managed well with an experienced and positive staff, the students will thrive and the parents will be happy and satisfied.  This will ensure the success of the program.  Just remember, all it takes is one disturbed parent to ruin the reputation of a gym.  If you see a potential problem with a parent, it needs to be addressed immediately.  As uncomfortable as it is, it’s far better to confront the problem head-on and take immediate and drastic action if necessary, rather than allow the problem to escalate and have an adverse affect on the reputation of the program.

I hope you enjoyed this post and hope it helps some in knowing this is a common issue in almost all gym programs.  As always, I would love to hear your comments. Also, if there are any subjects you would like me to cover, let me know and I will do my best to post my thoughts.  Please Like and Share to all you believe will benefit from the information.

For clinics, seminars, or special events, please contact me at: scottjohnsongymnastics@gmail.com