Athletes, Coaching, Skill Development, Uncategorized

An Approach to the Struggling Student: Coaching the Challenged Athlete

coach with athlete

The objective of the coach is to train their athletes to improve their abilities and performance level. For many coaches, and programs, this objective becomes extreme. It becomes an objective to not just improve the athlete but to create champions. But what about the athlete who doesn’t have what it takes to succeed in the sport? Are they tossed aside – forgotten, humiliated? This discussion will focus on training and developing the hopeful and challenged athlete.

All coaches have experienced the student who is very motivated and has a lot of determination, but unfortunately, struggles with learning even the most basic elements. Every person is built differently both physically and mentally. Many sports dictate what type of person is made to succeed in that sport. For example, to excel as a basketball player, the person will usually need to be tall; to excel in gymnastics, the person usually will be smaller and lighter. There are always exceptions to this dynamic but true in most cases. Thus, genetics play a major role in how successful one may be at sports.

The challenge many programs have is how to handle those students that will not progress to the point of becoming a competitive athlete. This is a sensitive issue and should be recognized so as not to damage a student’s confidence and self-esteem. Although in many cases, it is the parent who is pushing the issue of success without realizing the limitations their child may have. In these cases, parents will leave and explore other gym programs in an attempt to find the miracle program that will develop their child.

the-olympic-rings

Many of these situations are students in recreational class programs (Programs for the Rec Student). All young athletes aspire to be champions one day. They have their own dreams of wanting to be just like their idols. I have had students state how they want to be in the Olympics someday – and they are serious!! And the coach should never tell the child that this is most likely an impossibility. No matter how awkward a student may be, they should never be treated any differently from the other students (Coaching: Lets Be Positive).

There will usually be a point in time when the student will realize their true potential. When they see some of their classmates moving up to higher levels, they wonder why they cannot move up as well. This is where the coaches need to communicate to the student and parent, in as positive manner as possible, that there are skill requirements that must be met to move to the next level. They need to be told what skills need to be accomplished and what they can do to meet those goals.

We want every participant to feel good about their sport experience. Even though a small percentage of athletes ever reach a highly competitive level, the skills and training they acquired will benefit them in other activities they choose to participate in.

As a gymnastics and tumbling coach, I have many students participate in our class program with aspirations to become great at the sport. All students are treated the same and follow the same curriculum of the other students at their same level. For the students that are struggling, the parent will usually approach me and ask to discuss their child’s progress. This is a great opportunity to explain the dynamics of the sport and the challenges facing the student (Coaching the Parents).

FB_IMG_1463877237222.jpg

We want every child to have a great experience with their participation. It is important that children have hopes and dreams and set high goals for themselves. We should always support and encourage this attitude. It’s not all about winning or losing or becoming a champion. It is participation that is important to recognize. Every student should be regarded special and treated like a champion!!

 

Advertisements
Confidence, Mental Training, Preparation, Stress, Training

Stress in Sports

running serious

Stress is a natural emotion and it occurs in all facets of life. It is certainly no fun to deal with stress, especially if the anxiety becomes so extreme that it affects one’s physical ability to function. Stress in sports is a common occurrence and needs to be recognized and controlled as much as possible. In this discussion, I will share my thoughts on the stress athletes may encounter, and ways it can be controlled.

Stress can disrupt a person’s physical and emotional state and can even cause major medical problems. The results of serious stress can create health problems such as high blood pressure, depression, and many other dangerous issues. Today there are a number of medications that can aid in helping to control stress or anxiety, but the better way is to learn to control it without the use of these medications.

While they may be better at hiding it than most of us, athletes will almost assuredly have to deal with varying levels of stress throughout their competitive career. With that said the competitive athlete’s must find a way to deal with stress and anxiety on their own. No matter how remote the reality, competitive athletes today are restricted from using most if not all of these medications due to the possibility of performance enhancement.

 

runner on dock

In order to reduce or hopefully even eliminate the anxiety we must first determine what’s causing the stress. Is it self inflicted? Meaning that the athlete is putting stress upon themselves to perform at a particular level or accomplish a specific goal? Or is the stress coming from an external source like a coach or parent? If the stress is coming from an external source, this is more difficult to control and could escalate to serious levels.

yoga cat stretch

Self inflicted stress is very common and usually relates to ones emotions concerning their own abilities and performances.  It is a normal emotion and most experienced athletes are familiar with it and have their own means of controlling it.  When getting ready for a major competition for example, the athlete may have certain rituals established that keep them focused and in control.  When I was preparing for a major competition, I would often find time alone to practice imagery, almost like meditation.  Often, finding a hobby that can be used to distract the mental emotions of an upcoming competition is a useful tool for control.  Self inflicted stress is much easier to overcome because the individual is in control of their own emotions.

External stress is much more difficult to control and in many cases can lead to devastating results.  This type of stress can be caused by pressures inflicted from other people such as a coach or parent.  I have seen many athletes under extreme stress due to the expectations of their coach or parent. Unwarranted stress like this is unacceptable!!

 

woman stressed

This form of stress can cause adverse health issues that in many cases will affect the athlete the rest of their live. I have always believed that the individual no matter if they are a recreational student or an elite athlete should be treated with respect in a positive environment.  It is for this reason the United States Olympic Committee and each individual Sport’s Governing Body have created what is called “SafeSport”.  This program was created to protect the athletes from abuse in all areas: verbal, mental, physical, and sexual.  There are now serious consequences for a coach or instructor if they are reported in treating an athlete in such a manner.

Angry parent anim

A serious problem that has little or no consequences is stress created by a parent (Coaching the Parents).  Of course, physical abuse can be reported and consequences will follow, however, verbal and emotional abuse is difficult to manage.  When it is apparent the stress is a result of pressure by the parent, the coach may be able to help by discussing the issue with the parent.  It could be possible that the parent is not aware of the stress they are inflicting on their child.  It is common to see parents coaching their children on the sidelines at little league events.  Although they may think this will improve their performance, it many times increases their stress level. Not only does this distract the athlete from focusing on what the coach is trying to accomplish, it may also prevent the athlete from being able to focus on the task at hand.

All athletes will incur stress throughout their careers and each athlete will deal with it in their own way. Stressful situations are common, such as a competition or learning a new skill. The athlete that can control their emotions in these situations will have a much better chance of a positive outcome. There is no doubt that it is stressful for most people to be involved in a competition, the more serious the competition the more extreme the stress.

 

the-olympic-rings

The most stressful event I experienced in my competitive career was preparing and competing at the 1984 USA Olympic Gymnastics Trials.  I have trained many years for this one chance to accomplish my dream.  If I would make only one mistake, my dream would not become reality.  The pressure was Huge!!  I was prepared physically for the Trials, but I had to control my emotions leading up to the event as well as during the event.  I am certain most all the competitors had to deal with the same emotions.  Leading up to the competition, I would go out to the lake alone and go fishing.  This was a relaxing and non-stressful environment that allowed me to clear my mind and focus on only what was important. I must have controlled my stress well as I had a great competition and found a place on the Olympic Team.

Stress can be very unpleasant and will reoccur throughout the athlete’s career.  It may take years to control, but the patient athlete will learn how to control it and move forward in their development in a positive manner.  When I first started giving motivational speeches to large groups, for example, I was terrified.  I even froze up a few times in my first few presentations.  I believe most speakers deal with this emotion when starting out their career.  After some time and experience, my presentations flowed like clockwork and most of my apprehensions were gone.  Through consistency, I was able to control my emotions and feel confident in what I was doing.  Of course, having a great support group is certainly a great benefit to assist in building confidence and relieving stress.

Successful athletes have dealt with many stressful issues along their path to achieve their goals.  Stress cannot be eliminated and is part of being an athlete.  It is how one deals with it that is important, and there are many methods that one can utilize to help keep this emotion under control.  Let’s all be the positive support group that helps these special people achieve their dreams and goals.

 

lacrosse-winner

 

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

_TNG PNG Logo No Border

Skill Development

Training the Beginner Student

 

FB_IMG_1521642684854.jpg

All athletes begin their journey as a novice, the great ones usually with an abundance of drive to achieve and raw talent.  With that said, we all go through different levels of motor skill ability at different points in our life influenced by our mental and physical maturity.   For example, a teenager joining a track team for the first time can probably already run.  But to become an efficient runner, they will need coaching to improve their technique.  Whereas, an 8 month old child will need help developing even basic motor skills an adult would consider simple, like walking.  To the beginner, tumbling skills that involve somersaults and cartwheels that will turn them upside down is fun, but presents a whole new level motor movement.  We often see this ability gap in young children when they enter a gymnastics program. In this discussion, I will focus on the approach and training methods we use for the beginner gymnast and tumbler.

For each level of participation in our gymnastics and tumbling classes, we strictly follow a training schedule and format. For the beginning classes, the skills are very basic and much attention is spent on developing body shapes and awareness. The format we use for this level is entirely different from our preschool class program. It is at this level the instructors introduce the concept of gymnastics and tumbling that will hopefully get the student excited about moving forward in learning their basic skills. The environment should be extremely interactive, positive, and fun for the student, but not a playground atmosphere. The first class a student participates in will be, in many cases, the determining factor of whether the student will stay with the program. Classes should always be a positive and motivational experience leaving the student excited to come back.

We start our beginner classes with students at least 5 years old. We base this on maturity, not skill level. The curriculum and structure at this level is more advanced physically and emotionally than a typical preschooler would have. However, there are always exceptions where a 4-year-old is mature enough to handle this type of structure, especially if they have had been involved in a preschool gymnastics program previously.

20180403_171902.jpg

The term “beginner” refers to those students who have very little or no experience with gymnastics or tumbling. When we question parents for placement in our program, we usually ask, “can your child do a cartwheel?”. This is a very fundamental skill and one that most children want to explore, so a good question for exploration. If the answer is “no”, the child will certainly start at a beginner level. However, there is always the parent who states one thing and the truth is something very different. We, like most gyms, always offer a free trial class.   This is not only for us to evaluate the child, but also for the child to determine if the experience meets their expectations. Most importantly for the parent, will the activity be a positive learning environment for their child to succeed.

It is never a good idea for the coach or owner to allow a parent to determine where their child needs to be placed in a program. This is a common occurrence and needs to be addressed in a sensitive manner. One challenge, common in almost all programs, is having a beginner student that is much older than the other children in the class.  The difference in the age generation often is uncomfortable for the younger ones in the class, as well as the older student. In some cases, this situation is not a concern and the class flow is normal, but in other cases I have seen, it is awkward and the older student phases out of the program quickly.

20170220_181917.jpg

In gymnastics, as in all youth sports, the entry-level should be a priority initiative in order to retain students and grow the program. The beginner level of sports is the most important and delicate level to manage.  This is the introduction to the sport establishing a foundation that may very well influence the child’s passion to make it a life time pursuit.   We want to provide a great experience so the students will stay and progress within the gym. This is why the coaching staff at this level needs to be experience with not only skill development, but have a love, understanding, and patience of students in this age group. This is where trust is established between the student and coach and will set a precedence in the mind of the student moving forward. For this reason, the instructors need to be more interactive and hands-on at this level than any other. The students are not mature enough to train alone without constant supervision and physical interaction like the older more advanced recreational or team students.

FB_IMG_1521986299223.jpg

As someone who has coached team level gymnastics at all levels, I have found that the dynamics of coaching at the lower non-competitive levels has entirely different rules and objectives. It did not take me long to learn how important it was to create a structure and environment that will have a lasting effect on these students. I get a great deal of satisfaction working with these young students and seeing the gleam in their eyes when learning something for the first time and watching a few grow to be champions later in their development. The influence we have on these students can determine the success or failure in future growth. Let’s make it successful!!

If you have questions, do not hesitate to comment or send me a message. 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. As always, I would love to hear your comments. 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

Communication, Uncategorized

Coaching: Lets Be Positive

scott with preschooler

There are many methods and styles of coaching, whether it’s in business or sports, coaching is one of the major factors that can affect success in one’s participation. I have been coached by many professionals throughout my career and each one certainly had a great effect on my development. They all had their own style of communicating in attempting to create the greatest amount of motivation. This is the objective and is one of the most difficult challenges for the coach. Every student is motivated in a different way, but I have always believed that creating a positive and safe environment creates the greatest amount of motivation.

As mentioned in previous posts, there are many different methods that can be used to motivate a person(The Motivation Factor). I often see posts from coaches asking how to approach a particular student who seems to have lost their desire to train or participate. Since every student and situation is different, the coach needs to approach each situation differently. Much also depends on the level of the athlete. The approach will be very different from a non-competitive athlete and a competitive athlete. A competitive athlete has more of an obligation to perform at a higher level than a non-competitive athlete, so the dynamics of coaching will be dramatically different. In my opinion, the approach that should be taken in just about every case, should be a positive approach!!

scott working with group

When teaching classes, whether it is a recreational program or a competitive program, the coach needs to consistently communicate to their athletes in ways to motivate them to put forth a good effort and perform at a strong level. I have always believed that positive feedback and reinforcement creates a stronger desire to perform at a better or higher level. Criticism needs to be constant but in a positive manner. We call this “constructive criticism”.

A coach should never communicate in a manner that degrades an athlete. The coaches position should be to encourage and build self-esteem. This approach will more likely be motivating to the student. We should not use terms like “horrible” or “sucks”. Instead, we should communicate in a specific tone. For example: “That wasn’t bad but try to lock your knees on the glide…” or “be more aggressive”. Of course, we all get students who lack a strong desire or effort and these are the most difficult students to handle at times. However, even in these situations, the language and approach should be constructive, not destructive.

Failure Depression pic

I have seen coaches who use threats and yell at their students to get them to perform to the coaches expectations. This type of behavior usually results in tears and/or rebellion, both of which is non-productive. There are certainly other ways to communicate with students who need a boost in their motivation. One such method is creating fun and exciting incentives.  Another method is to let the student take a break or even go home for the remaining of the practice.   If the student has a desire to improve, they should come back with a better attitude. However, if the student has a negative experience through their coaches behavior, this desire may not return for a longer period of time or possibly may be gone forever. I have also seen coaches yell and speak in disgust to their student at competitions. I remember specifically one coach of a level 4 team tell her students “you make me sick and embarrassed”. These kids are only 6 and 7 years old. I couldn’t believe that behavior!!

showcase medal ceremony

I truly believe that champions can be created through positive reinforcement and interaction. Of course, as the athlete reaches higher levels of participation, the environment becomes more serious and focused, but that should not take away the positive environment. There are many choices for parents to place their children in programs. The right fit should be explored before committing to a particular program. Always remember, only a very small fraction of athletes reach the highest levels. The majority will end their career to explore other opportunities and activities. The coaching staff should create an environment where athletes can be excited and proud of their experiences in sport.

If you have questions, do not hesitate to comment or send me a message. 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. As always, I would love to hear your comments. 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

Communication, Uncategorized

Coaching: The Communication Factor

coach and athletes

Have you ever been to a seminar, clinic, or special event to listen to a speaker or series of speakers talking about issues involving their particular industries? If so, have their been instances where you didn’t understand what the speaker was talking about? How about in the gymnastics or other sports industries where you listen to experts talk about technical issues or skill development and the content is difficult to understand? This is not uncommon and I personally have experienced these problems.

In this discussion, I will focus on the importance of communicating in a way that your audience will understand and take away priceless knowledge that will help with improvement and growth.

Preschool group stretch

There are many different levels of activity in every type of sport and each level has it’s own set of rules, training methods, and curriculum. These levels range from beginners through the most advanced. No matter what the level of group the coach is working with, it is critical that the coach is communicating to that particular group in a way that the students can understand. For example, a coach would not want to talk to an advanced group of older athletes as if they were pre-schoolers and vise versa.

Since the sports of gymnastics and tumbling is so complex in skill development, the coaches need to have the knowledge that is appropriate for coaching their particular level. This is so important for the positive growth of each student. But what may be even more important is how that coach communicates to the student. What may make sense to the coach in teaching a skill or making a correction may not make any sense to the athlete.

coach with athlete

For those coaches out there, how often have you made numerous statements to a student to correct a problem and the student has not make the correction? Frustrating isn’t it?!! Even simple corrections, like straightening of the legs, or arching of the back? What I have found over the years, is that in many cases, the student has no idea what your talking about. How do you find out? You ask them if they know what you mean. You’ll be amazed at how many will say “No”. If I have a student that is bending their legs on a cartwheel I will often ask them, “do you feel your legs bending?” Often they will say no. It’s then I realized that it is important to communicate that they need to focus on that one particular issue in order to fix it. If they can feel their legs bending eventually they will be able to make the correction to straighten their legs. It is only then that the coach can communicate in a different manner, break the skill down, and explain in a way that the student will understand. With this new understanding, the student can begin to make the correction. This is why it is so critical that the coach has the knowledge to teach the skills they are teaching.

Fixing bad habits is a constant struggle for many coaches, especially on the recreational side of sports. We get new students from other programs that were not taught correctly or students who are self taught. How are habits made? Consistency. The coaches objective is to change from a bad habit to a good habit. How? Again, Consistency. Coaches need to make the correction every time the student performs the skill. I have seen often, in programs I have visited, coaches having their students go through their curriculum and workout with little verbal communication to the students. This allows the student to consistently perform their skills in the same manner every time- thus reinforcing bad habits.

Scott coaching Kailyn

I make it a priority to instruct my staff to make a comment each time a student performs a skill. Whether it is a correction or a praise in their performance. We never communicate in a threatening, deeming, or negative manner. Our communication is always based on being positive and providing constructive criticism in making corrections. Students should never be yelled at, called out, or treated in a negative way. My philosophy has always been: If you love what you are doing, hard work becomes easy and you will naturally be motivated to improve yourself. We want to create the most positive environment for our students. If this is accomplished, the students will more likely stay with the program and take their ability as far as they can go.