8 Questions You Must Answer ‘Yes’ to Before Becoming a Gymnastics Coach
1. Do you like and understand kids? Kids are who take gymnastics classes. And, well, they act like kids. If you don’t like kids, don’t find their energy or imaginations interesting and have little patience for their developmental stages, all of the technical knowledge in the world will be of little use in your ability to work with them happily. Furthermore, you need to understand something about child development in order to have reasonable expectations and insights into the children with whom you work.
2. Do you like to and are you able to teach? Not do you know a lot about technique and not were you a great gymnast yourself, but do you like and know how to teach something. Do you enjoy helping people learn new things? Can you break complicated things down into small parts? Can you notice when a child is struggling and remain patient while you work together to come up with a solution as how to fix it? Are you able to find multiple ways to teach the same concept or skill to accommodate the various learning needs of your athletes?
3. Are you willing to keep learning for as long as you continue to coach? Coaching is a profession where you must continue to learn. Each year we understand more about injury prevention, technique, new equipment and training ideas as well as updates on requirements, recommendations for preschool aged gymnasts, spotting, safety considerations…the list goes on and on. You must make the commitment to constantly learn.
4. Are you willing to work with kids who aren’t the most coordinated, the strongest, the most flexible and who even have a body type not traditionally associated with gymnastics? When I evaluate the effectiveness of a coach on my staff, it is not impressive to me to see their success with our most physically gifted athletes. What impresses me are coaches who can take a child who is average or even below average in athletic skills and mentor them into a gymnast. To me, that is the mark of an exceptional coach. Moreover, the vast majority of the kids who come to our gyms are typical kids. Being able, willing and even excited to work with these kids is what a truly excellent coach is able to do.
5. Do you like physical work? Coaching is a physical job. To do it correctly, you are on your feet the entire practice actively making corrections with your athletes. If you want to sit in a chair or lie prone on a mat, coaching gymnastics is not for you.
(Updated note: someone pointed out to me that a person who is physically incapacitated (i.e. in a wheelchair) still could be a fine coach if paired in a collaboration with another coach who was physically able. This is an excellent point, collaboration can be a great solution in a case such as this. Those coaches, however, who are physically able but choose a “horizontal” approach to coaching (i.e. lying on a mat barking orders to kids) are the ones to whom I am referring.)
6. Are you a good actor? There are going to be days you don’t want to be in the gym. There are going to be kids you don’t like and parents you cannot stand. There will be judges you want to scream at and times you just want to pull out your hair. And you cannot do any of those things. You have to act professional at all times, hence the acting.
7. Are you organized? Coaching isn’t just what happens on the floor. It involves planning each workout, season and even career of your athletes. It can mean needing to file certain paperwork for competitions, certifications or clinics. There are meetings with managers, coworkers and parents. You have to be on top of these things.
8. Are you willing to be invested fully in the success of another person despite the fact that you may never get any credit? Coaches don’t get medals or scholarships. In fact, there is no guarantee that the gymnast you worked with for a decade won’t leave your club for another just months before her success happens. You have to be comfortable with that. But, as the greatest coach ever John Wooden said, “It’s amazing how much you can get accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit.”
(Final note: No one is perfect and it is highly unlikely that anyone is going to go 8/8 every single day of their coaching career. That does not render you an incapable coach. It makes you human. The point being that we are all striving each day to be as good as we can be at our profession, both on the technical side and on the side of developing and understanding the children with whom we work).