Feedback after tests for places in the intermediate class

Mr BobRecently we’ve had a few enquiries from parents about the recent testing for places in the intermediate class and naturally there is some disappointment with the results, writes coach Mr Bob.

Some have noted that they have seen great improvement in their child’s passion and abilities but they are confused as to why this isn’t enough for their child to progress to the next stage within the club.

Well, the frustrating truth is that the club is currently limited by our hall space, number of hours and coaches. This means that despite a fantastic improvement in all of the gymnasts, we can only move up those we feel have the most desire and potential right now.

You all know that we are working on our mission to raise the funds for a new facility which will solve this problem but, of course, this doesn’t help you and your child right now. So I’ve put together some general feedback from the testing.

It’s a concrete list of what we, as coaches, look for in gymnasts and there are also some extra tips and suggestions on how to give your child the best possible chance to progress. I hope this is helpful.

Test Criteria, Results & Suggestions

Flexibility: There are five stretches that we practice in every single session. These are left leg splits, right leg splits, box splits, pike fold and bridge.

Every gymnast knows these stretches and should practise them at home multiple times every day. No equipment is required and it is not necessary to push too hard, but the secret here is consistency.

One minute in each stretch three times a day is much better than sitting in a stretch for an hour one day a week. We practice them constantly because they are integral to learning the harder skills. They help to prevent injury and also have a huge impact on scores in competition performances.

With that being said, there was a notable increase in general flexibility and the gymnasts are heading in the right direction, but there is a lot more work to be done and gymnasts need to be comfortably all the way down in all five stretches.

Strength: There are many muscles in the body and a child can be strong in many different ways. But in gymnastics we are primarily concerned with the strength to be able to move and hold the entire body as a whole. This is difficult and was reflected in the test results.

Many of the gymnasts couldn’t perform a chin up and this can be a very demoralising exercise because until a child reaches a certain threshold of strength in the back muscles, they won’t see any reward for their efforts until they get there. As a result this exercise is often avoided.

You can help your child here by partially lifting them when they practise on a bar at home (or play-park), giving them the extra bit of strength they need. Even better still, take your child bouldering (I recommend ‘The Boardrooms’ in Sandycroft) and you will see massive improvements very quickly.

Leg lifts were also low in the scores. This exercise is also difficult, requires a bar and can be assisted to improve morale and engagement. Note it is very important to keep the legs straight in the lift or it won’t be counted by a coach in testing.

Straddle hold is a skill where the gymnast sits with their legs spread and pushes their hands flat into the floor to lift their feet and bottoms off the floor. Ideally, a gymnast should be able to hold this position for 30 seconds (and a few did in the test), but most didn’t make it to 10 seconds. This skill requires some flexibility as well as strength so you can help by holding their feet up until they can.

Press-ups were better, and most gymnasts are at a stage where they can practise them at any time.

Desire: Now we’re starting to look more at the mindset of the gymnasts, and this is the most important quality we are looking for and the easiest to identify. If your child is truly passionate about being a gymnast, then you will already know and are probably used to seeing your girl doing cartwheels absolutely everywhere.

But it is worth mentioning that being in love with the sport (and it is a fantastic one), is not quite the same as having a burning desire to be the very best gymnast you can be. Essentially this comes down to what your child wants, but you can fuel their passion to some degree by sharing it with them.

Helping them with their conditioning, going to events like the British Championships (once a year in Liverpool) or even just watching YouTube videos together can really inspire your child to improve and also bring you both closer together.

Self-belief: This is a really important quality, but often over-looked. Research has shown that if a person’s belief in their ability to achieve something is low then they will disengage from that task even if it is really important to them.

In fact, the more it means to them the more they will shy away from it. Obviously you can’t measure this in a physical test, but earlier this year, out of curiosity I asked my class if they believed they could learn the skills we were working on if they kept practising.

I was expecting them all to shout ‘yes’, but quite a few of the gymnasts disagreed quite strongly. Since then, they’ve all made progress on what we were working on (shoulderstands and headstands) and, I believe, their self belief is increasing, but we can encourage this even further with continual positive feedback and by giving them some examples of success.

A good example I found a while back was a video about Jennifer Bricker, a gymnast born without legs.

Courage: Gymnastics is a scary sport and every gymnast will have to face their fears on an ongoing basis. This starts early on with walking along the beam which can seem terrifying if the beam is taller than you are.

However, this quickly progresses as the gymnast works towards more intricate skills that require more power and coordination to execute. Now, obviously as coaches, our first concern is safety and we only progress the skill when the gymnast is ready, but there are times when the gymnast is ready, but afraid to make the leap of faith.

In these moments it is down to the gymnast to make the choice and, I believe, it comes back to the two qualities I’ve already mentioned: How much the gymnast wants to succeed; and how much the gymnast believes they will succeed. These seem to be the deciding factors on whether they will go for it or not.

Other Qualities: In each gymnast we also look for self-discipline, focus, positive attitude, commitment and determination. I could write about all of these qualities and why they’re important, but I don’t think that is necessary and I feel they all come back to the desire of the gymnast.

If your girl really wants it, then she will do everything she can to progress. We’re talking about listening to the coaches avidly when they’re talking so they always know what they’re meant to be doing; we’re talking about the gymnast doing as many press-ups as she can and continuing to try even after she fails instead of giving up; we’re talking about choosing a gymnastics session over a friend’s birthday.

And finally: My last suggestion would be to get more involved with the club if you aren’t already. It isn’t coincidence that most of the advanced gymnasts’ parents are involved with the club.

Coaching is a great way to be involved because you get to see firsthand what we are looking for and you can use everything you learn at home with your gymnast. So your gymnast is essentially getting extra physical preparation and training from you.

If coaching doesn’t appeal to you, then maybe come along to a fundraising meeting and get involved with one of our projects to raise money for our new facility. We’re not expecting massive commitments, just some help here or there, even if that means just coming up with some ideas.

A new facility will mean improved quality and quantity of coaching for all gymnasts, regardless of class. So let’s make it happen and give the girls the best opportunities and experiences we can.

Mr. Bob

‘Mr Bob, excellent appreciation of what gymnastics is all about and how we coach and engage’ – Stan Buckley, Director of Coaching

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