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Gymnastics/High School Gym Coach

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Jack,

I recently "inherited" a high school gymnastics team from the previous head coach for whom I assisted. As gymnast at the high school--I competed on this team--, as assistant coach, and now as head coach, I have and continue to witness high school gymnastics diminishing--lower skill level, inadequate equipment condition, inadequate resources--. Because of your many years of experience in the niche of high school gymnastics, I would like your advice. While I have many questions for you, I will ask only one: What should a typical practice look like?

I will give background information on the team's situation. After receiving this background info, if you believe that there are existing variables which need to change in order to achieve the desired "typical practice" for success, please include those.

As a little background info for the parameters of the practice context:

1. We do not practice at our school--instead we practice at a rival school alongside them and another rival school--while this is great for gymnasts and coaches to have more feedback, it is also a pain to share the equipment with 30+ gymnasts when only having one of each apparatus available to the 30+--Our DA insists that practicing together is the best way...

2. Our practices last 2 1/2 hours --30 minutes for proper warm up and stretching; 40 minutes to setup and breakdown the gym-- With the equipment being overrun by 30 girls, I feel that we barely have time for gymnastics , let alone conditioning or deep stretching.

3. We practice 5 days a week

4. The vast majority of the team members are beginners and therefore require much more basic instruction rather than routine development/improvement.--they have routines, but do an entire run-through of 1 routine per event per practice-- what supplementary or training equipment other than the apparatuses do you find mandatory in practice in order to develop new skills safely and efficiently?


5. Our season is three months long #not allowing for beginners to adequately master basics therefore decreasing routine stability#

6. I feel we need to workout off-season, but am not sure how to get girls to come since the team has never done it before

7. The assistant coach is only available the last half of practice

8. The previous head coach never asked for resources from the DA and now I feel as though I appear demanding.

9. I'm a full-time college student and perfectionist

Jack, I really want this program to succeed. What should I do?!

Sincerely,
Needing your guidance

Answer
Hello ,
         I am very glad to help you.  I believe the formula that is most important is time budgeting. FYI, we did not have a gym space for just gymnastics.  We had to rotate around other teams working out.  The list below is obviously flexible.  I can say it worked for me.
1.   Set up equipment with specific assignments for all gymnasts.
2.   Team warm-ups with assigned leaders for the warm-ups.
3.   General tumbling on side passes to get as many involved as possible and then to the diagonals for higher level elements.
4.   Rotations for apparatus work.  In the beginning of the season I would have everyone review their skills and try to add two elements to their skill resume.  For some, I would put the stress on meeting the requirements or upping their start value.  FYI, the high school rules were Jr. Olympic Level 8.  Finally, the advanced girls would work on bonus elements and trying to create signature moves or moves with tap into their attributes.
5.   The end of workout would be specific strength for the needs of the athletes.  A lot of times I would give individual assignments to help be exactly…..coaching for the future.  I believe in coached with wisdom and trying to interpret what my athletes could accomplish with in the season parameters.  Coaching them for a skill they would probably not get till past the season is something I would lend towards.  
6.   Finally, always make the appropriate time for clean up.  You don’t want to short sheet the next team using the gym.  I see that may not be a problem.
I hope this helps a little.  Believe it or not, the more you know…..the more you realize you don’t know.  It is comforting to better understand your gymnasts and how to help them reach their potentials with in the short time of a high school gymnastics season.  
EXTRA:  I would help my gymnasts all year by letting them know of nearby clubs offered high school gymnastics classes and I would also give the gymnasts exercise programs to stay fit. FYI, some school districts do not allow the coaches to coach their athletes outside of the season unless it is a community offered program.  I would simply work at the local club or recreation department to make it viable to coach my athletes a little more. Remember....some of the gymnasts did other sports so it was hard giving them attention all year.  I just wanted the gymnasts to have every opportunity to achieve when possible. 
I wish you the best and feel free to ask me any questions.  Take Care and have a great holiday season.  Jack Leonard.

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Jack Leonard

Expertise

Former 5 time Natl. Tumbling Champ, 3 time Natl. Vaulting Champ, Natl. Floor Exercise Champ; Ass`t coach of Dominique Dawes for 6 years; Owner/Director/Head coach of Kauai Gymnastics Academy on the island of Kauai in Hawaii; Retired Physical Ed teacher; Childrens Fitness Expert; Expert Consultant for gymnastics litigation; Retired Mens & Womens HS Gymnastics coach for 32 years. National coaching honors for Men in 1981 & Women in 2001.

Experience

I value the following awards because they were given by acknowlegement through my peers: The Nissen/Grissold Award given to the outstanding Tumbling and Tramp Athlete(1972), National High School coach of the year in 1981 for men and 2001 for women, 10 time County Coach of the Year. Medal Award given at the first World Tumbling Championships in London, England for dedication to the sport. Lastly, having the opportunity to coach Wes Suter(1988 Olympian)in his intermediate years and Dominique Dawes(1992 & 1996)

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