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QUESTION: I AM CURRENTLY COACHING LEVEL 3 AND LEVEL 4 GIRLS GYMNASTICS.  IS IT "MENTLLY ABUSIVE" TO ENCOURAGE ONE GYMNAST TO PERFORM A SKILL BY SAYING THAT ANOTHER GYMNAST IS ABLE TO DO THE SAME SKILL?  THIS WAS DONE TO TRY TO LET ONE GIRL KNOW THAT IT WAS POSSIBLE TO DO A SQUAT ON FROM THE LOW BAR AND JUMP TO THE HIGH BAR BECAUSE ANOTHER, SHORTER, GYMNAST WAS ABLE TO PERFORM THE SAME SKILL.  THIS WAS NOT SAID TO MAKE THE CHILD FEEL BAD, BUT INSTEAD IT WAS SO THAT SHE COULD SEE IT WAS POSSIBLE TO PERFORM THE SKILL AT HER SIZE.  THE GRANDMOTHER OF THE CHILD TOLD ME I WAS BEING MENTALLY ABUSIVE.  I HOPE YOU CAN ANSWER THIS QUESTION QUICKLY BECAUSE THE RELATIONSHIP WITH THIS PARENT IS AFFETING MY COACHING.  I WAS A FORMER GYMNAST FOR 20 YRS AND I HAVE BEEN A COACH ON AND OFF FOR 20 YRS.  I WOULD NEVER INTENTIONALLY BE HARMFUL TO ANY CHILD.   THANK YOU

ANSWER: Hi Sherri,

Obviously, after hearing only one side of the story, I am limited in the response I can make. Based on the way you portrayed it in this communication, I get the sense you were trying to motivate the gymnast to go for the skill with the intent of "see you have the same capabilities as the other gymnast" so why not give it a shot?

As a coach, you need to make sure every gymnast is prepared physically, emotionally, and technically. What I call my PET coaching system.

Physically - means the gymnast has the strength and flexibility appropriate to the performance of the skill. The only exception to this may be in the early stages of training when you "carry spot" or literally physically manipulate the gymnast through the performance of the skill from takeoff to safe landing.

Emotionally - means the gymnast is mentally prepared, motivated, and confident to perform the skill. Through several repetitions of the skill she has developed a physical and mental competence and confidence which she demonstrates through attitude, action, and verbal feedback.

Technically - means the gymnast knows the sequence and timing of events that need to take place in order to perform this skill. The gymnast should be able to effectively and verbally repeat to you the technique necessary for the safe and effective performance of the skill.

It sounds like the gymnast in question may have the physical and technical components of the skill progression but has not yet achieved the emotional component. Perhaps she has an inordinate fear of heights? Maybe she had a fall on an earlier attempt and that is her main focus, which is holding her back.

You can never go wrong by backing the skill down to earlier more successful technique progressions, then work your way back up to the eventual solo performance of the skill.

Keeping the P-E-T system of training in mind, even with the best of intentions, you can never really compare one gymnast with another.

This is also why parents (or grandparents) should never attempt to second guess a coach because there are so many variables present in the training of gymnastics skills, even when the athletes seem to have the same set of abilities.

Regards,

Coach Rik

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR QUICK RESPONSE.  LET ME JUST ASK, IN GENERAL, IS IT MENTAL ABUSE TO COMPARE ONE GYMNAST TO ANOTHER?  THE GRANDMOTHER OF THE CHILD HAS TOLD JUST ABOVE EVERYONE THAT I MENTALLY ABUSE THIS CHILD BY COMPARING HER TO 2 OTHER GIRLS.  I WOULD LIKE YOUR OPINION.  BUT JUST SO YOU KNOW, I ALMOST NEVER COMPARE KIDS, BUT IF I SAY SOMETHING THAT IS A COMPARISON, IT IS TO MOTIVATE AND SHOW THE CHILD THAT OTHERS CAN DO THE SKILL SO IT IS ALSO A POSSIBILITY THAT SHE CAN DO THE SAME SKILL.  I ALSO EXPLAIN, THAT I WOULD NOT ASK HER TO DO SOMETHING SHE IS NOT READY TO TRY.  I USE MATS AND SPOTTING WHEN A CHILD IS NERVOUS OR SCARED ABOUT A NEW SKILL.

         THANK YOU

Answer
Note: Please do not write in all capital letters as it is difficult to read and on the Internet it is considered shouting.

Sherri,

As I said in my last letter, "Keeping the P-E-T system of training in mind, even with the best of intentions, you can never really compare one gymnast with another."

Do not compare one gymnast to another.

No matter how good your intentions are your meaning can be misconstrued by the gymnast, the parent, and other spectators. In their minds the comparison can be interpreted as, "Look you've got all the techniques and abilities of this other gymnast, so why can't you do it?" The implication they may take away from that may be negative.

So, do not compare one gymnast to another. Focus on each gymnast's strengths and abilities and work within those parameters to create a technique that will result in the successful and safe completion of the skill.

Regards,

Coach Rik

Gymnastics

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Rik Feeney

Expertise

I can answer questions regarding all levels of the sport of women's gymnastics, the business of gymnastics, and the marketing of gymnastics programs.

Experience

I am the author of "Gymnastics: A Guide for Parents and Athletes" currently being published by McGraw-Hill. I am also a ghostwriter and co-author of the Gymcert series of books "Levels 1-3 Gymnastics Coaches Certifications Manuals" for recreational gymnasts, and the "Levels 4 - 6 Skills and Drills" books as well as Safety Basics for Gymnastics Instructors. I have written several other books on the sport of gymnastics for Richardson Publishing, the latest of which is titled, "Back Handsprings: The Secret Techniques." Oh, and by the way, I was a competitive gymnast through high school and college (Temple University), gymnastics club owner for 10 years, and women's gymnastics coach for 30 years working with gymnasts at all competitive levels

Organizations
USA Gymnastics National Writer's union Florida Writer's Association

Publications
USA Gymnastics magazine Technique magazine International Gymnast magazine several newspaper articles

Education/Credentials
Temple University - Health Physical Education, Recreation & Dance Norwich University - Bachelors of Arts in Writing & Literature

Awards and Honors
Several state and national level gymnastics champions in different systems of competition.

Past/Present clients
Gymnasts, coaches, and club owners nation-wide.

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