I love this word while coaching. Adjust.
What changes can I make to improve this child's experience? What can I do to get this kid to achieve this skill? Am I creating enough incentive? Am I creating an environment of comfort so they feel comfortable to make changes and corrections?
How can I adjust?
An inexperienced/stubborn/egotistical coach will continue teaching the same way and put the pressure on the child to make the changes. The mentality of "I have always taught like this.", "This is how I was taught and I was an amazing gymnast.", "All the other kids don't need this adjustment, why does this one?" is an old, outdated way of coaching and isn't serving the child or your program in a positive way.
I was recently sent a video from a parent of a pre level 2 child learning how to do a stoop on dismount. The coach had this little girl on a bar way above the girl's head without any matting underneath. The coach was spotting cast, after cast, after cast- he clearly felt that her casts weren't strong enough to put her feet up on the bar and needed work on casts. Great observation and could be true, but we will never know if it is her casts being weak or her fear of being so high up on the bar and falling over. This coach had her on the bar banging her hips for over 2 minutes- I counted 25 casts in a row and the little girl's wrists were obviously bothering her as she would try to balance her body on the bar and shake her wrists.
Adjustments the coach could have made:
1. Lower the equipment, set up matting and teach how to fall - it is amazing how quickly kids make a skill when you make simple equipment adjustments. If they are not comfortable, they will not make necessary corrections simply out of fear. This goes for every single event. Add mats, go to low beam, use the trampoline, do tons of numbers and then progress.
2. Create incentive - make up a game! Ring a bell when they get the skill! Tell them that you are so excited for them to make it so that you can show them your victory dance! Be their cheerleader and get them to want to make it!
3. Smaller reps - young kids don't have the strength or stamina to work through pain. Yes, they need to learn that a little discomfort is ok and is necessary to get stronger and improve- but a coach needs to be aware of a young child's limitations and when to stop- or else you will not have a team to coach- they will find another gym or another sport.
These are big adjustments that can be made - but you can make a class EVEN better by just small adjustments...
Recently, I made a very simple adjustment in a preschool class, one of those- "I can't believe I didn't think of this sooner!", moments.
I use placement dots for the kids to sit down on while I am setting up and to explain directions for their stations. It drives me crazy when the kids pick up the dots and play with them instead of listening to instructions (although, I have some super creative kids - tacos- "Look! Hey, Coach DaniBee! Tacos for lunch! Omnomnom!" - hats - "Check out my dot hat!" - food - "Grape! I want purple grape! I'm on strawberry! I'm on pickle!").
I had one particular class that would use them as weapons and hit each other with them- no need to mention that it was a boy dominated class.. but, uh- there were no girls in the class..
For some reason, it didn't occur to me until a couple of weeks ago to just remove the dots completely and put masking tape X's, just for this particular class. No joke- easy as pie- problem solved.
It is easy for us coaches to get into the groove of things and go on auto-pilot and just teach the way we always teach. But, if you take a second and ask "How can I make this class better? What can I do?", it might be just as simple as making some masking tape X's on the floor...
Danielle Baker has been a gymnastics coach since 2001. She has a Bachelor's degree in Psychology and is a former preschool teacher. She is CEO of DaniBees Activities, mobile gymnastics company, in Los Angeles.