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Gymnast- Centered Coaching- What is it?

It's no secret there are a number of many different approaches to coaching. However, one of the most traditional approaches is very coach-centered, where the gymnast's decision-making is minimal and the coach often considers the gymnast only as a performer, rather than a whole person. This approach to coaching gained popularity during the cold war. Over the course of the past 10-15, sports psychology research and an increased interest in ethics and inclusion have caused the gymnastics community to distance itself from this coaching model.

In Wings Rhythmic Gymnastics we use a Gymnast-Centered coaching approach, as we beleieve it is more inclusive, and better for our gymnasts' mental and physical wellbeing. But, what does this mean?

What is the Gymnast-Centered Coaching Approach?

According to Marshall J. Milbrath, Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction and Education in Exercise Physiology in Benedictine University in the US, athlete-centered coaching takes root in humanistic psychology, athlete-centered coaching emphasizes coaching that addresses not only the physical requirements of sport but also addresses the needs of the mind and spirit. British Gymnastics also describes this approach as the following:

A gymnast-centered approach involves creating the right philosophy and atmosphere in the clubs – the club should be seen as caring, inclusive, engaging, consultative and democratic. All coaches and club members, should be part of a team effort to look at the club’s gymnastics offer and consider how to make their programmes/activities more relevant and exciting for all gymnasts.

Why is it Beneficial?

It Empowers Athletes and Coaches

According to Milbrath, for the gymnast these include:

  1. Encouragement to discover their full potential,

  2. Increased independence, self-reliance, and control,

  3. Prioritization of personal goals over winning,

  4. Ownership of responsibility for success and failure,

  5. Valuing of creativity and imagination,

  6. Increased feelings of competence and motivation,

  7. Support through the highs and lows of sport involvement.

Focusing on Personal Achievement

Athlete-centered coaching focuses primarily on providing for this demonstrated need to reach unmet potential, implicating it as a means by which the coach can facilitate this kind of success.

Focusing on personal achievement and goals that are important to the individual contributes to satisfaction and overall confidence of the gymnast, because this means the young athlete doesn't have to rely in external factors outside of their control get the desired result.

One size does not fit all

Listenig and targeting the gymnast's needs and taking a personalised approach may lead to less injuries, better results and happier athletes. Because every gymnast has different strenghts and difficulties, different body types, and different development stages a gneralised coaching approach may fit some and not other, where a gymnast-centered approach has the power to highlight the strenghts of a gymnast, and work on their personal challenges at their own pace, preventing them from overuse injuries from trying to catch up with standarised expectations, and the frustration of being left behind.

How to Implement Gymnast-Centered Coaching?

Get to know the gymnasts.

British Gymnastics, for instance, encourages coaches to know their gymnasts' first name, their families, background, interests, motivations, and aspirations in many of their coach education courses and policies. While this is important for children to feel valued within the club, it's also important for safety reasons, as getting to know their gymnasts' personalities can help know how much they should push a gymnast to feel challenged but accomplished.

Get gymnasts involved in the decisions in your club.

A gymnast-centered approach requires the coaches to involve their gymnasts in the decision-making process, thus empowering them and creating more independent and motivated learners. Based on age, maturity, and experience, you should question your gymnasts, prompting them to identify their own performance strengths and areas for development and the strategies for improvement.

As British Gymnastics recommends its level three coaching courses, whilst it is important to engage your gymnasts in the decision-making process this should at no point compromise their safety. For example, it has been suggested that coaches training athletes below the age of 12 years old will have to be more directive in their approach to ensure safety and the acquisition of basic skills. In gymnastics however, the age at which gymnasts can become involved in the decision-making process may be younger as they are likely to be highly experienced in the sport by the age of 12.

The age or experience of the gymnasts being coached should determine the level of autonomy that they should be permitted. However, sometimes it only takes simple choices for gymnasts to feel heard; such as:

  • Giving them a say when naming a new skill they are practicing

  • Giving them a choice on the design of the club tracksuits

  • Giving them different choices for warm-up games

Communicate with the gymnasts' parents

Parents want to know what is happening in sessions and with their children, so it's important to keep them in the loop about their children's progression and any challenges they may face. Asking parents for help, where required, and feedback can help more effective session plans and make sure all participants are happy and fulfilled.

Wings Rhythmic Gymnastics has all the event dates, policies, and programmes, and level progression available on their website, and our secretary and children's officer is available to talk by appointment.

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