Gymnastics is a critical environment by nature - you are quite literally judged on your actions. You aren't rewarded points for good gymnastics. You are given 10 points and then essentially punished for your mistakes by taking points away for each movement that isn't perfect. You are judged. You are critiqued. I myself did competitive gymnastics from age 9-18. That's nearly 10 years of my life being told what wasn't perfect about me, so I know that gymnastics can be unforgiving. While I truly believe growing up in this environment teaches kids how to deal with criticism, I recognize that it can also lead to gyms being factories of perfectionists that struggle to deal with never being enough.
I started full-time coaching a competitive group back in 2014 after I graduated from K-State. I'd had some experience working with team kids, but it wasn't until that summer after college where I officially had my own groups to work with for a full season.
And I came in with the expectation that we would win.
I was part of multiple State Championship teams. I myself won multiple event and all-around state titles. I watched my teammates take home gold medals all the time. Winning wasn't some elusive goal, it was a staple in my life. I expected the same would happen as a coach as it did when I was an athlete.
And then I got my first group of kids....
Talk about a slap in the face. I'm not sure why I thought it would easy to get a group of 5 and 6 year olds to get their legs straight and STOP FREAKING WOBBLING while standing on a 4 inch wide piece of wood that stood way above their heads, but it definitely didn't happen right away. It didn't even happen within the first month and let me tell you it humbled me FAST.
I quickly learned that winning doesn't come simply because "KC Elite" is next to your name. It takes a combination of natural talent, hard work, a young child learning how to stay consistently focused, a coach who doesn't give up when it seems like the corrections are never made no matter how hard they try, and a whole host of other factors that generally need to come together at the right time on the right day and the right etc, etc, etc...
The thought of a state championship was far from my mind let alone even getting on the podium. All I could think about was getting them to walk across the beam without falling out of sheer terror. And as the months went by I started feeling like I had failed. What kind of coach was I if I couldn't get them to bring home something??
And it was then that I realized my thought process had to change. For my entire life I had defined success in gymnastics as winning. Anything else meant you needed to try harder. But what happens when you try your absolute hardest and it still isn't enough? The fact of the matter is, only ONE person gets to take home that trophy, only ONE person gets to be the best. How can someone still feel good about their hard work when that one person isn't them?
This is where I learned that I had to redefine success. I wasn't going to have a state championship team every single year. I wasn't always going to coach the best kids.
But I was always going to coach kids who were worth my love and attention. I was always going to coach kids who needed to me to see them as more than a gymnast. And I was always going to coach kids who needed me to guide them to success, even if that success was defined by something other than a gold medal.
Now, this year was one where we didn't bring home any team titles. We had talked extensively about holding the majority of our kids back a year in an effort to let them be "more successful" in regards to placing at competition. In the end we decided not to - the kids had 90% of their skills for the most part and we decided to let them go for it at a higher level. Was that the right choice? Maybe. Maybe not. They say hindsight is 20/20, but in this case I can't look back and see how their successes may have been different if we had chosen another route. However I can tell you some of the incredible ways that I personally saw success in our girls this year.
- seeing a gymnast work through her anxiety and fears calmly when last year she would break down crying hysterically with no chance of consoling her
- witnessing a gymnast who had been torn down over and over again by negative coaches come out of her shell again, start making real progress, and actually be PROUD of herself for the first time in awhile
- watching two girls of totally different ages and levels who both struggle with anger and frustration learn how to accept failure and work through their disappointments
- seeing two girls with COMPLETELY OPPOSITE personalities learn how to speak kindly to one another and work through their differences in a calm, loving way (this took almost the entire season and I seriously almost cried the first time I saw them work through something on their own)
- watching a little one who was terrified of competing step up and do her entire routine at State without forgetting it, getting scared, or quitting halfway through (and finished with a big smile on her face!)
- seeing a kid who struggled on bars get her skills literally the WEEK OF THE FIRST MEET after months and months and months of training them.
- Getting to the state meet and not having any of the Level 4's have mental blocks on vault after an entire season of amazing practice vaults and then balking at the meets
- watching our older girls mentor their "little sisters" through topics such as working through your metal blocks, goal setting, and how to focus on keywords instead of fears
That list could truly go on and on. Would I love to see my girls enjoy getting first place as a team? Absolutely. I've done it a few times and it never gets old. But over the past few years I've learned that there is also an incredible amount of joy in seeing the non-podium victories, and those are the ones that will stick.
It is through these victories that our girls will grow. They will hopefully learn that their best IS enough, even if it doesn't bring home a first place trophy. And they will hopefully take away that in every situation, no matter what someone tells you was "wrong" with you, there is always something SUCCESSFUL in you.
Pictured above: Two different teams from my first year of coaching. One team placed 1st. The other didn't. But both groups were successful in their own ways!