I just had a lengthy discussion with a colleague concerning the pro’s and cons of allowing serious gymnasts to participate in the plethora of social events that arise throughout the year. Does allowing your athletes to participate indicate a lack of commitment or discipline? At what point does missing training for social events start having an adverse impact on your program?
Believe me when I say my current stance on this issue has evolved and done a complete about face over the past 25 years. “No you can’t go to a football game, dance or birthday party, we have practice!” would have been my answer some years ago. Over time it became obvious to me that the nuclear fallout that followed enforcement of this hard lined policy was not nearly worth the aggravation. Close evaluation of a more lenient approach revealed that happier athletes were more productive long term.
There are a few things that most adults remember from their junior high and high school days. Most of these memories relate to social events with schoolmates, friends and family. It seems that a policy that limits exposure to these “memory making” opportunities would be considered quite short sighted at best. As coaches we pledge to teach life lessons and provide guidance for our athletes when it comes to making quality decisions. Some coaches shy away from allowing social activities so as to eliminate the possibility for making poor choices when in reality it is the opportunities to make choices (good or bad) that creates the life lesson itself.
To quote an earlier published blog, “I do not subscribe to the Mary Poppins school of gymnastics mentality”. Athletes are not allowed to come and go as they please and do not miss training every time the social winds blow. We expect and enforce disciplined training and respect for the program and the process. With this being said however and in my experienced based opinion, allowing a social treat from time to time gets a very strong return on investment. Maintaining discipline within a program is a priority concern and thus some coaches opt for a hard lined, inflexible attendance policy designed to illustrate commitment. But as important as discipline is I have learned that it is always trumped by athlete motivation and desire. Coaches that squash motivation and desire find themselves in a no win situation.
Forcing an athlete to attend training while her heart and sole was set on a rare opportunity to enjoy friends, school and or family is going to be met with repercussions. This usually takes shape in the form of bad attitudes, lethargic effort, sustained resentment or upset parents. Good coaches fully realize the impact that attitudes and effort levels have on the atmosphere in the gym. Resentment erodes the foundation of trust. Upset parents may become vindictive.
Athletes that are allowed the occasional treat are usually appreciative of their coaches and related program flexibility. They in turn respond by being more productive leading into and coming out of the social event. This can also be a healthy stipulation for participation. “Finish your assignments and sure you can go to the homecoming dance.” This is no different than parents insisting that her room be clean and homework done prior to going to a friends for the night.” Most athletes respond in a positive manner and in turn grow to love a sport that does not feel like it comes with an attached ball and chain.
The old adage of “Athletes do not care how much you know until they know how much you care,” certainly applies in situations like this. Painting a picture that you care for your athletes not just as gymnasts but as children is something that is noticed and appreciated. Helping to contribute to their lives outside of the gym will certainly have a greater long term impact than the cartwheels and handsprings that we teach.
If this topic provided any food for thought or helped provide shape or reinforce your current approach you may be very interested in my “gymnastics coaching” manifesto. If you are a platinum elite member of Success Videos you already know the depth of content contained in this 300 page “coaching resource”, and can simply add this article to the Coaching Topics Section. If you are not a member you might consider checking out this valuable coaching tool.