Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bela Karolyi - Make It or Break It

I was catching up on back episodes of Make It or Break It and the preview for next week's episode seemed like Deja Vu.  Watching Bela Karolyi coach the girls from "the Rock", who are obviously older than most elite gymnasts, brought back a good memory.

Sandwiched between the Nadia years and Mary Lou's Olympic vault into infamy, Bela and Marta Karolyi spent some time in Oklahoma.  The legendary duo coached at The Gymnastics Chalet, a private gym in Norman.  Bela was also hired at the University of Oklahoma.

At the time, I was a Graduate Assistant at O.U.  One day, I was called into my supervisor's office and told that Bela was being assigned to help me teach "Beginning Gymnastics for Women."  After a class or two, Bela asked "are these girls wanting to be gymnasts?"  My answer was "no, some of them may have done gymnastics when they were younger, but now they are looking for a fun way to get some exercise."  After a little thought, he asked "are these girls wanting to be gymnastics coaches?"  Now I'm starting to worry.  I had to tell the most famous gymnastics coach of the time that he was expected to teach gymnastics to college women who weren't interested in being gymnasts or coaching gymnastics.  My answer was "no, they just want to learn some skills and have a little fun."  Although this seemed to strike Bela as very strange, he accepted their reasons for taking the class and we left the gym. 

The next day we split the class into groups.  I went to beam and Bela went to floor.  A few minutes later there was quite a bit of commotion coming from the floor.  I looked over to see Bela very animated and hear him yelling at one of the girls "das a guud cartwheel."  I watched for a few more minutes and heard "yes, you cawn do the roundoff" and "velly guud, velly guud!"  I stood there amazed.  Less than two years removed from coaching Nadia and the Romanian team at the Moscow Olympics and only three years from leading the great Romanian team of the 1979 World Championships in Fort Worth, Bela was now teaching cartwheels and roundoffs in "Beginning Gymnastics for Women" and he was doing it with passion.

If you've read many of my blog posts, you've seen me write that success is relative to what you've done in the past.  Bela understood that doing proper cartwheels and roundoffs meant success to these girls and he was giving it his all to help them achieve those skills.  While coaches seem to have mixed feelings about Bela's coaching techniques, there is one thing that no one can deny.  He was passionate about coaching.  I think about that day often and the lesson I learned.  If Bela Karolyi can get motivated to teach cartwheels and roundoffs to college freshmen, I can get motivated to teach whatever comes my way.  After all, coaching is about teaching skills successfully and success is relative to what the student has done in the past.  So, good coaching is good coaching, whether teaching cartwheels or Tkachev's.

At a training camp a couple years ago, I looked out the window of my room and saw Bela mowing the grass on the soccer field at "The Ranch."  He rode that mower back and forth, back and forth.  It appeared that he was enjoying the ride.  He seemed content and happy, a man who was enjoying the rewards of a successful career.  I wonder how often the passion to coach tries to draw him back into the gym.  Wouldn't that be great to see?

1 comment:

Lainie said...

I didn't realize you worked that closely with Bela. Great story.