Thursday, December 20, 2012


Poor Ebenezer Scrooge, he’ll always be labeled the bad guy.  “Don’t be a Scrooge.”  We’ve all heard it.  Maybe it’s been said to us.  But have we ever been told to “Be a Scrooge?” probably not.  Sure, there are many characteristics in the pre-Christmas Ebenezer that we should not emulate, but what about the lesson he learned from his visitors?  Don’t we all benefit from learning the same lesson?  Shouldn’t we all look at the world as Scrooge did beginning that Christmas day?

Go ahead, be a Scrooge.  Use your strengths, your assets to benefit others who are lacking in those areas.

Be a Scrooge.  Learn from those you thought were less fortunate than you. 

Be a Scrooge.  Take advantage of your opportunities to do some good.

Be a Scrooge.  Learn that fortune doesn’t always lie in wealth, skills or intelligence, but sometimes resides in the heart.

Be a Scrooge.  Disperse kind greetings to your friends, neighbors and acquaintances.

Be a Scrooge.  Do kind deeds anonymously.

Be a Scrooge.  Show that you care.

Be a Scrooge.  Let your emotions be seen.

What were Charles Dickens’ intentions when developing the character of Ebenezer Scrooge?  Was his intent to create the image of a bad man or was his hope that we’d come away remembering the changed Scrooge, the new and improved Scrooge?  I believe it was the latter because doing so will help guide our own lives, making his lesson complete.  And, for that reason, I say

Go ahead
Be a Scrooge

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


                There are many variables that have an effect on an athlete’s motivation.  Many of those can be influenced by a coach.  This influence should be applied with the intention of improving the athlete’s sports skills and life skills.  In no particular order, here are several factors that influence our athlete’s motivation and some thoughts on how coaches can make the sports experience more rewarding by understanding the effect they have on an athlete’s emotional state.
                SUCCESS – I know I said “in no particular order”, but this one has to be at the top.  In the big picture, there is no greater motivator than success.  But, we must also understand the opposite of this statement.  There is no greater frustrater than failure.  Multiple successes will lead to progressive motivation.  Multiple failures will lead to progressive frustration.  It is critical that coaches help their athletes define success in a broad way (continual improvement) and in ways specific to a task (goals).  Success should be based on accomplishing things that are largely under the control of the athlete and should involve a comparison to past performance and current goals.  This makes goal setting critical to repetitive success and continued motivation.
                COMPETENCE – Coaches must understand the differences between actual competence and perceived competence.  Actual competence is an athlete’s real ability to succeed.  Perceived competence is the athlete’s belief in their ability to succeed.  In the world of motivation, perceived competence has the greater effect on an athlete.  The ideal situation would be for these to be the same.  We’ve all evaluated athletes as lacking confidence or being over-confident.  These terms refer to the difference, positively or negatively, between actual competence and perceived competence.  We all want confident athletes.  I will argue that we should try to keep our athletes’ perception of their abilities close to reality but that the most confident athletes are those who perceive their abilities as being slightly better than their actual ability (perceived competence is higher than actual competence).
                FEEDBACK – Many times athletes, particularly young athletes, look at the reaction of others to help them interpret results of their performance.  In sports, feedback comes from many directions (coaches, teammates, parents, officials, spectators and the performance itself).  As athletes mature a larger percentage of their feedback will come from self-evaluation.  But with children it’s critical that coaches provide positive feedback that guides the young athlete’s evaluation of their performance.  They will be looking for it and the coach is the best place to find it.  99.9% of performances have some good in them.  Find it and comment on it first, then make corrections.  Tie the corrections to the good points in an effort to help create a complete picture for the athlete.  In that rare occasion when nothing goes right I suggest laughing it off with an “oops” or “let’s pretend you didn’t take that turn.” 
                GOAL SETTING – Setting good goals is a skill that improves with practice and education.  Either formally or informally coaches should be teaching the goal setting process to their athletes.  Good goals lead to repetitive success.  Repetitive success increases motivation.  Goals should be progressive, creating many small steps to help an athlete reach a larger goal.  Each step is an opportunity to experience success and celebrate.  Goals that are too hard or too easy are not motivating.  If you have an athlete that consistently chooses very easy or extremely hard goals, you have an athlete with a confidence (perceived competence) and/or motivation problem.  As coaches, it is our job to help this athlete get back on a goal-track that is nearer to reality so they can experience meaningful success.
                These are four key factors that affect an athlete’s motivation.  As you can see, a coach can and should influence these factors in large ways.  A master-motivator will monitor each athlete’s emotional state, consider these factors and many others and take steps to increase the athlete’s motivation and to teach life skills that will lead to continual motivation.
                I can’t finish this post without a warning.  A coach who uses motivation as a tool to produce results simply to inflate his ego (or bank account) is a great manipulator not a great motivator.  If our own motivation isn’t anchored in doing what’s best for our athletes we should choose to do something other than coach.

Monday, December 10, 2012


     The world of education could learn a thing or two from the gymnastics community.  While the system we use to progress our athletes in the sport may not be perfect, its structure is one that would be well suited for our education system.   I recently returned to graduate school for the second time, this time in pursuit of a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction.  The stories I’m hearing from teachers in the master’s program are puzzling and somewhat troubling.  But, they make me thankful for the evolution of our industry to what it’s become today.
     We all know that gymnastics is taught in a progressive manner.  That every skill has prerequisite skills and once a gymnast has learned a skill, there is always a more advanced skill to accomplish.  Progressions are at the core of what we do as gymnastics coaches.  Our national system is wisely set up based on progressions with few restrictions due to age.  It is a mastery teaching system.  Perform a skill with reasonable proficiency and move on to the next skill.  It’s such a simple and right concept.
     Contrast this to a typical student in the education system.  This student is most often moved up a grade level in every subject, every year with minimal concern given to whether they are over-prepared or under-prepared for the next grade.  Teachers face classrooms full of students with huge variance in knowledge and skills.  Many people in education are trying to fix the system with innovative curriculum, national standards, mandated teaching methods, scripted curriculum and the like.  There is a lot of great information available to help teachers teach our kids and there are many terrible ideas out there as well. 
     Is it futuristic dreaming to think that a system can be developed with subject paths that contain multiple levels of mastery appropriate for the subject, like we do in gymnastics?  For example, could there be forty eight levels of national norms for math?  If the schools offered five, nine week sessions a year, giving students the option of enrolling in 4 or 5 of those sessions, each student would have between 52 and 65 sessions in a thirteen year education career to complete forty eight levels of math and however many levels are deemed necessary in other subjects.  For example; 48 levels of math and science, 32 levels of social studies and English, 16 levels of composition, etc.  Progress through the levels would be based on mastery allowing faster progress in a student’s strong subjects and slower progress when needed.  Students would have the opportunity to pass a level in each session.  If mastery isn’t reached, the student would enroll in the same level for the next session.  Is there anything wrong with a student’s morning class schedule looking like this?

First period:                 Level 7 math
Second period:           Level 10 composition
Third period:               Level 9 Social Studies

Or, even this?

First period:                 Level 5 math
Second period:           Level 5 math
Third period:               Level 10 Composition

     How great would it be for a student who is weak in a subject to be able to take the same class two periods in a row?  What an advantage that would be over the current system where a student who falls behind quite often never catches up.  How great would it be for teachers to have every student in a class at or near the same ability level?  How great would it be for students to have the option of accelerating their education by attending five sessions a year instead of four?  When the required curriculum is mastered in each subject, the student would receive a high school diploma.  For some that may happen at the age of fourteen.  For others it may happen at the age of twenty.  But, whatever the age of completion, all diplomas would represent a mastery of the skills required, giving high school diplomas consistency and meaning that they don’t currently have.  How great would that be?
     While I listened to a teacher explaining how her math curriculum was scripted by a curriculum design company and that every teacher in town was expected to read the same script, ask the same questions and engage in the same activities as every other teacher in that grade level, I became very thankful that our industry is guided by a national curriculum, but allows coaches to coach, individualize our instruction, be creative and do what’s best for the individual child.  Progress is based on mastery and assessments are ongoing and meaningful as opposed to a single letter grade every 9 weeks.  These comparisons could go on and on, but I really just wanted to make two points.  First, we in the gymnastics world are getting it right (not perfect, but right).  And second, if mastery learning and progressive education is such a simple concept, why is our education system still clinging to an antiquated and ineffective structure?

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Recently, I’ve had two occasions where I wished I could have done more for a gymnast of mine.  The cases for these two girls are similar.  The relationships went deeper than just coach/gymnast and were layered with siblings and parents.  Good families, military, both Fathers officers in the U. S. Air Force.  In both cases, circumstances were governed partially by injuries.  In both cases, I came away feeling as the beneficiary of our relationship.  If I was an accountant, I would say that the credits and debits didn’t balance out in either case, and that I came out ahead in both instances.
One of these girls is leaving the sport.  Injuries not necessarily due to gymnastics but compounded by training have finally reached a point where it’s time to stop.  Maybe, in time, she will be able to return.  That’s still an unknown at this point.  If the only factors in this decision were grit and determination, I would expect her to walk through the door sometime in the next several months.  Unfortunately, there are other factors that have a higher priority (as they should). 
The other gymnast’s Father was re-assigned a few months ago and the family moved to another state and another gym (as military families quite often do).  This gymnast came to us after a shortened season, due to injury, with her team in Hawaii, where the family was previously stationed.  She had a complete season with us and made tremendous progress.  In her second season on our team she was peaking at precisely the right time.  After scoring over 38 all around in early March, landing on the edge of a skill cushion took her out of the state meet only two weeks later.  The injury required surgery and the following season was in jeopardy.  To make a long story short, SHE made the season happen and was a key player in her team’s victory at that year’s state meet.
Like most coaches, I spend a lot of time thinking about my gymnasts.  I know stories similar to these happen all the time, but these two seem to be on my mind a lot.  Perhaps because I wished I could have done more for these two gymnasts and now the opportunity has passed.  Perhaps because I still wonder how, after being dealt the hands they were dealt, they came through smiling and happy.  Don’t get me wrong, accepting their fate was tough.  Persisting through a second comeback from injury in one case and persisting against an immovable opponent in the other case created some heart wrenching moments.  But through it all, they have become young ladies who most parents would like to have their children look up to as role models.
As I’ve thought more about this, I’ve come to realize these two gymnasts are living examples of the old saying “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  The words honor, integrity, service, commitment, courage, resolution, honesty and excellence are words that get thrown around a lot in the sports community, their meanings becoming diluted due to over-use or misuse.   But, these same words are the FOUNDATION of the military spirit.  For these families, they aren’t just words on a poster or a coffee cup.  Their meanings are taught and modeled by the Fathers/Officers, their wives and their children.  These words aren’t simply part of their vocabulary they are a way of life.
I’ve always believed a coach’s job is to give.  What I gained from these families involvement with my gym is more than I will ever be able to give back.  I wish I could have given more, but I’ve accepted the fact that in these cases I’m the receiver, not the giver.  And, for that, I am thankful.


Sunday, July 22, 2012


What is gained by badmouthing opponents?  Do we get better by making our opponents appear to be bad?  The answers to these questions are “nothing” and “no”.  Yet, some people believe this is part of sport.  That being competitive means you must talk trash about the people you compete against.  

I’ll admit, it’s more easy to be critical than complimentary.  But, if we all enjoy receiving compliments, why aren’t we more willing to give them?  Our skills don’t improve by bad-mouthing our opponents.  Our skills don’t weaken when we compliment them.

If it’s unacceptable to physically hurt an opponent, then it should be unacceptable to verbally damage an opponent as well.

If we, as coaches and parents, model behavior that’s complimentary and respectful of our opponents, our children will learn to do the same.  If we stop listening to those who badmouth, they will no longer have an audience for their misguided comments. 

Developing friendships is one of the greatest benefits of participating in youth sports.  It’s conceivable that we could double that benefit for our children by modeling a healthy attitude toward their opponents.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A big thank you to all who attended my lectures at USA Gymnastics National Congress.  Here is a link to the excel file I use to determine target vault times.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Go-fer Class, Free Time and Intrinsic Motivation

Many, many years ago while a graduate student I studied everything I could get my hands on about how to motivate children. Of course, I found that intrinsic motivation is preferred head and shoulders over extrinsic motivation.  Therefore, I set out to develop a love of gymnastics in my students that they would never loose. My goal was to ensure that I was providing activities that were fun, that the gymnasts wanted to do because of the thrill of the activity itself. I avoided an overuse of extrinsic rewards and followed any other advice I had picked up in the many hours of library searches. The members of the boy’s team I was coaching at that time were having a great time in the gym and were excelling in competition. So, I assumed I was doing the right thing for them. But, I wondered how I could be sure of that. How could I find out if they were intrinsically motivated or if something else was contributing to their success and motivation? I decided to give them some free time in the gym and see what they did with it. After some safety guidelines were established, I allowed each of the boys to choose what they wanted to do with about a half an hour of their practice time. I watched, spotted skills when they asked, but didn't participate in the choices concerning what they would do. This created such a rewarding experience for me as a coach that I have used the same tool many times over the years. Left to choose what to do with their time, those boys choose similar activities to what we had been training. Of course, their choices leaned a little more toward the new skills we had been working rather than basics, but their preparation turns for those new skills were very logical and responsible choices. Now, you need to know that this group of boys had a regular game of pit football as a pre-warm up, competed doubles off rings before they even dreamed of doing a handstand on those same rings, learned doubles off high bar before learning giants, liked to play music too loud (1982, Eye of the Tiger) and would beg to do snap-down double backs off a mini-trampoline into a pit. Yes, they (or should I say "we") liked to push the envelope. My little experiment with free time, although very non-scientific, showed me that they loved what we were doing in the gym. Of the six boys in that group, three stayed in the sport through college.

Two weeks ago I was reminded of the "free-time tool", it's purpose and the importance of the intrinsic motivation cornerstone of our core philosophy. We had started our summer workouts struggling with basic techniques, causing slow progress and therefore boring practices. Every summer for the last three years I have offered an additional class for my level seven's and up. It's called the Go-fer class and gives the girls opportunities to work on skills and progressions for skills a few levels ahead of their expected level for the upcoming season, to go-fer harder skills. As in the past, the girls loved it. Several level seven's from the previous season did front fulls onto mats in the pit, Tkachev drills, etc. They were fired up. A few days later, I was talking to Jen, who coaches floor and beam. We were discussing our struggles getting the girls through their basic skills with enough time left in the rotation to work new skills. Solid basics, proper technique and good form are keys to our success and we weren't going to lower our standards, but we were boring the girls and they weren't motivated to perform those basic skills to our standards. I pulled the free time tool out of the old tool box.  We used it and it brought the team back to life.  And, guess what? The basic skills improved and are getting back to the standards we expect. The lesson I learned (it's not the first time I've learned this) is that a coach is asking for trouble when he takes the intrinsically motivating activities away from his athletes. As coaches we should create environments and opportunities to enhance our athlete’s intrinsic motivation. We should do what we can to grow their love of the sport, and then let them do what they love.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


     What do you think of TebowMania, Tebowing and Tebow Time? Now that the football season is over and this topic is no longer in the mainstream media we can look back on this in short term retrospect and make a call. When my gymnasts began Tebowing in the gym, I started putting a little more thought into the matter. My vote is that the Tebow phenomenon of the 2011 season was a good thing. Of course, this is based on the effect it had on my little piece of the world.      I believe one of the greatest lessons a coach can teach a child athlete is to seize the opportunities derived from success in sports to do some good. When you do something well it draws attention to you, creating an opportunity to make a difference, good or bad.
     Tim Tebow’s actions drew attention on a world-wide stage and he didn’t let that opportunity slip by. But, what about the gymnast on your team that swings beautiful giants on bars and the little girls who watch her in awe? This gymnast has an opportunity to have an effect on her little piece of the world just as Tim Tebow had the opportunity to affect a large piece of the world. We should teach our athletes to recognize these moments. A well placed compliment or something as simple as “hi, how are you?” can go a long way. With practice, this will become habit, a good habit.
     A lot was made of the fact that Tebow finds a way to win. We should teach our children to play within the rules and try their best to win. I think this is a lesson that is often lost in youth sports, which is a disservice to our children. So many valuable life lessons are learned from the win/lose dichotomy. Sure, whether you win or lose shouldn’t be a priority in youth sports, but the determination to excel within the rules is a lesson we should teach, because it has value for a lifetime.
     If we aren’t teaching our children to excel, what are they learning from us? Keep in mind that excellence is personal. What’s considered excellent for John is not the same as what is considered excellent for Jim. Personal excellence should be based on what an individual has done in the past, their experience and their current goals.
     To the Tebow critics, I say “get over it.” I’m pretty confident that Tim Tebow didn’t consciously think “I’m going to kneel down and pray on national television to draw attention to myself.” Football players spend a lot of time on one knee. Someone devoted to their religious beliefs spends a lot of time praying. I’m sure it was years and years ago that these two things blended for Tim Tebow, somewhere unnoticed by the rest of the world.
     I really should give these critics in media a break though. After all, their job is to attract attention. Or, maybe I shouldn’t, because when you attract attention to yourself, you have the opportunity to make a difference, good or bad. It’s their choice. The opportunity is there. Maybe they should ask themselves “what would Tim do?”