Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Success is contagious

This is something that took me a few years to learn as a coach. There is a hierarchy to competitions in gymnastics. Many times it is said that anyone that competes earlier in a session, or in an even final, or even on your team, they would get a lower score. This was because judges were said to be "holding" the big scores in case someone better came up later on. To help battle this trend coaches would normally put up the worst athlete on a team first. This is a tough spot to be in. I was normally a first up athlete in college until I was a senior. My routines were never the hardest, but I would always hit. I took pride in my coaches putting me up first. I didn't look at it as they thought I was the worst, I just told myself I was setting the tone for the rest of my team. Unfortunately that didn't always go as plan as my teammates weren't always able to keep their end of the job. But that is team sport, you can't do it on your own and you need everyone to do their job.

Then my last year things started to get rough. We were in the hunt for an undefeated season, ranked first in the country as a team and very high on just about every event. Some of our best events was pommel horse. This event is one of the most mental events there is. If you are off just a little bit there really isn't much you can do to save it. And we were missing a lot of routines. If we hit we would be unstoppable, and we were lucky early in the year that we won without all our hits. But late in the season we were coming up against some tough competition and something had to change. Our coach Yoshi Hayasaki decided that we were going to reverse the order of the athletes and put our best guy first. Boy was he pissed! But it worked, the first meet we made the change was also the first meet we hit all our big score guys. And the scores were at or very close to where they were supposed to be. Right then I should have taken note of what I was seeing. At the time I was coaching optional level gymnastics, but I was just not able to put the two together.
Later I started to mess with putting an athlete here or there up first that I knew was going to hit. But then I would go right back to putting my weakest athlete up. I guess I thought I was "hiding" my weak kids in between stronger ones. It never worked though. Then last year it finally hit me, I was going to make my lineup from my best hitter to my worst hitter. The kids, who I am sure had figured out how we were making lineups before, were a bit confused at what was happening. But our hit percentage started to shoot up. And in my opinion that is the most important thing for my kids. It is what I and they have control over. I can't control judges and their inability to see skills and connections correctly. So I don't even pay attention to it. The only meets I watch scores are state, regionals, and nationals. Other than that it doesn't matter to me. This is when our season really started to take off. For the last three or four meets of the year we had so few misses I really only remember two. That is somewhere around fifty routines with two misses. That is HUGE! And all because one kid hit their routine, and then the next kid hit theirs, and so on and so on.

Already this year I am seeing it again, more and more. We play little games with the girls to get them ready to compete. We try to put as much pressure on them as we can to simulate competition. And even in the gym I am seeing kids starting to hit one after another.

It is amazing how success, and even failure, seam to be contagious. Just like the cold or flu. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don't. It takes a tough kid to get the team off on the right foot, but it takes an even tougher kid to get you back on track once you fall off. This will be my game plan this year, and I am hoping    that the worst part is trying to figure out who is better at hitting their set.

There is a video of my alma mater's gymnastics team. These guys make my college team look like juniors.

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