Gymnastics

Uncle Tim’s advice for coaches

Uncle Tim is one of the GymCastic team, editor of the late, great Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym.

When one of your former gymnasts relates some of their worst experiences — #GymnastAlliance — while under your program:

1. Listen
Don’t speak. Don’t tell your side of the story. Don’t try to be right. Just listen. Even if you had good intentions in a particular situation, your actions may still hurt someone. How someone perceives your actions is just as importantif not more importantas your intentions.
2. Reflect 
Before you apologize, take time to reflect on what the person said and really think about what happened with that individual athlete. This is especially important if your initial reaction is defensiveness, and even if defensiveness is not your go-to reaction, reflection will help you in the apology stage.
If you still feel like you were right in this situation and want to explain your point of view, talk to a therapist about the issue and work through the issue.
After reflecting on your experiences with that individual athlete, think about other times that you behaved similarly with other athletes. (This will be important later on.)
3. Apologize
Apologize to the athlete and admit where you went wrong. Remember that “I’m sorry if I hurt you” or “I’m sorry that you feel that way” is not an apology. Your athlete is telling you that your actions were hurtful. Take responsibility for your actions.
4. Reach out 
Reach out to the athletes who may have had a similar experience with you. (Those situations that you unearthed in the reflection portion.) As you reach out to more athletes, listen first. Always listen first.
Remember that everyone perceives things differently. Your actions may have impacted some athletes more than others. Just because the experience of your athletes are not universally bad does not mean that all your actions and coaching tactics are vindicated.
Don’t be surprised if some athletes need time to reflect. Some may have minimized the problem, tucked it away in their minds, and never processed it. It’s a very common coping mechanism.
5. Reflect Again
Once you’ve heard your athletes’ reactions, reflect again. Did those conversations surface additional problems? What are those problems? How can you address those problems in your coaching?
If you don’t know how to address those problems in your coaching, speak to a therapist. It might not be enough to talk to a trusted coach in the gymnastics community. Some problems might be endemic in the gymnastics community.
6. Apologize Again
 
Apologize to the athlete and admit where you went wrong. Remember that “I’m sorry if I hurt you” or “I’m sorry that you feel that way” is not an apology. Your athlete is telling you that your actions were hurtful. Take responsibility for your actions.
7. Course Correct
If you’re part of a coaching staff, share the lessons you’ve learned. Like it or not, if you’re a senior coach, other coaches in your gym may try to replicate your coaching style. So, the issues that came up in conversations may not just be personal. It could be a problem with your entire staff.
As you share the lessons you’ve learned, respect the gymnasts’ confidentiality. But do explain how and why a certain behavior is hurtful.
Then, work with your staff to come up with solutions. Keep in mind that you are not Atlas carrying the weight of the world on your back. You might not have all the right answers, but other members of your coaching staff might.
For example, let’s say that you used the word “belly” when talking about your gymnasts’ abdomen, and your gymnasts felt like it was a comment on their weight, which made them feel ashamed of their bodies. What terms could you use to get gymnasts in the right position? See if your team has some good suggestions.
Then, make sure that you and your coaching staff hold one another accountable. Create a culture where coaches can give one another feedback on their coaching style, and no one’s actions are considered above reproach.

Thanks Jessica.