Uncertain Times: Guest blog from Helen Hutson-Pope, National Recreational Gymnastics
What interesting times we are living in. It’s as though the world has stopped and is holding its breath, waiting. Waiting for things to go back to normal? I don’t know about you, but I doubt that normal will ever be quite the same again, at least in the near future. I know many of you as club owners, managers, and coaches are using this time to take stock and reflect on where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you hope to be going forward.
Although we are certainly going through some anxious weeks, both personally and financially, it seems to have shone a spotlight on what makes us human and what connects us, and that is shared experience.
We are all experiencing an overwhelming urge to share. Share our feelings, share information, and share ideas. We are reaching out, and the digital world we live in makes this wonderfully possible.
We are opening the cooperative floodgates and I wonder if we will ever feel the need to close them again. We are communicating better than ever, and we are learning its mutual value and potential more every day.
There are two thoughts I’d like to share with you, as an advocate of recreational gymnastics, which I think may be relevant to how we approach our delivery and evolve as clubs going forward.
The power of condensed communication
The first is the sudden enormous boom in digital content to support our members outside the gym.
This unforeseen by-product of the need to keep that connection with our members, has inadvertently led us to put our tuition, our knowledge, into tangible accessible formats, in short video clips or single page information bites, and actually thinking about the quality of what we produce and what will engage and enthuse our members.
We are, without realising it, crystallizing what is relevant and desirable in our teaching approach, and what is not. It’s like coaching 101!
I and my fellow coaches are beavering away producing short videos for our members. We are constantly asking ourselves, how do we get across what we want these children to do in a short, clear, inclusive, upbeat way? Even though I am not standing in front of them, can I still get across what I want them to do while keeping them safe, and ensuring there are options for all abilities. Can it even be done?
Well, it seems the answer is yes! And the more we are doing it, the better at it we become. It focuses the mind. It makes us articulate and animated. What a wonderful library and digital legacy we are creating for those gymnasts and clubs of the future. We are seeing the value in supporting what we do with online resources, and I doubt any of us will stop after we open our doors again.
What’s my motivation?!
My second observation is that suddenly the sports world, in its attempt to keep us motivated and moving during this unusual phase in our history, has gone back to basics, producing ‘cross-sport’ content for the masses. No special skills needed here, whether you are talented or not is of little relevance now. It’s a shift in focus away from performance and fine-tuning, and back to the ‘nuts and bolts’’ of inclusive fundamental sports movement, and which as recreational coaches, we explore every day.
It’s as though everyone has suddenly woken up and recognised the true value of movement for its own sake; all this amazing online material, a kaleidoscope of gross and fine motor skills explored in endless ways means there is something for everyone to enjoy. A rolled-up sock becomes a ball, a couch becomes a coaching block, the yard is turned into an obstacle course! Sports deliverers from all over the globe are creating and sharing wonderful, accessible content to keep our children active and engaged. It’s inventive, it’s bite-sized, it’s varied and it’s fun!
Now that’s interesting, isn’t it? When competition and ‘winning’ becomes redundant, Sport starts to focus in on what really motivates people to be active:
- Achievable goals
We all know it, but it can get blurred in our desire for business growth. A large but inexperienced coaching team pounds a predictable treadmill. Member turnover is high. The joy and fun is lost.
Sometimes I wonder if clubs forget, or even care, what motivates their members when they do the same thing with the same equipment week in week out? When they do get it right, the mutual feeling of excitement, pride, and enthusiasm between coach and gymnast is palpable.
Recreational gymnastics is a club’s ‘bread and butter’ but it does require a very different mindset to be done well. Endlessly drilling skills the kids will never perfect, testing and retesting that last badge skill you know they will never achieve, dreading bars because “I never know what to do with them”. Who wants that?! No one. Not the kids, not the coaches. It’s demoralising and it’s dull.
Perhaps this is the perfect time to look at your programme afresh, think about what it means to be recreational, and what it means to be competitive, and whether your coaches are meeting their different needs. Do you want things to be exactly as they were, or is the perfect time for a shake-up? Are you confident in your coaches, their training, your use of space, equipment, time, and essentially the ‘product’ you are offering to your customers?
When you do open those doors again to your gymnasts, what will they walk back into? The same old world, same old practices, or a brave new better one? A happier, streamlined, sustainable and fit-for-purpose model perhaps?
And one final question: What will you be doing in those first hours? Will you be worrying about the next meet, whether their strength, flexibility, and technique has suffered? Or will you, like me, look around at all those happy excited faces, at your coaches, fresh and enthused and raring to go, and just allow yourself time to reflect on the sheer joy of gymnastic movement, and why we love what we do.
Namaste. Stay safe.
Helen Hutson-Pope is a Director and Tutor for National Recreational Gymnastics (NRG), a coach training organisation based in the UK. She and her team are working with governing bodies and sports providers to bring recreational gymnastics into the spotlight, highlighting its value within both gymnastics and school environments, and specialising in training coaches to meet the specific needs of their recreational members.
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