I have come to collect the 1&onlyD from one of her twice weekly gymnastics classes. The two hour session ends with the handstand contest. Girls on one side of the mat, boys on the other, in direct competition. The first ‘team’ to get ten points wins. A point is won by having one of your gymnasts holding their handstand longest.
The girls win. They always do. They have Katie, who has near perfect upside-down balance. Even if they didn’t have Katie, there are three or four times as many girls as boys, which when only one gymnast can win each round, is a telling advantage. But they do have Katie and she wins all ten of their points.
The unvarying nature of the contest baffles me. The gender division seems crude. The whole thing felt anachronistic, even before I was talking to a Mum on the football touchline who, 25 years ago, was a member of the same gymnastics club, and who confirmed they ended every session with the ‘andstand competition.
Tonight’s contest gets fraught. A couple of the boys, getting their usual whipping, are sharing a joke.
Stop talking, concentrate. No wonder you’re losing. It’s a disgrace behaving like that.
barks the Coach, before initiating round 9 (girls 8, boys 1). That’s another old-fashioned thing about the gym – the coaching, particularly that practised by the boys’ coach. Where coaches learning their craft today are upbeat, interrogative and incontinent with praise and encouragement, this coach is complaining, picky and grudging with positive comment.
Maybe gymnastics, at this level, hasn’t altered in the last forty years, so the same methods can be applied. But young people have changed. There is no concession to this. Motivation, rather than something the coach must nurture, is taken as a given.
Does it sound like the sort of place you would let your nine year old daughter spend four hours each week?
The girls coaching is less abrasive, more sympathetic. The 1&onlyD has never been spoken to harshly, even if she doesn’t receive the near continuous reinforcement I hear from coaches in other sports.
But as notable as I find the communication style of the boys coach with his charges, I am just as surprised by how little it appears to affect those boys. They show him no more or less respect and only a little less affection than my lads pay their football coaches. There’s no outcry from their parents and attendance seems strong and long-lasting.
So, while it’s not the way I would choose to deal with children I was coaching, I wonder if we make too much of the importance of the coach building rapport. Kids learning sport need safety, supervision and some direction, but once they have that, if they are doing something they enjoy, they are content to continue. And continuing means another round of “1, 2, 3 ‘andstand.”