1, 2, 3, ‘andstand

handstandOpening the door to the gym, I’m aware of the odour of the shoe drawers at the same moment as I hear “1, 2, 3 ‘andstand.”

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.”




Filed under coach says..

15 responses to “1, 2, 3, ‘andstand

  1. At least there are some boys in the class. My daughters class is 100% girls. None of the boys round here will take part. I think it’s a shame that it seems to be seen as such a girls sport.
    Popped over from #Pocolo

  2. For all the criticism of football. I’ve seen other sports that are coached in a terrible way.
    Water polo was probably the worst.

    Rugby and Cricket get a lot right the way they alter the game gradually as kids get older. They are also quite different for class reasons in the way parent get involved.

    • I saw a cricket coach sound-off at a team of 11-13 year olds last season. That’s rare, but some adults seem unsuited to the subtleties of junior coaching. What was happening in the water polo? I imagine that could be dangerous?

  3. I think there should be a firm but fair policy involved and to me it doesn’t really sound like that here. Although if you are too soft on them, I do think the kids can be lapse! Grace was learning ice skating for a while and I do think that toughened her up a lot because if you fall over, you fall over! Thanks for linking to PoCoLo x

    • Different kids respond to different approaches. I just don’t see much versatility from this coach.

      How was life as a rink-side Mum? Is it like following other junior sports?

  4. It seems crazy that the format is the same after 25 years – surely the coach is different? However, you make a good point that if a child enjoys the activity they don’t really care about the methods. I suppose the difference is for those who are not so sure, but perhaps that kind of personality isn’t suited to an individualist sport like gymnastics.

  5. afamilydayout

    I play badminton in my local leisure centre at the same time as some form of karate (don’t know exactly what) takes place at the end of the hall. The coach yells at the group (mostly teenage I’d guess) constantly belittling them – but it always seems to be full so I’m guessing it doesn’t put them off. It puts us off our badminton game though!

  6. franglaisemummy

    This resonates with me, our six year old daughter loves gymnastics, but hates gymnastics lessons, due to the way they’re taught. Maybe we need a fair amount of change here…

    • It really surprises me – the whole ethos of coaching these days is child-centred and about safety and motivation. Do try to find a class your daughter enjoys. It seems, from my daughter’s experience, to be such a rewarding sport. Thank you.

  7. Love the way you write, it’s fluid and good to read. Very thoughtful post.

  8. sarahmo3w

    How bizarre that coaching hasn’t moved on at all. But interesting that the kids are receptive to that.
    My daughter doesn’t do gymnastics – four or five dance classes a week is enough – but she does handstands constantly (they’re a street dance thing). It drives me mad!

  9. Pingback: Respect – walk the walk | Touchline Dad

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s