Create an encompassing culture of motivation and inspiration
From the moment students walk into your gym, to every experience they have while there, they should see, hear, and feel an atmosphere that inspires them to love gymnastics.
- Decorate your gym with visual inspirations. These visual clues can include an awards cabinet, poster-size and quality photos of team wins and individual students performing on an apparatus. Other options can be inspirational quotes from famous gymnasts and other high performers your young students admire. You might also hang-up success posters for the students, where they can put stars by each new skill they learn.
- Keep the parents involved and updated. They can reinforce the value and fun of gymnastics while their kids aren’t at the gym, but it’s up to you to help the parents do this. Have scheduled, formal communications with parents, sort of like a parent-teacher conference night like they have at school. Push out personalized messages to parents through the parents’ portal that let them know when their child had a breakthrough, so the parents can get excited and congratulate their child.
- Maintain a healthy ratio of positive reinforcement and constructive criticism. Adjust the ratio as appropriate by age and skill level.
- Eliminate fear of failure. Failure and struggle are inevitable in gymnastics. You know some of gymnastics best lessons are how to confront fear and rebound from failure. Nobody sticks the landing or new skill on the first try. Students need to feel confident that they can fail in the moment without enduring censure or ridicule. Be explicit about the fact that everyone will have many moments of struggle and failure at gymnastics, that’s just how it goes. None of that makes anyone a failure. Make sure students (and parents) understand that failing in the moment doesn’t mean a student is a failure. (Make sure some of your inspirational posters reinforce this fact!).
- Nobody can achieve if the goals aren’t clear; without clear achievements, it can be hard to keep kids motivated. Achievement is different from showering kids with too many awards and rewards. Focus more on the achievement as its own reward; so, it helps to give students lots of opportunities to achieve. To do that, they need clear goals. Set small, specific goals for each class, as well as medium and long-term goals students can work toward.
- Include students in designing their training. You and your coaching staff design lesson plans, and personalized training objectives and schedules. However, you can give students some ownership in their work by offering limited choices. For example, take a student who needs to focus on both flexibility and agility. Have them choose which one to focus on in a session and give them a short list of exercises to choose from. Don’t overwhelm students with choices. Instead, engage them with opportunities to direct their own training as appropriate.
- Keep gymnastics fun! Some days the group dynamic exudes low energy. Don’t be locked into the schedule if possible. Surprise them with a gymnastics game. Find some way to shake things up. Some days – the kids just need a break. Read the room and use “light” days strategically to balance out the most intense working days.
Now that you have a checklist on how to envelop your students and parents with inspiration as part of the routine of your gym – let’s move on to the more intangible ways to keep kids excited about gymnastics.
Team bonding and shared goals
Team and cohort bonding and socializing activities are always effective ways to keep kids motivated. They enjoy a broader community of people invested in their success who provide support, and they get emotionally invested in their peers’ success.
Your gym has numerous ways to provide bonding activities outside of the regular training and lessons schedule. To motivate them as a group of gymnasts, make sure to include social events centered on gymnastics itself.
- Watch high-level gymnastic competitions as a team. We don’t mean just the Olympics or Olympic trials (although these are good too). Check out what trials, qualifiers, or finals are televised and hold watch parties. If you’re lucky enough to have such a competition take place near your gym, arrange a field trip for students and parents. Let them see up close what they can achieve.
- Have an inspirational movie night. You could screen Lefty: The One-armed Gymnast, about real-life gymnast Carol Johnson who was a college-champion gymnast despite being born with a right arm that didn’t extend past her elbow. The BBC did a documentary called Gymnast that goes behind the scenes of Olympic competition.
Moreover, it’s never too early for young gymnasts to learn about Nadia Comaneci. The Sports Illustrated Kids documentary Winning includes Nadia as one of just five world athletes profiled, which is only one of many documentaries and YouTube videos that explore her accomplishments.
Some of the documentary clips are short (under 15 minutes), so you can also weave watching one into a typical day — you don’t need to wait for a movie night.
You can even have the kids put together their own playlists or montage of their favorite YouTube gymnastics clips (trust us, they know how to create the montage and how to add their own filters, emojis, and personal scribbles to their video). Then have an evening where you screen them all.
Don’t forget to keep your staff and yourself inspired
You and your staff are your students’ gymnastics role models. If you aren’t feeling inspired, it will be difficult to transmit positive energy to your students.
Keep your staff motivated and inspired through many of the same culture tactics you use with the students – clear goals, freedom to fail, staff bonding activities. Staff is always highly motivated by professional development opportunities. Create a program that provides time and perhaps even financial support for trainers and teachers to earn different certifications, including USA Gymnastics certifications and classes.
If you feel like your inspiration is slipping, do what you need to do to regain it. Maybe it’s taking a week off or being the instructor for the next toddler’s tumbling course so you can catch their natural enthusiasm. Whatever it is, do it.
Culture and inspiration don’t just happen
Providing an inspirational culture at your gym isn’t about creating a hollow, rah-rah atmosphere. It requires an intentional, designed plan for how you and your staff will infuse motivation and inspiration into both the formal and informal interactions at your gym. As the leader, your staff, your students, your parents — they all take their cues from you. Be sure to feed your soul as well as your body — with the right work/life balance to keep your energy and enthusiasm high.