What is our greatest reward?

I’ve been around awhile. I started coaching team gymnastics in 1985 and went to my first meet to cover our other coach who had to go to a wedding. I remember it like yesterday. I have coached college gymnasts to national championships. I have had Junior Olympic kids get college scholarships. I have watched kids in meets completely melt down and sob and I have watched unsuspecting gymnasts be called up for an award with smiles a’blazin and a glow that could be seen from space.  But what is the most rewarding part of being a coach?

Every once in a while another coach may complement our team and tell me how great the kids look. I have always believed that a coaches job is to step forward to catch all the criticism, but step back to allow the praise to get to the athletes first. My usual reply is something about how hard they work and how fortunate I am to have such a great support staff. And the best part is that those comments are all true, and those words from other professionals sure do feel good. But that’s not the ultimate in reward.
We have had parents approach our coaches after meets and make a quick comment or two about how our kids seem so happy and in good spirits. They like how our coaches act at meets. Our philosophy has always been that the preparation and hard-work are done in training and at meets it should be fun. Meets are not a place to “workout”, like  so many coaches try to get their kids to do. I had a picture from a few years ago where another team was doing group push-ups behind our girls, who were sitting in a glob and laughing about something. I loved that photo. Oh, and we went on to win that meet.  Yes: hearing from parents about how they appreciate our gymnasts effort and ability to smile throughout the meet is a wonderful compliment to a healthy perspective, but it’s not the greatest reward.
Last season I watched  gymnasts from other teams (3 different kids at 3 different meets) get adopted by our team. Sometimes a single athlete might be in a meet and have no team-mates there to support them. Our team cheers for them, congratulates them, or helps to console them if they had a rough routine. In every case those “adopted” gymnasts found me and thanked me for letting our girls take them in. “We’re just glad you had a great meet, thanks for cheering for us too.” is a typical thing I would say.  Kids helping and supporting kids is phenomenal but still….
I got a letter a few weeks ago from a former gymnast of mine who went on very graciously being appreciative of all she learned by being on our team.  I realized a long time ago that as a coach the best we can do is teach our athletes by example. It’s not so much what we teach as how we teach it. Those are the lessons that stick. 10 years out they won’t t remember a score or a single medal but they will remember the time we were making faces at each other before a routine and laughing afterward. That was the value, the medal for the routine on beam wasn’t.
Goal setting and goal achievement, direction, self-discipline, group dynamics and social development, humbly winning and graciously losing, perseverance, teamwork, learning how to learn and the joy of participation are just a few of the lessons that kids pick up from being on the team. In fact my greatest reward has been served up numerous times. In this case it is seeing a young woman who has excelled in her profession, grown as a good person and a great citizen of the world and attributing her “stability, security and sanity”  to being on our team. That is what makes it worth it. That is what makes me happy that I never got as “real” job.  And I couldn’t be more proud to say I knew her when…  Seeing these young women take their place in the world and knowing Gymfinity helped, even in some small way is worth a million smiles and it is our greatest reward.

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