Full Twist contributor Anna Rose Johnson recently caught up with John Geddert to discuss his favorite coaching memories, the Code of Points, and his up-and-coming gymnasts.
John Geddert is one of the top coaches in the United States. The head coach for the gold medal-winning 2012 Olympic women’s team, John has also coached World and Olympic champion Jordyn Wieber. John and his wife Kathryn own and coach at Geddert’s Twistars USA in Michigan. Their most recent star protégé, Delanie Harkness, placed 32nd in the all-around and tied for 18thon bars in the junior 2014 P&G Championships.
FT: What are some of your favorite coaching memories from competition?
JG: In a 30-year coaching career there are bound to be hundreds of great memories. In fact it is the wonderful opportunities that this sport has provided (the people met, the travel destinations, the competition results) that have inspired me to continue for so long. The sport of gymnastics has provided me with a lifetime of memories.
A few that stick out the most center around competing at the top of the game with Jordyn. Her first American Cup title came as a total surprise. We were honored to be invited and planned on just using it as a good competitive experience. Then the little bug (13 years old at the time) simply rocks all 4 events including her first ever Amanar and finds herself winning. That was so exciting mostly due to the newness of being at that level. To watch her expressions and how she handled the “pressure” was priceless.
Our next American Cup experience was the Mustafina showdown. We were a late add to the competition and Aliya’s coach Alexander Alexandrov was not happy to see us. In fact he raised all kinds of fuss, saying we violated the rules (since this was a World Cup competition, athletes had to have competed in Worlds and Jordyn had not due to being
too young). What he didn’t know was the rule that allowed the host country to fill in for injured athletes with any athlete they saw fit. Well that competition was pretty intense. Jordyn opened the door for Aliya with a fall on bars but followed it up with a flawless beam routine. Going into the last event the pressure was on and Aliya had a fall. Jordyn rocked floor to pull out the victory by the smallest of margins.
Other favorite memories are attached to the several national AA champions that I have had the pleasure of coaching. Grace Williams’ 3 [J.O.] titles, our first title in 1990 was a gymnast named Laura Szczepanski, we followed that up the very next year with a title from Melissa Grupe and then Katie Teft 2 years later. So in four years we had three national AA champions (in the days of two age groups). That was a great period for our program.
FT: Can you briefly explain how you have adapted your coaching style over the years to fit each new Code of Points?
JG: Adapting to the sport is a never-ending process. Flexibility is a great attribute to have. Being stubbornly tied to “your methods” usually equates to a shorter career. This is true in all sports. Those that evolve with the sport will endure. My personal changes probably revolve more around dealing with athletes and developing a more patient approach to development. In the early years I always wanted results NOW! Currently we have really adopted a slower, more patient development process and the results are speaking for themselves.
FT: If you could make a change in the Code of Points, what would you change?
JG: I have never been one to shy away from opinion on how the FIG contradicts themselves constantly. The rules point towards a system that wants older, more experienced athletes hence the increase in the minimum age and the stated emphasis on “artistry”. This is all fine but then move the bars out and up so that the older athletes can compete fairly with the smaller-younger ones. Raise the vault table to allow safer air time for our most dangerous event.
The emphasis on artistry is still a very subjective (political?) category but at least they are trying. What is not artistic however is the new rule for dancing into and out of the corners into these incredibly difficult tumbling passes. Instead we get “stork stands”. This is a complete failure. Do we want athletes standing in the corners panting and resting prior to each tumbling pass…no, but this new rule is not creating artistry. Add on top of this the emphasis on stuck landings on floor and they once again contradict their statements of protecting the health and safety of the athletes. Stuck landings are hard on the body. Training stuck landings will in turn have an impact on the number of healthy athletes we can put on the floor each year. Land and lunge and save the ankles, knees and backs.
The reason for devaluing the Amanar vault is suspicious. Why? Was it that we saw too many in the last cycle? Nope. I would like to see that vault receive a greater benefit over the double twist.
The age limitation—get rid of it (within reason). It has been shown that 13-14 year olds can perform at a world-class level. This would create a larger talent pool for most countries where athletes struggle to maintain their skill level through their late teens. This would eliminate the need to falsifying FIG licenses (China 2000).
FT: Can you tell us a little bit about your newest elite gymnast, Delanie Harkness?
JG: Delanie is a great kid. She is a hard worker and is very focused on becoming the best she can be. Living in Jordyn’s wake has to be a tough situation for her. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been asked if she is “the next Jordyn Wieber”. There is no next Jordyn. We want Delanie to live in her own light and enjoy elite gymnastics without having to live up to any preconceived expectations. She will do fine, she has some strong points but as with most athletes she has some weak areas (back flexibility) that she will battle. We love working with her.
FT: Who are currently some of the best up-and-coming gymnasts at Twistars?
JG: ‘D’ has a teammate, Alyssa Al-Ashari that more than likely would have been at championships this year had it not been for a hamstring setback. Alyssa attends the elite developmental camps with Delanie and is doing very well. She is a beautiful gymnast with 190 degree flexibility and great lines. She is fearless and a phenomenal competitor. We are looking forward to seeing her progress in the elite program. Another up-and-coming 10-year-old is Mya Millikin. She was the Region 5 Level 8 AA Champ and a 2 time TOP National Team member.
FT: What is a typical day like at Twistars?
JG: A typical day at Twistars begins with a 7:30 AM training session three days per week. We have 25 young athletes with aspirations of upper level gymnastics. The three hour supplemental training session covers basics, basics and basics along with some of the areas that we struggle finding gym space for during the peak hours (trampoline, dance, etc). From there my wife Kathryn and I head to the office to handle the business aspects, staffing, customer relations, marketing, payroll and bills etc. Then afternoon training begins at 3:30. We are done with our 12-hour day at 8:00 PM. Each pm training session (4.5 hours) incorporates event training on each of the events (one hour on beam and bars, 30 minutes floor, vault, tumble and conditioning) preceded by a 30-minute warm up. Our program has very high standards and expectations and so the 4.5 hours is efficiency based. The culture of our gym is established and the athletes maintain a great positive energy most days (we all have bad days).
Many thanks to John for taking the time to chat with Full Twist!
Image via Lansing State Journal.