Recently I was invited to be part of Gymnastics Ireland’s first Annual Conference. The theme of the conference was “supporting our clubs” which offered a list of speakers covering a wide area of topics that are all relevant to gymnastics clubs both in their day to day operation and planning for future development. Opening the conference was the key note speaker, Paul Hall, Coach to two time Olympian and triple Olympic medalist Louis Smith. Paul shared some insightful information regarding the road to London 2012, Louis Smith and his coaching thoughts and processes.
He began by explaining his background in gymnastics. Similar to every aspiring gymnast, Paul had the goal and dream to go to the Olympic Games. He started off gymnastics at basic county level, aspiring to achieve his Olympic dream, however “dodgy shoulders” scuppered his dream and he had to take a different route.
The proud coach talked us through Louis Smith’s road to London 2012 and what it took to win his silver Olympic Pommel Horse medal. He explained it took the following:
- 12 years
- 3456 training days
- 13,000 training hours
- 800,000 double leg circles of the Pommel Horse
He gave us some rare insight to the day of the Men’s Team qualification on Saturday July 28th. He explained that Louis, as a character is a joker and likes to “have a laugh” and be “one of the boys” but is still an amazingly talented gymnast, however that Saturday he was a very different gymnast. In the warm up hall, Louis was quiet, very sullen. He made errors in his warm up routines which is unusual and this was when Paul started to worry, normally he never felt worry before a competition. In the build up to the Olympics, right back from winning his bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics, Louis had immense pressure from his peers and the public to go for gold in London. What could be better than taking gold at a home Olympics in front of the home crowd? As time went on, the pressure built, Louis only felt that sigh of relief as he finished his routine. We can all recall the images from that day of the “tough guy” sobbing and crying upon hearing his score. Louis had qualified in top position for the Pommel Horse final with a score of 15.800.
When asked, looking back, is there anything he would change on the road to London 2012, Paul said “of course”. Many may be surprised to hear such an esteemed coach say such a thing but he explained, he has made mistakes, he has learnt from them. Mistakes such as teaching a skill a certain way from the start, looking back he would change how he began to teach the skill. He also offered some funny anecdotes about coaching some gymnasts with intellectual difficulties and learning not to be so blunt and frank but to be careful how he constructed his sentences.
Throughout Paul’s talk, while I listened I tweeted some key information that he provided:
- Gymnastics must be fun
- Coaches cannot motivate from a sitting position
- Elite gymnasts “must learn until automatic”
- Coaches teach “lessons for life”
- Coaches need to be prepared to take risks and think outside the box
- Coaching is “all about communication”
- Elite coaching is “an obsessive commitment to a near impossible dream”
- Psychological profile of a good gymnast include high self esteem, motivation by failure, motivation to achieve success
Paul discussed what a coach is – ”a person that helps somebody else to achieve what they want to achieve by making them do what they don’t necessarily want to do”. A point to which many of the coaches in the room nodded and agreed. Paul noted that as coaches, we see the potential in a gymnast and want to help nurture the potential and draw it out.
Personally I took a lot away from Pauls talk. Something that struck me was that, as an elite coach he ensures that he still works with the basics, meaning he still works with recreational gymnasts. He ensures that his high performance coaches do not forget where they began and encourages them to work with recreational gymnasts also. He explained that often when coaching elite gymnasts, coaches feel they are too good or beyond coaching recreational gymnastics which is the foundation for any elite gymnast.
Paul now is looking to hand more coaching over to other coaches at Huntingdon and concentrate on growing the “business” of the gym. Huntingdon is currently in the process of building an extension to their existing gym. They currently have approximately 500 recreational gymnasts in the club and hope to increase numbers with the new extension.
On Friday last, Paul collected his MBE from Prince Charles.