Last weekend I attended a Gymnastics Ireland National Training Camp in Lilleshall National Training Centre in the UK, home to British Gymnastics who run their elite performance training there. The main gymnasium located within King George VI Hall was opened in 1987, along with the Princess Royal Hall which accommodates the pitted gymnasium, featuring pitted fast track and trampoline. The gym is also equipped with specialized rigging systems on both trampoline and full length track, ensuring safety when learning new skills. Lilleshall was the first centre in the UK to receive official accreditation by the British Olympic Association as an Olympic training centre for gymnastics in June 1994. The centre, opened in 1951 by HRH Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth), is located four miles from the town of Newport, Shropshire and is approached along an impressive two mile, tree-lined drive.
I attended the camp, not as officially as Full Twist but as a coach with some of my own gymnasts, aged between 10 and 14. For two, they had never performed any gymnastics into a pit, let alone seen one – in fact they had never seen a gym of this stature before. The camp, organised by Gymnastics Ireland and Technical and Performance Manager Sally Filmer, ran from Friday to Sunday - in total, two half day trainings and one full day. Sally listed the numerous benefits of the camp which had both National Team members and aspiring gymnasts training alongside one another. Both gymnasts and coaches benefitted from the multi discipline camp, making connections and new friends, viewing other disciplines and high level gymnasts training and also learning from the highly experienced camp tutors. Of course, the fantastic facilities were the key benefit, especially for those who do not have full time gyms or gyms with pits.
Upon arrival on Friday we were shown around Lilleshall and brought to the dining hall. The choice of food was fantastic as we tucked into our “French themed” lunch and geared up for our first day of training. A warm up for the 80+ gymnasts was led by former World Tumbling Silver medallist Craig Filmer. Clubs then split up and worked in individual apparatus for the next couple of hours. Throughout this time camp tutors or coaches Barry Winch, Colm Murray, Luke Carson and Craig Filmer assisted both coaches and gymnasts in the progression of their gymnastics.
With my own gymnasts, we spent a lot of time working on bars, notably Ireland’s weakest event for WAG. Simon Gale, Coach to Ireland’s London 2012 Olympian Kieran Behan spent a lot of time assisting us with preps and spotting techniques. In this gym, there was a single bar and A Bars over the pit so this was ideal for us to continue more work on the likes of Forward Giants and Blind Changes, the gymnasts felt extremely safe with the pit surrounding them. All gymnasts were working extremely hard up until dinner time. Post dinner, the gymnasts took part in some fun and a quiz with Luke Carson and Craig Filmer, while coaches attended lectures and workshops on the new MAG Code of Points and Bio-Mechanics for Bars. Barry Winch held an excellent workshop on using a floor trampoline as a training aid to gymnastics and bars.
Saturday began with all gymnasts (and some coaches!) taking part in an early morning while coaches began their day with a hearty and healthy breakfast. Gymnasts were back into the gym for 8.45am for a warm up and conditioning session taken by former GB Olympian Barry Winch (1980 & 1984) followed by line drills and more conditioning with their own coaches. Senior National Team member Luke Carson held a Pommel Session with the younger gymnasts, using his experiences as an elite gymnast to help inspire the boys. Sally introduced Gheorge Predescu a British Gymnastics High Performance Coach who was in attendance for the day to assist coaches. Predescu , a lecturer in Gymnastics at Loughborough University in the UK, has over 35 years of coaching experience, both as a High Performance Coach in Romania, and as a former British National Coach at the inception of the World Class Programme. He is highly regarded as a technical expert in gymnastics, having produced many International Gymnasts from GB and abroad, and has published numerous papers that have appeared in technical manuals in the UK and overseas. As a Brevet judge, he is also credited with a deep knowledge of the MAG CoP. His knowledge was endless and was more than happy to help out, even with the simplest of moves. Coaches had some allocated time at the end of the morning training session for a Questions and Answers session with him.
After lunch and a short rest,we were back in the gym. Coaches took part in a workshop by Craig Filmer on whips and saltos and had the opportunity to learn how to support double back somersaults with the help of the powerful Gillian Clarke. The aspiring gymnasts were introduced to some of the National Team members who had competed internationally for Ireland in 2012. The Senior Men’s Team of Luke Carson, Andrew Smith, Chris O’Connor and Anthony O’Donnell were all present (Luke was unable to train to do a recent leg operation), senior women’s gymnast Emma Lunn who competed at Europeans and most recently Northern Europeans performed a floor routine. Unfortunately Kieran Behan was not in attendance due to prior commitments and Rohan Sebastian is at university in the USA. Gillian Clarke the Under 18 World Bronze medal holder in Tumbling showed off some of her highly impressive tumbling, we were also treated to some spectacular trampolining. We were also treated to a performance from Ireland’s top acro trio, who most recently represented Ireland at the 7th Acrobatic Gymnastics World Age Group Championships in Florida. I think that we all had a new found love of acro after watching the girls perform!
Training resumed with Anthony O’Donnell assisting coaching on vault with some groups. His coaching technique was impressive, he spoke directly to the gymnast as opposed to the gymnast through the coach. He shared his own experiences and secrets with the gymnasts, showing them videos of his own vaults to help aid them in his training. Again, Simon Gale spent a lot of time working on bars with my group of gymnasts, to which we are extremely thankful for. Craig Filmer also took the girls through their first double back somersaults into the pit.
The evening concluded with dinner and X Factor for the gymnasts and dinner and lectures for the Coaches. Barry Winch held another work shop on the development of the swings and turns on bars. Colm Murray took us through the new proposed changes to the Code of Points, let’s just say the 2.50 deductions in artistry were a real shocker for some. Gymnastics Ireland’s Participation Manager Aimi Baker discussed nutrition for the developing gymnast.
Again Sunday began with an early morning run and a warm up led by Luke Carson. It was only a half day session as gymnasts and coaches had to catch flights back to Ireland so we got in as much training as possible, most of our time was spent over the pit bar, practicing double tucks and taking advantage of the full floor. Both Anthony and Luke has bright futures ahead of them as coaches once they stop training.
Since Sally Filmer has taken up her role as Technical and Performance Manager, she has been trying to raise the bar and bring gymnastics in Ireland where it could and should be. Sally sees the National Training Camps as essential for sharing information between the different gymnastics disciplines and team building. The National Training camps, part of the new Gymnastics Ireland development programme and long-term plan, have now become a regular feature for Ireland’s top gymnasts and coaches. This camp was the third this year. The feedback given on site to Sally was nothing but positive, from both a gymnast and coaches perspective. I spoke to a WAG coach in Lilleshall Sharon who said:
“This is the first training camp that myself and my gymnasts have attended , it was excellent. So well organized and the camp support staff were fantastic, their knowledge was invaluable to us this weekend. Cost wise, the only tricky bit is the flights. The camp cost itself was extremely reasonable especially for the quality of food, accommodation and facilities we experienced but the flight times and costs can be a slight issue but we came over on Thursday so that the girls could have a good nights rest best training for the weekend. I would recommend these camps to any aspiring gymnast in Ireland.”
My gymnasts certainly did not want to leave and I feel that training alongside the National Team members has given them some new inspiration, they have seen what could be achieved, what has been achieved by others and know that it is attainable with hard work, courage and determination. As a coach, the camp was just as beneficial to me as it was to the gymnasts my gymnasts. I made many new friends and connections and as we all know connections in the gymnastics industry are excellent. The knowledge passed from other coaches and invites to other clubs was excellent.
Spending time at a high class facility like Lilleshall really stresses to me just how much Ireland does need an incredible facility like this, yes, Ireland is without a national training centre. Development began on a National Sports Campus in 2004 and in the proposal was a National Gymnastics Training Centre but as yet nothing has been developed for gymnastics.
A massive congratulations to Sally Filmer and her team for an unforgettable experience. It’s great to see gymnastics in Ireland going places and with camps like these it will go further. I look forward to seeing more of Sally’s plan to further gymnastics development on a high performance level in Ireland, she is certainly the right woman for the job.