Last week I had dinner with one of my good friends, Gino Perrotte. He writes an amazing blog called Right Brain Journeys and I always love sitting down and talking to him because he never disappoints. My A-ha moment last week was when he told me about a blog he wrote explaining what gymnastics taught him. The one thing that hit me was when he explained about windows of opportunity.
He said that whether we like it or not there is a timeframe in which opportunities in gymnastics only last for a short while. These opportunities are like black holes, if you happen to be ready when your opportunity knocks then you are open to more opportunities. But if you are not ready when opportunity knocks, then that window closes and unfortunately in gymnastics you may never get that opportunity again.
Gino started gymnastics later than his friends. He was 12 and when he was learning how to do a back handspring, other 12 year olds in the gym were learning double fulls. He knew that gymnastics provided him with less opportunities; he was not going to compete for our country, be on a National team, or get a college scholarship. So while all of the other boys in the gym were being groomed for greatness, Gino knew that his oppertunities would not come from gymnastics.
This led me to finally understand why there is such a urgent push for fast acceleration in gymnastics: TOPS, HOPES, Jr. National Team Camps, Hot shot classes, etc.
It makes sense that we always want to be “ready” so when opportunity knocks we are home to greet it. So when we have a gymnast that shows potential we feel this need to prepare them for their window of opportunity.
Recently I was interviewed by Dr. Joshua Eldridge for his website Gymnastics Care. We discussed the topic of creating very young high level athletes and how difficult it is to maintain the mental and physical demands for a sustained period of time.
Dr. Josh and I talked about the importance of the “Peak”. For most elite gymnasts that “Peak” would be the year of the Olympics and for the College bound the “Peak” should be around 18. But many times we see gymnasts peak when they are 13, 14, or even 15 years old.
Some gymnasts have a very difficult time maintaining this level for the years and as coaches and gym owners, if we know when these gymnasts should “Peak”, then why can’t we stop training like it’s a 100 meter sprint and instead train our athletes for the marathon?
I understand that if everyone else is training 6 year olds to climb the rope all the way to the top without using their legs, then I feel like I need to train my 6 year olds the same. It’s part ego: I want everyone to know I am an amazing coach. It’s part trying to keep my athletes: I also know that if my athletes or their parents see other gyms producing young beasts, I may lose my gymnasts to another gym. And it is also part windows of opportunity: I know that it is my responsibility to provide every opportunity to my athletes. If I have a young child that is talented, driven, and has BIG dreams, then it is an injustice for me not to provide the training.
Coaches must prepare their gymnast for their window of opportunity because in gymnastics this window is small. The gymnast must be completely prepared so when their opportunity presents itself, the gymnast is ready.
Colleges are now verbally committing athletes at 14 years old. So if their is a gymnast planning on peaking at 18, there may not be a scholarship available. She must peak at 14.
We all know that to be an Olympic gymnast 100 things have to fall into place at the exact right time. The window of opportunity to make an Olympic team is very small. But to be on the radar, a gymnast should be part of the TOPS, HOPES, and National Team camps.
So as coaches, what can we do?
We must understand that when one window closes, another opens.
There isn’t only one window. These windows of opportunity can provide amazing experiences. Experiences that only can be provided by gymnastics, but they aren’t the only experiences our gymnasts need. Don’t forget to completely enjoy the journey because the journey is what really matters. The friends, the life lessons, and the memories are really what these opportunities are all about.
Our athletes need to train for many opportunities in their lives. So if the window for the Olympics or College closes, instead of sulking in despair, guilt, resentment, or pity they can proudly take their gymnastics experience and walk to the next open window.
Gymnastics provides many windows of opportunities and even though my friend Gino missed his window of the Olympics and College, he realized that gymnastics opened more windows than it closed.
Gino took the work ethic that gymnastics taught him to run a gymnastics club for 10 years. He took the determination he learned from gymnastics and worked day and night until he received his Masters degree. And now he is a College professor, travels the world, writes a blog, and is extremely happy.
If you want to read more from Gino, visit his blog at Right Brain Journeys.