Placing the athlete in the correct class seems obvious. Many kids are placed beginner classes if they are a beginner, intermediate when they improve, and advance when they become masters of the sport. But sometimes kids are placed in classes for other reasons.

Some kids can only  do certain times or days and so they may be put in a class that is too easy or too hard for their level. Others may want to be with a certain age group even through they are at a different level. And then there was that one time when I put a kid on team because her carpool moved up to team and the only way for her to continue to do gymnastics was to move into the same class.

I had been coaching this child in classes and she was a hard worker and a wonderful kid. I didn’t want her to leave gymnastics so I decided to let her move to level 2 team. I knew it was a big decision, but I thought we both worked a little harder we could make it work.

But placing an athlete in a level higher than they should be in created way more tension and chaos then good.

My little gymnast didn’t know anything about team. She had a lot to learn. She didn’t know how to do a lot of the details. In classes we trained on basic skills, but didn’t focus on head position, body shape, or feet position. All the other kids had spent at least one year on pre-team, a year on level 1, and a year in level 2 before moving to team. They knew all the details and were very good at performing them with precision. But I wasn’t worried. I knew that I could teach her those details.

The problems set in when she felt inferior to all the other athletes. She felt embarrassed when I had to pull her to the side to teach her a lever or a hurdle with the proper arm circle.

She also became embarrassed when she constantly had to do easier skills than her teammates. When they worked on harder skills such as, back walkovers or round off back handsprings, she had to work on back bends and bridge kick overs. I had to set up different stations and always gave her a different workout plan. She become resentful towards me because I couldn’t let her do the same skills as her friends.

I soon became frustrated with having to constantly remind her the names of skills, to put her head in, or to point her toes. After three months I had hoped for her to catch up to the level of the other girls. But after three months it was obvious to me that I had put her in the wrong class.

She didn’t like conditioning and it was hard for her. She didn’t like the constant corrections. She wanted to learn gymnastics but she didn’t care if her legs were straight, toes were pointed, or they were done without deduction.

She eventually didn’t want to do gymnastics anymore and I could see that as well. I knew she needed to be put back in a recreational class, but I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, embarrass her even more, and worse of have have her quit. It was my idea to put her on team and now I had to break the news to her that I had made a mistake. I felt terrible.

In the beginning I didn’t want to see my little gymnast sad. I knew that if she wasn’t able to car pool with her friend who was on team, then she would have to stop doing gymnastics. She loved gymnastics and I loved teaching her. But instead of seeing the lher sad to have to leave the sport, I tried to make everyone happy and move her to a level she simply was not ready to train.

I knew I had to come to terms with the situation. It was bad and I was to blame.

It was no different than putting a fifth grader in high school classes and then expecting them to live up to the same standards.

The reason we have levels in sports is to ensure proper progress both mentally and physically. When placed in the correct level each student can build a solid foundation of basics and confidence.

When the athlete is placed in the correct level, they can try new skills without feeling embarrassed because everyone is trying the same things. They can build strength by starting with conditioning that they can master. Then after they master that conditioning, they can feel proud and exciting to try to do more. They learn the terminology of the skills and they understand the progression of the sport. They move up when they are “ready”, not because it was convenient.

The bottom line is that I should have done that right thing in the first place. I should have told the gymnast that I would miss her and to let her know that anytime she wanted to come back, I would be here for her. That way we could have avoided the pain, embarrassment, and frustration that she had to endure. Our relationship was strained but luckily not destroyed and I am happy that it wasn’t ruined.

In the future I will make sure to do the right thing and place the athlete in the right class even if it causes a little bit of sadness for the athlete. Nothing can replace the proper path of training. And even with the best intentions proper class placement is not only recommended, it is mandatory.

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