Switching programs, coaches, or teams can be a difficult time. There are many emotions that can go through not only the athlete’s mind, but also the parents. Many times the athlete doesn’t know leaving is an option, other times they don’t want to leave, and then there are those who think the grass is always greener on the other side. Although we truly will never know what is on the other side until we try, how do we know when it is time to go?
When I was 14 I trained at a gym in Fort Lauderdale. I had been with the same coach and gym since I started gymnastics. He taught me EVERYTHING. He molded me into a tough, strong, and accomplished athlete. He brought me from a beginner all the way through to Elite.
All of my childhood memories were from that gym. We did Christmas parades, mall shows, team parties to Disney, 9-5 Summer workouts, we ran in the hot south Florida sun, had slumber parties, and learned a lot of gymnastics. Our gym was one of the leading gyms in Florida at that time, and I loved everything about it.
As time went on, I grew older and things started to change. My relationship with my coach was different. He still treated and trained me like he did when I was young. I was 14, and we knew our journey together had come to an end. He and I just didn’t work anymore. It wasn’t him, It wasn’t me: it was just our relationship had run its course.
I didn’t seem to respond to his coaching and he didn’t know how to change his coaching techniques. I knew it was time for me to move on. It was sad and painful, and the hardest decisions of my life, but I knew I needed to go.
The relationship between a coach and an athlete is sacred. The athlete must have respect, trust, and believe the coach will help them achieve their goals. In order for the athlete to perform up to their full potential, the coach must know the athlete’s full potential and how to get it out of them. Coaches and athletes have different types of personalities and not every coach will be the right fit for every athlete. I am sure if the athlete feels tension, so does the coach.
Every team, gym, and club have their good and bad points. When athletes start to think the grass is greener on the other side, they will look for reasons to leave. The athlete will come to the point where the only way for them to know if the other situation is better, it to try. That doesn’t mean that one place is better than the other, it is just different. When athletes look for reasons to leave, they will find them. Sometimes the only thing a that can be done is, make sure not to burn bridges, thank the coach for all they have done, and move on.
Chaos usually precedes the decision to move. At first the athlete or parent knows there is something wrong, but they can’t figure out what it is. They may not be happy with the student/coach ratio, the coaching style, the facility, the teammates, the other parents, the training hours, the level of competition, or the level the athlete is competing.
When there is a snag in the normal routine, it may be time to reevaluate. That doesn’t mean it is time to run away, but it is time to weigh the pros and cons. The most important thing is to remember not to rush into any decision and to think logically about the athlete’s long term goals.
There are three areas that can affect the decision to leave.
- The athlete’s career
- The family
- Emotional health.
The Athlete’s Career
Sometimes the parents and the athletes are not on the same page when it comes to realistic goals. Often parents can become frustrated because they may see other athletes improving faster than their child. It is important to make sure the child wants to have different training. If the child is happy, then it may be time for the parent to take a step back. The athlete may not want to put in more work. Since the athletes are the ones who will be putting in the work, it is important to ask what they want.
- What are the athlete’s goals?
- Can they achieve those goals where they current practice?
- What does the athlete like/dislike about the current club?
- What coaching do they think stye need to achieve their goal?
If the athlete feels it is time to go, here are more questions to ask.
- What coaching does that athlete want?
- Why do they want to move?
- What will the new facility offer them?
- What challenges can they face in the new facility?
If the athlete wants to stay and enjoys training, it may not be time to move. Pushing an athlete to train may be counterproductive. The main reason for a switch should come from the athlete.
Every decision can affect the entire family. If the athlete wants to switch to another gym, club, coach, but it will take time away from the family (other children, time with mom or dad, homework, or financial). It is important to discuss all aspects of how the change will affect the family so plans can be made to help if necessary.
- If more time will be spent traveling to the new gym, what can be done to make this time special?
- When will they do schoolwork/homework?
- What will the parent do while the child is practicing?
- What will be done with the other children?
- Can parents alternate driving, car pool, or find a way to share the responsibility?
- Is the entire family onboard with this decisions?
- What others things can be done to make sure every family member feels love and support for their hobbies, sports, school?
- Can the family financially afford the move?
When the family decides to drive further, pay more money for training, or spend more hours at practice, it will change the family. There are things to discuss before family members become jealous or bitter toward the attention spent on the sports commitment. When the family communicates any concerns, it can make it easier to address and help any issues that may come up in the future.
The emotional well-being of an athlete is important. Some facilities thrive on negative, punishment, and winning while others focus on empowering the athlete with confidence. Both environments can produce “winning” athlete’s, but at what cost? Is placing an athlete in a club that focusing on winning, but hurts the athlete self-esteem in the mean time, worth it? Of course a club that focuses on helping the athletes gain self-esteem while performing at their best is the ultimate goal, but there may be one of those facilities around. Going into a new facility fully aware of the training style is crucial.
- Is the environment the athlete is currently in helping them grow into an empowered and confident athlete?
- Is the environment they want to move to a positive environment?
- Does the coach use external or internal motivation? Will they teach internal?
- Does the coach punish for mistakes?
- Is the new facility focused on winning or learning how to be a successful athlete?
- What can a parent do to help keep the athlete’s self esteem in a negative environment?
At no time should an athlete be psychologically abused by a coach. Know the difference between firm, high standards, and comments that belittle, demean, and break the athlete down. Training should focus on building up and empowering the athlete.
The only way to truly feel all the amazing experiences sports can offer is to participate in sports. Sports can bring a level of competitiveness, responsibility, sportsmanship, work ethic, persistence, and dedication. It can offer them opportunities to travel the world, work with amazing coaches, compete against phenomenal athletes, and be a part of something that is meaningful. It teaches them to perform under pressure, overcome fears and doubts, grow their confidence, and push themselves further than they thought they were capable of.
In the athlete’s short career, it is okay to make sure they are provided the best opportunities to grow in their sport. If that opportunity is at another facility or with another coach; then it is okay to change. The most important part of change is to make sure the change is for the right reasons, and also make sure the gym, club, or facility that is being left behind isn’t being forgotten. Many times the gym, club, facility, and coach know that the athlete needs to leave. They may even help the athlete find a better fit, to a facility that can help the athlete reach their goals.
I know for me, I was able to switch to an Olympic Training Center, because my first coach prepared me. He created a foundation of love for the sport and my hard work ethic and that made me be able to handle the next step. It was tough to leave, but it was necessary. My old coach was hurt, and it was tough for him to see me reach my goals without him. I know that I would not have done it without him, and he was a huge part of my success.
It is tough to make a change, but in the end it may be good for everyone. When the coach, athlete, or parent is unhappy; it can be very stressful. Once a decision is made and the athlete can focus on training, accept the decision and move forward. Time will tell. Either the new facility will be the answer, or a decision to leave will be in the future. Either way, trust your gut, it usually knows when to stay or when to go.