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On Why I became A Coach

Gymnasts preparing for beam
Strawberry and Natalia getting ready for beam

This is a lighter read than the previous posts I’ve shared with you, but not simple to grasp because of the many reasons for my decision to become and remain a coach. Many of my peers have fallen on the opportunity to instruct the sport they love and get paid for it, while others have seen it as a noble occupation, and pursued it as such. There is no more or less merit to either of these circumstances, and it isn’t my intent to imply that there is. Here, I simply want to share my journey.

I have been asked before, in fact many times, about my reasons for coaching. These inquiries are mostly met with the often recycled and overused declarations of love for the sport, or at times, and more annoyingly so, I may refer to how imparting knowledge makes me feel; how gratifying it is to help someone learn something new. Now, I’d be lying if I claimed that these clichés carry no value in my experience – they do – but I’d be more dishonest if I were to say that I started coaching gymnastics at the age of sixteen (16) because it appealed to my nobility. The truth is that I needed a job; I was in high school, about to get my license and wanting all the girls to pay attention to me, which would necessitate nice clothes and perhaps the ultimate expression of coolness in an adolescent existence: access to a car.

As luck would have it, or likely due to my natural charisma, I had caught the fancy of a cute blonde in my grade, who repeatedly bragged about being able to flip. She happened to be a gymnast, and a very good one at that. After about a month of teenage infatuation, several movie dates, a driving permit, and dad’s worryingly skeptical face when asked for money (by me) to go see my girlfriend, reality set in. It may have been as providential as meeting this acrobatic sweetheart that I would be asked to come visit her at the gym where she trained; a gym that by chance was looking for a young person to supervise birthday parties… and the rest is history, as people love to say. I took the job, as even if it wasn’t glamorous it beat working in a fast food joint to me. No offense intended to those lovely friends who work in the fast food industry, a job is a job and commendable when done well; I was simply after the “cool’ factor at this point in my life.

So, there I was, in a gymnastics facility playing with kids on trampolines, jumping and swinging from bars, having a great old time and getting paid an unbelievable $10/hour for doing it. This continued for about 3 months, a time during which I was given access to an entire gymnasium where I could improve my self-taught acrobatics. I had learned some back and side flips while I played Capoeira several years before my young love affair. I was convinced at the time that I performed these flips impressively; I was fit and let’s face it, there wasn’t much I could do wrong. My ability to flip caught the attention of a great coach who had recently been hired by the gym to start a Power Tumbling class… and within months of having been asked to try it I was doing double backs and multiple twists in combination at the end of a long line of whips and back handsprings. Up until this point I had not had the opportunity to coach a real gymnastics class or taught any acrobatic skills to anyone. And then it happened. My coach asked me to help a younger athlete with a number of basic skills. Having successfully gotten the unsuspecting victim to achieve the skills she wanted, I was hooked. Coaching others did something special, it allowed me to look at my own skills in other people and it helped me understand corrections better; in fact, it made me a better athlete.

Yes, I love coaching, and I love the feelings I get from doing it. These feelings, however, came after I realised the full benefits of being a coach on my own progress. And though my reasons for being a coach my not appear as noble as the others I usually give to dismiss a dishonest conversation, they are nobler. They are nobler because my choice to become a coach didn’t come from thinking I was good enough to teach, but from the realisation that by teaching I became better at what I did.

To this day coaching allows me to improve upon skills I depend on in my professional career as a facilitator, and in my personal life. Coaching is one of my vehicles to self-mastery. My initial reasons for becoming a coach were very self-indulgent and self-serving, but today I see it as way to lift others and myself up, to empower young minds to see their own incredible potential and in so doing realise my own. It’s symbiotic; it’s a give and take kind of thing, and I would advise any coach or instructor who doesn’t see it in (at least) a similar light to consider that they may not be getting as much from their coaching as they can.

All teaching endeavours are two way streets, and the best of us will admit to learning far more than we set out to teach, to have been improved by the experience. So, if you ask me why I coach, or if I love coaching, my answers to you are: how do I not love something that makes me better? Why would I not do something that gives me so much?

PS: The personal connections I've made through out my years of coaching are as many as they are valuable. Parents of the children I have coached are now friends I see often, and some the the children (now adults) are in my contact list. One connection is worth mentioning here, my former athlete and now close personal friend Jake Teel, who has become an exceptional mentor to the athletes in his charge and continues to show his unwavering commitment to the club and everyone in it. Thank you, Jake, for everything you do, and for having brought me back to Pulsars.

By Coach Jose (A.K.A. Peyton Dracco), for Pulsars Gymnastics

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