90-seconds with Gene Schembri

The next in our series of High Performance coaching webinars will feature Gene Schrembi. Gene, currently the director of Kaiwa Consulting, is well known to many in the gymnastics community, having previously worked for GA in development and coach education.

Gene has been the Director of the Australian Coaching Council, and an analyst and consultant for the Australian Sports Commission. More recently Gene has worked with GA to establish a Coach Developer Pilot in Tasmania and Singapore Gymnastics to develop their gymnastics coach accreditation program. He has also conducted recent Coach Developer Workshops with Queensland Gymnastics.

Ahead of this week’s webinar, we sat down with Gene and discussed the evolution of gymnastics and the important role coaches can play in an athlete’s career.

GA: You have had a long association with Gymnastics in Australia and our clubs, how have you seen the sport develop/evolve over time?
Huge changes, too many to name in full!

YMCAs were one of the main places for gymnastics and their interest initially was on gymnastics for men and boys. Women's participation came later. A huge change has been the professionalisation and scale of gymnastics clubs - some clubs now with upwards of 2,000 members.

The acceptance by the FIG of new disciplines into its ranks has also been a major change. The AIS has also had a significant impact on the professionalism of gymnastics coaching. And another influence has been a steady stream of coaches from all over the world.

2: How do you see the social impacts of gymnastics assisting the development of athletes? And what role does a coach play as well?
Social impacts
In recent years, a big shift in thinking by sport generally has been towards a participant-centred model of coaching. In this approach, gymnasts are encouraged to become more independent and self-reliant. This model of coaching methods places more emphasis on what athletes think and feel. Gymnasts are also encouraged to have input into their training including making some more choices. This varies of course depending on the age and level of the gymnast's development.

The coach's role
This 'athlete-centred approach aims at not only making more resilient gymnasts but gymnasts who stand to gain in both their personal and social development. We can summarise this with the saying: 'Coach the person in front of you and the gymnastics will follow.'

3. What does quality coaching look like to you?
Quality coaching flows out of the participant-centred model. I like the 4Cs model of quality coaching:
• Competence (the gymnasts build a repertoire of gymnastics competencies)
• Confidence (this is linked to the other areas - feeling some control over one's learning and being able to manage thoughts and emotions are important)
• Connection (we might think this is more relevant to team sports but gymnasts can spend long hours together and connecting with others in a positive way helps people grow - not to mention making training more enjoyable!)
• Character (that link back to how others are treated and the gymnast's own personal qualities)

4. How can a coach assist an athlete manage balance in their life?
This is particularly important when gymnasts train long hours. It is really important that the coach sends out positive messages about the importance of school, home life, time with people outside of gymnastics and the gymnast's personal growth. I'm not pretending this is easy for gymnasts in elite settings but if clubs have a strong athlete centred approach with stated values that are lived out on a daily basis, then such a culture will develop good people and good gymnasts.

5: What are the most important tips you can provide to coaches who are coming in to the system?
I had the huge privilege of doing some work for Gymnastics Queensland. The aim was to facilitate a discussion in each of the regions about 2 things:
• How do we recognise and value our coaches?
• How do we help the learn and grow on the job

I was bowled over by the many great things clubs are doing to meet these objectives. Specifics are too numerous to mention in full but a few measures included mentoring, debriefing, staff meetings, and in-house training etc.

The key message was; don't just dump someone into coaching without providing support and guidance. Remember the old saying: People don't care until they know you care'

6: How do you see the overarching development and support resources that are now available to coaches and athletes in comparison to when you started?
Hugely different. There are now stronger technical committees and dedicated staff with quite targeted roles such as those working in Gymnastics for All space vs those at the HP end of the spectrum.

GA's overseas study tours for example are a great model for any sport into how you challenge and motivate coaches to become better. Traditional print-based resources are now supplemented by an important range of technology assisted learning experiences. Again, gymnastics has been a sport leader in this space.

Another difference (not isolated to gymnastics) is the very big rethink about the way we train coaches and I don't mean just in accreditation courses but across the full spectrum of learning experiences. On the job training is one important example mentioned above.

7. If you could provide advice to a group of young developing coaches who are trying to build rapport and relationships with their athletes, what might this be?
Our participant-centred model above is not just an academic exercise. It is an approach that should inform our day to day work with gymnasts. Just to recap some key aspects of this model:
• Providing an inclusive space where gymnasts are free to make mistakes is important
• Being flexible with your coaching behaviours and strategies is important.
• Being interested in gymnasts as people is so important.

I really believe we can really help people grow if we keep coming back to:
• encouraging a 'can do' mentality (growth mindset) but making it clear they will have to climb out of some troughs from time to time
• help gymnasts be their own teachers (where to, how do I get there and what next)
• Persistence - It ties in with the growth mindset idea. It can't be stressed enough ... just hang in there and we are here to help.

Hear more from Gene on Wednesday 15 July as he is joined by Professor Cliff Mallett at 11:00am (AEST). To join the meeting, click here and use the password: PerfCoach