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A Day in the Life of a Gymnastics Coach

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Anel van der Walt: Gymnastics Coach

Former competitive gymnast Anel van der Walt tumbles her way through every day of the week. She works as a full-time Tumbling Gymnastics Coach for kids at Gym Wizards . She is also a reputable Pole Dance Fitness Instructor and Sports Masseuse at The Pole Project, and as if that wasn’t enough, also works as a self-employed Biokineticist. This power woman stops at nothing. We chat to her about a typical day in her bouncy, energised lifestyle.

What’s a typical working day for you?

Time of Day Activity Comments
00:07h Wake up Depending on the day, I wake up anytime between 5am and 8am
00:08h See private clients for biokinetics
00:09h Start work at Gym Wizards – mainly admin in the morning debt collecting, checking emails, class attendance, customer service, lesson planning
12:00h Start coaching at different venues – from 30 – 120mins per class depending on the school grade and gymnastics level of the kids This goes on until 5pm
18:00h Off to pole class – either attend the advanced class or teach the advanced and intermediate class Some evenings I do sports massages for one or more pole students
21:00h Leave the studio and go home! I usually get home between 21:30 and 22:00h

Give us a brief history of your gymnastics background
I started gymnastics when I was in primary school, at the age of 4 or 5. Someone had come to do a demo at our school, and all I remember is going home to my mom with a yellow pamphlet, and I told her,

“I want to do this.”

I did Artistic Gymnastics – that’s the style that everyone knows, with the bars and beams.

How long have you been at Gym Wizards and what first got you into coaching?
I started teaching gymnastics in my 2nd year at the University of Pretoria, which complemented my studies because with the degree you had to obtain coaching certificates, and gymnastics is one of the disciplines I chose.

This is my 3rd official year here at Gym Wizards as a Head Coach. I started working here in 2013 as a part-time coach when I was completing my internship after the UWC Honours.

Gym Wizards was looking for coaches with a background in biokinetics. It’s good to have someone on-sight who knows how to handle injuries, and what type of training to give to kids who have certain injuries so they still stay conditioned during the recovery.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love teaching the kids new ‘tricks’. Our gymnastics levels are not quite as difficult as the
SAGF (South African Gymnastics Federation) levels, because it’s recreational gymnastics. You always teach the kids the same kind of things – handstands, forward rolls, and so on – but because we make it fun, we like to use games as a warm-up while still focusing on locomotor skills warm-up games with them.

The kids always put a smile on my face. They are just flipping cute. I really enjoy the kids; they are awesome.

I also love seeing the higher skilled students get a ‘trick’ or new skill for the first time. It’s so amazing when they get that back summersault for the first time, or the flick-flack. I’ve actually started a new thing to motivate them. The more difficult tricks take longer to achieve for the first time, and so whenever a student gets a front summersault and lands on their feet for the first time, everyone else has to do push-ups and cheer for them. It really makes them want to get it right.

What do you enjoy least about your job?
The heat! It gets really hot, and the venues don’t have aircon, so I have to shower up to 5 times a day.

And I can’t say I enjoy debt collecting. Some parents get angry when you ask for money… We have a ‘no pay, no play’ policy, so if by the 3rd lesson of the term the parents haven’t paid, we let the kid sit out. It’s terrible to have to do that, so we make sure we give the parents warnings and contact them with emails, phone calls, SMSs, and also send reminder letters home with the kids.

When we do let the kids sit out, we obviously don’t tell them, “Mommy hasn’t paid.” We’ll say something like, “Mommy hasn’t let us know that you’re allowed to do gymnastics yet.”

But, all in all, there is little that I don’t like. It’s silly things. Like the heat!

What are some of your main responsibilities as a Head Coach?
 It’s like running your own little business, because we have 10 venues, and each venue has its own head coach who manages the area.

As a head coach and area manager your responsibilities include:

  • communicating with parents
  • collecting payment debts
  • phoning and checking up with students who have been absent
  • customer support
  • organising your coaches
  • collecting your coaches’ logsheets so they can get paid
  • making sure the coaches know what to teach
  • educating your coaches
  • supervising the quality of coaching

Where and what did you study? Do you need a specific qualification to be a gymnastics coach?
 I completed a Bachelor in Human Science, as well as an Honours in Sports Science at
Tuks University. I then moved away from Pretoria and came to do my Honours in Biokinetics at UWC.

If you want to be a qualified coach, you need to have done the General Leadership Course that the SAGF has. You don’t necessarily have to be a professional gymnast yourself, but you need to be qualified to coach. The GL covers the basics of gymnastics. It’s an overview of all the gymnastics levels. After you have that qualification you can go on to specialise in a discipline, such as Rhythmic, Artistic Tumbling, or different equipment or styles, like hoops or bars.

Does Gym Wizards provide additional training for coaches?
 Yes. Every club has its own way of training its coaches.

Because we are a Recreational Club, our main focus is for kids to have fun while learning new skills and develop a love for training and living an active lifestyle. For this reason, our coaches get training through our Gym Wizards Academy programme, after completing the GL course.

In our programme, they learn how to break skills down to the smallest parts to make it easy for anyone to learn gymnastics, and how to make the lesson fun without losing the skill focus, discipline management, etc.

There are various levels of coaches:

  • Level 0: A pre coach assists the coach as a right hand.
  • Level 1: An assistant coach runs their own group, but can’t work without the supervision and presence of a coach.
  • Level 2: A coach can work alone and supervise an assistant coach.
  • Level 3: A head coach is a coach who also manages all the coaches in the team.
  • Level 4: A Master Coach will have a team of Head Coaches under them who runs their own venue and has their own team of coaches.

The Academy runs coaching courses over a whole term. We have currently established and are running the Assistant Coach training courses, and will soon be expanding to the next level of coach training too. The idea is to qualify the students to a level at which they can be a Coach here with us.

All of our coaches do informal, continuous training too. Every term we have a training workshop on a specific topic, or example class management, or coaching for competitions in specific.

To what extend does this job influence your own physical health?
It definitely keeps me fit. Definitely. On average, I start a new class every hour. I do the warm-up with the kids and get involved, because I need to warm up in order not to get injured. I play the games with them, so I’m moving around a lot. I need to be nice and warm, ready and able to spot and pick up the kids.

I need to be able to demonstrate the skills and exercises for the lower levels, but for the higher levels I will only demonstrate if I can still do the skill. If I am not able to, I can use one of the higher level gymnasts to demonstrate it.

Also, I need to pack and move the mats and all the other gear, which requires physical strength.

How do you do this every day without getting tired?
If I were to work in front of a computer all day – I think I would die… I’d never be able to do that. The reason I can go for these long hours is because I’m physically busy the whole time. In the holidays when we don’t coach, it’s terrible. I can’t get through the whole day sitting down and doing nothing. Here at work, even when I do admin, I can always just take a few jumps on the trampoline if I’m feeling sluggish.

What advice do you have for aspiring kiddies gymnastics coaches?

  • Be loud, positive, and enthusiastic.

Get them excited for the class and motivate them to have fun while they learn skills and exercises. It’s important to praise them when they get something right.

  • Allow yourself to be silly.

You have to be able to be silly and connect with the kids on their level. Don’t be shy to participate in their exercises and games, or to roll around on the floor.

  • Maintain a professional distance.

You need to be able to separate being a friend to the kids, and being their coach. It’s difficult, but it’s something you learn over time. New coaches just want the kids to like them, and when you let them, kids will just throw everything overboard and things get chaotic. You need to learn how to be firm without being harsh. Be firm, but warm.

Check her out in action in the video below.

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EduConnect 2cents

With the right coach, talent, and determination… some kids will blow us away with their gymnast abilities. Most of us will have to watch this next video twice to believe that it’s real…

Success doesn’t come from nothing, and if anyone demonstrates this, it’s little Jordan. She does what she needs in order to achieve her goals. Like she says,

“Things that get you better are doing hard work, staying positive, and keep going on and on until you become your dream.”

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