Achievement - putting together the puzzle pieces
 

 
Have you ever seen someone take an impressive ‘big leap’ in achieving something? Perhaps a gymnast performing an amazing routine and winning a competition. A teen getting into an amazing university. Someone getting a big new job or opportunity. You might look at it and think Wow! Aren’t they amazing! Or lucky! Maybe you might even be a little jealous that it’s all happening for them. You might even feel a little bad about your own ‘slower’ progress.
 
But in reality its never actually one big leap. All these big achievements are a collection of loads of teeny tiny pieces that built up over time to eventually create a bigger picture  - it’s a lot like a jigsaw puzzle.
 
Each little piece of the puzzle is vital. Yet each piece looks so insignificant by itself, makes little sense and you could easily overlook it by itself! To start with, you tip out all the puzzle pieces and don’t know what you are looking for. It feels like a mountain to climb – why did I get the 5000 piece puzzle!! This will take forever!
 
But you make a start. You might have a strategy – perhaps find the corners or edge pieces first. Or group by colour so you can start to put a few pieces together. Gradually piece by piece things start to take shape and the picture gets clearer.
 
Eventually you are onto the final pieces and the finished picture reveals itself! Hurrah! Now each piece makes sense and is contributing to the overall image.
 
Progress in gymnastics happens in the exact same way.

 
 

Those edge and corner pieces? They are the pre-requisites of every skill. Like being able to do a bridge before you can backflip. Needing to be able to take your weight on your arms before you can cartwheel.
 
The pieces that start grouping together into colours or parts of the picture – each represents a physical or mental area of learning the skill. Like having flexibility for bridges, arm strength for handstands, or the mental determination to learn what your body needs to be doing.
 
Then there’s the important final pieces that join everything together – those are the little ‘tweaks’ that make all the difference. A little bit more arm strength, that final improvement in flexibility that makes a skill possible.  A final ‘oh I get it!’ understand mentally of what you need to do, the determination to try that one final time or that one little piece of feedback from the coach that makes it all come together.  Small…. But massively important.
 
It would be easy to underestimate each piece.  To look at a half finished puzzle and not recognise the progress and success that is already there.  What we need instead is to trust the process and celebrate all these little parts, knowing that under the guidance of awesome coaches and our own perseverance, the picture WILL reveal itself at the right time.
 
As we reach the end of term and look to displays and award ceremonies, its time to celebrate all these puzzle-piece achievements with our gymnasts. No matter what the current state of the puzzle – maybe its finished, maybe it’s still a work in progress – every little aspect is worth a celebration. And remember that of course no two puzzles are ever completed in exactly the same way.

 

 
Like the idea of how we teach skills and celebrate ALL the little wins?  Register for a class below
 
   
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...But I cant EVEN cartwheel
But I can’t even cartwheel!
 
Something we hear a lot is:
 

"My child isn’t good at gymnastics. They can’t cartwheel yet".

Or

"Ha! I’m no good at gymnastics. I can’t even do a cartwheel!"

It’s true that a cartwheel is one of the most universally recognised gymnastics skills. So it is natural to base some kind of progress on this skill.
 
But cut your child (or yourself!) some slack. It may be one of our ‘basic’ gymnastics skills but have you ever stopped to think about what a gymnast has to do, in order to do a successful cartwheel?
 
Lets take a look:
 
  • Go completely upside down and come back up again.
  • Make a rotation – we start forwards, turn sideways, then turn back again to stand up.
  • Travel forwards and sideways across the floor AND in a straight line.
  • Coordinate their arms and legs, in the right order AND in the correct positioning. Not just once, but you’ve four separate hand and foot placements to get right.
  • Have the strength and flexibility to kick their legs up in the air and -
  • Balance on their hands….
  • ….but not for long as you’ve got to shift the weight from one hand to the other then to the feet.
  • Oh and lets think about form too – we don’t just want the legs in the air do we, we want straight legs, straight body, pointed toes.
  • Land in your best ‘I just won the Olympics’ gymnast stretch.
  

 
And all of this with speed, all at the same time!!!
 
Phew I’m a bit overwhelmed just thinking about it.
 
Compare all these aspects to ‘basics’ in other sports – kicking a football, hitting a forehand in tennis, throwing a rugby ball, shooting a basket in netball, just simply running in athletics. It’s far more complicated and demanding physically.  Plus add in that a gymnast at the cartwheel learning level will likely be learning many new skills each session. They aren’t spending all their time learning this one skill, or even a handful – it’s literally 15-20 skills at a time across all the various gymnastic apparatus. Now this is a great aspect of gymnastics – we’re a foundation sport that can literally teach you everything you need to be able to perform any movement in life or in any other sport.
 
So is it fair of us to measure all our progress or expectations on if our gymnasts can cartwheel?
 
No. I don’t think it is. To measure progress we need to look at ALL aspects of our training, across all apparatus, both physically and mentally. Which is kind of tough to do, especially when we’re all different. We find the best way to determine progress is to ask your gymnast how they are finding class, is there anything they can do now in the whole of their class (or perform better) they couldn’t before and also, are they enjoying it. If both of those are positives… from my point of view that’s a win and lets keep learning.

You know what, some gymnasts will never be able to cartwheel like the pros..... and that's ok. 
 
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PS If those pesky cartwheels are really proving tricky, I recommend booking in a 30min 121 lesson with us. There are literally a zillion ways we can teach cartwheels and no one is the same! Often the break through point often comes with some focused coaching and we’d love to provide it.

If interested in a 121 lesson - pop us an email to hello@affinitygymnastics.co.uk or have a look on our events page to see any upcoming 121 holiday class slots here.
 
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YIKES...I did WHAT...Aka...Comfort zone uplevelling
Have you ever heard of people talking about comfort zones? That something is ‘out of their comfort zone?’ It often means something is really uncomfortable, or difficult, or maybe feeling impossible!
 
It would be really easy at times like these to run waaaay far away from the challenge and climb back into where we feel safe. No one would blame you! But then what? What happens next time something challenging comes up – do we run then too? Do we stay still our whole lives and not explore what might be possible? Hmm now that doesn’t sound too fun….
 
Sometimes, its worth us facing that challenge square in the face and having a go.  Like when our gymnasts find a skill or activity challenging, its easy to not want to try again.  But we as coaches KNOW its worth it for them to keep trying, that the gymnast IS capable of the skill and also that they will feel AWESOME when they realise they can achieve it. How do we know this? Well, we’ve been there ourselves.
 
I had quite an experience of this myself recently!!
 
At the weekend I was invited to speak to 400 women at the One Women Conference in London. It’s an event run by an organisation called One of Many, who are on a mission to ‘unleash the bold, grassroots leadership of 1 million women internationally.’
 
YIKES!! WHAT?! They want ME to do THAT?
 
I was utterly floored by this. I’ve completed coach and leadership training with One of Many, and the community round this have been a huge part of my life for the past couple of years.  But I’ve never stood on stage at a conference and spoken to 400 people.  Plus I was being asked to talk about my personal journey in leadership and to fit it all into 6 minutes. Definitely well out of my comfort zone.
 
I could have run back to safety and security and not done it.
 
But of course that’s not what I did.
 
So how did I manage? Well, I took inspiration from how I see comfort zones expanding in the gym every day.  That gymnast who is unsure of a skill what do we see? We see coaches (and fellow gymnasts) encouraging and supporting them. We see great explanations of how to technically do the skill from the coach so they know what to expect. We see new preps and progressions to build the correct movement in. Then ultimately we see the gymnast decide it’s worth it, look that challenge square in the face and give it a go.
 
So for me, I told the #TeamAffinity coaches what I’d been invited to do and they were supportive and encouraging. I had some great advice from some of my One of Many friends on what kinds of things to say and how to structure my presentation. I wrote and re-wrote it, practiced and got some great feedback.  Then on the day, despite the worlds most EPIC amount of nerves I stood up tall and walked confidently onto that stage to take on the challenge.
 
Now every day, we see the delight on the faces of gymnasts as they go through challenges and come out the other side. I’m pleased to report my challenge was much the same. I LOVED it and all went really well.  I told them all about the changes we’ve made at Affinity over the past year or so and more importantly, what we’re about and where we’re going next.

 

Having done this, I’m now open to more challenges.  Much like the gymnast who has now mastered that skill outside of their comfort zone, they can go onto learn the next one – which is likely more challenging but also waaay more exciting.
 
Now imagine if we all stayed safe – we’d never get to the REALLY good stuff.  It’s got to be worth a try, don’t you think?
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Developing General Gymnastics in the East Region
This has been a large part of mine and Affinity’s life over the past 8 years so I thought the occasion of me stepping down was a good enough time to tell you about it!
 
Rewind to 2010… Affinity has been running for a couple of years and our gymnasts are now looking for some opportunities to compete. Couple this with the fast development of gymnastics in the UK and a gap is wide appearing – elite competition is more and more elite. We train in a school hall, we aren’t elite gymnasts (or even trying to be). But where we used to be just lower level of ‘artistic’ gymnastics, we’re increasingly edged out of competition suitability. The perfection level expected at competition is getting high.  It was starting to requires many many hours of training, fully kitted out gyms and professional full-time coaches.  We don’t have this (or want to). We’re just enjoying a few hours of training per week and want to have something to work towards. Oh and and for it to be a positive experience!
 
So we start entering the few events for ‘general’ gymnasts. These are good…. But poorly run – from organisation through to the confusing rulebooks. You know that thing where by you complain about something and get landed with the job? Yes that’s how I got my volunteer role with the east region ‘GGTC’ or General Gymnastics Technical Committee. But it was a cause I felt (and still feel) strongly about – there should be suitable competitive outlet for the gymnasts training a low number of hours in our region. They absolutely should not be treated as second class (which was happening at the time). The events should be well run (even if all run by volunteers, that’s no excuse for a poor experience) with clear rules and progression and it should be fun!
 
I started out on the committee, assisting with competition organisation. The following year I WAS the competition organiser (that will teach me).  Then 5 years ago I was asked to lead the committee and was voted in as chairperson.

It has been a privilege and an honor to be able to lead the area of my sport that I feel so passionately about into brighter futures.
 
So what has changed? Well that’s actually the reason I’ve now stepped down. I’ve made a reality of the vision I had for this area. Over the past 5 years as chair, I’ve lead the committee from a weak one of a few people to a thriving strong group of motivated awesome people. Together we’ve entirely re-written the rule books and there’s a really clear development programme in place for gymnasts. The rules are clear and straightforward so more clubs can understand and access competition. We run our own judging courses to train coaches and judges in our specific rules. Our very own Coach Denise came on board to oversee and develop judging across the discipline (she’s an international judge you know) and I’m so pleased and appreciative she’s been able to do this – its had a HUGE impact.
 
All these things led to the biggest problem, which actually allowed the best change - we got too popular! The events had too many gymnasts wanting to join to be able to fit into one day. So 3 years ago we changed to a regional final model. In the east region we have six counties – Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk.  Regional finals mean each county holds its own championship with our rules, then the top three in each category come and compete at a regional final. It adds more credibility to our events, even more development for the gymnasts and most importantly – allows more gymnasts the opportunity to compete. Not just from capacity, but location – with each county running an event there is never far to travel. 
 
We now have well over 1000 gymnasts competing every year at the GGTC final events with at least another 1000 competing in their counties that weren’t before.  I’d say that’s pretty damn awesome, wouldn’t you?
 
It’s been an awesome journey with its challenges and progress. I’ve learnt an awful lot – how to lead a committee (no one teaches you how to chair meetings! Who knows even now if I’m doing it right) how to run events, how to stand up for a vision you believe in and manage change (when no one likes change right?).  I’m looking forward to taking these skills forward into a new volunteer role in future when the right one finds me.
 
It’s not over… there is and always will be more. That’s why I’ve chosen now as my time to step aside and allow someone else to develop general gymnastics into their own vision. The committee gave me the most AMAZING leaving gifts…. Check out the flowers and bespoke necklace. It’s the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen or worn. I must have done something right eh?
 
  

I can’t wait to see what’s next. Affinity will still continue to enter these events and of course support the running of them. You won’t see my name on the certificates anymore but you might just see me as the biggest supporter in the crowd.
 
 
 
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