Geriatric Gymnast

Geriatric Gymnastics 14

Tammy Goedken, part 4

In part 4 of my conversation with Tammy, we talk about eliminating the “end-date” drama, coaching from experience, the benefits of Geriatric Gymnastics, and setting goals in gymnastics training.

There is no end-date

One thing Tammy and I talked about is when you are a young gymnast in training, there’s an “expiration date” for your career. Tammy remembers that the philosophy when she was competing was that you hit your peak at 16 years old.

The ones that we sent to the Olympics, the ones that were winning were usually 16. The problem was that the minute I turned 17 I thought ‘that’s it, my career is over.’

Tammy Goedken

I can’t imagine the emotional fallout that advanced level gymnasts, still in the peak of adolescence, in high school (and we know how tumultuous that time already is), who think they are being put out to pasture. They have spent their entire childhood fully immersed in this activity, giving their blood, sweat and tears, and have wrapped their entire identities in the sport, only to be rejected for aging out.

I was really devastated, thinking there was no point to working towards those skills I’d been at because I was past my peak and I was just starting the downhill. That caused a lot of depression and so much insecurity to ‘be done’ at that young age. I feel sad for the younger me because it was so wrong, but in my heart I believed I was done; there’s nothing else I could learn.

Tammy Goedken

This is the crux of our Geriatric Gymnast mission now: to help adults realize that they are not done, they are not rejected for aging out, and that there is so much to learn and benefit from in gymnastics.

If you saw part 3 of our conversation, we talked about wiping out as part of the process of gymnastics training. The problem is, adults don’t like wiping out. It’s scary and painful and a good reason why they would shy away from activities that feature it.

The beauty of gymnastics training, especially today, is that there are so many shock-absorbing surfaces that we train on. The trampoline and squishy mats are there to absorb impact, removing many of the inherent dangers that are naturally at the forefront of an adult’s reticence to start gymnastics training. When you have that buffer between you and hard landings, you learn that you can build strength, flexibility and air awareness through progressive training with smart coaching in a safe environment. When adults develop the patience and grace with themselves to continue, their self-confidence blossoms and they want to keep trying new things. We’ve seen it so many times, and it’s such a beautiful thing to witness.

Coaching from experience

I coach from my own experience as an adult learning gymnastics for the first time. In fact, I am still experiencing “firsts” all the time since I didn’t have any of these skills under my belt when I started. There was no previously-developed muscle memory to fall back on. I remember the beginning of my gymnastics journey, being in my mid-30’s and stepping onto the unstable surface of the trampoline. All I wanted to do was to flip and feel free. But, I had to get my trampoline legs first, which required me to develop the control to jump and land on the center X. Without that fundamental, nothing else would flow. From there, I’d progress to tucks, straddles, twists, splits and combinations that continued through the progressions, building my body control and air awareness.

At some point, I was emboldened to try a front tuck. Later on, a back tuck, which scared the bejesus out of me for many years because I’d always launch myself at an angle, often landing on the side of the trampoline bed. This is a story that I talk more about in Geriatric Gymnastics 2: The Road to Mastery. I hadn’t developed enough body and air awareness to compensate and one day I lost the back tucks completely when I chucked one and landed with my leg wedged between the wall and the trampoline frame. Ouch – that was a nasty shin bruise that lasted for weeks. Fear flooded in every time I’d set myself up to try it again and for over a year, I couldn’t bring myself to chuck it again.

Eventually, my desire to progress superseded my trepidation and I decided to get into the belt (another great tool to assuage fear) and got back to basics. I retrained the skill with better fundamental technique, regained some courage, and learned what I had been doing incorrectly in the first place. I had someone video me doing the skill so I could see what I was doing. Turns out I had been favoring one foot on the launch which sent me up on an angle, throwing my trajectory off. I couldn’t feel it in action, but seeing it on the video, I developed a strategy to fix it and have since corrected that flaw. Now, I’m a back tuck queen on the tramp, and I’m working on that skill on other surfaces. I can also recognize it in other people, so I can help them correct their technique as well.

Benefits of adult gymnastics

When I write these blogs, I sometimes feel like a commercial that runs over and over again on late night TV when it comes to my advocating for adults to flip. But really, there are SO many benefits. Tammy and I talked a lot about them in this section.

Learning new things

Old dogs can learn new tricks. Gymnastics has given me an avenue of learning about everything in a way that no other activity has. Here’s a short list of things I’ve learned through my training at the flippy gym:

  • Managing and sometimes breaking through fear.
  • Pushing myself further than I thought I could.
  • Giving myself more credit for being physically and mentally capable of harder things.
  • Mitigating my limitations with my strengths.
  • Practicing persistence through time.
  • Managing frustration.
  • Being graceful with myself when something isn’t working.
  • Communicating proper technique to others.
Progressing autonomously

The best part of gymnastics training, particularly for adults, is that we have complete autonomy over what we want to learn. We don’t have to follow a rule book or set expectations. Everyone comes to the gym with their own set of experiences, strengths and limitations, and we learn about them together so that we can decide what is best for us to try next.

We’ve had new students progress quickly in just a few lessons because we watch very carefully at how they learn, how they fail, and how they navigate their learning process, taking their previous experience into account. They also learn how to apply the details of their technique training to the different apparatus in the gym. Once they understand why we do things the way we do, students take ownership of their own learning and look to us for guidance. Through active feedback, we work to make sure they are fully connected to the principles of training and can identify why something went wrong or right, which empowers them to try new skills.

Training memory together

Another immense benefit is memory training. For example, when we practice combinations of movement on the trampoline, we have to remember a series of skills, in order, in real time. For me, this is a real challenge because I have noticed that I have a lot of trouble with my short-term memory. I state a combination of skills that I want to perform, and start jumping, Then, mid-combo, I forget what I set out to do, which is a frustrating reality. Regardless, it’s important to exercise the brain just as much as the body.

We have an add-on game that we do on tramp that serves as a good memory trainer. Basically, one person starts with a skill. The next person does that skill and adds on another and so on until you have a long chain of skills for everyone to perform. It’s a maddening exercise; we often have to help each other out, calling out the skills as we go, but it’s a great way to practice memory recall. There’s usually lots of laughs and lots of wipeouts (where we bounce, not break).

In that respect, gymnastics is a collaborative group activity. Sure, we are training ourselves individually, but we are doing it with the feedback and support of other adults. It’s like book club, but without the wine and with an adult-sized playground.

Staving off dementia

Tammy added another important benefit of adult gymnastics training that is particularly of interest to me, given my memory issues. I have seen enough people in my world who been affected by dementia, either personally or through a family member. I know that I need to do whatever I can to prevent it from happening. Apparently, working at the gym helps us do just that.

[Gymnastics provides] everything they say you need to be doing to prevent dementia. It’s the ultimate anti-dementia program. You’re training your brain in all sorts of new ways and it never really stops because as soon as you get one skill, you have to look at another skill and you have to still do the same thing; every skill has its unique principles using different muscles.

Tammy Goedken

As long as my body holds up, I will continue to train. Hopefully, my brain will thank me later.

Setting goals

The word ‘goals’ is a loaded term. It took a big mind shift to get away from my clinical sense of goals. Goals are supposed to be measurable, achievable and have a set time frame. I no longer set goals, at least not for skill achievement, with a time frame.

Tammy Goedken

Well, she’s working on that mindset. Her clinical training and her drive to succeed with consistency sometimes get in the way. At one point, she had set an arbitrary goal of landing a standing back tuck on the floor by her birthday. Alas, she did not make that goal. “Disheartening” was how she described the feeling, and she felt compelled to re-think the value of the end-date. It put an abnormal amount of pressure on her that actually interfered with her training process, and took the fun and joy of practicing the skill away.

The date itself is not important. The important thing was that two years ago, I didn’t think I could do that skill. For years, I thought it was not achievable. It’s only in the last two or three years that I started doing them regularly.

Tammy’s new prime directive (which I share wholeheartedly) is this: whatever you are working on, it has to be fun. It it’s not fun, then you may need to re-evaluate why you are doing it in the first place. Progress is never linear, but as long as you’re working towards progress and smiling along the way, there’s always cause for celebration.

One strategy we use when we are training and coaching is setting limitations. For example, you have 5 attempts to work on a skill in a turn. If you don’t make it, it’s time to move on. You’re not allowed to ruminate over it or beat yourself up. If it happens, great. If not, you can try again another time. “Getting a skill” is a complex combination of understandings for your body and mind to coordinate. If things aren’t falling into place after a certain number of attempts, it’s time to take a step back and let things reset. This way, the frustration doesn’t bleed into the myriad other skills you’ll be working on in your time at the gym. That time is precious – best to use it wisely.

Tammy and I have made great strides in our standing back tuck journey. She has even landed a bunch on the floor. Maybe the landings are inconsistent, but there’s video evidence of the progress, so it’s real. These videos are not in order and not on the same day, but it shows how you can train your goal through a variety of apparatus over time. I also added a video of my progression videos. We have been training them together and help each other as much as we can with good observation and feedback.

Tammy’s back tuck progressios
My back tuck progressions.

In truth, there are so many variable factors that affect your training on any given day. Time and training consistency helps to mitigate those variable to a point, but fatigue, changes in the weather, injuries, being in a bad headspace and fear can easily interfere with progress. Sometimes, the highest point of frustration is when you are closest to attaining your skill goal. Pushing yourself too hard, thinking that more is better (it’s not), that’s when mistakes happen and injuries occur. Thus, another mantra that we play on repeat: train smarter not harder. Go somewhere else, train something different, sit in a stretch and give your brain and body the chance to recover from the frustration. There’s always a next time to get up and try again.

And remember – if you’re not having fun, you’re doing it for the wrong reason.

Enjoy part 4!

2 thoughts on “Geriatric Gymnastics 14

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.