In this episode of Conversations With the Geriatric Gymnast, I talk to Michael Morenberg, a long-time friend and coach at Flipper’s Gymnastics. We talk about our community of adult gymnastics: the “Hive Mind,” being a quinquagenarian, spotting and coaching, and the necessity for the gym to be a judgment-free zone.
I’ve known Michael for many, many moons. When I started flipping, he was a once-in-a-while sub who’d come in and coach the adult classes. I’d always marveled at his ability to launch himself, whether on the tumble track, trampoline, vault or floor. He seemed to defy the laws of physics and gravity, and still does to this day. Somehow, he has an effortless way of elevation, giving him endless time to sail in the air and flip over things.
In recent years, since we started training at Flipper’s, I’ve had more connection with Michael; he teaches the Tuesday night class that I sometimes get to when my schedule allows. There’s something nice about taking a class with someone else teaching the class, especially when they have had so many years of experience as a gymnast and as a coach. I have watched Michael, studying both his own personal training and his approach to coaching others. With each class, I gain a little bit more knowledge that I try to take into my next session.
Michael started his gymnastics journey in middle school gym class. They had a gymnastics unit, and in noticing that he had some talent, the teacher would ask him to demonstrate skills to the class and eventually taught him how to spot others. He continued his training through high school, competing for one year in eleventh grade, and once he graduated, he kept gymnastics in his life as a hobby and an activity to help maintain his physical fitness.
Out of those early experiences, Michael learned how to be a gymnastics teacher and coach. Aside from his training in school, he learned much of what he knows as a coach from Joe, who also happened to be my first coach as an adult. Joe accepted adults in his gym (a rarity at the time) and really understood the adult brain and body and how to train it effectively. Michael walked in as a teenager looking for a job, and Joe hired him right away. That relationship helped solidify his lifelong relationship with training and coaching gymnastics, and continued it through college and beyond.
The hive mind
Michael has continued Joe’s tradition of teaching gymnastics to adults. On Tuesday nights, he leads the adult class that Tammy and I frequent, and he values the same “hive mind” mentality that I have all these years.
I’m responsible for making sure the lights are locked and the gym is locked, but we’re all adults and we work together to teach each other, to observe, because part of teaching gymnastics is observation. We all observe each other and give tips. We work as a team, together.
That “hive mind” peer mentoring is how I learned what I know over the last 15 years. The people who I trained with kept an eye on me, offered advice, corrections, and challenges, and gave me the support and courage to keep trying when I got frustrated. Every person had their strengths and weaknesses, and the most valuable coaching came from them. They reinforced what I was doing right, probably kept me from killing myself from doing something stupid, and gave me the barometer for understanding how to work within my limitations.
The best part of coaching adults, of course, is seeing them progress. That progression is usually the result of multiple minds all collaborating to help others get to the next skill goal. One will see something that another may miss, because they are focusing on a completely different facet of the skill. Advice one person might offer may not resonate with a gymnast, but a different perspective from some one else will.
For the most part, adult gymnasts fall into two categories: people who are coming back to the sport after giving it up as a child, and people who are brand new and looking for a new fitness activity. Everyone is at a different skill level, therefore everyone has different goals. Working with adult gymnasts has so many extra layers of challenge, just because we have decades of life experience that young people just don’t have yet. And while good coaching technique translates to any age, there are some ideas that really need to come through for the elder flippers.
The most important mindset for coaches: Know what your gymnast’s needs are and what they want to accomplish. Our job as their coach is to help them reach their goals, through proper progressions and safe training. We must observe them carefully, talk to them, sometimes talk them off the ledge, and keep in mind any hesitancy they might have when approaching their training. Our goal is to provide them a safe and fun experience so that they come back week after week!
Michael’s coaching tips
- Set your goal, no matter how small. Work towards it, even if it’s incremental, then set a second goal. Keep working at it, don’t get frustrated.
- Never bail out of a move. Start the move, finish the move, even if you don’t think you’re going to make it. That’s why you have your spotter.
- Know your limitations. A healthy gymnast is a smart one. We keep the possibilities open, but we know when to say when. Knowing your limitations means you can come back to train next week. As coaches, we need to understand our students’ limitations and keep them training in ways they are actually ready to do.
- The only competition is yourself. Don’t worry about what others can do. They’re not you. You do you.
- Falling is okay. That’s what the squishy mats and bouncy surfaces are there for. Relish the process of falling, getting back up and trying again. It’s okay to laugh at yourself. In the gym, there is no reason to be embarrassed. You’re lying there, splayed on the ground, arms and legs are flailed all over the place. It’s like another badge of honor: I did it, I’m not hurt, and I’m gonna get back up and do it again and do my best to land on my feet. I’ve never laughed harder than when I botch a landing.
- No judgement in the gym. Ever. We all deserve to be there, working on the next greatest thing we’ve ever done.
- Proudly post your stuff on social media. We need to show everyone this special thing that we do. If we don’t show them, how would they ever know?
- Shout your age from the rooftop! Need I say more?
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Speaking of age, Michael brought a new word to my consciousness: we are quinguagenarians (people in their 50s).
Our peers, for the most part, can’t do what we do. They have other things they can do that we cannot. But this is something that we do that is pretty special.
The aging process is tough, even for those of us who are in good shape. Our metabolism slows down, weight is hard to keep under control, our flexibility and strength is harder to maintain. The fact that we are in our 50s and flipping like teenagers is like having a rare badge of honor that we wear proudly.
Between the quinquagenarians in our class, a week doesn’t go by where one of us doesn’t mention our age. In a social situation other than the gym, I’d never ask somebody “how old are you?” But in the gym, I always ask. And I always announce it as well. It’s a badge of honor and I think people should feel that way when they come to the gym.
Us quinquags watch the 20-30 somethings, and we have to remember that we are all in a different place regarding our training.
I’m not competing against any of them. The only person I’m competing with is myself. Am I able to maintain the skillset that I’m comfortable with, to keep myself safe? Am I able to keep the gymnasts that I work with safe?
Michael identified a few specific challenges that he has to manage in the gym at his age:
- I’ve lost my flexibility. I’m really trying hard to get that back. I hear you, Mike. Me too.
- My spatial awareness is very good except I get motion sickness when I start to rotate in two directions. Basically, doing any twisting flips is a hard no for Michael.
- Past injuries. Michael has had two injuries in his life, both were not gymnastics related. But one has been haunting him since he got hurt; A separated clavicle that wasn’t properly treated for an athlete, so range of motion activity becomes very painful.
The rewards of gymnastics
Michael and I agree: even though progress is never linear, when we do see progress, either in ourselves or our fellow gymnasts, it feels so good. But progress isn’t the only reward.
As adults who are, well, adulting, it is sometimes hard to get ourselves in the car at 7 p.m. to go work out for 90 minutes. We are tired, hungry, distracted, and it would be easier to just stay at home and park ourselves on the couch. But once we get ourselves to the gym and start stretching, bouncing, standing on our hands and flipping, we just don’t want to leave. For 90 minutes, we are fulfilling childhood fantasies of Olympic feats. We breathe deeply. We face our fears and conquer some of them. We come home happy and satisfied that we chose ourselves.
Read some more GG thoughts about Gymnastics and Play
I’ve talked about the social aspect of gymnastics, the community that we build at the gym. We may all be from different walks of life, but when we walk in the gym, we all have the same goal: do something amazing today. As a community, we celebrate each other just as much as we celebrate ourselves. It’s kind of like a big party, once a week.
I am so grateful for my adult gymnastics community. Thanks to Michael and the adult cult who come back every week for more flippy fun!
Click on the YouTube link to hear about our community of adult gymnastics: “Hive Mind,” being a quinquagenarian, spotting and coaching, and the necessity for the gym to be a judgment-free zone.
2 thoughts on “Geriatric Gymnastics 18”
Quinguagenarian! Such a great word! Thank you Michael, for all the support and bonus vocabulary lessons!
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