Monday, December 12, 2011

Know a Coach--Vanessa Atler

I know that all of my Know a Coach segments in the past have been about current elite coaches. However, Vanessa was kind enough to take time out of her day to talk to me about her careers both as an athlete and as the team coach at Gymnastics Unlimited, and her thoughts and ideas are so refreshing that I think she's perfect for this. So the format is a little different, but I'd like to hit a few little tid bits of our conversation.

1.) Vanessa believes strongly in putting the mental and physical well-being of her athletes ahead of progression, although she values hard work and focus, too.

2.) She choreographs all of her girls' floor routines herself. Although they are free to bring in their own choreographers, they've all trusted her.

3.) The staff page on Gymnastics Unlimited lists her favorite events as "the Balance Beam and Uneven Bars". With a laugh, she said that that is totally untrue and was just a simple mistake, and her favorites are actually floor and vault. Floor is her favorite to coach.

4.) She got her start coaching just a few years after the 2000 Olympics, leading recreational and Mommy & Me classes.

5.) She gets more nervous at competitions than her girls do. She coaches levels 4-9, and says that, "It's just nerve-wracking for me the entire time. That's all I am is nervous. And it's one of the things I struggle with as a coach, because you know the kids, they really want to see you calm and that's what I wanted to see in my coaches. I get so nervous for them! I don't know what it is. I mean, it can be a level four competition and I'm just like, 'Please do what you do at practice!' That's all I'm thinking. And I just want them to be happy and do well."

6.) She loves coaching athletes with positive attitudes, and believes that coaching plays a huge role in developing an athlete's mental strength and outlook.

7.) If she could claim credit for coaching one current elite, she says she'd choose, "Shawn Johnson, just because she's so, I think, grounded and probably mentally--at least the things she says to kids and media-- very grown-up and very mature, and [she's] just a great role model. And I think besides her gymnastics, which is probably my favorite just by how she tumbles, and just the way that she does her stuff, I love that she looks happy out there."

8.) She likes watching videos and montages of her competitions on Youtube, and has watched even the tougher ones many times.

9.) She has definite opinions on how things are run and who should take over when/if Martha retires.

10.) She has many fond memories of her competitive days, and now has an adult perspective on the hard times at the end of her career. She blames no one, and wants to be remembered as a good person and a gifted athlete who was a National Champion and a Goodwill Games winner; not as the girl who didn't make the Olympics. She no longer sees herself that way, and wants to help make positive changes to the sport.

So that's a very small taste of what we talked about. I'm working on a full-length article, but I thought you might enjoy a sampling of where Vanessa is and what she's up to. She could not have been more gracious or open and honest, and I really enjoyed listening to her tell her story. Once I have the full article written, I'll let you know where you can read it. :)

Merry Christmas, all!

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