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Beth has a compassionate, thoughtful philosophy regarding teaching students of all abilities. Recently, we observed one of Beth’s teaching moments posted in a response to a common scenario coaches have about how to manage children who just don’t seem to listen.
“I have a student who is driving me up a wall! She is constantly interrupting class with chatter. What do you do when you’ve used all the tricks you know and nothing is working??? AAAGH!” ~~Frustrated Coach, Everywhere, USA
Here’s Beth’s masterful answer...
Beth Gardner I think we have all had that kid. Respectfully, it is a matter of taking responsibility for the class, and without trashing her, staying one step ahead of her. Brace yourself before class, put on extra deodorant, drink some coffee, and outsmart her without disrespecting her. The number one thing we want our kids to do is listen to us, respect us, and follow the rules and instruction. It starts with us.
We HAVE to gain respect, and the way to a kid's heart is how you make them feel. Listen to her, repeat the last words of her sentences, then take control of the conversation.
If she refuses to stop talking once you take control, then simply tell her politely, "Susie, I have to get class started or I will get in trouble. I need you to hop on that bar and get started." The words, "I need" are powerful. The next tier goes to, "Susie, I need you to start your station, so, I expect you to get started now." "I expect" is the more definitive statement. The step after that is, "Susie, I love you, and I love hearing all about your stories, but it is disrespectful to ignore my instruction, and I cannot allow disrespect in my class. Please get on your station."
Consistency is the key. Yes, you have to repeat yourself a million times. Yes, it is difficult to respectfully shut a kid down. ...but I will never tell you that it is okay to give up on a kid. I will never tell anybody to treat a kid in their class as if they do not matter or that they are a "pain." Nor will I condone treating her desire to connect with you or her friends as something to be punished. Rather, I will advocate for creative management. When kids start getting ahead of me, it's my signal to speed up and beat them at their own game. I sweat like a race horse during some classes. I collapse at the end of the day. I think most of us who have been in the trenches can relate to your situation...
Remember one thing as you walk onto the floor....that is someone's child. Their most precious person. They honor you by entrusting her to you. Even the most difficult child is someone's baby. It is our job to build humans, not just gymnasts. It is an awesome and sometimes overwhelming responsibility. ...nonetheless, each day you step onto the floor, you will be called on to do just that. Your impact on her life is profound and will have lasting results. You have to choose if those results will be positive or negative. I have dealt with incredibly difficult children over the decades of coaching, as has anyone else who has coached for any length of time. It can be done, you just have to find your shields before class and go in like a warrior to that class, with the intent of winning the battle by outsmarting, outlasting and “out-caring” about the kids.
Start class with a running game so there is no time to talk. Run them until they start asking to rest or get a drink of water.
Create a time during stretch when they get to tell one story. Each kid gets a turn. "I'm sorry, Susie, but right now, it's Jenny's turn to speak. I need you to give her the respect of allowing her to tell HER story." ...after each kid tells their story, "Ok, everyone, save a story for next week, it's time to get on rotations. Let's go."
Use If/then. "If we get our rotation done, then we will have time to talk when we are walking to our next event. So hurry and get it done!" ...."Oops, we are running out of time, and I want to hear about your story when we walk to our next event, so hurry and get your gymnastics done." ...." Oh, mannnnnn....I'm so sorry, guys. You know what? We ran out of time, so we don't have our visiting time left. Maybe next week we can have that time if we get our work done."
"Susie, I need you to look at me with your eyes and listen to my voice. I need you to do that which I have asked because we only have 15 minutes to get it done. Right now is not our visiting time, right now we are doing bars."
You are her coach. She idolizes you. She wants you to like her. She will walk through fire for you if she feels that you are genuinely interested in her as a person. This very well may be a child who has few friends because of her behavior. Help her hone her social skills as much as you help her learn a cartwheel.
You ARE THAT important in her life. YOU can literally change lives. It is powerful. It is impactful. Put on your armor and go into battle with her...but do it with genuine care and consideration. Any coach can coach the easy child, the talented child, the driven child. That doesn't make them a great coach. The mark of a great coach is one who can coach the most difficult child and pull the best from them. Be THAT coach.