Mas Watanabe: Yes, I enjoy working with girls that I have right now. I have four, only four but each of the gymnasts seems to have a different quality. For instance, one gymnast is extremely good in air awareness and she strives for that. A couple of the gymnasts are more powerful and quickness is extremely good. Another gymnast is very weak in shoulders however has tremendous leg power and also very good in plyometric type of power. Another one seems to have good coordination of the skill. Each gymnast has different qualities but yet they feed off from each other. So if I have only one gymnast working with me, probably it would be very difficult for her to learn moves fast or develop quickly. Where as you work with a group of gymnasts, they could interact with each other and also they can feed off from each other. That’s what makes the whole group to develop so much faster. I can see that this is happening on a daily basis with my group.
GS: Do you feel like you need to do anything to make that happen?
Mas Watanabe: No, I don’t, I think it’s more a matter of creating a positive atmosphere in the gym. They need to have fun in training and enjoy themselves while they are there. I help them create a very positive environment with positive reinforcement so you actually lift the kids by commending them more on their strength and strong areas. So that once you commend one individual, then the other kids would try to achieve the same level of skills or put more effort to reach that level so that they will receive the same reward from the coach. I mean I’m not really looking for it but they naturally seem to do that, try to reach themselves, push themselves to the same level.
GS: In that same skill?
Mas Watanabe: Yes, in that same skill. So they feel that I’m as good. So you know that’s the natural desire they have.
GS: So if one’s getting very good at twisting and the other two aren’t, when they hear you say, “Wow, that was really good”, they want to be able to improve their twisting and hear you say “Wow, that was really good.”
Mas Watanabe: Yes and at that level. That’s why they will achieve so much and so quickly. So I think the important thing for my role is to create that positive environment and help them make it fun then they will actually push each other and compete with each other. They literally have little friendly competitions amongst themselves. So that generally creates a very fun atmosphere for them, even the skill level doesn’t matter sometimes. It’s almost a little game you are developing, or creating. So they enjoy doing that. Sometimes I found that they would improve quicker with these little competitions among themselves. Especially when you are working with the younger gymnasts, I think this is very critical. Positive reinforcement will take them so much further with less effort. Of course I have seen some of the negative or I would say demanding type of coaching methodology and I also see the benefit of it. But the method that putting the lots of pressure on the kids to teach the skills also would have a detrimental effect as well. So I would prefer, especially with the young ones, a more positive approach.
Mas Watanabe: Right. That is much more fun for coaches also and much more fun for the gymnasts as well. Obviously as we know, you cannot do that all the time, in order to improve in sports. So you have to tighten up certain areas. When you demand a certain quality of work that the gymnasts sometimes don’t like to do, but you have to push them so that they will do it. That is a very delicate balance. In those times, if they make any changes, you need to make sure to recognize it and you commend them a little bit more for their effort. That will tends to lift them up a little. Then you can push them more that are a little bit harder. If you have a good balance with it, they will tend to improve faster. That is what I think is the art of coaching. I think that’s why that some coaches are better than others because they are aware of that balance, that very fine balance.
GS: Filming yesterday was a lot of fun because you could just see, especially with the younger gymnasts, they were working at close to their limit on some of the skills on the strap bar.
Mas Watanabe: Yes, they surprise me every day and you never underestimate their ability. Sometimes I feel they are not ready but yet sometimes they surprise you, or surprise me what they do. By putting them in a certain environment, for instance, they are being videotaped and they are demonstrating for the camera, that puts them in a very special circumstance, a special environment. Then they go beyond what they think they can do. It was a great surprise for me to see when Courteney did a three Stalters in a row, which she never had been able to do that before. I was very impressed and very, very happy to see that.
GS: It was obvious she was at the very edge, just inside that edge of her ability.
Mas Watanabe: Right, exactly. But she was willing to go for it, to push herself to her limit and stay within that edge. If she was not in that circumstance, trying to push herself to go for the second one, and go for the third one, which is extremely difficult thing to do.
GS: Or even Cari with the Clear hip circles, you could see her working to the edge of her ability or Marissa on the Endo Shoot.
Mas Watanabe: Yes, right, and I think that’s how you can make big jumps and progress sometimes. Then once you do it, once you go over that limit, then realize, â€˜Oh, wow, I’m capable of doing it’. So, the second time around it becomes a lot easier. The hardest time is the very first time to push past what you believe is your limitation. But you do it once, then you can do it the second time, the third time, and pretty soon it becomes normal. That’s how a lot of times how we progress. So it is exciting to see that.
GS: Yes that is exciting! So when we are looking at that group dynamic, it’s not just in reference to the physical skills though, you’re talking about the personalities too.
Mas Watanabe: That’s right.
GS: Where you have one athlete that you can tell really wants to be good and maybe another athlete that’s a little bit more subtle.
Mas Watanabe: Right, and I think sometimes those personality traits and characteristics come, in some kids, come up in front. Some show more competitiveness in training, while some kids take more turns simply because she wants to do more or simply she wants to go higher. Some kids are subtle but they are internally very competitive. So when she goes, she goes really all out and shows the greater dynamics sometimes. Of course you know, sometimes the gymnasts are not as aggressive. Some gymnasts are not as aggressive but she would come out of her shell simply just because the rest of the group are doing more things and going harder and taking more turns. That pulls her up to that level. So naturally the other kids would push her to stay in that group dynamic.
GS: Where she wouldn’t be able to do that by herself?
Mas Watanabe: Right.
GS: Or at lease it would be much harder.
Mas Watanabe: It would be much harder. I just feel very fortunate to have four different types of gymnasts that have different strengths so that the group dynamics actually brings the whole group up faster.
GS: They’re moving in harmony.
Mas Watanabe: Right, exactly. That’s why I said you need to create an environment where it is very positive, fun and very energetic. You need to create these basic environment. Then kids would really enjoy being there, working hard, and naturally those areas of strength will come out and gel together to move the group along faster.