A Coach’s Role in a Young Athlete’s Life with Chellsie Memmel
From the early days of “flipping around and playing in the gym,” to the years of pushing to new heights against the best in the world, Chellsie Memmel has always been drawn to the sport of gymnastics, but these days, it’s as a coach.
Memmel, 2008 Olympic silver medalist in gymnastics and 2005 World all-around champion, grew up in a family of gymnasts. Both of her parents competed at the collegiate level and they later opened a gym, M&M Gymnastics, where Memmel’s love for the sport first developed and where she now supports the next generation of athletes as a coach.
After just missing the cut for the 2004 Olympic team, the self-described “very competitive person” switched clubs to begin training with her father as her coach.
“I had been through it all,” explains Memmel. “I knew the process to get to the Olympics, and my dad is just an incredible motivator. We also have similar personalities, which worked well in the gym. That’s so huge to have in a sport like gymnastics, where you’re constantly trying to learn something.”
In today’s youth sport culture, it can be hard for an athlete to fathom the thought of having their parent as a coach. But, for Memmel, having her dad by her side was exactly the dynamic she needed to compete at her best.
“It was really so much teamwork. We never really brought home the bad days. He knew everything that happened at the gym because he was my coach, but at home he’s my dad, so if it was a bad day, we just left that there. The big rule was: gym at gym, home at home.”
That focus on balance and Memmel’s overall wellbeing was also reflected in her dad’s behavior on competition day.
“At competitions, my dad would tell me, ‘Have fun. I’ll see you at the finish line.’ It was more about the experience and taking it all in.”
The coaching switch and accompanying philosophy seemed to have been exactly what Memmel needed, as 2005 turned out to be a breakout year for her performance – one that she’ll never forget.
“One of my favorite memories was after 2005 Worlds. After I made my floor routine, my dad said to me, ‘Thank you for taking me on this journey. It was so cool to be on the floor and watch the routine as your dad.’”
In addition to mastering new skills and enjoying the experience as an elite gymnast with her dad by her side, Memmel learned how important a coach is for an athlete.
“Gymnastics is my life, but there’s so many different aspects to it. My dad always wanted to see me succeed in the world, and that’s what I imagine all coaches should want for their athletes – to find success in the world.”
Now, as both a coach and a parent raising her children in the gym, Memmel recognizes more than ever that coaching isn’t just about finding success in sport.
“A coach’s role is huge. Coaches spend so much time with the kids and athletes – sometimes more than parents, depending on how intense they are in their training. But coaches don’t just shape the person in the sport…as a coach, they’re helping shape them as an individual. That’s why athletes need a coach who is invested in their overall development, because they’re not going to be in the sport forever.”
“As coaches, we’re trying to build strong individuals, not just strong athletes. I want to instill a good work ethic, because that can be taken out of gymnastics. They’re only going to be in a sport a short amount of time, but if they know how to work hard, they will be able to achieve anything.”