Wendy and I coached together a few years back at Redwood Empire Gymnastics in Petaluma, California. She agreed to model for me and therefore is the “real Coach Wendy” in my children’s book, Gymnastics Day with Silly Sammy. Being a competitive gymnast for 13 years and a coach since she was 16, and now the mother of a child attending gymnastics classes, Wendy has a lot of valuable insights, experiences, and wisdom to share with us from the different viewpoints of being involved with gymnastics.
How and at what age did you get involved with gymnastics?
I clearly remember at age nine noticing some girls doing gymnastics on the school football field and I was really excited by what I saw. That, plus seeing gymnastics on television, especially my favorite gymnast, Shannon Miller, got me motivated to want to try a gymnastics class. One friend of mine was doing a summer class once a week at Redwood Empire Gymnastics. Another friend taught me how to do a pull over, and I learned how to do it pretty easily, so I asked my dad if I could try the summer class too. He agreed to not only let me enroll in a gymnastics class once a week, but twice a week and I was thrilled! It was fabulous. I was in love with it right away. I started my classes and never gave it up!
At what point did you start competing, and for how long?
I pushed through the recreational program and got to the team level in one year at the age of ten. During that first year, I had always hoped I’d be noticed as one of the special ones who they asked to join the developmental team, but that wasn’t me. I had to work all the way through the recreational program and badger my coaches with ‘look at me, look at me!’ But I always knew what I wanted and my positive thinking and persistence really made a difference for me. I got a later start than many other gymnasts. When I was older I sometimes wished I had started gymnastics at an earlier age. I attended a Division Two college but felt it wasn’t the right gymnastics program for me so I didn’t stay for long. It would have been nice to get on a Division One college team. If I had been a better gymnast and had more options, I might have had a better college experience. Plus, there are way cooler skills to do when you’re a better gymnast. But I’m grateful for the experiences and opportunities I did have. While still attending college, I went back to my home gym, Santa Rosa Gymnastics, and competed as a Level Ten until I was twenty-three.
How did participating in gymnastics contribute to your personal development? What were some of the greatest lessons and benefits for you?
Pushing through fears and hard times, then getting back up and trying again when I failed developed my resilience. It’s something I still struggle with as an adult at times. I can always look back on my gymnastics years and say, ‘Remember when it was like this, or remember what you had to do to get back up there. Don’t give up. It will get better.’ I also learned social skills, how to be a supportive team member, and how to get along and work with different personalities that I didn’t necessarily mesh with. That is an important skill to have in my adult life too.
What kind of importance do you place on the gymnastics/coach relationship? What relationship did you have with your coaches?
First of all, I think it’s really important to connect with your coach. It’s a safe zone for a gymnast. A coach is going to be a mentor, a driving force, and sometimes a parent figure because you spend so many hours in the gym. So it’s important to bond with them. And it’s really important to have a good role model. Some of my coaches I’ve had, like Darcy Fellows, owner of Santa Rosa Gymnastics, are still in my life. I still go up to her gym. I sub for her. She held my bridal and baby showers. She’s a huge influence in my life. If you don’t have the right person there leading you in the right direction, it can be a pretty negative experience. And trust is another crucial factor. With all the spotting you do as a coach, a gymnast must trust you and have faith in you. I have occasionally observed situations where a gymnast will question their coach because they think they can do it better or they think they’re telling them the wrong thing. It can be very hard to move forward when that is going on.
Did you ever aspire to become a gymnastics coach while you were a younger gymnast?
No, as a young gymnast I was never interested in a coaching career. I thought I wanted to do my gymnastics and then I’d be done. But then when I was sixteen, I tried coaching and quickly realized that I really enjoyed it and wanted to continue. So I coached through my competitive years. When I was done competing I felt that transition to wanting to be able to connect the dots for young gymnasts.
What do you love most about being a coach?
When I stopped competing and was only coaching, I realized that now I’d get to put their skills together, look down the line, and see what they’d need three years from now. And even though I couldn’t do the big skills, I could still see them in my mind and think about them. In college, my under graduate degree was in Exercise Science Kinesiology. I just really like the bio mechanics of the body and figuring out how things move and the physics of movement. I enjoy thinking about how the skills are going to work. And then the coolest thing is when a student can’t get a skill and then you come in with these bits of information and all of a sudden they can figure it out. It’s like magic! It’s still a lot of fun and hard to give up. I connect with it on such a deep level. When I was a child, my parents divorced. Gymnastics was a positive thing that was there for me to focus on. That was an identity for me.
If a parent were considering having their child try gymnastics, how would you advise them?
I’m actually thinking about that right now because my own daughter is fifteen months old and she has so much energy and already has a lot of physical talent. My husband and I asked ourselves, ‘if we got her involved in gymnastics, would that be her life’s passion too?’ Then there’s the parental fear of all the potential dangers of gymnastics because it’s a rough sport. What I’ve concluded is that there are so many benefits of kinder-gymnastics, I think it’s great for every young child. It helps with balance and hand-eye coordination, and gives kids proprioceptive/neurological input so they know where their body is in space, plus social skills like listening and staying in line. If they start there, they can learn the basics and it will help them in any sport or any direction they want to go later in life.
What do you think are the best benefits gymnastics classes can offer to a student of any skill level?
It’s a really big step to figuring out who you are on a physical level. What your abilities are, what your fears are and how to push through them, what your limits are and just learning about your body. And it’s fun! Play is huge for kids. I don’t think we let our kids play enough anymore.
You’re currently coaching part time. What is your other profession and what goals do you have with that?
I’m a chiropractor. My ultimate goal is to blend the two things together. I’d like to go in the direction of family/sports chiropractic because I want to work with athletes and young adults who are really involved with sports and know their body better. I think people are really becoming aware of how much chiropractic care can help with their athletics. I’m really excited about that!
Have you taken your daughter to gymnastics class yet? How does she like it?
Yes! I’ve brought my daughter to the gym where I worked, and my home gym and she’s already experienced with the trampoline, beam, leotard, and coaches. And today was the first day where we brought her to an actual class and she had so much fun. We brought her to Cal Star Gymnastics in Novato, where classes are free for children eighteen months or younger, which is great! It was cool for her to experience other kids on the floor and a different coach besides me. She already loves it. If she ends up on team someday, I’m already going to be in the gym watching her, so I may as well still be coaching!
Wendy Staples Hicks is currently a chiropractor working at Colaizzi Chiropractic in Petaluma, California. If you'd like to check out Wendy's website you can see it at http://drwendystapleshicks.weebly.com/
Thanks for your wisdom, Wendy. Best of luck to you in your gymnastics, chiropractic, and family adventures!