Being a good gymnast doesn’t automatically mean that a person will be a good coach. What are the qualities a good coach should have?
You have to love what you’re doing. Here I am, in my late 50’s. What keeps me going? Why do I still love coaching? It’s because I enjoy that feeling of seeing kids accomplish things, and of seeing kids feel better about themselves. It makes me feel better about myself to see that in kids. It’s so interesting that I’m saying this because whenever I would ask my coaches as part of our training or our interviewing process when they were up for a raise, what they loved about coaching, everyone would say the same thing, ‘Because I love seeing the smile on a child’s face when they learn something new.’ That’s the simple version of all the things that they got out of it. And we all get that out of the kids that we work with, so knowing that you’re going to have another day to give that experience to kids is really exciting and you feel like you’re contributing something positive to the world. When I was growing up, I’d ask myself what I was going to contribute. Then when I started to figure out what I had to give, I found a way to give it. In my case, I was just really fortunate that it actually has allowed me to live here in California and pay my bills. What a blessing that is!
You have also been teaching Kid Power safety awareness classes to children in local elementary schools for years. Can you tell me how and why you got involved in that, and what that program offers to children?
I’ve been teaching Kid Power since 1989. I first got involved with women’s self-defense because I had a girlfriend years ago who took a women’s self-defense class. They were doing this really cool thing where women were finding out that they were powerful inside and it was using self-defense as the modality. But what was coming out of that was they were feeling empowered and mostly it manifested as empowerment to ask for that raise, or tell somebody to stop bothering them, or asserting themselves and setting their own boundaries. Things that they didn’t know they could do before. So it was empowering them to live more freely. They weren’t limiting themselves by circumstances. I thought that was a great thing so I got trained in it and started teaching that. Then I kept thinking we should be doing this for kids, but the emotional content of a women’s self-defense class, which was teaching rape prevention, etc., was inappropriate for kids. Then I found Kid Power, a program that was emotionally appropriate for kids and it was accomplishing those same things. Giving kids that sense of empowerment. And for kids, it’s so much faster and easier because they’re not recovering from an episode that happened to them already, for the most part. They get that empowerment piece really fast. I also felt like gymnastics is empowering for all the things we talked about, but all of this empowerment with gymnastics isn’t going to be able to come to full fruition if they don’t feel safe in the world. I felt like I really needed to be doing this for kids too. That’s what inspired me to do it and that’s the very reason I continue to teach Kid Power today. I want kids to feel free in the world and have that confidence inside to accomplish what they want to accomplish.
You now own Flying Angels Gymnastics. Please tell me what you offer to your students and what goals you have for the future.
Flying Angels Gymnastics is about all those things we talked about. It’s about giving kids that good start, especially preschoolers, because that’s the majority of who I teach, but also elementary school kids who are maybe never going to go into a gym. The thing that’s different about Flying Angels Gymnastics that’s somewhat different than working for a gymnastics club, like I did for so many years is that it’s bringing it to a population that may never walk into a gym. In fact, my experience has been that the majority of kids have not been in a gymnastics club except for maybe a birthday party or something. They’re not going to take lessons, their parents can’t drive them or they don’t have the money. So I’ve been able to create an option for kids to get a glimpse of what’s possible. Some of the kids may be inspired to go join a gym, and maybe others may have a feeling of ‘Wow, this is pretty exciting and maybe I could learn something.’ If they don’t ever get the opportunity to be exposed to gymnastics lessons and they try to practice their cartwheels, rolls, or handstands out on the playground, they’ll have no clue of how to do these skills. If I can give them a little basic foundation for being able to do them, then they can join in with that kind of activity and have fun and get a glimmer of that experience that I’m trying to expose kids to, that builds their confidence and maybe do what some other kids are doing. I try to bring it to the preschools so their parents who aren’t able to, don’t have to bring them to a gym if they’re working schedule interferes or they can’t afford it. I try to make it affordable and available. If the kids can’t come to you, bring gymnastics to where they are. My goals are to continue to grow it and eventually to the point where I’m maybe not on the floor so much as my body tells me I need to move away. Then I would just focus on the business and keep that going. I’d like to have a number of teachers teaching and trying to continue to do what I feel so passionate about out in the world so that it continues to be out there. We started with one school and now I have over 30 schools that we go out to. I just want to keep it in place because that’s 30 schools that for the most part never had anything like that. They might have had another sport with enrichment programs becoming more popular now, but to me, gymnastics offers that range of developmental movement that fits with a child’s growth that makes them more able to do whatever they want. That’s why I haven’t diversified out of gymnastics. It seems to be such a range of movement modalities that address all these different and very important things for kid’s bodies.
Thank you, Steve for sharing so much of your knowledge, wisdom and experience with us. You’ve touched thousands of children’s lives throughout the 35 years you’ve been coaching gymnastics and 27 years of running Kid Power classes. We’re all very grateful to have you in our communities! Here’s to your continued success!
Steve now owns and operates Flying Angels Gymnastics, a mobile gymnastics program that brings gymnastics into preschools and elementary schools throughout Sonoma and Marin Counties. Steve is also the Nothbay Kid Power Director, a program which offers safety and empowerment skills to children and families in the Sonoma and Marin county areas. If you’re interested in either of these programs coming to your school, please contact Steve Sassone at www.flyingangelsgymnastics.com or text him at 707 953-2524.