Getting to know Greta Leach

Greta was a solid and consistent balance beam competitor, as shown here when she competed for San Jose State University.

Greta was a solid and consistent balance beam competitor, as shown here when she competed for San Jose State University.

At what age and how did you get involved with gymnastics?

Well, I don't actually remember this but I was told that when I was 3 years old I was at the beach with my family. My mom did a cartwheel on the beach. Even though I'd never seen a cartwheel or done one before, I was able to copy her and do a really good cartwheel. So my mom decided that she'd sign me up for gymnastics classes. I started at a club in Santa Rosa and when that gym shut down I ended up going to Rohnert Park Gymnastics. I began competing there at the age of 8 and later competed at San Jose State University until I was 23.

How do you feel gymnastics impacted your personal development?

I definitely learned how to work hard and get stuff done at a young age and be more mature than probably most kids my age. I also had some anxiety and had a really hard time in school with that. But when I got to the gym I didn't feel that anxiety because it was kind of like my safe place.

When did you begin your coaching career?

I never actually thought that I was going to be a coach. I had a business degree and was about to graduate college but really had no idea what I was going to do with myself. Then one of my college teammates who had coached a couple of summers at International Gymnastics Camp in Pennsylvania had suggested to me that I should try that, too. I told myself that I could go do that for 3 months and then I'd figure out my life. Once I did the camp I discovered that although it was exhausting work, it was also really fun at the same time. For most of those kids, that was the best week of their life. When camp was over and I was about to leave the owner of the camp told me that he had a good friend who owned a gym in San Francisco and that I should go and check it out. At that point I had no life plan yet so when I got home I decided to drive down to the city and look at the gym. I hadn't planned on talking to anyone. I walked in and watched for a little bit and as I was leaving the owner, Eric Van Der Meer, noticed me and introduced himself. I told him that I had just gotten back from working at International Gymnastics Camp and the owner there had told me about his gym. Because Eric knew the owners of IGC so well, he asked me right then and there if I was interested in a coaching job. I eventually took him up on the offer and I've been working for the Van Der Meer’s for the last 10 years, first at San Francisco Gymnastics, then at Redwood Empire Gymnastics.

What value do you place on the gymnast/coach relationship?

Coming from the relationship with my coaches growing up, my teammates and I were sometimes scared of our coach so we weren't really buddies, although we are now. It's funny, looking back at some of the things I thought were horrible when I was a kid and that I got so upset about, I find myself now doing or saying something similar to what my coach used to say to me and it's not mean at all. It's just that kids take stuff differently sometimes. So I realized that looking back at my experience. But I think it's a lot different now, especially with some of the stress that the teenagers are under. I think it's a lot so I try to be there for them and understand when they're having a stressful day. You get to know the kids so well, in particular the team kids. We spend so much time in the gym together. I think I see them more than their parents do. I've learned how to read each gymnast individually so I don't coach all the kids the same way (as far as what works for certain kids versus what works for other kids). And it's the same thing when I'm getting them to do their skills, either mentally or physically, knowing when to push and when to back off. I feel like I try to coach them in a positive way, which wasn’t always the case when I was growing up. It was more like “you have to do this now whether you're scared or not”. I don't do that. I feel like if they're ready, they're ready, and if they're not we'll just keep going a little slower. If you tell a gymnast to do something that they're not ready to do and then they end up getting hurt, they'll be much less likely to want to do whatever you're telling them to do the next time. But if you work with them and do the right progress and they see that if what you're asking them to do or what you're helping them do is really improving their skills mentally or physically, then they're much more likely to trust you for the next time.

What are the most consistent benefits you see that gymnastics offers to your students?

Being responsible at a young age and learning how to manage their time with so much going on with gymnastics, homework, and what not. Also I think something that's really important for them to learn how to deal with is a little bit of disappointment because that's going to happen in life. When they get disappointed they can learn how to overcome it and that can help them be a little stronger and better able to deal with their future.

What is the main message you want your students to walk away with that they can ultimately apply to their personal lives?

I want them to know that once they're a gymnast, they'll always be a gymnast and it will forever be a part of them. The friendships they make will likely be their closest ones and will last for years to come. That’s what happened to me and my teammates. I want them to enjoy doing gymnastics while they can, even though it can be very hard in the moment at times, because it's really a very small window of time that they'll be able to compete at the level they're at. My last year of competitive gymnastics in college was very challenging because I was dealing with overcoming injuries. I knew that it would be my last year so instead of being frustrated with my limitations, I tried to focus on enjoying the rest of my gymnastics career.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and coaching wisdom with us, Greta! We wish you many more successful years and learning experiences in the gym with your students. Redwood Empire Gymnastics is lucky to have you!