Rick McCharles — originally from Altadore Gymnastics Club in Calgary, Canada, is an enthusiast dedicated to the sport and activity of gymnastics. He has run Adult Recreation classes for over 25 years. He’s the editor of two popular gymnastics coaching sites: GymnasticsCoaching.com and RecGymnastics.com
Masters Gymnastics: Do you set a limit on enrollment for the adult class? Or does it depend on the ability levels of the athletes?
Rick McCharles: I like best “drop-in” Adult gymnastics. The more participants, the better, limited only by the capacity of the gym.
MG: Since you do an open gym format do people just mix in with team or classes on other events? How does the rotation schedule accommodate the adults?
RM: If I am in charge, there is never any overlap between Adult and youth classes. Typically age group kids finish by 8:30pm … so Adult drop-in starts at 8:30pm.
MG: How long are your classes and how many days per week?
RM: ince 1975, at Altadore Gymnastics in Calgary, Canada, we’ve offered two classes / week, 9 months of the year (not June-Aug). Normally we keep the gym open for 90min, but right now the Adults have up to 2hrs on Tuesday & Thursday nights.
MG: Do you have a formal structured warm up?
RM: We ‘required’ all adults join in a 15min warm-up led by a staff coach. Some stretch longer on their own. (A few try to avoid the warm-up.)
MG: Do you have conditioning and flexibility at the beginning or end of the workout?
RM: My personal preference is to call in all adults 30min before the end of open gym. I lead them in a strength / power conditioning program appropriate to all. For the last few minutes we clean the gym and set-up for next day. A ‘warm-down’ stretch on your own end of workout is all I typically request.
MG: What coach/gymnast ratio do you recommend for an adult class?
RM: Often we have only 1 very experienced, very trustworthy coach supervising the entire gym. Normally he’s assisted by another staff person collecting drop-in fees. On a busy night, we might ask a second coach (who happens to be there) if we can pay them to assist.
MG: What ability level should the coach be able to coach to in an adult class?
Very few coaches have the experience, confidence and gravitas to supervise open gym. It’s a special skill set. The coach needs almost a supernatural prescience to predict when one activity or another might get out-of-hand. You need a GREAT coach, otherwise I’d recommend not offering drop-in.
MG: What payment structure do you think is most profitable for adult programs? Monthly payment, punch cards, drop in schedule, sessions?
RM: For each market there will be a most profitable’ price point. For me, that’s not necessarily the goal. I want to keep as many adults happy as possible. Keep the ‘buzz’ about the program positive. Young adults should consider the program ‘cool’. For decades one night drop-in was $5. Fast. Easy. No big ‘float’ required. (Altadore was very popular in the years when other gyms were charging $10 drop-in.) … Sadly my old gym has now upped the price to $7/night
MG: With so many different levels in an adult class, how to you structure the workout?
RM: The best thing about offering ‘drop-in’ is that no structuring ability levels is needed. In the few gyms I’ve coaches that offer ‘classes’, ability level has been an issue. The most advanced adults sometimes feel limited by the less skilled.
MG: Do you rotate in a certain order to events? Or do you let people have an open gym type of workout at some point?
RM: Even in the class setting, I’d recommend some ‘open’ time as each adult is there for their own reasons. Perhaps 15min of the 90min class.
MG: How to you deal with overly-confident adult gymnasts? e.g. the ones who haven’t done anything in a long time but are sure they can still “throw” a skill or beginner who just want to “try” a back flip without learning the basics?
RM: Best practice is to go personally coach the adults that make you nervous. That works for me. Worst case, you must STOP dangerous drills. (Double forward somersaults into the pit, ‘gainer’ backward somersaults, etc.)
MG: How do you incorporate (or not) athletes who only want to use the gym for parkour, break dancing or circus skills and are not interested in instruction or traditional gymnastics? Do you have separate classes for them?
RM: Each discipline has much to learn from the others. For me that’s one of the best things about drop-in. The variety.
MG: Do you allow younger gymnasts to transition into the adult program when they are done with their competitive level careers? If so at what age?
RM: The ‘magic age’ for me is 16. If you are old enough to drive a car, you should be responsible enough to train independently. A personal goal of mine is to keep athletes training until at least age-16. At that point I’ll happily encourage them to transition to Trampoline sports, Cheer, Coaching, Judging and ‘adult rec’.
MG: How often do you hold masters meets?
RM: Sadly my club has only hosted such an event once or twice.
MG: Which code/rules do you use for the masters meet?
RM: BC Gymnastics has a set of rules with several ability levels.
MG: How do you make masters meets fun and different from traditional meets?
RM: They are always fun in my experience. But best practice is not to emphasize the results too much. Provide FUN awards. Integrate costumes and contests.
MG: Do you recommend including masters competitors into a traditional gymnastics meet or is it better to separate them? What about at big meets like Wild Rose?
RM: I’ve never attended a Masters meet included in an age group competition. (Probably because it’s too embarrassing for the adults.)
MG: How do you prepare your adults for masters meets? Do you have a recommended preparation schedule?
RM: Nope. We’ve done very little ‘training to compete’. My last meet was in Australia. I went to videotape and take photos. Nonsense, I was told. If I wanted to stay in the gym I had to compete. … After a quick warm-up, I showed 4 different routines!
MG: A lot of gyms think that having adults is more trouble than it’s worth (adults are inconsistent with attendance, their individual goals/needs are too hard to accommodate etc.) Can you address those concerns?
RM: They are valid. Running an Adult Rec program is not easy. Again, you MUST have the right coach. Yet to me the benefits far outweigh the negatives:
• gym income during off-hours (up to $10 / 90min) and/or monthly and/or punch cards
• potential Rec coaching recruits
• keep former gymnasts, coaches involved / “detraining” phase for retiring competitors
• great social motivator for your staff, coaches and friends
• source of volunteers for special events
• clean-up / set-up gym for next day
MG: In the US the biggest reason for gym’s cancelling their adult programs is liability concerns. In Canada you have universal healthcare so is there less concern from gyms about liability? Here even if you have a signed waiver and insurance for the gym, if the individual health insurance company finds out where an injury occurred they will sue the gym or the gym’s insurance to try to recover their costs. Is that less of a concern there?
RM: In my region of Canada there’s never been a successful lawsuit against a gym club, so we really are not nearly as worried as clubs in the States. Our programs are cancelled because the odd parents Board of Directors worries about injury, not about liability.
MG: The changes to the elite code have created a pathway for specialists and\ therefore, older gymnasts (especially women, since men have had this for a longer time) to continue to compete in the sport. Do you think that this is the reason why adult gymnastics has become so popular recently? Or is it just that people are realizing that they can still do it?
RM: Actually, I’m mystified why Adult Recreation gymnastics is suddenly “hot”. The benefits have always been obvious to those who took part in the past. The only thing that has changed has been the surge in popularity of CrossFit. Perhaps there’s some overlap in the adults who are interested in both.
MG: Can you speak to the importance of letting kids see adults doing gymnastics so that they know it can be done for a lifetime of fitness? If you agree with that statement of course.
RM: Much on my mind over the years has been trying to keep Adult ‘cool’. I want the 14-15 year old gymnasts to want to get to age-16 so they can go to Adult. And bring friends.