Feb. 6, 2001
Q: Coach Switzer, what made you decide to move on after so many years at OU?
Sandy, Norman, Okla.
A: After two decades of coaching gymnastics I decided to ask Steve Nunno to take over the head coach position at Oklahoma because I knew he was perfect for the years ahead. I love OU -- always have, always will --and I plan to remain involved in the gymnastics program in some capacity, however, after spending twenty-plus years with other peoples children I would like to have some time with my own, Hunter and Hartleigh, before they leave for college.
Thanks for the question, Sandy, and I hope to see you at our home meets this year!
Q: Coach Switzer, I have an 11-year-old daughter who is already dreaming about college gymnastics. What are the possibilities of her getting a scholarship? Do colleges recruit high school competitors, or just Elite athletes from private clubs?
Rex White, Coppell, Texas
A: Most recruiters for top collegiate programs look primarily at skilled Level 10 competitors and Elites. High school gymnasts are not necessarily excluded, but traditionally the level of high school competitors is not as high as top club competitors. Private clubs are more likely to train the talent needed at the division one NCAA level, simply by virtue of increased training time. But the future looks bright for athletic scholarships for all talented women.
Here a few things to keep in mind as your daughter, and many others, dream of NCAA athletic scholarships :
1) Academic Performance: Know what it will take for her to qualify for entrance into the university of her choice, as well as academic eligibility. When your daughter enters high school talk to her counselor about her athletic goals. Counselors are as important as coaches in preparing athletes for NCAA eligibility. Be sure your daughter knows what it takes!
2) Begin writing universities and inquiring about their gymnastics programs and requirements for admission when your daughter is a sophomore or junior in high school. (Constantly evolving NCAA rules prevent coaches from contacting potential athletes before a certain age and during certain times of the year, so if you dont hear back right away, be patient or write again at a different time.) Please remember, no matter how talented any of our daughters are, university and NCAA academic requirements must be met before scholarships can be awarded.
3) Remember, scholarships are wonderful, but participation in sports at the NCAA level is valuable in and of itself. If your daughter wants a chance at participation in sports at the NCAA level, she may have to walk on, work hard and understand that her reward is the experience derived from being part of a team. She will never regret her participation whether she is awarded a scholarship or walks on.
Q: Coach Switzer, do you ever award scholarships to athletes who cant compete on all four events but are just great event specialists?
Andrea Williams, Chickasha, Okla.
A: Though every head coach has their own strategy, I, personally, have always looked for great all-arounders. We are what is refereed to as a "head count sport" so we are not allowed to divided our scholarship money and distribute it according to an athletes particular talents. Therefore, even a partial scholarship counts as a full scholarship, according to the NCAA.
Currently, womens gymnastics is allowed a maximum of 12 full scholarships at the NCAA Division 1 level. Each of those dozen are precious, so to use a full scholarship on an athlete that only performs in a one or two areas might not be a coaches best investment. I never rule anything out, but an athlete who specializes on one or two events would have to very unique to prompt scholarship consideration.
On the other hand, with 12 (or more) gymnasts on a team and only six of those competing on each event, many gymnasts eventually become "specialists" on the event or events they compete most often. Though, usually, those athletes continue to train on all four events.
Q: Coach Switzer, how did you get started in coaching? I would love to try coaching gymnastics but dont know where to start.
Katherine Perry, Arcadia, Ga.
A: I began coaching at almost the same time I began gymnastics. I had a strong dance background and I was always charged with creating choreography for my teammates. I loved designing original movements and elements. Therefore, I think I was nine years old when I started my gymnastics coaching career.
At that time (Im showing my age here), it was still considered unusual or "different" for women to express interest in sports as a career, but I did have some role models, like legendary gymnast and coach Muriel Grossfeld, figure skater Peggy Flemming and Olympic great Wilma Rudolph. They all inspired me to stick with what I love, even if it wasnt the traditional path.
For you, it doesnt matter where you start, just start. Go to a local club or YMCA and start with preschool classes, or help a more experienced coach with beginner classes. The most important thing is that you always remember that, as a coach, you are a teacher, role model and counselor for your students. Gymnastics coaches are "do it all" people.
Understand that no matter what level you eventually coach at, you are impacting another's life. Maybe someday you will coach an Olympian, or maybe you will simply have taught a special young person that having dreams and achieving them through discipline and determination is golden.
Coaching is a very special career choice and I wish you all the best. If you love what you do, and are willing to go that extra mile for your athlete youll do great!