Hi everyone! I’m Lois and I am a recent history graduate from the University of Liverpool. Gemma has been kind enough to allow me to volunteer for Head over Heels and Shuffle Up Games in order to gain more experience during a time where there are minimal opportunities available for graduates. I have interviewed Gemma in order to find out more about her passion for gymnastics, her business, and any tips she can share for gymnasts practicing at home.
- When and how did your love for gymnastics start?
From the moment I could confidently walk I skipped alongside my parents with boundless energy. So, sports were an obvious direction to point me towards. Gymnastics was available at the local leisure centre and so I was taken along to the classes on a Saturday morning. My love of gymnastics was instant, I remember my sister and I enjoying the games that they played and attempting the new skills with lots of excitement. I clearly remember learning to cartwheel and the feeling of turning upside down. Once I had it mastered, I would cartwheel everywhere, walking along the pavement, in the garden and proudly in the playground at school. One of my favourite memories is playing handstand competitions on the field at school, we would run out as quickly as possible and turn upside down for most of the break.
- When did you establish Head Over Heels Gymnastics and why did you want to create this business?
I founded Head Over Heels in 2000, after a long period of volunteering and working in the gym club I enjoyed as a child. I had inspiring mentors that I wanted to emulate and carry forward the love for the sport that they had given to me. I worked alongside this new business as a bookkeeper for a number of years to prop up the new business and it wasn’t until 2006 that it was my sole job.
- How have you found lockdown? Have you managed to continue any coaching virtually?
Lockdown has been a challenge, not only for the business but also as a parent to three boys. The coaching stopped immediately with the schools and leisure centres closing. We slowly adapted to a new normal with a zoom call once a week for the gymnasts to have some activity and keep in touch with each other. Each week was a steep learning curve and the interaction with the children worked with some but not with others. Some children felt very self-conscious on screen and we encouraged them to still join us with their cameras off. Throughout the weeks of lockdown, we had lots of the members join us. Some for every session and some sporadically. Feedback has been varied with some gymnasts loving the sessions and others not so much. Working with a fellow coach, Austin Hartey and his Gym Club Energise, was a great help as we shared ideas and responsibility and were both in the same situation with our clubs.
Before lockdown had happened, we were in the process of launching a Football version of our Shuffle Up Gymnastics Conditioning Game. I had invested lots of time, energy and budget into this game and this came to a standstill. This was really disappointing so with sheer determination we eventually still managed to have this manufactured and finished. Holding this in my hand was a hugely positive moment for me in lockdown, showing that despite all the challenges we were experiencing with determination and patience you can still achieve.
The marketing and promotion of this new game and all of our products has been slow and sometimes non-existent during lockdown. Due to myself shifting roles to educating and caring for the children. I felt that this was the most important job at the time; my husband was working in our home office on continuous conference calls so he was not available as much as he would have liked to be. I did manage to work about an hour to two a day to keeping the orders going out and the emails up to date. I was also asked by the local School Games Organisers to create a Virtual Gymnastics Competition for schools. I loved being part of this and it gave me a focus which felt more like life before lockdown. I have loved seeing all the entries come in and the involvement of pupils has been outstanding.
4) Will you be returning to work anytime soon?
Currently I am unable to return to coaching as the schools and leisure centre that I work in are shut and not accepting outside bookings until after October half term. This can’t be helped but is really disappointing as I am desperate to get back to coaching and to see the children in person. We are considering a few outside classes but need to look into the logistics of this and how it would work.
With regards to the social distancing and sanitising measures for COVID-19, we will work alongside the schools and the governing body to put the correct measures in place. I haven’t looked into this too much as it seems that things change a lot so planning too early may mean that we need to adapt in October.
5) Do you have any tips for those practicing gymnastics at home during the last stretch of lockdown?
My biggest recommendation now would be to get outside, enjoy the fresh air. Take a mat to the garden or the park and get active. My own children are enjoying this time where we are able to have less restricted outside activity. We are very lucky to live near the beach, so this has become another space for us to enjoy again and sea swimming is something that I love.
When going to outdoor spaces don’t forget to take some of our resources with you, our games and books offer endless ideas to get active and incorporate all the skills the gymnasts should be working on. I have been using this time to work on my own flexibility, setting myself challenges and new goals. I would recommend this, children hugely benefit from achievement. I believe in setting goals, short easy to achieve goals as well as goals that will take a number of weeks to master. You can use our gymnastics journal to chart these goals and record progress.
6) How have you felt reading recent press about some gymnast’s negative experience in gymnastics?
‘Reflective’ is the word I would use; I have hated reading about negative coaching gymnasts have experienced but I feel it is important that I do. I recently wrote a blog about my thoughts that you can find here. After I published this blog I felt a small amount of anxiety for a few days. I felt nervous to put my thoughts out there during this time and hoped that I wouldn’t offend anyone with my own words. However, I hope that the main message is clear that we must move forward to become even better coaches so that the children only experience positive coaching.
7) Is there anything else that you would like to say about your experiences during this time?
I would like to thank Lois whose idea it has been for this Blog. She has just completed her degree and is waiting for lockdown to pass for more employment opportunities to arise. Lois contacted me asking if she could volunteer with Head Over Heels and gain some marketing experience. This was wonderful and came at the perfect moment when I really needed some help and motivation.
Working with Lois has been inspiring, rather than stagnating and not gaining any further experience she has reached out to volunteer. You can’t help but feel positive about the future when you come into contact with young adults like Lois.