Photo Credit: Sports2Visuals
Nick Ruddock is a former gymnast that has worked his way from recreational coach to Great Britain's Women's Junior National Coach. During his time as head coach, Great Britain won their first junior European medal when they placed 2nd at the 2014 European Championships. Since then, Ruddock has stepped down from that role and is now Head of Performance at South Durham gymnastics, coaching recently crowned British Champion Amy Tinkler and many other elite hopefuls.
How did you get started in gymnastics? How did you get started as a coach?
My mum took me to my local gymnastics club when I was 5. I was a recreational gymnast, never participating more than 2 hours a week and competing only in county and regional floor & vault competitions. I naturally progressed into coaching, again at recreational level and did that for some time before being given the opportunity to work alongside some high level coaches as an assistant with both men’s and woman’s artistic athletes. Coaching soon became my passion and priority and it all went from there!
What are the most rewarding and most difficult parts of being a coach?
Sometimes it’s the smallest things that are the most rewarding when coaching. It could be the gymnast overcoming a personal challenge, meeting targets, achieving new skills or hitting a new routine for the first time. The rewarding part isn’t always the big scores and medals, but of course they are great to have on the way too.
The most memorable moments of my coaching have been sharing times of accomplishment, overcoming adversity, or seeing the athletes transform as ‘people’ not just performers. Sport is a great vehicle for personal development and I think the art of coaching is facilitating their technical learning as well as social and emotional development. The performances are only a fraction of our roles, there is a lot more ‘behind the scenes’ coaching that goes on.
There are several challenges in the gym, and I’ve quickly learnt that the ability to ‘problem solve’ is one of the best qualities a high performance coach can have. Being adaptable is crucial, and this has been a great learning curve for me since stepping back into a personal coach/club based role.
Can you talk about 2014 Junior European Championships - the selection, trainings, qualifications?
The whole process of selection was a rollercoaster leading up to the Europeans. As always, we named several key events of which the results would contribute to the selection of the team. Selections are never easy, and the Junior European team selection was further complicated with injuries to athletes who were in a good place for possible selection to the team.
The power and difficulty of those athletes, particularly on floor and vault were key contributing factors to the team’s chances of a medal. Fortunately, most of those athletes were fit enough to compete by the time Europeans came around.
The power of Amy Tinkler and Ellie Downie was well balanced with the artistry and elegance of Catherine Lyons and Rhyannon Jones. Our final team member Teal Grindle was a great all rounder, and consistent too, particularly on beam.
There was a lot of performance analysis that was completed on the build up to Europeans, and we went in with a strategy that paid off well. The process of control competitions, trials, and pre event training (once the team had been selected) seemed to last forever, and Amanda Reddin’s (Head National Coach) experience was key throughout this process here to ensure the athletes were on top form ready for the event itself.
The team result was the priority. Great Britain was yet to win a medal at these championships and we felt that with the right performances, we had a team that could earn a medal. To come away with Team Silver and several individual medals too was an unbelievable result.
Photo Credit: British Gymnastics
Which routines still stick out to you when you think back to European Championships?
There are several routines which stick out to me, all for different reasons. The most memorable was probably Teal Grindle’s beam routine in qualification/team final. Teal (Sapphire Gymnastics/Steve Price) was under immense pressure as our last gymnast up on the final piece, and particularly following a very uncharacteristic mistake on bars. We needed a solid beam and as always on this apparatus she delivered an outstanding performance. It was a real test of her mental strength and character, and that performance helped secure the silver medal. It was a great moment for Teal and the team.
You're often found at international meetings regarding both the technical and psychological aspects of coaching. How do you feel about collaboration that's going on in coaching - like with Becky Downie and Ellie Black or the GBR and US men and the UEG sessions?
I think it’s key. I managed to compact an extensive amount of learning in a relatively short period of time by travelling, collaborating and working alongside some influential coaches who all have experience they are happy to share.
The gymnastics community is amazing and there are opportunities to learn everywhere. I strongly believe that all coaches need a mentor (I have several) to help guide, nurture and support coaches in exactly the same way we would develop our athletes. Just like our gymnasts, we’re learning every day too.
How did you make the decision to leave your position as National Team Director for the juniors and become an individual coach?
This wasn’t an easy decision to make, having really enjoyed my role with British Gymnastics. I got immense support from them and they have played a vital role in my coaching and personal development. I was in a privileged position, and learnt an enormous amount from my travels around the UK working alongside some great coaches and support staff.
Those who know me know I am very ambitious, and following a great 4 years with BG, I felt the time was right to move back into club coaching to apply the knowledge and experience I had gained from the role and my mentors. I’m enjoying all the new challenges I face as a personal coach, and the accountability of the role. I’ve been fortunate enough to continue providing support to GBR training camps, and hope to give back to British Gymnastics and UK Sport by contributing to further international medals in the future.
How is coaching at South Durham - what exactly is your role as Head of Performance? Has your relationship with Amy changed now that you're in a new role? Any girls up and coming at the gym that we should keep an eye out for?
I’m very at home at South Durham. The environment suits me well, and I work with a great team led by Head Coaches Nicola Preston and Rachael Wright. The clubs philosophies and values align with mine, and that was a crucial part of moving back into club coaching again.
My role as Head of Performance is quite diverse. Of course, my main focus is the development of athletes and coaches who are working along the elite pathway, but I support the Head Coaches in the running of the club, and in other areas of our performance strategy. So in addition to about 32 hours coaching there’s plenty of projects and jobs to do as well!
Myself, Nicola and Rachael have built a strong relationship since starting my role with British Gymnastics in 2010. They supported me in my role as National Coach and we collaborated well working with Amy (Tinkler) and their other elite athletes.
I have always had a great relationship with Amy, which is even stronger now for the increased amount of time I spend with her. I learn more and more about her every day, and that’s the key to a great athlete-coach relationship. Care, honesty and trust underpin all our work in the gym, and that makes her the happy athlete that she is today. She loves gymnastics, and with that mentality, she is a pleasure to work with.
As for the next generation of elite athletes coming through, I think the club has a bright future in performance. The club has a large member base and some great development athletes who are already on the elite pathway and in GBR Squads underpinning the Senior/Junior age groups.
You were recently in the U.S. at GAGE with Coach Al and Armine Fong. How was this set up and what was your biggest takeaway from the experience?
Al and Armine have actually been mentors and friends of mine since 2005, when I first made contact with them. Two of the kindest, most generous people I know and I owe a lot to them both. Not to mention great coaches who I have learnt an incredible amount from.
With my commitments here in the UK it’s difficult to visit them as often as I would like, but after Europeans last year I took a couple of weeks off and managed to see them on a long overdue visit.
Their system is very unique and special, and I learn as much from talking to the Fongs about philosophy and ‘the coaching process’ as I do about the more obvious areas, like the technical side of the sport.
GB has been a team on the rise in recent years with more individual and team European, World Championship, and Olympic success. What do you think Team GB needs to do to challenge the countries at the top?
There are several reason why I think this rise has occurred. From the hard working personal coaches, to world class science and medical support and an always developing program at British Gymnastics.
We need to constantly reflect on the performances/experience of our coaches and athletes, and continue to innovate. The sport is forever changing, and for any federation to sustain successful results, they need to continue to refine their strategy to remain at the forefront of world class performance.
What do you hope to achieve in the future in your career?
I have lots on my bucket list still, with lots more to accomplish in the sport. If I can help a few happy girls achieve their dreams, and contribute a few international medals on the way I’ll be a happy man.
I have a few projects currently in development also, with a focus on coach education and mentoring. I’m working with some great sporting organizations and federations at the moment and assisting them with coach and athlete development programs/sessions. Mentoring was/is such an important part of my development and I’d like to offer the same support to other coaches also who are on the same journey as me.
Thank you, Nick, for the interview and best of luck with this new role! To stay updated with Nick’s coaching education projects and announcements, follow Nick on twitter @NickRuddock.