Candid Coach: Heather Zidek

Avon, Ohio’s Tumbles & Cheers is on a roll: after being named the USASF’s “Best Small Gym in America” in 2010, the gym recently moved to a brand-new 14,000 sq. ft. facility—replete with inground rod floor, tumble trak, trampoline and 1,300 sq. ft. worth of pits. What’s been their secret to success? According to Heather Zidek, the gym’s founder and coach of the Ohio Extreme All-Stars, it’s all about keeping your gym drama-free and setting high expectations.

What is one thing you wish you’d known when starting out?

Zidek: “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is easy to say, but harder to act on. In the beginning, I tried to please everyone. I’d lose sleep at night, I was stressed and I’d take quality time away from my family. Now, I no longer strive to be everything to everyone, but to be the place for those that have the same philosophies as we do. We are a business. We have a responsibility to our clients, and we don’t treat people differently based on who they are, what skill they have or who they know. Secondly, we treat children as athletes—they’re capable of hard work and sweat. Lastly, we don’t put up with the drama. I’ve come to realize that some people just thrive on drama, so now I focus my efforts on those that have the same philosophies and I don’t get upset with those that don’t.

How would you sum up your coaching approach?

Zidek: The athletes would say I’m pretty tough on them. I hold them accountable, push them to their individual ability levels and give them praise when they earn it. I’m not one of those coaches who constantly praises them for everything they do, so when they do get it from me, they know that they really earned it. Some of them haven’t had to work hard for anything in their lives, and this is the one place where they realize that their parents can’t hand them a winning team or a certain skill. That’s why we really push them—I realized that they crave that feeling of responsibility, so I give them lots of praise for their achievements.

Name something you wouldn’t do again as a coach.

Zidek: One of the toughest thing as a gym owner is trying to find good coaches. When we started out, before I knew many people, I would find a coach who looked good on paper and hire based upon that, figuring that they’d mesh into our philosophies and that it’d all work out. What I’ve learned to do now is wait until the right person comes along. We’re a family here, and the staff is the core. You can teach someone how to spot or teach a skill, but it’s very difficult to teach someone how to be a good role model, to be a team player and to treat others with respect.

What are the unique challenges and rewards of coaching in a small gym environment?

Zidek: The most unique thing is our family environment. We praise their accomplishments in school and other extracurricular activities. The families have responded as well, and I think almost everyone after their first year knows everyone else in the program. The kids are quick to call, text or Facebook to tell us what happened that day in school, and if they’re struggling, we try to help. I think the kids see that we can relate to them, that we’ve all been there and that we’re someone [to whom] they can turn. If we were a larger gym, I don’t think we’d be able to have that unique relationship with them.