Believing in the Underdog

Written by: Coach Kelley

We’re all familiar with the mantras - "There’s no 'I' in team", "Teamwork makes the dream work", but in an individual sport like gymnastics, how many coaches and gymnasts truly believe this? In a typical meet, the top three scores on each event comprise the team score. So which gymnasts on your team are contributing to that winning banner?


When coaches believe in everyone, talent springs up everywhere. Coaches who treat all their athletes as equals, provide an atmosphere for all athletes to prosper. Conversely, coaches who decide early on which athletes are talented and which ones are expendable, are missing out on some of the most exciting athletes of all, the underdogs.

Everyone loves a good underdog story. Sylvester Stallone made an entire career out of the character Rocky Balboa! Our scrappy, little gymnastics team, the LIC Leopards, is the epitome of an underdog. We practice in a gym that’s only 900 square feet, do floor routines on our Tumbl Trak, and we don’t have a regulation vault. We are working with much less than other teams, yet we consistently bring home medals from competitions. So how do these little underdogs do it? Is it the fact that their floor music, Eye of the Tiger, is the unofficial anthem of all underdogs? I don’t think so.

Positive Coaching Alliance National Advisory Board Member, Carol Dweck, provides great insight into what it means to have a growth mindset when coaches interact with their athletes. In sports, Dweck believes that, “A growth mindset is the idea that through hard work and teamwork, athletes can thrive, and it becomes more about what is best for the team rather than who is more or less talented. Great teams are rooted in chemistry and trust, creating a supportive team atmosphere.”

As a coach, while I’ve always believed that you’re only as strong as your weakest link, I’ve never really cared for that expression. Implying that one of your athletes is weak will only result in them feeling inadequate compared to their seemingly more talented teammates. When you believe in the underdog and treat all of your athletes as equals, it takes the emphasis off raw talent and refocuses it on teamwork. One only needs to look at the UCLA women’s gymnastics team to see that great teams are about chemistry, not individual stars.

Coaches, look around your gym and ask yourself who you'd rather have on your team:


A. The kid with natural talent

B. The hardest worker

C. The shy, quiet one watching from the side with a spark in their eye


The answer should be:


D. All of the above

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