Episode 61 – It’s All About Gymnastics with Gemma Coles

In this episode of The PE Geek Podcast, we talk with the Amazing Gemma Coles of Head Over Heels about Gymnastics. Throughout the episode we discuss the importance of gymnastics in the development of physical literacy in our students and also touch on the role that Technology can play when teaching gymnastic skills. Gemma is such an advocate for teaching these important skills that she’s pieced together an incredible mobile app resource to help all teachers introduce these skills into their programs.

Resources for this episode include

  1. Gemmas Website
  2. Head Over Heels About Gymnastics App

Press Play to listen below. Alternatively, download a full episode transcript here


00:28 Jarrod Robinson: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Episode #61 of the PE podcast. And as always it’s an absolute pleasure to be here, and these are my favourite episodes; they’re episodes where we get to interview people who work with students in a whole range of different fields. And today is no exception, so welcome to the show, Gemma Coles, how are you, Gemma?

00:51 Gemma Coles: Great, thank you, Jarrod.

00:52 JR: Awesome. So whereabouts are you at the moment? Where are you based?

00:57 GC: So I’m based in Bournemouth which is on the south coast of the United Kingdom. I’ve been here all my life, I work in this area and I haven’t really ventured very far from the south coast of England.

01:10 JR: Perfect. Now, I got you on the show because you have a really hyper-focused expertise in gymnastics, is that correct?

01:18 GC: So I was a gymnast myself and always loved the sport, and then I ended up running my own gymnastics club. And then, eventually, I got into working with teachers in various schools in this area, helping them upskill their gymnastics teaching.

01:35 JR: And obviously, this is something that grew out of a personal passion, do you still get to be involved in that personal side or is it all just now working with and coaching other people?

01:48 GC: I still do a little bit, however, I’ve got three children now so my life’s become more about making sure everyone’s in the right place, and just on the odd occasion, you think, “Oh I must make sure that I don’t injure myself.” Or keeping everyone else happy is my real role now, so yeah, I spend the majority of my time helping teachers and running the gymnastics club.

02:14 JR: So does this mean that you work within multiple different schools, or how does it work from the schools’ perspective? Do they send students to you, or do you come to them, or what’s the general way that works?

02:28 GC: I go directly into schools. So for example, this week, I will be in five different schools. I will go in, I’ll work with the teachers, I’ll run through lesson plans, I will teach lessons, but also observe them doing lessons. And we work together very much planning, and then putting together lessons and then delivering them.

02:48 JR: So, why do you think gymnastics is so important as that basic sort of introduction as a really young age, to then life long physical activity, why do you think it’s something that should still be taught in schools?

03:03 GC: I just think it’s fundamental. So, gymnastics covers all sorts of things. So you’ve got balance, you’ve got agility, you’ve got all core shapes. So everything you do, so we do hand apparatus there, you’ve got all the different balls and ribbons, and I just think it’s absolutely fundamental and if they… And it’s so transferable. So, if they’ve got good gymnastics ability, then they can transfer that into different sports. Just purely the core strength, we all know how important that is for all sports, if they’ve got good core strength, which I believe gymnastics really instils, then that just is fundamental for even just sitting properly and standing straight, just in general life, I think it’s absolutely fantastic.

03:54 JR: Yeah, for sure. And it is a bit of a shame that, at least I’m talking from Australia’s point of view, that lots of schools have almost eliminated it from their curriculum. And is that a trend that you see, and is that worrying?

04:09 GC: No, not at all. I’ve not heard of that at all over here in the UK, and from what I believe in America as well, then there’s lots of gymnastics happening within curriculum.

04:22 JR: That’s really good. So I know when I said the word ‘eliminating,’ I probably mean more so that it’s probably not done as readily as it once was in Australia, and I guess there’s more of a shift towards not just a generalist PE teacher teaching it, but someone who’s more expertly, like yourself, taking it.

04:40 GC: Okay.

04:42 JR: Which I think is a good thing, because not everyone has the skills to I guess, teach it properly, would you agree?

04:50 GC: Yeah, definitely. Over here in the UK, since we had the Olympics here, I have noticed there’s more funding for specialists.

04:57 JR: Perfect.

04:58 GC: But historically, we haven’t had any funding for specialists to come into schools, so it’s always been the teachers that have been teaching the gymnastics lessons. So maybe you just have more opportunity for specialists to come in Jarrod.

05:11 JR: Yeah, I think I like that idea of a specialist mindset too. So, the idea that not everyone is an expert in everything, so tapping into the expertise is I think a smart move, bringing you into the school is a smart move for that school.

05:28 GC: When I first started working in the schools I was absolutely astounded at how many different subjects the teachers had to be experts in. So I think anyone coming in is just a huge help, and I’ve always been really well received, so everyone I’ve gone in and worked with has been so grateful to have someone else thinking about a subject for them and helping them with it.

05:51 JR: Yeah. This really nice flow on from an episode that we did a few months ago now, which was about outsourcing and this mindset shift that a lot of teachers still need to be happy to do, and that is outsource their… Maybe even their teaching, to experts, people like yourself who are specialists. And not feel that that’s a step back, it’s actually a step forward in so many ways. And I think this gymnastics example is testament to that. So, this leads into my next lot of questions and you’ve been quite innovative in the delivery of the gymnastics material. And that’s led you to building an app, is that right?

06:32 GC: Yeah that’s correct. So I have a gymnastics book, that’s an e-book and you also have as a hard copy. But it’s been really well received, and so off the back of that I decided that it would be great to have videos for each of the skills that were in the book. So I have an app called Head Over Heels About Gymnastics. And you can go on to each page of the e-book, but you can also play the videos. So you’ll see myself teaching how to do each skill, and you can put these up on to your whiteboard from the app which is really helpful.

07:09 JR: Yeah. So this is again that whole idea of outsourcing the expertise to someone who is an expert, and that’s you. And this is something that I would readily do as well. So, you said people are using the app, they’re downloading it, it is free in the app store first. And you get access to one lesson, is that right?

07:27 GC: Yes, that’s correct. There is also the app, which is Head Over Heels About Gymnastics for Education. And that, you can get… I believe the schools download it, I’ve forgotten the name of it now. But you can download multiple apps on that platform. I can’t remember the name, Jarrod, I don’t know if you can help me. But anyway. So yes, you can get it from that and then you can link it to whatever you want to, so if you have a whiteboard in your hall then that’s just fantastic ’cause the pupils can then watch it.

08:02 JR: Yeah, so it is almost like you’ve… And you could potentially be through the app teaching students on scale everyday, across all of the globe. In theory…

08:12 GC: Yeah I think… I’ve had people tweet me a lot and show me videos of them with it on the whiteboard and then the class working alongside, so they might run a lesson around forward rolls. And then they have the forward roll taught properly by myself, and then they can work their lesson around it and adapt it. And yeah, it’s fantastic, it’s so great to see. It’s so lovely to see the wide reach just from here in Bournemouth, I feel like little old me, and then the whole world has this access to really good quality gymnastics.

08:48 JR: And it’s actually, yeah, really good teaching on behalf of the teachers who are at the schools too. Because they flipped the paradigm from being the people up the front doing the delivery in something they’re not skilled about, to someone who is skilled and then they just get, I’m assuming, to walk around and assist one-on-one, while someone at the front of the room, even if it’s digitally, is leading the lesson. So it’s really good teaching, that flipped learning approach which we speak about a lot on the podcast. So I’m really quite fond of it. So, the take up’s been quite good, I hear, from the app?

09:19 GC: Yeah, it has. It’s like everything, it’s slow and steady. So as and when people start to care about it, I’m just getting really good positive feedback from it. So yeah, it’s fantastic.

09:31 JR: So does this lead down the path of maybe something else down the track? Is there other ideas for apps or is there just a…

09:38 GC: Well, I have a parent [09:40] ____ book. So that book is… For example, you know when you were a child and you used to lie on your back and you’d put your brother up in the air on your feet?

09:50 JR: Mm-hmm.

09:51 GC: And you would sort of imagine you were flying around. Well, in gymnastics, we have what we call sports acrobatic balances. And you would do this in your class. So this would be like when you stand with your partner and you hold hands and you do a counterbalance, so that kind of thing. And I have a book on that, so we’re gonna create the app so that people who download the app can then open the section for counterbalances. And I’ve also done a book on beams, so working on a beam. So it will just give you loads of ideas. And then the app will build on from there and you’ll be able to open the beam section. So then, again your pupils can have more and more and more ideas.

10:35 JR: And it becomes this resource that lives and grows with new things that you add to it, etcetera, as opposed to some of the static resources that we get which are then and there, in time, this will grow, which I guess is a positive.

10:48 GC: Yes.

10:49 JR: Awesome, so what…

[overlapping conversation]

10:52 JR: You’ve mentioned… Sorry, you go.

10:54 GC: We’re hoping that the beam section will be on by the end of the year. And then the sports acro section in the middle of next year.

11:01 JR: Perfect. So you’ve mentioned a couple of tools that classes can benefit from, in their practice. So they may have a screen of some sort to deliver some content. Is there any other sort of tools that… Or technical, technological tools that you tend to use?

11:20 GC: Well I’ve noticed two ways that they use the app. So one is they put it on the iPad… I’m sorry, on the screen at the front of the hall. But yeah, other schools I’ve seen, they have access to a lot of iPads. So they’ll work in pairs and then they’ll watch the skill, and then one person will have a go, and the other one will observe and give feedback and maybe help them a bit. But they’ll use their own little iPads, and then the other person will have a go and then they’ll watch it. It’s fascinating. It’s amazing. It’s so different to how I remember school being.

11:53 JR: Yeah, the opportunities are quite immense. As you’ve mentioned, you can have success whether you’ve got one device, right through. And if you’ve got kids that have access to more than one device then it becomes a little bit more self directed, because each kid could be doing something a little bit different, or progressed a little bit further, or doing an activity different to their peers that are around them. But each of them have an instructor in their pocket so to speak, through the app. So, it’s tremendously powerful in its potential. So, what about video? Does video play, or recording students etcetera, does that play a role in, or is it an increased role that you see these days in teaching of gymnastics?

12:33 GC: Being completely honest, it’s not something I see in every school. I’d to love to see more of it, so I try and encourage it. So yeah, once they’ve got the tablets, once they’ve got one between a pair, then they can start to video each other and watch it through, and when they do it’s just brilliant. I think it’s what’s gonna be the future, so I think that will be the main thing that happens in the future I think, they’ll video each other and then they’ll assess themselves as well as peer assessments. I’d like to see way more of it, I try and encourage it. But I think it’s the new thing, but it will be with us.

13:14 JR: Yeah, everything takes time, so these practices will, and they do evolve. But you’re right, a video is really motivational. I remember my first ever time seeing myself playing sport on a video and it changed my game for just wanting to continue doing that thing. So, even at its most basic video is a motivational asset, but then you can take it deeper and you can start to analyse. And like you’ve said, peer assess, critique, etcetera, and there’s so many tools out there to assist with that these days. So, apps such as BaM Video Delay, are you familiar with any of the video delay apps?

13:51 GC: No, I’m not.

13:52 JR: Have you seen them floating around? So, I wanted to share it with you because, a video delay app is available on any of the tablets and you can get them for free, and what they enable you to do is time shift the video that’s being shown on the tablet. So you can imagine it pointing towards the beam for example, and a student performs some sort of skill and they get off the beam. What is then shown on the tablet is a delay, so you can basically get the chance to watch it back immediately after, without having to stop and play and rewind and do all those things that might normally happen. And essentially it’s just like looking and performing in a mirror, but the mirror is showing your reflection on a 10 second or 20 second delay. And it’s really quite profoundly impacted in terms of impacting the performance, and we see lots of stuff for students, schools all around the globe using it in gymnastic sessions. So, what do you think video provides to students? Is is powerful to see yourself?

14:54 GC: Yes, invaluable, it’s really invaluable. It tells you so much. And the kids are so receptive and just so used to this kind of thing. And also they are really good at teaching others. So, to teach themselves is just brilliant. It’s gonna make us coaches redundant, [15:15] ____, Jarrod.


15:17 JR: I think it makes you more valuable in many ways because…

15:20 GC: Yeah, definitely.

15:22 JR: You can be there on the side of and with the tech, and like I always talk about there’s no substitute for good teaching and you’re an example of good teaching. But when you wrap around some of this technology around good teaching, then you can be even a better teacher. So, I’m pleased to hear that it’s something that you’re planning on using. So, where can people find out more about the app, and where can they go to get that?

15:47 GC: So, if you go to my website which is www.headoverheelsgymnastics.co.uk, click on the app page, have a look through and find the links, get in there and get using it.

16:00 JR: Perfect, I couldn’t recommend it more. There will be some information on the blog post that goes with this episode, so there’ll be links as well as a full episode transcript to this show. And if you have any questions for Gemma then you can also find how you can get in contact with her via Twitter. Is there any other ways that you recommend?

16:20 GC: Yeah, we use Facebook a lot. We have a lot of interaction on our Facebook page, because of the products we’ve got, people using them at home as well, so they like to send us videos and keep in contact and send us pictures, which is just fantastic, it’s just so lovely to hear that people are using what we’re producing.

16:37 JR: Perfect, makes it real and authentic, doesn’t it?

16:39 GC: Yeah. Our Facebook page is Head Over Heels About Gymnastics.

16:44 JR: Awesome. And all links will be in the show notes. I really wanna thank Gemma for stopping by and explaining and sharing how gymnastics plays a big role in, I think, the lives of all students who get the opportunity to do it, and the app, etcetera, that she’s made. So, thank you, Gemma, for stopping by and I look forward to speaking soon.

17:03 GC: Thank you very much, Jarrod.

17:05 JR: See you later.

17:07 GC: Goodbye.



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