Olympic great on carving positive paths for kids
By Greg Bach
Gymnastics great Scott Johnson has never forgotten a youth meet he was at years ago.
The two-time Olympian, who won gold at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, was walking by a young team being berated by their coach.
“The team was sitting on the floor and she was yelling at them saying ‘you embarrassed me’ and ‘you didn’t even try’ and I just could not believe that a coach would talk to somebody like that, especially little kids who were about 6-years-old,” Johnson says. “How can a child be motivated at that age? They are too young to understand commitment and they are too young to understand what it takes to be a great athlete. You have to make it fun for them and then at some point in the child’s life they’ll determine whether or not they want to have the passion and desire to be a great athlete and take it to a higher level.”
Johnson certainly knows all about high levels and greatness: he was an 11-time All-American at Nebraska; he broke the Pan-Am Games all-around scoring record while becoming the first gymnast in the event’s history to win medals in every event; he was a key figure on that ’84 gold medal winning men’s gymnastics team; and he captained the team at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.
“I saw a lot of tears and a lot of heartache at the higher levels of the sport just because it’s just so difficult,” Johnson says. “I think a lot of parents are over the top, and maybe they are living their dream through their child. I had teammates of mine who had extreme pressures from their parents and it’s a shame to see because when they don’t reach success, or something happens with them and they can’t continue, then their whole career is viewed as a failure and I think that’s completely wrong.”
Which brings us back to that youth meet, that coach, and that high-decibel criticism those youngsters endured that day.
“We need to create environments that can help athletes and students go along their path in a positive way so that they can determine what they want to do with their lives,” Johnson says.
JOURNEY TO GREATNESS
Growing up, Johnson was a hyperactive kid who loved all sports. He played baseball and football, and competed in swimming, among many other activities.
And then during the fourth grade his life changed forever when he was cast in the lead role for the play The Jungle Book that his elementary school was doing.
“It entailed doing simple, basic tumbling skills and before that I didn’t even know what gymnastics was,” he says. “There was just something about it that I just loved and I just wanted to do it all the time and that’s where it all started. Shortly after that my parents enrolled me into a gymnastics program at the YMCA.”
Coaches were quick to notice his high skill level. Plus, his passion for the sport and working hard at it were evident. Mix all those ingredients together and the potential for something special to happen began to surface.
“I started to get real serious about it at the age of 13, as I was getting a lot of encouragement and people were saying I could go far with it,” he says. “Then I started watching the Olympics on television and that inspired me a ton. So from then on I lived every breath of my life trying to reach that goal.”
It’s what he wanted.
No one pushed him down that path. And no one told him he had to dream that big.
The sport had simply grabbed his heart – and he loved competing in it more than anything else.
“I had a passion for the sport and when you love to do something you want to do it all the time,” he says. “And that’s what I try to educate parents on is that they need to have their kids try different things so they can find out what their true passion is.”
Johnson did what only an incredibly small number of great athletes ever achieve – compete in an Olympic Games.
And he did it twice.
Plus, his career has that golden glow thanks to an historic performance in the summer of ’84 that is one of the amazing stories that make the Olympics so special.
Nowadays, he operates Scott Johnson’s Tumble and Gymnastics Academy in a pair of central Florida locations – Altamonte Springs and Winter Springs – working with everyone from beginning to advanced level athletes.
He’s not looking to create Olympic champions among the boys and girls who show up to tumble, jump and flip. He’s focused on helping youngsters learn skills, be safe, and have a lot of fun in the process – because isn’t that what it’s really all about?
“You need to have a positive environment to work in so that you can be motivated to try and achieve the goals you set for yourself,” he says.
Now that’s truly a golden perspective.
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