by @LeapTheAtlantic on October 13th, 2016

Liz Kincaid
Club: The academy

  • Founder of The Academy of gymnastics Portishead, established in 2002
  • Coach to double Olympian and World vault finalist Imogen Cairns
  • Coach of 2016 Olympian and LSU freshman Ruby Harrold
  • Coach of Abi Solari who recently verbally committed to the University of California, Berkeley

Liz Kincaid, is the head coach and founder of one of Britain's most succesful gymnastics clubs. Coach to Olympians, world medalists and British champions. Liz tells Leap the Atlantic why she thinks NCAA gymnastics is an important goal for her gymnasts as well as something more coaches in GB should be investing their time in.

What do you think the benefits of college gymnastics are?
Gymnastics is a highly competitive sport and we ask so much of our young gymnasts in their early life in the form of commitment, sacrifice and dedication to reach their true potential, yet the truth is that for most, this won't mean becoming an International Elite Senior Gymnast. So, what we as Elite Coaches should ask ourselves is what alternative pathways are available to our very best gymnasts who put in so much effort during their childhood not to mention trust in our abilities as coaches, yet may not ultimately realise their primary goal. I completely endorse goal setting and working to achieve goals and I believe that the option of a US Collegiate Gymnastics scholarship provides that goal by providing a highly competitive programme that would recognise the gymnasts own character. The opportunity to study in a new country with all the social and cultural benefits that this offers is well documented and a subsidised or free degree course education, of course is a huge benefit too.

Many Americans have getting a scholarship as their main goal, do you think gymnasts in the UK could benefit from this mentality?
I feel that every gymnast who sets out on an Elite pathway should definitely be focussed on a US scholarship pathway, and at an early stage. I will of course highlight that we have some first class Elite coaches in the UK and the decision is one that should be made in consultation with the gymnasts coach. My own daughter is currently in the US on a soccer scholarship, so I understand first hand the impact that this can have on a family but our own experiences have been nothing but positive, and my own gymnastics squad at The Academy are all working for a scholarship. This is a strong motivational factor for my girls whose work ethic in the gym is first class, and this can only benefit the sport in our country. The stories that they hear from some of our other gymnasts who are currently in the USA on the NCAA programme also supports this.

Do you think there is enough information accessible to gymnasts in the UK about the NCAA?
No I don't. I think that the information that each gymnast, their coach and their family needs is difficult to access, to understand and to translate to be relevant to us within the UK education system. A sports scholarship agency set up to support UK gymnasts with this major decision would be a big help with knowledge of the collegiate circuit and culture. Maybe that will be my new career!

You have gymnasts in college now, what do they tell you about their experiences when they come back?
I have two of my former senior gymnasts currently in the US and I can tell you that they both absolutely LOVE the entire experience, the education, the gymnastics, the friendships, the facilities, the list goes on. No one in the UK could imagine what attending a NCAA college is like, and I can assure you having been lucky enough now to have seen several colleges, it's like nothing we have in the UK. My former gymnasts remain in regular contact with myself and my current squad girls and they are so enthusiastic about their experiences, encouraging them to go ahead and give it a go that it is becoming an Academy tradition.

In America level 9 or 10 is considered college level. What level in the UK do you think a gymnast needs to be to be awarded a scholarship?
I understand that to attend a college as an International student costs the college more money so I think whereas they may consider level 9 / 10's in the US I think you need to be an GB Elite gymnast (eligible for the British Championships) and able to offer great gymnastics.

Why would you encourage your gymnasts to explore the NCAA route?
I had a light bulb moment in 2009 and decided that gymnastics wasn't all about major internationals. Then following the Olympics in 2012 I decided that it was to become one of my goals to encourage and support my gymnasts to attend US colleges and I see the work I do in the gym as an extension to help better prepare them for adult life.

Do you think there there any negatives to NCAA gymnastics?
I'm sure there are, I really believe that not every college is for every child and not every coach either. I get heavily involved in the recruitment process as I'm the best person along with the gymnast to check we get a great fit. I feel fit the coach / team and then academics. If you are unhappy in gymnastics that will show in your whole college life.

Have any of your gymnasts had a bad experience during their time at an American college?
No, although have your eyes open wide. By the time the girls leave The Academy they are hard working, independent team players, who balance studies and gymnastics well. I have spoken with all my gymnasts college coaches and the parents of my gymnasts want my opinion and wouldn't go against my advice.

What advice would you give to other coaches for helping to build friendships and connections to help their gymnasts get a scholarship?
You have to invest in travel. This year we have done a recruiting trip with two gymnasts and they were blown away with the opportunities. Go visit some colleges.

You made trips with your club to Cincinnati, did this experience persuade many of your gymnasts to consider NCAA?
Not really, just the trips to my good friend Mary Lee Tracey's gym, but it allows the girls to believe that the world is a very small place. Everything is possible. Lucy Brett went to see a college close to Cincinnati when we were visiting and although this isn't the college she eventually start at she knew study in the USA was definitely something she wanted to do.
-Will you continue to do trips like this?
Absolutely, our club has always travelled and these are their favourite memories in gymnastics.
-Would you recommended other clubs and coaches into making similar trips?
Yes, start small, take trips in the UK first and then grow.

Were you involved in the recruiting process of your gymnasts, if so what was your role?
Yes I made initial contact and then chatted with the coaches and developed a relationship with them. I care about my gymnasts so I'm not going to endorse anywhere that I don't get a good feel about. Sometimes it's hard as you love the coaches and the programme but for that gymnast it's just not the right fit.

Do your gymnasts miss school for training? Do you think that has any effect on which schools they can apply for academically?
Yes my gymnasts miss school, I think you can enhance your academic prowess, we work hard to keep them eligible. High level academic schools are not for every gymnast. Just like elite gymnastics is not for every gymnast. Those that are exceptional in their academics will excel regardless of time missed. If a gymnast needs extra tuition then a tutor is sought.