Samantha James has been coaching elite gymnastics for 16 years. She coaches out of the Europa Gymnastics Centre where she coaches Ireland’s first female Olympian in gymnastics,Ellis O’Reilly. Her first international competition as a coach was the European championships in Montpellier in 2015 for Gymnastics Ireland and Team Ireland and she has since coached for Ireland at European Championships in Bern, the World Championships in Glasgow and the inaugural European Games in Baku. Samantha has also coached Ellis to a number of Irish National Championships titles. Her coaching highlight to date is having the first ever Irish female gymnast qualify for an Olympic Games.
Ellis O’Reilly took to the floor on August 8th 2016 at the Rio Olympic Gymnastics Arena and performed well in front of the capacity audience in attendance. Ellis began on floor, before moving through to vault which she executed very well. From there she moved onto the uneven bars hitting a clean routine before finishing on beam where she had an unfortunate error on dismount causing a fall right at the end of her routine for which she has since received full medical attention and been given the all clear.
Speaking a few days later, Samantha reflected on her performance:
“It didn’t have the ending that both myself and Ellis had intended on but I can honestly say I could not be prouder of her. She showed true fight, professionalism and bravery out there. She handled her nerves and excitement better than ever before up on that huge stage at her biggest ever competition. She is now an Olympian and for me to be able to say I am a coach to an Olympic Athlete just blows me away and makes me smile from ear to ear. Our 9 year coach-gymnast relationship, all the hard work, tears, happiness, ups and downs was all made worthwhile when I got to stand out there in the competition arena with?her yesterday.I am so thankful for this amazing opportunity and hope we did people back home proud. Thank you to everyone for your amazing support especially my wonderful team at Europa Centre, all those at Gymnastics Ireland and Renmore Gym Club and to all my close friends and family.’
How do you prepare an athlete for their first Olympics and having gone through the process would you do anything differently?
Preparation for the Olympic Games would be very much like any other competition, except maybe slightly increased intensity and numbers in training. With regards to it being in a big arena and being The Olympic Games more than anything, I think most of it is about being mentally prepared. Normally at the point of competing at a big competition, the gymnast has had quite a lot of experience and are used to the pressure. However, it’s up to the gymnast to handle their nerves and excitement and for the coach to be there for them as much as possible and in a way that you know them the best.
Was Rio all you expected it to be, was it like other events you have been at or was the enormity of the stage evident?
Rio was very similar to other events I have been to – Baku European Games 2015, Glasgow World Championships 2015 and of course we came for the Test Event back in April so we knew the set up, the size of the arena and how the competition was going to be run. I guess this was an advantage for us.
How would you sum up Ellis’ performance and what do you think this will do for Irish Gymnastics in the long run?
Ellis’s main aim was to qualify for the Olympic Games and she did this through some hard trial processes this year. Ellis’s performance at the Olympic Games, in my opinion, was very professional and I thought she handled her nerves extremely well. For Ellis to be the first ever female gymnast to compete at the Olympic Games will hopefully inspire many generations to come through Gymnastics Ireland and for many young gymnasts to believe that anything is possible. We have made history for Gymnastics Ireland and hopefully it will continue to get better and better.
If you were to advise someone going down the coaching route what would you advise them?
Coaching takes up a lot of time and requires a lot of dedication, hard work, determination, understanding, cooperation, learning, ups and downs but if it is something that you know in your heart that you want to do and that you love, go for it. Help people achieve their dreams. Use your passion to inspire athletes.
Author: Sharon Hutchinson is the founder of sportswomen.ie?and is a former international hockey goalkeeper. ?Sharon created her website as a result of her frustrations with the lack of coverage of women?s sport in the national Irish media.