A question-and-answer session with the state's boys and girls gymnastics coaches
GETTING TO KNOW: Robin Straus, Lake Forest girls head coach
By Mike Considine
SGS: How long have you been at Lake Forest? How did you land the job and what attracted you to Lake Forest?
Straus: I have been at Lake Forest since 1979 (32 years). I am from Highland Park and live in Deerfield. I always wanted to teach on the north shore. My first teaching Job was at Joliet West and my first coaching job was with Bolingbrook High School. Carol Myers from Deerfield coached at Lake Forest and then went to Deerfield. I actually took her spot when they opened a PE job. Lake Forest has and always will be a special place to teach and coach. It truly is a wonderful school.
SGS: What have been the biggest changes you've seen in gymnastics during your time at LF?
Straus: Biggest changes include; bars is so much harder to make up beginning routines because the bars are so far apart. Varsity routines have so much more difficulty. We started with wrestling mats so spring floors are pretty special. We are now on our third floor. Front tumbling is definitely harder. Leotards are much more expensive. The horse and the vaults are completely different. Head coaches are turning over. The talent level of every team has gotten so much stronger.
SGS: What was your own gymnastics background and who were your coaching role models?
Straus: My gymnastics background includes competing on the first teams for Highland Park High School. Girls sports were just beginning with the passing of Title IX. Betty Axelson was coaching then for Maine East. At Highland Park we were undefeated my junior and senior years. I competed in the Niles West Invite then and it still lives on today.
Then I went on to compete at Kent State University and then University of Iowa where I was the team captain my junior year. I also coached a high school team which was second in the state my senior year. They granted me an early teaching certificate so I could coach. It was a great opportunity for me but I could not compete for Iowa in my senior year. My early role models in coaching were Bonnie Voss (Highland Park coach), Rudy Bachna my coach at Kent State (so full of enthusiasm), Betty Axelson and Sandy Oldham from Palatine.
SGS: Do you coach any other sports besides gymnastics? If so, do you find that there is carryover value, i.e. things about coaching gymnastics that you apply to other sports you coach?
Straus: I was the head coach for volleyball and gymnastics from 1978-1990. Then the freshman coach for a few years for volleyball. Now I just keep score for both the boys and girls teams. I apply conditioning to both sports and having teams that are close to one another and love being there each day. They will always practice like they hope to compete.
SGS: What are the most valuable things you've learned during your coaching career? What do you differently now than when you were first starting out?
Straus: When I first started out I was only 20. I was a bit too close in age (to the gymnasts). I don’t do things much differently, but I am much wiser. I have learned that some parents can be a bit more difficult to deal with these days. The kids are more stressed and involved in many many things making scheduling a challenge.
SGS: Obviously, there's been a great infusion of talent in Lake Forest gymnastics the last couple of years. Did you know those girls were coming or did they take you by surprise?
Straus: I knew that the girls on my varsity team were coming. Each season I know which kids in the clubs are from Lake Forest. We try to get them to come watch a couple of meets. Sometimes we invite them to flash, time and run.
SGS: What made last year's state-qualifying team successful in your eyes?
Straus: Last season was truly special, as were the teams from 1984-1988. It all came together with the right mix of kids. We had strong leaders and very strong rookies. We all had been pointing to state for a while. We were there, but disappointed that we did not finish higher. That will motivate us for this season. We have a completely different team now. One graduated and 2 left us to concentrate on track. We have picked up two wonderful, sweet gymnasts for a total of seven varsity kids. I love that I have two girls on this team whose mothers were on my teams in the '80s.
SGS: What are the hopes for Lake Forest in the future? As a retiring coach, where would you like to see the program go?
Straus: The plans for Lake Forest in the future are to continue with a strong gymnastics program. We would like to get our JV numbers up a bit. I am confident that I am leaving the program in good hands. My assistant coaches are wonderful and, hopefully, they will get the opportunity to carry on with a very special group of gymnasts.