A question-and-answer session with the state's boys and girls gymnastics coaches

 GETTING TO KNOW: Scott Hagel, Palatine boys head coach

 By Mike Considine

SGS co-publisher

SGS: What memories do you have of competing at Mundelein?


Hagel: I remember some very tough competitive practices. There would be guys all over the gym fighting to get tricks and doing anything they could to get better. We would always be competing for the next turn on every event. I remember trying to make sure you were standing close enough to the high bar so that when the guy up there finished you could jump up before someone cut in front of you. During season I remember some very long, but productive days. On days of weekend invites, we would usually compete in the invite and then come back into the gym for an hour of conditioning afterwards. We all wanted to do everything that we could to get to state each year.


There are also a ton of memories about all the extra things that we did outside of the gym. Everything from typical pasta parties and picnics to some different things like overnight lock-ins at the end of season and a trip with Coach Foerch and the team to go see Tom Petty in concert. It was these things that really brought us all close together.


SGS: How did Doug Foerch impact the team's success? Are there things you've borrowed from his preparation, coaching style, etc.?


Hagel: Doug was the driving force behind Mundelein’s success during those years. I have never met another coach that was able to see the potential in a gymnast and then tap into all of that potential in such a calculated way. I remember my junior year talking with Doug about my senior year, and he already knew what routines I would be able to get. As an example, he began working with me on taking Mark Kinch’s (a Mundelein gymnast a year older than me that had just won state on p-bars) routine on parallel bars and having me train all the same skills to get this routine by the next season. Sure enough, I was able to do this and make finals myself.


To this day I still use the way that Doug prepared for the state series in my gym. However, the biggest thing that I try take from Doug is his passion for the sport. I remember Doug being involved in so many different gymnastics-related things. He did everything from the steering committee to judging to driving the bus to our meets. 

The bottom line is that we all wanted to do well for Coach Foerch because of the enormous respect that we had for him. To all of us that went though Mundelein gymnastics, Coach was a second father, and for some the most positive male influence that they will ever have. I was blessed with wonderful parents, but I know that I would not be doing what I am today if it were not for Coach Foerch being in my life.   


SGS: What sparked your interest in becoming a coach? What did you do to prepare yourself to become a coach?


Hagel: I first thought about becoming a coach when I became a P.E. leader during my senior year in high school. I was in Doug’s P.E. class and saw what his life was like during the school day. I loved seeing how his positive interactions with others made those around him better people. I had always loved sports, so teaching P.E. and coaching were a perfect choice for a career.

SGS: How did you end up at Palatine? What coaching jobs did you have previously?


Hagel: I started coaching at the Gymnastics Spot (a club in Mundelein) while I was going to the College of Lake County after high school.  While I was there I was a boys team coach, developmental class coach, and also was in charge of their Park District program.  After two years there I went to Northern Illinois University to study P.E. and math education.  As part of my student teaching experience I was assigned to Conant High School.  As luck had it Ed Raymond was my cooperating teacher.  I served as a volunteer coach at Conant for the 1999 season.  During my student teaching experience I was fortunate to be hired at Palatine as a P.E. teacher, assistant girls coach, and head boy’s gymnastics coach for the 2000 school year.  Working with Ed and having Doug as a coach gave me some great ideas on how to run a program.  I took attributes from each program to help prepare myself to become a head coach.

SGS: How has Terry Theobald helped you build the program at Palatine?


Hagel: Terry was extremely helpful with showing me the ropes behind all of the paperwork that a head coach must do. I am sure that most head coaches will agree that sometimes coaching in the gym is the easy part of our job. It is the behind the scenes work that makes being a head coach very tough at times.

SGS: Did you have a five-year plan to build the program into the perennial state contender (and state champion) it has become? What building blocks did you need to establish first? 


Hagel: I was not really sure how long building up a successful program would take when I took over. The first thing that I wanted to do was establish traditions. We began with simple things like team dinners and going out during season to do things like playing Frisbee golf and having cookouts. While these things might have very little to do with the actual gymnastics skills being performed in the gym, they are very important to developing teamwork and relationships. The next thing was to make sure that the guys on the team knew that they would have to put in a lot of time to get better. The guys quickly figured out that the time they put into gymnastics would pay off during the season.

SGS: It seems every championship team in Illinois has state-caliber all-arounders, that's a given, but most also need to rely on specialists and multi-event kids to reach that pinnacle. What steps have you taken to identify and develop those kids, as well as to achieve and maintain the balance between all-arounders, specialists and multi-event gymnasts?


Hagel: I always encourage all of our freshmen gymnasts to do all-around for the first year.  There are so many guys that don't really find out what they are good at until a year or two into gymnastics. One of the best ring specialists we ever had thought that he wanted to be a parallel bar specialist after his freshman year. Most gymnasts realize that the skills they develop on one event help them learn skills on other events, too. Our gymnasts have usually selected their events by junior year, according to where they know they have the best chance of making the lineup. There are some examples when a gymnast excels on a specific event or two very early on in their gymnastics career. There are also cases where a gymnast just needs a little push in the right direction to find out that they have a large amount of potential on what they thought was a weak event for them.


SGS: It is said that all successful teams are a reflection of their coach's personality. How have your Palatine teams reflected your personality? What have you tried to impart to them?


Hagel: The biggest thing that I try to impress on the teams that I have coached is that we will always go out of our way to support all the members of our team, no matter what level they are or how good or bad they are. There are many times after a meet that we talk as a team about how well everyone supported their teammates before we ever talk about what scores anyone received. We spend a great deal of time talking about wanting to do things for others when you sometimes don't want to do them for yourself. A gymnastics season is very long and tiring time for everyone involved. Getting the most out of everyone each day takes a selflessness that is hard to maintain when you are only in it for yourself.


SGS: As one of the state's most successful young coaches, what advice would you give one of your gymnasts who was starting a coaching career? Also, how concerned are you about the lack of young coaches in Illinois?


Hagel: My best advice is to learn to judge. There is no better way to learn to put together routines than by evaluating other coach's routines. Judging gymnastics has to be the toughest thing to officiate in all of sports. There is no other sport with such a limitless amount of skills. There are so many things that you can only see when you dissect a routine on paper. Also, I would recommend that all young coaches ask questions. I still ask plenty of questions on skills that I am unfamiliar with.

Our gymnastics community is such a special collection of individuals. Although we all compete against each other, we also typically do whatever we can to help each other out. There have been so many times when other coaches have offered me advice. I can only hope to pass this on to others when they have questions that could

improve their coaching.


SGS: What would you like to see your Palatine program achieve in the future?


Hagel: I would love to see our program remain a place where our gymnasts support each other and learn to be better people through gymnastics. Sure, it would be great to maintain a high level of success, but there will always be things that are out of a coach's control that might limit our success. It is impossible to say what part of success is hard work and what part is luck, but one thing that we always have control over are the expectations that we set for our gymnasts. I have found that most gymnasts will do whatever they can to rise up to the bar that you set for them.


SGS: What do see as the future of high school boys gymnastics in Illinois? What can be done to keep the sport thriving?


Hagel: Our future looks very solid. Although the number of teams in Illinois is not increasing, our current programs are thriving. There are so many programs that have record numbers of 40, 50, even 60 gymnasts on our teams.

This is a great indicator of what gymnastics is doing for the hundreds of young men in our sport. There are so many students that need a sport like gymnastics in their lives. We fill a special niche for many students that would typically not be successful in other areas (just try and watch most gymnasts play a game of basketball).

We also need to keep replacing our retiring coaches and judges. This can be done by constantly being on the lookout for the gymnasts that come through our programs who epitomize the qualities of teamwork and take pride in helping others. I know that I don't have to look far to see this occurring over and over again. There are so many young coaches in the Mid-Suburban league that, just a few years ago, were competing in our gyms. To keep our sport thriving we need to keep doing what most gymnastics coaches have always done ... keep working together!