In the April issue of Inside Gymnastics, we caught up with 2005 U.S. Champion Todd Thornton to get the inside scoop on his new gymnastics facility and his goals for keeping kids in, and loving gymnastics. Here is the complete interview:

Did you always know you wanted to coach?

In my last few years competing, I was working as a software designer and designing apps. After I retired and moved back to Houston to be close to my family, I went back to school for business and web design. I had planned to open my own business in that industry later on. I decided to start coaching part time while I was finishing college. It wasn’t until I started coaching that I knew I wanted to be a coach. It wasn’t just about my passion for the sport of gymnastics — coaching is an incredible opportunity to help build kids’ self esteem, health, character, and futures as a whole. When I discovered my passion for coaching, plans for the future began to change, and I really felt like I’d found what I was meant to do.

Who were some major influences in your life and career that really motivated you along the way as an athlete, and now as a gym owner?

One of the greatest influences in my life is my former coach and 1985 U.S. National Champion, Brian Babcock. Not only was he my coach, but he showed me what it meant to be a good person. He had a way of pushing me to be my best in a very positive, motivating way. He put others before himself, and would always go the extra mile that most others wouldn’t. When I was in Belgium for the 2001 World Championships, I met Chris Korotky. From the start, it was clear how different Chris was from others in the media. He genuinely wanted to get to know me, and was extremely supportive of me when I felt like others weren’t. After I retired from competing, I had the pleasure of being a contributor for Inside Gymnastics. During my time working with Chris in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, Chris inspired me to look forward to my future. Chris’ drive, creativity, and work ethic is something I admire about him, and his support and advice really pushed me to do more. Colorado gym owners, and long-time friends, Rob and Wendy Candelaria were incredible role models for me, as coaches and as gym owners. I would coach summer camps with them over a 15-year period, and during that time I learned a lot about coaching, but even more about myself and what I really wanted to do. My wife, Kim, began making the trip out to their gym with me in the summers, and their influence started to snowball into the idea that “hey, we can do this, too.” They were mentors for us, and we watched them build their gym and summer camps into incredibly successful programs. What stood out more to us than anything was their genuine care for their students, staff, and families.

What sets Thornton’s Gymnastics Center apart from other programs?

We are unique, not only for our knowledge of the sport and programs we offer, but our own personal experiences and achievements. The people who are making the decisions for the business are the same people who are in the gym coaching the students. Everything we do is for the kids. This gym was created specifically so that young gymnasts get the equipment, coaching, and environment they need and deserve. My experience competing all over the world has taught me that it isn’t the size of the gym, or the facility with the shiniest, newest equipment that makes them successful. Some of the best gymnasts in the world train on equipment and in facilities that “aren’t good enough.” It’s the people inside of those gyms that make the difference. Not only was I a World Championship Team member and National Champion, but my wife, Kim, is a technically trained dancer and current NFL cheerleader. The rare and experienced team we make is something extremely unique. We have each spent our lifetimes training and perfecting our art, and have now extended our passion into sharing these arts with children of all ages.

What qualities do you look for when hiring coaches?

It’s extremely important that they value what is important to our gym: a passion for working with children, genuine care for the students’ learning and self-esteem, and the importance of respect, discipline, good sportsmanship, and good character. It’s essential for every coach to have an open mind, and be accepting of new techniques. Proactive, eager coaches make all of us better, and can challenge each of us to try something new.

What do you wish you would have known when starting your own gym?

Everything takes longer and costs more money than you think it will. This is our second gym we’ve opened in four years, and the biggest lesson we’ve learned is to surround ourselves with good, honest people.

How do you believe we keep more boys participating in gymnastics?

It’s so important for people to understand how beneficial gymnastics can be in every aspect of a child’s life. Gymnastics teaches discipline, responsibility, strong work ethic, respect, good sportsmanship, empathy for others, in addition to the fitness benefits of flexibility, balance, strength, body awareness, and agility. Professional athletes in other sports have expressed how much gymnastics has positively impacted their training in other areas. We can also keep boys participating in gymnastics by continuing to be positive role models for them. They may not hope to be an Olympic gymnast one day, but with mentors and positive role models like their coaches, kids are more likely to live positive, goal-driven lives.

What do you hope for most for all of the students who come through your door?

In each of our classes, our goal is to make them feel good about themselves while having fun. If they feel good about themselves, they enjoy the class, and with positive experiences, they will be more open to learning and applying the lessons we present them. In addition to safe and fun learning, we hope to instill good character, good sportsmanship, consideration for others, and positive social skills.

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