RICHMOND HILL — In a very ordinary strip mall in Richmond Hill, there are parents crowded into every last space in the lobby at Skyriders Trampoline Place, watching Dave Ross assess their children’s ability to be extraordinary.
Barely two months ago, Ross was standing alongside Olympians in London as the head coach of the Canadian national team, and now he stands with a clipboard, surrounded by kids under 10 years old who are ready to fly.
“You put in time with the little ones, hoping that you find some new stars,” says Ross later, as he sits on an exercise bicycle in the corner of his gym.
“But at the same time, the journey that kids go through is to try hard and get better. Any athlete that’s willing to work hard, I’m really happy to work with.”
He’s often been asked if he lives for the results. His results speak volumes that are nothing short of world class.
He’s coached trampoline legend Karen Cockburn, record-holder Jason Burnett, and Canada’s only golden girl from the 2012 London Games, Rosie MacLennan.
“I won’t lie and say I’d rather we did worse, of course we want to do well when we compete,” Ross says. “But the journey is more important than the goal.”
To see Ross work, even as he entertains questions from the media, he’s still observing, still watching and taking it all in as a new group moves onto the equipment. This next group is his second group down from the top.
They’re the future of the gym, and if they’re not already competing at an international level, they will be soon enough. Ross thinks it’s important to be involved in the entire process.
“If you look at an athlete that starts at one dot and eventually gets to here,” says Ross, drawing another dot in the air, “the curve isn’t usually a straight line.
“You can’t give up on kids before the hard work starts — at first they need more direction, and they can learn faster. Later, they become resistant to change.
“The last 10 per cent needs 90 per cent of the work. To me, if you’re going to be a good coach, you have to know how to do that last 10 per cent.”
Ross says the first 90 per cent is the motivating part, and the part that bears the most influence on a young athlete’s life.
A major factor in this sport where success can be measured, literally, by how high you can go, and how difficult you make it, the mental component is of utmost importance.
“It’s interesting that kids bring something to the table when they show up here, some bring more to the table than others,” Ross says. “If they’re weak in their mental skills, you may have to help them with that.”
Falling from cloud nine, the words to the latest Katy Perry song blare through the speakers as Ross continues to bike, and bigger tricks that nearly reach the roof are being practiced by this group of athletes.
“One of the areas of mental training that I really try to focus on is building up the athlete’s self-confidence,” says Ross.
“It’s one thing to get over a fear, which is prevalent in our sport because of the nature of what we’re doing, so that’s one barrier that you get over using one set of techniques,
“But then you’ve got athletes that don’t think they can win. They don’t have the self-confidence to think ‘I’m the best one here, I’m going to show everybody,’ so to develop that confidence is a whole other area of focus.”
Forty years of coaching have taught Ross to know that the barrier will be hit. He works on the confidence right away so that one day, the world stage won’t make them nervous and unsure of themselves.
He has been witness to the world stage, producing some of the best athletes in the sport. Skyriders currently has 13 seniors, the top competitive level in trampoline. Some clubs might have one senior.
From the announcement of trampoline as an Olympic event in 1998 and it’s subsequent debut in 2000, to equipment changes, to the growth of powerhouses in the former-Soviet Union and China, Ross may very well have seen it all.
Ross is certain that it’s the commitment to being excellent that the most successful athletes bring to the gym when they walk through the door.
“You can try to blow into glowing embers, and try to turn it into a big campfire, but there’s got to be something there to start with,” he says. “We try to encourage and take what the athletes bring us, and try to turn it into something more.”
He notes that he’s burnt 100 calories since he began the interview, before he gets off the bike and heads straight into one-on-one talks with the athletes he’s been watching for the last 20 minutes.