Interview: Tony Retrosi, Swiss national team coach

Tony Retrosi is a gymnastics coach from the USA who owns two gymnastics clubs and runs the consulting company Gym Momentum. Having spent some time in Italy as a consultant with the Italian gymnastics federation, Tony was offered an interim role coaching the Swiss national WAG team following the dismissal of the previous coaching staff in September 2021. He stepped in to coach Switzerland’s best gymnasts last October, alongside 1992 Olympian Wendy Bruce Martin, who has since accepted a permanent role as the team’s head coach, and Switzerland’s most decorated gymnast, Giulia Steingruber, who saw out the end of her contract with the federation by helping to coach her former teammates following her retirement from the sport. Tony’s commitments back home in the USA mean that he can’t stay permanently at the National Sports Centre in Magglingen, where the national team trains, but he plans to continue working with the team as a consultant. Tony kindly agreed to share his thoughts and impressions of the team and talk about their goals.

“Gymnastics federations in many countries have had a very difficult quad and Switzerland did not escape problems.  When Wendy and I were hired, there was already new leadership within the STV (Swiss gymnastics federation). I have not met everyone but the confidence I have in the leadership cannot be understated.  Beatrice Wertli (Director) and David Huser (Head of Elite Sport) provide great leadership. It really is a pleasure to be part of their team. 

Every day I look forward to going into the gym.  The girls work so hard. They believe in themselves and believe they can be great. There will always be setbacks and bad days. But the girls know that tomorrow is another day. There is a mutual trust and respect. I am going to be a total mess when it is time for me to go back to the USA. I have been coaching for more than 30 years. These are some of the best young women I have ever had the pleasure to work with. I came to Switzerland to try to help out a team that needed a coach.  I hoped to make a difference. Instead, I made a family.”

Could you describe what the coaching team in Magglingen looks like right now? Are there any other coaches working alongside you and Wendy? Are there any plans for Giulia (Steingruber) to return as an assistant coach?

“Currently, the coaching team is mainly Wendy and I. We have Dessi (Buergi), our choreographer, a few days a week.  I know STV is interviewing coaches to replace me.  For me, this was always an interim position. Although I absolutely love it here, I own 2 gymnastics clubs in the USA as well as some other business ventures which make it impossible for me to stay.  I plan on remaining on as a consultant and helping out with whatever is necessary in the future. Coaches education has always been a passion of mine. I am hoping to become more involved in that aspect as well. Once a second coach is hired to assist Wendy, they will likely look for a third coach. Giulia was such a fantastic part of our team. She made the transition possible. Currently she is recovering from foot surgery and has decided to take some time away from the sport.  That being said, she stops in the gym every once in a while. She is a valuable resource that I hope will at some time continue on as a coach.”

What does a typical day at the gym look like? How many hours do the gymnasts train? Are there dedicated days for working on floor choreo, upgrades, etc.?

“Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, we have two trainings per day. Morning is typically warm up, event conditioning, beam, vault, dance or floor routines.  Afternoon training is a longer warm up and line drills.  Bars, floor, finish beam and then strength. Having the sports scientists from Magglingen, like Christoph Schaerer, is a great benefit. They set up our strength program. Wednesdays and Saturdays are just one training. We tend to focus on basics and recovery. Every day has a little different rhythm to it.  Different assignments and expectations. .We are just beginning to focus on routines. We have DTB (Pokal) Cup in March that begins the season. Every day we try to leave some time for goals and upgrades.”

The gymnasts on the Swiss national team come from all over Switzerland and speak various languages. Have you and Wendy had any issues with language or cultural barriers? How are the gymnasts adapting to being coached in English?

“We are lucky that all the girls are very good in English. I do speak some Italian but no German or French.  Wendy and I have both learned a good deal of German and Swiss-German. There really have been no cultural issues of any real consequence.  There are numerous things that get lost in translation or mistranslated.  We bought a birthday card for one of the girls, deliberately trying to be cute and juvenile, only to find out that the card said, ‘congratulations on your baby’. Oops.”

What have been the biggest challenges and the biggest surprises for you over the past few months?

“Coming from the USA, we were used to working longer hours at a higher intensity level. The physical preparation of athletes in the USA is just instilled from a very young age.  Here we have learned to work smarter, not just harder. We are also used to having our gyms very crowded. Here we have more space to train and fewer athletes in a group. It is not uncommon for there to be 10 gymnasts in a group in the USA.  Here we have 13 women on our team. The gym now feels busy if there are 30 athletes in the gym (men and women). At my gyms in the USA, there is going to be 30 team gymnasts and another 30- 40 kids in classes all at the same time. What I miss is the mat shapes like wedges, barrels etc that I have gotten used to for drill work. Again, coming from the USA, Switzerland wasn’t really on our radar. I am pleased with the talent level and work ethic.  These girls are hungry. They want to be successful. They have risen to every challenge we have presented.”

What are the main goals for the national team in 2022? And for the rest of the quad?

“Right now we are staying focused on a good showing at European Championships. There is a lot that goes into that. The new code presents challenges, some gymnasts coming off of injury. We were not able to spend enough time getting back to basics and building strength. We came in (to work with the national team) 10 days before World Championships in 2021. We really are not looking past Europeans at this point. From there, World Championships.”

of the gymnasts are recovering from injuries, for example Leonie and her knee and Anastassia and her ankles. Can you tell us how they’re doing?

“In gymnastics, some days, it feels like everyone is coming off an injury. Even everyday ‘aches and pains’ can limit a gymnast’s training. Leonie (Meier) is swinging bars and beginning to do some skills on floor and beam. This was a major surgery so she is still a few months out. Ana (Pascu) is making great progress. She does one hard leg event per day. Right now she is tumbling on the rod floor and vaulting into soft landing. Anina (Wildi), who was injured at World Championships, is back at about 90%. It is important when coming back from injury to go slow. If you rush back, you are just going to get injured again. As a coach, it breaks my heart when a gymnast gets injured. We try to get the gymnasts as strong as possible. Strength is injury prevention.”

We’ve recently seen lots of videos of the gymnasts training upgrades and some cool skills, such as Livia’s double front and Chiara’s DTY. Do you think the gymnasts have gained confidence over the past six months and if so, what has contributed to that?

“The gymnasts know that the gym is their safe space. They know that the only way to improve is to get outside their comfort zone.  When we started we focused on strength, basics and drills. Now they have the strength and understanding to do the skills. Confidence was pretty low when we arrived. Now they have swagger. They believe in themselves.  They believe in the process. They believe in the team. Wendy and I are pretty positive people. We don’t push the gymnasts. We lead them. We believe in them.”

We’re seeing more and more European elites going to the US to compete in NCAA. Do you know if there’s any interest in this among the current Swiss gymnasts? 

“Our main focus is preparing a team for Europeans and Worlds.  To share information throughout the RLZs (Swiss regional performance centres) on technique, on philosophy and what we need in gymnasts coming up here. For some gymnasts, they know they are not in consideration for Europeans and Worlds and that college in USA would be a great experience. If that is their goal, we are happy to work with them. But not to the detriment of the overall Swiss program.”

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