Pencoed Gymnastic Tumbling Club was on the very verge of closing – until, that is, a young coach stepped into the saddle as Head Coach.
Jamie Evans was just 19 and now, five years later, he already has big ambitions for the future.
The effervescent 24-year-old says: “My coach was retiring after 20 years so the club was about to close. My reaction was ‘absolutely not’ and I stepped in. I now have plans to acquire a facility by the time I’m 30.”
He’s spent most of his life at the club. He joined when he was seven and soon knew that his passion lay in tumbling – a form of gymnastics which involves a sequence of twists and somersaults across a 25m track. At 13, he was soon coaching his peers:
“I’d compete and take my go. And then I’d coach the rest of the line-up.” He is now one of the very few tumbling coaches in Wales with high level qualifications.
“Unlike most clubs, our kids stay competing until their late teens,” explains Jamie. “And we also have loads of interest from newcomers. Since the Olympic Games in Rio, we have had so many calls about double mini trampolining. So I’ve put on a third recreational class to cope with the demand. We took on 14 new regulars in just two weeks!”
At last year’s British NDP Championships – that’s the stepping stone event for the British Championships that attracts all the best up and coming tumblers from across Britain – Pencoed returned with the most medals of any club in Wales. A huge achievement for a club with just 25 members at squad level.
So committed to his coaching, Jamie often drives an eight-hour round trip to Milton Keynes for a three hour session:
“Yes, people think I’m nuts! But there we can work with coaches who are responsible for world class athletes. Plus we get to use a full scale tumbling track so it is a priceless experience. From spending time with them, I’ve already made changes within the club and I’m already seeing improvements in the squad.”
Jamie spends most evenings at the club. And he certainly doesn’t get to enjoy a lie-in on Saturdays as he leaves his home in Cardiff at 7am to get to the gym. On top of all of this, he works a 40 hour week in the early years sector.
Yet he still strives to grow the club further, with a steely determination to offer more sessions for the local community. He is currently mentoring a teenage group of coaches to help cope with the demand.
“The main reason I do it?,” says Jamie. “It’s the impact on the children. You have to understand that Bridgend has a very traditional rugby culture. We have one boy who is 14 and he’s a super tumbler and an incredible rugby player. After his rugby matches, he’s back in the changing room and pulls on his leotard in front of the rest of the team. To be that OK with yourself at that age and to be respected for it – that’s amazing confidence.
“I really believe tumbling helps these kids be well-rounded young people with bags of confidence and that’s pretty amazing.”