Jason Collins has no qualms about being in the spotlight.
After all, he spent more than a decade as a professional opera singer.
But the South Florida Gymnastics boys team coach received a surprise turn in the spotlight at the USA Gymnastics Florida Men’s State Championships last month in Fort Lauderdale.
Collins was in the middle of speaking about one of his Level 10 athletes when he learned he had been named the 2015 USA Gymnastics Florida Compulsory Coach of the Year.
“I was shocked and honored,” Collins says. “It’s humbling. The boys have worked so hard and to be recognized by my colleagues — that’s really what gets you. But I’m only as good as the gymnasts who are training.”
Collins received the honor, on which gymnastics coaches in the state vote, in his second year with South Florida Gymnastics. Collins had no idea he was in consideration for, let alone that he would ultimately win, the award.
“It was validating,” Collins says. “I know what it means to be a great coach. I’m hard on them, but they know that I love them. And this made me more grounded and confident that I made the right career move. It was pretty inspiring.”
Collins began coaching the South Florida Gymnastics boys team about 18 months ago, after spending a little more than a year coaching the Sarasota Surge YMCA gymnastics team and serving as its program director.
With a full-time administrative staff already in place at South Florida Gymnastics, Collins can now focus his attention solely on developing his gymnasts.
The program had 19 boys enrolled when Collins took over, and since then it’s grown to 30.
“I’m a competitor,” says Collins. “I was at the top of my field, and now I want to coach kids to be at the top of their field. That’s what it was all about. I wanted to be the best coach I could be.”
During the state championships, Collins’ athletes tallied 77 first-place finishes, which included both all-around and individual apparatus state champions. Of the 25 boys who competed, all 15 who were eligible qualified for the 2015 Region 8 Men’s Championships April 10 through April 12, in West Palm Beach.
At the regional meet, South Florida Gymnastics posted 30 first-place individual and all-around champions, 23 second-place finishes and nine third-place finishes (see sidebar). The regional championships featured teams from Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi and Florida.
Braden River Elementary’s Danny Ferber and Lakewood Ranch High’s Noah Candocia both won all-around titles. Lakewood Ranch High senior Clayton Spencer qualified for the Junior Olympic National Gymnastics Championships May 5 through May 10, in Daytona.
Collins, who also was named one of the coaches for the State Elite Camp in June, returned to the gym this week where his athletes spend anywhere between nine and 25 hours a week training. He is looking forward to continuing to develop kids with the goal of maintaining the level and quality of an elite program.
“I would rather have a fine-dining experience than a buffet,” Collins says. “I want to keep it small like a boutique, otherwise it gets to be too much.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].