Long ago, Black Hills Gymnastics owner Alisa Muller met International Coach Steve Arkell coaching at Gymnastics Camps throughout the Northwest. Years passed by and recently Alisa reconnected with Coach Steve and Gaby Arkell through Coach Li Lu, Olympic Gold Medalist and Black Hills Gymnastics Girls Team Director, in an effort to collaborate and enhance the skills of athletes from their respective gyms. That effort has produced a wonderful friendship and amazing opportunities for both.

A throwback! Steve is in the back row, third from the right and Alisa is at the right end of the second row in this picture from a camp in the early 90’s.

Steve and Gaby recently came all the way from Texas to Lacey, Washington to share their expertise, techniques, and passion.

Alisa knew that BHG had an above average goal, so they’d need above average mentorship from the outside. She and other coaches like Li Lu had brought the athletes to a receptive point, so Steve and Gaby were brought in to coach the athletes AND the staff. Alisa’s goal was to increase the knowledge and skills her coaches have in order to produce even better gymnasts!

Both Coach Li and Alisa saw that we’re on the right track and there are plenty of areas for growth! It was reassuring to see that they’ve taken the right path. If the basics wouldn’t have been there, Steve and Gaby wouldn’t have made much impact. The fundamentals were there from BHG, and their coaching talent amplified it. This was great to see as it lets the whole BHG team to learn and achieve things more easily.

What Steve and Gaby love most about gymnastics are the life lessons the sport gives.

Gaby says, “It’s neat to see things not only in an athletic way and competing, but to look and think ‘What is this actually teaching me? What is this preparing me for in real life?’ It’s both what you’re learning in the moment and what you’re learning overall.”

The challenges I faced as a coach allowed me to realize how amazing this sport can be. I was young when I started coaching, so, to me with trying to explain things in a way that they would understand at the stage they’re at right now. I always asked myself, “Would how I’m explaining it be logical? Why would I understand at this age?” This helped me figure out what language to use to have this kid perform any acrobatic skills or any jump the way I want them to do it. So I always try to put myself in their shoes, and that age, and what will be understood and absorbed.

Steve says the way he got into coaching truly made him love the sport. “Just before I graduated, my high school coach retired, and I actually took over and coached the boys team, at Mercer Island High School. I then started assisting the women’s team at the same time.  Learning how to properly coach happened naturally, because the same time I was coaching, I was competing. So I just had fun in the gym, and worked out alongside my athletes. I tried to help them however I could. 

As I stopped competing myself, the goal was more to understand how to break things down into small pieces,and teach them and small pieces. And then, as those pieces get good, make your pieces perfect and combine your pieces until you have the skill. So it’s more of a systematic approach so when kids grow and the more complex flips get brought in there’s not as much fear. I found a non-emotional approach with these small pieces made it easier to focus on only the “part” of the skill or routine that needs adjusting, rather than tweaking the whole thing. 

Steve and Gaby have enjoyed their time collaborating and growing with Alisa and the staff at BHG. Steve has known Alisa for about 30 years, back when he owned a gym in Oregon.

“She used to come up and bring kids to train with us, because I had a few real high level kids every year. We’d share ideas and back then there were no real educational gymnastics tools out there. So we’d watch VHS videos that we got of the Russians or the Chinese or whoever was on top of the time. And we just had a great time together and worked with each other’s athletes. We’re all kind of self taught really, so we just learned from each other. Fast forward to now, Alisa had hired my good friend Li Lu, who we’ve trained with before, so we were excited to come up and work with such a talented staff.”

I love the clarity of the goal and the vision of what they want to accomplish. they’re not waffling around, or just, you know, bringing in some other coaches. They said, Listen, this, this is what we want to do. We want to get back on top in this area and we came to help them do that.” 

It’s clear that the relationships and skills gained through the sport of gymnastics are incredible tools for success in any realm. That’s what our focus is here at BHG. A huge thanks to Steve and Gaby for coming to provide one-on-one, top tier education for our athletes!