Be More Than Stories

Leadership Mindset Determination

In this series, Korn Ferry interviews people who are living our Be More Than principles.

“If it's easy for you, that's not a good thing. You're not getting stronger.”

Name: Danielle Baker, a.k.a. “DaniBee”
Occupation: Gymnastics coach

“I was a competitive gymnast for much of my childhood. At 14, I quit to become a coach. Like many young coaches, I coached the way I was taught. That wasn’t a good thing.

Gymnastics tends to be very top-down: you do what your coach tells you to do. I remember one time when I was 11 or 12, the coach told all the gymnasts at our training camp to get up on the high beam and do a standing back tuck. We looked around at each other, terrified, having never done a standing back tuck on high beam before. 

leadership mindset

No one said a word; we sucked up our fear and did it. But the fact that everyone was afraid, and no one spoke up shows the magnitude of the power our coach had over us. Sure, we did it, but at what cost? We were being taught that adults had power over us and that our voices weren’t important. That’s a dangerous thing to teach young girls.

Looking back, the coach could have accomplished the same result through a five-minute conversation that would have made us feel comfortable and confident and given us a voice in our own gymnastics experience. That’s what I aim to accomplish in my coaching.

In my early coaching years, I was lucky enough to have an amazing coach and mentor in Cassie Rice, the owner of Gymcats in Las Vegas. She started using games as a teaching tool, encouraging the gymnasts to enjoy their practice, and involving them in their experience. When I moved to Los Angeles, I expanded on her mission and began teaching life skills like confidence, perseverance, and a growth mindset. I now have a mobile gymnastics company—a van full of equipment that I take to schools where I set up and teach gymnastics classes.

Much of my coaching philosophy has been influenced by the book Mindset by Carole Dweck. Reading it made me realize how limited I’d been by the fixed mindset I grew up with. Fixed mindsets focus on labels. And gymnastics, too, focuses on labels: you’re talented or you’re not. That’s why most coaches get excited when they see a talented kid.

For me, I get more excited when I see a kid struggling—a kid who says, “I can’t do it.” That’s a fixed mindset: when you feel you innately can’t do something. I know the impact it's going to have on the rest of their life when they realize they can learn. I’m constantly saying, “If it’s easy for you, that’s not a good thing. You’re not getting stronger.” My goal is to get my kids to say, “I need a challenge.”

Now my reach of influence is growing because I’m starting to coach coaches. I’ve begun doing lectures about my philosophy, including at the USA Gymnastics conference. Occasionally there are people in my lectures with their arms folded, but there are other people who come up to me and say they didn’t know fun and playfulness could be an option in gymnastics.

My 2020 goal is to open my own gym with all co-ed classes. It’ll be recreational and developmental only, with performances rather than competitions. I want kids to come for the love of the sport and the pride of overcoming obstacles.

Once I’ve set up that gym, I want to set up other gyms in underprivileged areas. It’s so beneficial to teach a growth mindset to kids who have been put in a box from an early age. My dream is to bring gymnastics to as many young people as possible and teach the skills that can change their lives.” 

“If it's easy for you, that's not a good thing. You're not getting stronger.”