Gymnastics, Junior Olympic, USAG, USAIGC

Win Medals, Part IV

In “Win Medals, Part III,” I discussed gyms’ requiring mandatory move-up scores and near perfection in order to advance to and compete in the next level, which, I view, is detrimental to the development of children in youth sports.

Which brings me to point number 3 from USAG’s Rules and Policies:

For athletes to repeat a level with the intent to gain an advantage over other competitors or teams IS NOT in the spirit of the Jr. Olympic Program or youth sports in general.

I agree: this is not what youth sports is about. Youth sports is about learning and improving in a sport. Gaining progress over perfection should be the goal (which, incidentally, is “the whole reason” why two of my gymnasts joined our gym).

According to my research on Meet Scores Online, many competitors with the top scores in their levels had already competed the same level the season before, obtaining 36.0+ all-around scores – still a 9.0 per event. The cause? Many clubs set their own score and skill demands before allowing their gymnasts to move up to the next level. Still other clubs are more nebulous with their move-ups: a gymnast moves up when a coach subjectively chooses that it’s best; not based on score or skill. Both of these scenarios can cause problems for gymnasts: the unattainable expectation of perfection or the problem of constantly “moving the bar” on the gymnast, not allowing her to know concrete expectations in order to move up. Both can be psychologically damaging.

USA Gymnastics publishes the rules under which gymnasts should move up. Some coaches and clubs follow these rules, but many ignore them. There are no ramifications for clubs who decide to make their own rules. The culture of USA Gymnastics, propelled by the basic words, “Win Medals” in their mission statement, is to blame.

Good and honorable coaches refuse to step up and do something about these abuses within the local USAG. Why? Is it because they do not want to be blacklisted by the other clubs? Or the judges who are affiliated with other clubs? Is it because they don’t want their (child) gymnasts to pay with lower scores because they, as (adult) coaches, step up to say something? Is it because they don’t want to make waves because the “gymnastics world is so small”? I’ve heard plenty of grumblings on the sidelines, but no one does anything. It’s as though everyone knows what is going on, but no one is willing to do anything about it. It becomes accepted practice and “just the way the sport is.” I disagree, and I always have. We are better than that, and our kids certainly deserve more.

See my “Gymnastics Manifesto” published on this blog. It was prompted by the culmination of our compulsory season in 2016. Although we had been fed up with how the state of Arizona handled compulsory gymnastics under USAG for years, finally, enough was enough.

Under a USAG system, gyms are rewarded and awarded for high scores, regardless of how long a gymnast has been competing a certain level. There are no sanctions on clubs that hold kids back to maintain a competitive advantage. There are no ramifications for violating the spirit of youth sports. This is at the beginning levels of competition, not in upper-level optional or elite gymnastics.

How does an association publish rules without enforcing those rules and still call them rules? They do so by turning a blind eye and ignoring that there are concerns or that there is abuse. Meet directors for all meets sanctioned by USAG must publish all meet results. USAG has access to the information on every one of their sanctioned meets. If they were to open those documents and study their contents, they would see that kids are constantly receiving 9.8s and even 10.0s for their work in the early levels of competition, or that successful gymnasts are repeating levels for multiple seasons while team scores soar, all in the interest of “friendly competition.”

Contrast this with USAIGC. I had the opportunity to spend time with President Paul Spadaro a couple weeks ago. The topic of enforcing scoring rules came up. He told me that he monitors scores in every USAIGC meet. If he sees that there are unusually high scores, he makes it a point to check in with coaches, see what’s going on with a gymnast, and verify that she will be moving up to the next level, etc. There is a mandatory (and authentic) move-up score: “Any gymnast who scores a 37.85 TWICE in the same competitive season must move to the next competitive level when that score is attained for the second time.” Spadaro is proactive when it comes to holding gyms and coaches accountable, keeping competitions fun and fair.

USAG’s refusal to transparently check meet scores and enforce their own rules translates seamlessly to the USAG’s turning a blind eye to the allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated by their National Team doctor. USAG’s culture of not rocking the boat, not wanting to disrupt the reputations of its highest-level coaches and employees, ensuring that they remain highly successful at the highest levels trickles down to the J.O. Program and how coaches run their compulsory and early optional programs.

This is what Marc and I were wrestling with back in 2016 in the wee hours of the night. I had just gotten off the phone with one of my coaches, who reported all that had happened at the Level 5 State Meet. Appalled, Marc and I knew that doing nothing about our situation was just as terrible and harmful to our gymnasts as coming out in support of USAG and its practices.

We knew that what we were doing in our gym, how we were coaching our gymnasts, was beneficial. However, it certainly was not being rewarded whatsoever within the parameters of USAG, and we feared that it could truly damage our gymnasts. We needed to protect our girls. I began writing my “Gymnastics Manifesto,” and, although it didn’t exist in Arizona, I researched USAIGC again. We read over every word of the Rules and Policies. We believed that our philosophy would fit within USAIGC’s philosophical parameters. I emailed the President, Paul Spadaro, directly about how to get the program started in Arizona. He emailed me the next morning and told me that they were ready to come out and meet us. His response and accessibility amazed me and was so refreshing to encounter.

USAIGC stands for “United States Association of Independent Gymnastics Clubs.” It is “an Optional Only College Bound Competitive Program modeled after the NCAA Collegiate Gymnastic Program.” Having been a collegiate competitor myself, I was happy to know that USAIGC brought college gymnastics to the forefront of their program.

In asking Paul Spadaro, USAIGC President, what he thinks about the first words of the USAG Mission Statement being “Win Medals,” he says,

Their Mission Statement should have been ‘PROTECT OUR GYMNASTS’! Gymnastics is a great sport. It goes beyond medals and placements. In the right environment it teaches something that is critical in life for these young ladies; the ability to handle success and failure/winning and losing. Gymnasts in the correct environment will be tomorrow’s leaders.

If USAG were more concerned about whether or not their rules and policies were being adhered to on a local level, perhaps there would have been greater accountability at the top of the ranks, or perhaps the reverse of this statement is true. Regardless, there is no accountability. Their published “Rules and Policies” are nothing more than soft guidelines for clubs to follow. There are no punishments for sandbagging; there are only gold medals and trophies. What really drives what the rules are and how they’re loosely followed are the larger-than-life coaches’ egos and “big box” competitive clubs. They set the local rules. They decide how long a gymnast needs to stay in a level and what score she needs to move out. They dictate how the smaller gyms who strive to make it to the podium with them run their businesses and competitive teams.

I said it in my “Manifesto” and I’ll say it again: I am not a victim, nor will I ever be. But if Marc and I stand idly by and let USAG’s practice continue to affect the girls in our program, we are just as guilty as we would be if we endorsed it. We have now fully cut ties with USAG. We started USAIGC in the state of Arizona, and another team in Tucson is competing with us. We have certified nine judges across the state. We are growing in Arizona, and we are proud to offer other gyms, gymnasts, and parents a CHOICE.

4 thoughts on “Win Medals, Part IV”

  1. That is amazing!!! Thank you for being so proactive and supportive of gymnasts and the sport of gymnastics, not to mention the true meaning of competition!!!! Great job. I support this decision and hope it changes some of the injustice and damage that has been inflicted on previous and future competitive gymnasts.


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