After two postponements, it has taken months for USA Gymnastics to hold a hearing on the abuse allegations against elite gymnastics coach Maggie Haney. After the first day of the hearing, USAG has now suspended Haney from having direct contact with minors. (Note: Riley McCusker, Haney’s current Olympic hopeful, is 18 years old – not a minor.) In addition to having no contact with minor gymnasts, Haney is not allowed to coach at any upcoming US training camps or meets until everything surrounding the complaints is resolved.
After two years of investigating former Olympic gymnastics coach John Geddert, Geddert’s home and Twistars gym have been searched. Geddert and his gym are directly connected with Larry Nassar and the systemic culture of sexual, physical, and mental abuse in gymnastics.
Almost six months after SafeSport took over the investigation into complaints about gymnastics coach Anna Li, victims have finally heard from investigators. This comes over two years after allegations were made to USAG regarding Li’s coaching tactics.
SafeSport is receiving many more complaints than they can keep up with. There is currently a backlog of 1200 cases! Yes, it is important to report any abuse. However, parents and gymnasts should not wait at a gym until SafeSport has cleared up the matter.
My point is this: If a gymnast experiences abuse by a coach, and her parents know about it, her parents should pull her out of the situation. Too many times, parents want to think they are helping their daughters by leaving them in a questionable coaching situation because “it’s their daughter’s dream” or because a certain coach has a reputation for college scholarships, or “she needs to learn how to toughen up.”
If your daughter is already in an established gym, and as a parent, you are not sure if abuse is happening, then this is when parents need to take matters into their own hands. Do your research. Watch some practices. Are children crying on a regular basis? Are children being berated daily? Is the focus on winning at all costs? If a gym’s focus seems to be different than what they say their mission is, then the coaches and owners should be questioned. Start a conversation with your daughter.
If you are switching to a new gym, parents must do their research when selecting a gym. Interview the owners. Interview the coaches. Ask for a week trial for team. Ask about their philosophy. How do they view children? Do they believe that they are shaping human lives? Or are the children a means to the medal stand?
What happens when athletes are afraid to tell their parents about abuse they’ve sustained by coaches, for fear of retaliation? This is all too common in gymnastics, and probably most sports. If your daughter actually tells a parent that she is afraid that her coach will retaliate, then that is a red flag. A parent must ask for a meeting and speak with the coach. Of course, this may just be a perception in the eyes of the gymnast in terms of her coach, an authority figure. She might believe that her coach is scarier than she really is. Speaking as a coach and gym owner, many gymnasts have a fear of authority. It is the job of parents to ensure that this is just the gymnast’s perception and not a rational fear. If the coach turns out to be safe and have the gymnast’s best interest at heart, then the parent must explain that to her daughter and reinforce the fact that the coach is approachable and safe.
If your daughter does not believe a situation is right for her, and is describing abuse, however, then parents must listen and be willing and able to make the decision to take the child out of a harmful environment.
So as for investigating coaches, parents must do it. We will make the decision about what environment is best for our daughters. We will not wait for SafeSport, law enforcement, or USAG to act. We will take matters into our own hands and ensure that our daughters are in a safe environment. Only then will the culture begin to change and we will get our great sport back.
My four high school gymnasts and I just returned from our trip to New York for the USAIGC High School Invitational. We had a great trip!
Again, we were able to see some of the sights like Central Park and the Guggenheim. It turns out that each year we do something just a little bit different with our time in the city, which is a great thing for an annual trip.
This year, I included some more leadership objectives. I relayed to my girls that whether they see themselves as leaders or not does not matter; the little girls who look up to them see them as leaders and role models anyway. This is a role that they must take seriously.
This much is true: we don’t get to choose who looks up to us. We don’t get to choose who we inspire. The only thing that we can do is control how we handle ourselves through adversity, and how we carry ourselves in any given situation. This may be difficult for teenage girls. They are on display everyday in the gym, and they are working through their own difficulties, fears, mental blocks, etc. The kiddos who look up to them look to them for guidance on how they should act and handle adversity.
Contrary to the unattainable societal standard, gymnasts are not perfect. The youngsters know that the older gymnasts will falter, stumble, fall. It’s in how the high schoolers handle themselves, pick themselves up, dust themselves off, work through problems, and keep moving forward that will really show the little ones looking up to them what it is to be a leader.
I am proud of all of my high school gymnasts. They push themselves, problem solve, and try to be their very best in and out of the gym. It’s very hard to be on display when you yourself are learning. My girls do a good job of it, and prove that a perfect result is not what we are necessarily striving for; we are striving for a perfect effort to make oneself better. Good job, girls. I’m proud to be your coach.
Failure is a major part of gymnastics. Whether an actual physical fall, or a mental foible, getting up after falling down is a major life lesson that I want all of my gymnasts to learn. It isn’t the fall that matters so much as the getting up afterward and moving on that is the true test of character, and the real measure of success.
Children starting out in gymnastics fail more times than they succeed. This trend continues throughout a gymnast’s career. Even gymnastics superstar Simone Biles didn’t make her first triple-double in competition before getting up and trying it again. And what do we all remember? Not her shortfall on the first day of competition, but her successfully completing it the next day. She made history, and no one can take that away from her. In fact, she was the only one in the world that could have taken it away from herself – by not getting up and trying it again.
As my team heads into competition season, reinforcing this concept is of utmost importance; I, as a coach, cannot be so disappointed in the fall so that I quash the gymnast’s urge to get back up.
Whether a gymnast has a physical fall or a mental misstep, I must remind her that it’s only a fall, and a fall is temporary. I must encourage her to get up, for each time she does, she will learn something.
Some gymnasts (and coaches) believe that falls just should never happen. Of course we should prepare our gymnasts well for meets so that we and they believe that they will be successful. However, given human nature, perfect perfection all the time is not realistic. One of my main jobs is to teach my gymnasts to live in reality, and to know how to handle a fall, physically and emotionally.
Some gymnasts believe that the little eyes around the gym watching them don’t expect them to fall. That can’t be further from the truth: little gymnasts expect everyone to fall just like they themselves do. What they need to see is their role models pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and give it another shot. That’s what successful people do, even though getting up is sometimes the hardest part of all.
As a realistic and objective coach, I must demonstrate that the expectation of doing one’s best work is not necessarily a perfect performance. Rather, the expectation must be the perfect effort, and that requires tenacity and the willingness to get up, move on, and try to improve. It must be okay if something goes awry. As in life, a gymnast must know how to handle the situation when she fails. She must learn how to think on her feet, bounce back, and continue on. If I as a coach want her to develop that character trait, then I need to practice what I preach; I need to act consistently with what I say, make it okay to mess up, but also make it imperative to get back up again and move on. That is the true measure of success.
With a new year comes the opportunity to try new things, be more daring, more adventurous, and more attuned.
I don’t believe we need a new year to turn a new leaf; we have a new day every 24 hours to start something new. But there is something about a new year that gives us pause, and grants us a reason to begin anew.
In gymnastics, the new year just so happens to mark the beginning of the competition season for many young gymnasts. This is a perfect time for gymnasts, coaches, and parents alike to examine their goals and be sure that they are all on track for the upcoming year.
A gymnast should ask herself what her goals are for the season. She should take an objective look at where she is at this point in time, and then ask herself what she is doing each day to help her reach her goals. The most important part of this is to be realistic about where she is and where she wants to go.
At this point in the season, coaches have many hopes and goals for their gymnasts. Just the same as their gymnasts, coaches should take inventory of where their gymnasts are at this point in the season. Most gyms have a critique meet to check in with a judge to see where their team is. This is a perfect time to establish a baseline for the season for each gymnast. Some gymnasts may surprise their coaches and be farther ahead or behind, be a stronger competitor, or even a more nervous one. All these things are considerations that must come into play when establishing training packets, lesson plans, and goals for the rest of the season.
Parents should take an objective look at where their gymnast is. They must remember that gymnastics is their daughter’s sport, and ensure that they are doing what they can to be their daughter’s biggest fan. Being a major part of a gymnast’s support system is to not to add to your gymnast’s stress, but to help to mitigate it. Parents should ask themselves what one thing they can do each day to help their daughter be more positive and objective about her gymnastics.
The new year is a perfect time to reconnect with reality, take inventory, and reconsider goals for the upcoming year. We should take a minute to check in with ourselves and make sure that we are on the right track.
The fifth Gym Rats book, Glide Kip, is coming out on November 22nd!
Morgan and Madison are still best friends and still Gym Rats. This time, read as they go through the trials and tribulations of getting their kips! Their arch rivals, Amber and Leslie, are at it again, trying to sabotage the Gym Rats’ every move. After the story, keep reading for coach tips, drills, and more!
You will be able to order on Amazon.com and Apple Books.
As a coach, I can get stuck in a rut. To avoid this in the gym, I make training packets that rotate throughout the year. I break the year into phases: off-season, pre-season, season, post-season; and then I break the phases into phases. The kids have variety, the coaches have variety. But what happens when I get stuck in a rut in my actual day-to-day coaching?
I was not getting through to one of my gymnasts, and I needed to know why and how to change the situation. I called a meeting with parents and gymnast. The solution that came out of the meeting was our agreement on a blank slate. We decided to erase our frustrations with one another, and start anew. We came up with a plan to tackle the gymnast’s fears and build her confidence. I am looking forward to this new coach-gymnast relationship.
The possibility of starting anew could never have taken place if parents, coach, and gymnast hadn’t been willing to come together and talk about the uncomfortable.
Sometimes it is important that I hear that I am not doing everything just right. As a gymnastics coach, I spend the hours in the gym giving correction after correction, focusing on the mistakes and errors others are making. What about when I need to change something? Who is there to tell me, the leader, that I need to do something different? This is where introspection and the willingness to listen come into play.
I want to teach my gymnasts to face their problems, admit their errors, take responsibility for and learn from them, do their best to correct them, and improve. If that is what I expect of my gymnasts, then I had better be prepared to do those exact things in my own life as their leader. As a coach, I need to examine how I’m coaching and find what it is that I could do better. And if I don’t know what I need to change, then I need to take the initiative to figure it out, and be willing to take criticism.
It is not easy to talk about mistakes. However, just like I tell my kids, on the hardest days, you have the opportunity to learn the most.
There have been a couple of key developments in the past week in the USA Gymnastics (USAG) saga. In the first, the US Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade and Consumer Protection report their findings after a year-and-a-half investigation. In the second, an article describing athlete mistreatment in a high-ranking USAG gym, demonstrates just how slowly the needle is moving in the the direction of reform in the gymnastics community.
US Senators Jerry Moran and Richard Blumenthal released their “Senate Olympics Investigation” report on July 30, 2019. It details the negligence on the part of USAG, the USOC, MSU and the FBI to act in cases involving sexual abuse of gymnasts by Dr. Larry Nassar. The evidence is not new. Sadly, the findings are not surprising. Those of you following the despicable story in the news (Indianapolis Star) and through other investigative reports (Deborah Daniels, Ropes & Gray) already know the narrative. (If you have not read any of these stories or reports, you must get out of the dark and educate yourself as a gymnastics parent!)
Everything laid out in the articles and reports linked above was either illegal or against some rule or code. The “thou shalt nots” were in place. The lack of action is what was missing — not more laws.
Larry Nassar was a master manipulator. He spent decades grooming children and their families and coaches to trust him; he fooled everybody. Unfortunately, his was an evil that exceeded anyone and everyone’s worst nightmares. With hindsight being what it is, parents are now on the lookout for improper sexual conduct. More education, rules and reporting capabilities are in place to identify probable misconduct. Unfortunately, this is only part of the abuse tied to the Larry Nassar scandal.
People in the gymnastics community talk about the horrible sexual abuse scandal, but the action stops there. Larry Nassar is behind bars. Now it’s time to tackle the actual source of the problem — and it wasn’t Nassar.
Physical and emotional abuse in gymnastics is rampant and overlooked. This part of the story has not changed, and this is the integral part of the gymnastics culture that allowed Larry Nassar to be so successful at his insidious behavior.
Many gymnasts are taught, in order to be great, and in order to reach their goals, they must put up with mistreatment and abuse. You need discipline, they’re told. It’s a sacrifice, is the mantra. Do what your coach says, and your dreams will come true. Lose weight and you will get a scholarship. You’re having an off day? You are lazy. You came in to the gym overweight? Start running. You’re injured? You’re just trying to get out of practice. You’re scared after a hard fall? You are weak. You fell in a meet? Silence — coaches ignore you.
Imagine being an adolescent girl and you hear comments like these on a daily basis. You begin to believe that everything is your fault: that you are undisciplined, you’re fat, lazy, weak, and a bad gymnast. Your self-esteem suffers. You continue to listen to and believe your coach, striving, unsuccessfully, to be in her good graces.
Parents do not want their daughters fed a constant diet of oppressive and belittling comments. We don’t want her striving to meet impossible expectations. We don’t want the bar to be constantly changing for her, and we certainly don’t want her to feel so poorly about herself that her only refuge is the feigned kindness of a pathological serial child molester (as in the case of Larry Nassar). If you’re anything like me, you want your daughter to be strong, independent, and confident, and to recognize when she is being mistreated.
Parents, you have a right to ensure that your daughter is treated with respect in the gym. Many coaches claim that they want to teach their gymnasts “life lessons.” You should be sure that you know which life lessons those are, and if they are actually being taught. It is said that hindsight is 20/20. But what about the current situation? Listen to what your daughter is actually saying about practice. How is she being treated? Is she coming home crying every night? Are you barred from watching practice? Is she in constant pain, yet is afraid to tell her coach? Do you even feel uncomfortable talking to her coach about your concerns? If your answers are “yes,” then you need to think about whether your daughter’s current gym situation is what is in her best interest.
Martha Karolyi had submitted written testimony to the Senate’s investigation. Two things are suspect: 1. it was not included in the report — I had to search for it on my own, and 2. she acts completely innocent, as though she had absolutely no say in what went on at USAG: “Although a portion of my ranch was used for national team camps, this portion was exclusively leased by USA Gymnastics. USA Gymnastics set all policies for the camp that were outside of the gym and was responsible for running the camp.” She attempts to wash her hands of everything: nothing to see here; she had purview within four walls of the gym, nothing more. There are plenty of reports detailing how this was not the case.
Karolyi continues to say that she did not know how to recognize sexual abuse when it was happening, and that more education would have helped her to see it. Perhaps this education would have made her see that her abusive coaching tactics and the fear she instilled in her athletes and their coaches contributed to Nassar’s grooming opportunities.
In her statement, she also recommends “USA Gymnastics-assigned chaperones” for gymnasts at national training camps and competitions. I believe it was her sign on the gym door that stated, “No parents allowed.” Would she all of a sudden allow “outsiders” in to watch training sessions? It was her policy that parents were unable to stay in the same hotel as their daughters at competitions. Would she now all of a sudden be okay with the “distraction”?
Parents need to be parents: be advocates for your children’s well-being, and call coaches out on their abusive and questionable methods. You can no longer continue to grant coaches immunity when using abusive — physical or emotional — tactics with your kids. What are these methods accomplishing? What is your silence accomplishing? Do you stand by, no questions asked, when coaches tell you that crying every night is a necessary part of becoming a good gymnast? What keeps you from standing up, being confident, and protecting your kids?
Then ask yourself: Do you want every meet fee, every gym membership, every clinic tuition payment to support the same organization that not only fostered the environment for Larry Nassar to thrive, but actively worked to cover up his egregious actions? What life lessons are you teaching your daughter with your passive resignation when it comes to her health and well-being?
One argument is that parents don’t want to “stifle their kids’ dreams,” that it is a difficult decision to take one’s child out of a sport she loves, because it’s her dream. Would you rather her be abused instead? To learn to passively accept abuse? To actually sacrifice everything in order to win? It is noted in the Senate report that parents feared “retaliation from coaches” (p. 15). That is not acceptable. Some of you have accepted the status quo for far too long; you must tell your daughter’s coaches when their behavior is not acceptable, and in doing so, be willing to remove her from the gym if it does not change. You must insist on coaches who believe in parental rights, and you must insist that you do not give your rights up.
USAG is weathering this storm, and they are continually supported by top clubs and gym owners despite their long string of poor decisions. Your tacit adherence to questionable coaching practices provides USAG the sanction it needs to thrive. You must ask yourself why you continue to directly support and fund the organization that has been in the business of abusing children for decades. Read the reports: your silence is contributing to the problem.
We don’t need Congress to pass more laws. Parents need to wake up and realize that coaches do not always know what is best. Thinking that your daughter will be stronger for putting up with her coaches’ techniques may be in error. The truth is, only a few can withstand years of emotional and physical abuse and come out on top — that’s why there are so few who make it to the Olympics and elite gymnastics in general. I’m writing this to support the Everyday Gymnast, the regular kid who is not destined for Olympic stardom, but who loves gymnastics and spends her free time in the gym. These are the children who eventually break from the pressure, from the inside out. The problem is, many parents don’t realize it or do anything about it until it’s too late, after too much of the damage has already been done.
All this is bolstered by the recent article about Anna Li, the latest member appointed to the USAG athlete’s council, USAG’s most recent poor decision. She resigned yesterday because she is being investigated by SafeSport for abusing her gymnasts.
A couple of weeks ago, our team returned from the 2019 USAIGC World Championships gymnastics meet in Nashville. The venue (the Gaylord Opryland Resort) was terrific. Although I didn’t stay on-site, a number of our gymnasts did, and they thought it was great — restaurants, convention center, water park, and more, all under one roof.
USAIGC held two parties just for gymnasts, and all of my gymnasts who attended had a great time. They really felt like they were a part of a special event.
The meet was well-run and organized. The sessions ran on time, and the awards were fast and efficient. Overall, the scoring was fair and consistent, and the meet was competitive. Scores weren’t handed out to athletes; gymnasts had to earn their awards and titles.
To top it all off, although I spent the 4th of July working, it was something very special to have the National Anthem sung so beautifully on our nation’s 243rd birthday.
Once again, the same as last year, the coaches were all very nice and cooperative. Although we were there to compete against one another, the fact that we all had a basic respect for the USAIGC program and its underlying philosophy, gave us a sense of camaraderie. We were there to support our gymnasts and to give them the best experience possible. This healthy attitude was displayed throughout the week from all of the coaches. Our gymnasts see coaches from different clubs working together, and they become more friendly with one another too. This is one of the things I really enjoy and respect about USAIGC.
Another intelligent aspect of the USAIGC rules is the encouragement of the event specialist. This year, even more than last year, the event specialist was truly celebrated. This is a very realistic view to have of gymnastics. “The USAIGC/IAIGC promotes and encourages Individual Event Competition in all competitive levels with the same qualification procedures. Collegiate gymnastics is built upon Individual Event Specialist” (USAIGC Rules & Policies, pg. 9). Not all gymnasts excel at the same rate on all events. This is normal. In fact, event specialty is a fundamental part of college gymnastics (for instance, I was recruited for my vaulting prowess), something which many of these young gymnasts want to be a part of one day.
In USAIGC, if a gymnast does not qualify to World Championships as an all-around gymnast, she has the opportunity to qualify on up to two individual events. She is not held back on her stronger events because of her weaker events. Then, at World Championships she has the opportunity to qualify in her age group as an event finalist, competing again, and having the chance to become a World Champion. In any other organization, this would not be possible. Many of my gymnasts did not qualify as all-around competitors, but as event specialists. This rule makes sense; it is a smart and realistic rule for the sport of gymnastics.
Just as in college gymnastics, let’s not hold a gymnast back because of what she cannot do, let’s give her the opportunity to go as far as she can and push herself to the best of her ability on what she can do. Let’s see where her talents take her, not force her to quit or compete at a lower level because she doesn’t have all four events at the same level.
We appreciate USAIGC and its intelligent structure. Our gym has finished our second year of competition under its umbrella, and we cannot be more happy about the change we made for our girls.
I was fortunate, once again, to take five of my high school-aged gymnasts on a trip to New York City for the annual USAIGC High School Invitational. This is the second year that we have offered this meet to our high school gymnasts, and we had a great time!
We spent all day on Saturday in New York City, taking in the sights, and meeting Paul Spadaro, the President of USAIGC, for a fabulous lunch. Because we were traveling with older kids, we could do some more mature New York City sight-seeing, like visiting the 911 Memorial Museum. The girls, all of whom were not yet born on 9/11 except one, were touched and awestruck.
This year, we had five gymnasts and three adult chaperones, plus myself, so we decided to rent a house in Queens for the weekend. The girls were able to all stay in the same room together and bond. Because the high school meet is about celebrating age and years in the sport, and not level, not all of my girls work out in the same group in our gym. Therefore, they were able to get to know one another a little better. We gave them the freedom to cut loose (within reason) and really get comfortable with each other. They also stayed up late, watched movies, and talked, like teenagers like to do. They even bought matching socks for themselves (and me – thanks, girls!) so they could make the weekend even more special.
Much like last year, I gave my five high school girls the opportunity to (somewhat) dictate how their practices would look in the gym leading up to the meet, so they could have input on how they could best prepare themselves.
It turns out that my five girls have truly taken their roles as leaders and role models in the gym seriously. I am proud to say that they took the initiative to bring home an idea of the “Positivity Board” from the host gym. They came to me with the idea, and I thought it was a good one, so we decided to implement it. I bought a white board and markers, and it was the high schoolers’ job to explain the purpose of the board to their teammates. Reading over what their teammates write on the Positivity Board is now one of the highlights of the week for many of my gymnasts, all because of the initiative taken by my team leaders – my high schoolers. One of my greatest goals in coaching is teaching kids how to take initiative and lead. When I watch them begin to do it on their own is very rewarding.
This meet served as a great opportunity for my high school-aged gymnasts to know that they are special, important, and valued members of my competitive team. I am thrilled to offer this meet on our schedule each year, spend a long weekend in New York City with the girls, and reward them for many years well spent in our great sport.