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USAIGC West Coast Championships Scores Were Encouraging

Two weeks ago, our team returned from USAIGC West Coast Championships in Palm Springs, CA. The meet was a success: a number of our kids became West Coast Champions. Some of our gymnasts and parents were surprised by the lower scores, as they thought their daughters would qualify for World Championships as all-around competitors based on the scores they had received during the regular season. Although I was somewhat surprised at some of the actual scores, overall I was encouraged that the judges were as critical as they were for a number of reasons.

  • This was a Championship meet. Judges should be more discerning at the end of the season, especially when a World Championship berth is on the line. Qualification should be difficult and earned.
The judges’ high expectations showed our gymnasts that they were not a shoe-in for the next tier of competition. Trying one’s best doesn’t equal success in real life, nor should it in a gymnastics meet. Handling both success and defeat gracefully requires character growth. 
  • Perfect scores were not the standard. In fact, there were only fourteen 9.0’s on bars the entire meet out of 453 gymnasts. Each gymnast had to earn every score.

The scores, particularly on bars, were much lower than we had been used to. However, they were consistently low, meaning no team was favored over another. In fact, my gym had nine individual bar champions, despite lower scores than expected. Compared to the competitive field, we did really well. No matter what the score, it was the effort that counted.

Although we had a couple of close scores, I did not petition any of them. I am a strong believer in letting the chips lay as they fall. It is important that my gymnasts understand that they may lose by a very close margin. Learning to handle the outcome is one of the best lessons I can teach my gymnasts. It is important to me to have well-adjusted gymnasts (my daughter included) who can handle disappointment and not crumble under the pressure of a setback.

  • The USIAGC rules were adhered to. The main reason my husband and I left USAG was that they did not enforce their own rules. At West Coast Championships, USAIGC’s rules were respected and followed. Scores were consistent among athletes and clubs throughout the meet. When a gymnast achieved a high score, she earned it, and she deserved to be on the awards stand, unlike what we found to be so common in USAG.

Those gymnasts who earned a 10.0 start value, who added difficulty to her routines, and who executed each of her skills well, were rewarded in the end, as should be the case. Judges simply left room at the top to allow for exceptional gymnasts at Championship meets.

The scores were what I have been looking for since we began USAIGC two years ago. They reflected the values that USAIGC strives to uphold in their Rules and Policies.

  • Winning all-around championships was not necessarily the focus of this meet. Each score was earned on the merit of each individual routine; all gymnasts had the opportunity to qualify as event specialists. This allowed the best of the best on each event to qualify to World Championships, not just the best all-around gymnasts.

While 60% of our club’s all-around gymnasts qualified for World Championships, 77% of our gymnasts who didn’t qualify as all-around competitors qualified as event specialists. This is one of the basic tenets of USAIGC that sets it apart from USAG: USAIGC embraces the event specialist, encourages her, and rewards her. This rule emphasizes doing one’s best on each event, teaches gymnasts that it isn’t over if they happen to score lower in the all-around, and that there is still a chance to qualify as an event specialist.

We need to see this type of scoring at every meet throughout the season. Judges should be more discerning at Championships meets. However, they should ensure that the USAIGC’s intelligent rules are followed all season. This will make certain that our gymnasts (and parents and coaches) do not have a false sense of success leading up to the Championship meets.

More discerning scores will be better for our gymnasts in the long run. It will give them a reason to truly strive and improve, and it will give them a true sense of pride when they finally hit that 10.0 start value, add an extra upgrade skill, or a flight element to their routines, and get rewarded for their effort.

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The Willingness to Listen

As a coach and gym owner, I have always made sure that I demand the respect from my gymnasts that such a position requires. They know who is in charge at all times, and who has the final say. However, I do a lot of introspection, and even though I consider myself pretty accessible and easy to talk to, I find that some kids (and some parents) would just rather skip a conversation altogether with me and just deal with discomfort, pain, fear, concern, etc. I may be unrelenting when picking apart a beam routine, or when I know that someone can do a flyaway by herself and truly doesn’t need me to “stand there,” but some of my gymnasts don’t see that I am the person to talk to about a frustration, lend a suggestion about an injury, and that I am willing to help them solve a problem. I was thinking about why this is — why I am so hard to approach sometimes?

For me, the intent of coaching is not only to teach gymnastics, but it is also to teach my gymnasts all-important life skills. One very important skill is for each gymnast to have the self-confidence to stand up for what she believes is best for her. I can see that my role as head coach and gym owner can be quite intimidating for children. If I want to teach gymnasts how to be independent people who stick up for what they believe is best for themselves, then I, as a coach, need to be approachable and welcome input and feedback from my gymnasts.

Inherently, coaches are intimidating. We are in a position of authority, and good kids have a healthy respect for authority. However, if I want to teach my girls to have a voice, then I need to teach them that it is okay to stand up to authority sometimes. I have to make sure that I am receptive when they are willing to say something.

Some kids are just naturally better at communicating than others (in fact, some are too good at it… you coaches know what I mean!). But as a coach, I find that my kids ultimately really don’t want to disappoint me. They want me to praise them and give them props for a job well done, which I do try to do. I’m loud, I give high-fives, we have a chart where gymnasts put up a star for a job well done, and we have other motivational and praise-centered items for the gymnasts.

However, some gymnasts don’t tell me what is going on because they believe that they should just be strong and push through. Some gymnasts just think that I don’t want them to complain and just do the work. Some don’t want to hurt my feelings. Some misunderstand my intensity as unapproachable. Regardless of the type of communicator, the more information I have, the more I can help her in her gymnastics. I can also help her recognize when it is best to communicate, when it is best to keep her head down and work, and when it is best to tell me that she needs to stop. But I cannot help direct her unless she speaks up in the first place.

This is each gymnast’s sport. I allow my gymnasts to have a say in their gymnastics. I want them to be able to talk to me when they are scared or hurt. This is a major responsibility that I must teach them to take seriously. My goal is to help them, and I can’t do that unless they communicate with me. My girls are expected to work hard and give it their all, but they are also expected to come to me when there is a problem.

This doesn’t mean that the gymnast will always get her way. But is does mean that I can cultivate a path for her to speak up. Maybe she doesn’t understand the best way to proceed, even though she thinks she does. Maybe she has a great plan of how to get herself to go for a skill, and I can help her execute it. Maybe she needs to bounce an idea off of me so I can see where she is coming from, whether it’s a place of resistance or fear. In any case, the more she is willing to share with me, the more I can do to help her. But in order for her to stand up, I must be willing to listen, and prove to her that I am.

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USGCOA?

In my pursuit to encourage an ideological and cultural shift in gymnastics, I brainstormed about new ways to broadcast my views to likeminded coaches and gym owners. Vaguely, I remembered seeing something about a gymnastics club owners association. Thinking that this could be a viable platform to appeal to club owners (those who can truly effect change), I decided to look into it. I was disheartened.

The United States Gymnastics Club Owners Association (USGCOA) was created by a number of club owners across the United States who were “frustrated by the direction of USA Gymnastics [USAG] and the lack of a voice that club owners had.” On the surface, this seemed like a possible outlet for me. However, with its official unveiling at the end of November 2018, the USGCOA posted “A Letter From The Board” on its website. The purpose of this poorly constructed letter is to introduce the intentions and to shape the future endeavors of the USGCOA (which includes influencing the USAG Board of Directors), which only communicate propaganda for USA Gymnastics and the status quo.

I encourage you to click the link and read this letter put forth by the USGCOA because it represents the attitudes firmly held by USAG. This is the crux of the matter: the reason why TGC (my own gym) and many other clubs have left or wish to leave USAG is contained in this letter. The philosophy behind the contents of this letter, and held by the USGCOA Board of Directors, is what got us to our current situation in gymnastics. I hope that reading this letter and my critique of it will prompt you to join me in discouraging the ideals of what is espoused, refuse to let the status quo remain, and help be a part of the actual change that gymnastics needs.

The following is my critique of “A Letter From The Board.”

The first section of the USGCOA “A Letter From The Board” serves merely as lip-service to the victims of Larry Nassar. The board’s obligatory apology to the survivors establishes that USAG (and the USGCOA) is not, in fact, Larry Nassar, and grants themselves sanction for the big “but” that comes later in their letter.

The fact of the matter is, not one person can deny that wrongs and atrocities — not just “mistakes” (as the USGCOA downplays them) — have been committed. These horrific events have been covered in the news, and have permeated, not just the gymnastics community, but the US media, the US Olympic Committee (USOC), and youth sports in general. There are two major reports — “Report to USA Gymnastics on Proposed Policy and Procedural Changes for the Protection of Young Athletes” by Deborah J. Daniels, J.D. and the “Report of the Independent Investigation” by John McPhee and James P. Dowden — that go into great detail about just how much the USOC and USAG knowingly covered up major crimes committed against their athletes, most of whom were minors.

There is no forgetting the seven days of gut wrenching video coverage in Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s courtroom while survivors of Larry Nassar captivated America and described their abuse. There were hundreds of survivors not even represented in the courtroom that week. So, no. There is no denying it.

In light of this, the make-up of the USGCOA Board of Directors is especially troublesome. Two members (including the USGCOA President) were sitting on the USA Gymnastics Board of Directors when the entire board was forced to resign by the US Olympic Committee in January of 2018. The rest of the USGCOA board membership has strong and longterm ties to USAG and have been heavily involved at the top ranks of USAG for a long time. They are some of the people who helped shape USAG for what it is, created its policies, and molded its culture into a haven for power-hungry coaches to thrive under its easily broken rules and lax enforcement.

The following are the USGCOA Board Members and their ties to USAG.

Kelli Hill (USGCOA President) – a USAG mainstay for decades, State and Regional committee,  USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic program committee, International Elite Committee, USA Gymnastics Board of Directors, from which she was forced to resign in January 2018.

Sandy Flores (USGCOA Vice President) – state of Washington USAG State Committee member since 2010, former State Chair, served on Region 2 Committee.

Kim Thomson (USGCOA Treasurer) – actively involved in USAG Washington for 20 years, current Central Representative on USA Gymnastics Washington State Committee.

Denise Dalton (USGCOA Secretary) – member of USAG Nevada men’s and women’s committees, mother of two-time Olympian Jake Dalton.

Cassie Rice (Region 1) – USAG Nevada State Chair since 2010, coached Olympian Tasha Schwikert, presenter at Regional and National Congress for over 10 years, teaches W300/400 courses for USA Gymnastics.

Brent Phelps (Region 2) – USAG Washington committee, owner of one of the largest USA Gymnastics teams in the United States.

Jeff Beal (Region 3) – JO and Elite level-coach since 1992, including US National Team Member Katie Hardman and JO National Champion Amari Drayton, clinician for Gymnastics Association of Texas, Region 3 and USA T&T National Team Camps, coached at National Team Training Centers including Karolyi’s.

Scott Roberts (Region 4) – coach since 2008 and USAG club owner since 2016.

Don McPherson (Region 5) – USAG Illinois State Committee since 1978, past USA National Team Coach, current Illinois Safety Chair since 1998, USAG Advisory Board from 2012-2016, Region 5 USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 2018.

Tony Retrosi (Region 6) – USA Gymnastics educational service award in 2010, USAG Safety and Risk Management Course and USAG University course instructor, chairman of US Elite Coaches Association.

Lindsey Stancil (Region 7) – regular beam clinician for Region 7.

Brad Harris (Region 8) – Region 8 JO Chairman since 2006, USAG Florida State Committee.

Tom Koll (Program Advisor) – USAG mainstay for decades, has worked in all facets of the Women’s Program in the United States, forced to resign from the USAG Board of Directors in January 2018.

Claudia Kretschmer (USAG Liaison) – developed W200 Course, developed HUGS Program, Kickstart, State Committee, Xcel National Chair, Women’s Program Committee, USA Gymnastics Interim Board member, Vice Chair USA Gymnastics Programs Council.

The USGCOA’s letter states that “cleaning house is an option.” But by studying the make-up of the USGCOA board, it is clear that they do not believe in cleaning house. As such, they do not believe that any of the USGCOA board members who have been high-up in the USAG ranks at the local, regional, and national levels for decades had anything to do with shaping the culture and structure that enabled the abuse of hundreds of kids. In fact, near the end of the letter the USGCOA pleads with its audience to allow them to show us “who [they] really are.” What they truly do not understand, or what they certainly do not acknowledge, is that they are representative of USAG. The culture of USAG is what it is because of them and the gym owners and coaches who have blindly followed in their footsteps for decades.

USAG’s culture allowed Larry Nassar to thrive. The higher-ups in USAG did not take the time to think that their actions could lead to anything beyond the glory of winning medals, not to mention giving a man unfettered access to children in their hotel rooms at their competitions or dorm rooms at their training camps. To USAG, things like this had never presented a problem before (i.e. “this is how we’ve always done it”). However, these things were happening under USAG’s nose, and at the same time they espoused to the rest of us lowly club owners that sexual abuse could occur in our own gyms at any time with the USAG “Participant Welfare Policy.” Perhaps USAG should have heeded its own advice when Steve Penny proclaimed from the rooftops “How USA Gymnastics Combats Sexual Misconduct.” The “better knowledge” and “wiser eyes” that the USGCOA mentions were had, they just didn’t pertain to specific people high in USAG’s ranks, and those just happened to be the specific people who needed to heed them the most.

Perhaps USAG should have maintained more of the burden rather than pushing it off to parents such as in the “We Care” campaign. USAG wanted it both ways when it came to parents: parents were to look out for their own children, yet, especially when it came to elite athletes, parents were expected to give up their oversight over their own children. Parents were not allowed to travel with their gymnasts, or even stay in the same hotels (not rooms, hotels) as their daughters, for fear of causing a distraction. First, this puts winning over the welfare of the gymnasts. And second, I would consider sexual molestation a major distraction. Without parents, who was left to watch over and defend these kids? Answer: a well-positioned pedophile.

The USGCOA is correct in one respect: Larry Nassar does not define USAG. Mental and emotional abuse continues throughout gyms across the country. Kids suffer at the hands of abusive coaches on a daily basis. It does not take a lawsuit to see this or know this. The power play that some coaches use over their gymnasts, in the name of winning, comes as simply as not allowing kids to wear tights at practice, even when they are teenagers with adult concerns; and making them wear white competition leotards to encourage them to stay lean. Weighing gymnasts once or twice a practice and rewarding or punishing them according to the number the scale reads is abuse. Making gymnasts climb the rope twenty times because she is afraid of her beam series is abuse. Pitting teammates against each other and ignoring gymnasts because they are injured or perform poorly at a meet is abuse — all in the name of winning.

It is a culture that is not just defined by the sexual abuse by Larry Nassar. It’s got more to it: the problems surrounding USAG are systemic and cultural. There are power-hungry coaches and gym owners who find it necessary and justified to use and abuse children so their gyms can be recognized among other USAG member clubs and the elite coaches and gym owners who make the rules and policies. Some coaches find it necessary (or perhaps just easier) to abuse their gymnasts in order to produce the results they want and give in to peer pressure. There is no way to reign in all the defects surrounding USAG unless it is disbanded and a new group is at the helm. But the USGCOA does not see it that way.

The USGCOA board members cannot fathom a world of gymnastics without themselves at the helm, complete with self-imposed titles and a false sense of importance. That is the impetus of this organization.

The section on SafeSport demonstrates this point, and is especially confusing — on purpose. On the surface, the board implies that SafeSport was supposed to come in, clean up the mess that Larry Nassar left, and ensure that something like it never happened again. The truth is, the USGCOA did not want SafeSport to come in and tell them what to do, how to coach, and how to run their businesses. (Which I understand, but given the circumstances, this ideal is no longer possible.) The USGCOA is content knowing that SafeSport has not accomplished what it was charged to do. The USGCOA didn’t learn a “harsh lesson,” as they claim. What they are doing here is mocking SafeSport and the overall effort to rectify the effects of a culture that many people like themselves created. They are not taking any responsibility for the USAG culture that created the “wrongs” that were committed against their athletes, or for the reason that SafeSport needed to be involved in the first place. Rather, they are pointing out the fact that putting an entity such as SafeSport in place to cure the culture has not worked and will not work.

While I agree that SafeSport has been a paper tiger thus far, neither USAG nor the USGCOA is in any position to deride its intentions. USAG had always espoused that athlete safety and well-being was one of their highest priorities, while at the same time turning the other way when athletes were abused, filing accusations in a drawer. Their system did not work for the athletes, but it protected those who were guilty of abuse, or of covering it up. The USGCOA does not want to welcome a new standard in SafeSport, and is dismissing it. They want the status quo.

There are many, many good club owners and coaches who happen to be members of USA Gymnastics. If any of them are like me, they had become members of USAG because it was their only option. In these clubs and with these club owners is where the change needs to start, because, it is obvious, the change is not happening with the USAG elites — reflected in the coaches and gym owners who comprise the USGCOA. They do not believe that they had anything to do with the culture that enabled Larry Nassar. The structure created by the elites is where the problem lies: this structure created the culture where abuse could grow undetected and thrive.

The USGCOA Board claims that they are leading by example. But part of leading by example is knowing when something is so detrimental that it needs to be discarded, even when it isn’t the most popular or the easiest thing to do. The leadership that the USGCOA espouses instead exacerbates a culture that created a place for the worst case of sexual abuse in sports history to happen — never question a coach, and instill fear into kids in order to get them to perform.

The USGCOA argues that discontinuing USAG would overlook a great number of gymnasts, most of whom I call the “Everyday Gymnast.” These kids have dreams regardless of their sport’s governing body. And last I checked, their dreams do not include being under the auspices of a program that allows children to be abused. The vast majority of these kids, when they enter gymnastics, have no idea what USAG is, or what competitive structure a gym uses. To dismantle USAG will have no effect on them, which negates the USGCOA’s argument surrounding this topic.

I have been pushing for an end to USAG while fully supporting these “thousands and thousands of young children.” These are the children who need to truly be separated from the perils of USAG. There are other programs out there that can absorb them and give them a better opportunity to thrive. For instance, our club participates in the United States Association of Independent Gymnastics Clubs (USAIGC), which is an international league based on NCAA rules. There are a number of clubs participating in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). Many states have their own leagues. To suggest that just because a club doesn’t participate in USAG makes it illegitimate is inherently wrong, elitist, and overlooking the kids who participate in these other leagues. USAG is not what is best for the Everyday Gymnast. Read my “Gymnastics Manifesto” for the many reasons why USAG was not right for my kids — before Larry Nassar became a household name.

But the USGCOA does not see it that way, and here is where the “but” comes in their letter: “We have no choice but to fight for the survival of USA Gymnastics.”

What? Why? How did this intellectual leap happen? Where is the bridge? “We have no choice”? Just because there are gymnasts, does not mean that USAG has to be their governing body. Just because kids compete under USAG’s umbrella, does not mean that it is what is best for any of them, and certainly not all of them.

Even if USAG is not to remain as the governing body, something like it will manifest and take over (much like the USGCOA). This is the time that gym owners and coaches who do not believe in USAG’s philosophy and mission must make a decision: continue with the status quo, or join another league that will be better for their gymnasts.

Most of the USGCOA board members are also heavily involved in elite gymnastics. They mention the great leadership of Tom Forster. Perhaps Tom Forster is a strong leader for the elite gymnast. But I argue that the elite gymnasts will always have strong leaders to step up for them.  It’s easier to want to represent the best, isn’t it? It is the Everyday Gymnast who needs a voice and a strong leader, and USAG (and the USGCOA) is not providing her with one. The USGCOA’s argument is that there are a lot of gymnasts under USAG, therefore, we cannot change the structure. That argument is faulty. It insinuates that just because it exists, it is good. It doesn’t take into account that the system is deeply flawed. If anyone should know that hard work doesn’t guarantee success, it is a bunch of gymnastics coaches. There are no guarantees. This is the time to replace USAG, when everything is already in shambles. Start over.

The USGCOA Board says they want a chance to show the world what USAG really is. However, USAG has had plenty of time to show us who they really are, and to the detriment of hundreds of girls and women, that is exactly what happened. I will not stand by and give these people another chance. They say that Larry Nassar doesn’t define USAG: who, or what, does? What exactly is the culture that they have not yet conveyed? They don’t tell us.

But the Board does get angry: “We’ve already pledged stronger, better and healthier.”

They are saying, “We’ve already told you that we are going to do all these things. Leave us alone.” But pledging is not doing or ensuring, as we have already seen. The USGCOA is demanding special dispensation for us to acknowledge the past, move on, and let them continue to run gymnastics in this country. They claim they want to move forward, but that is easy to say when they weren’t the ones who were abused. How is keeping USAG intact moving forward for the survivors?

The USGCOA’s argument is to keep doing more of the same, so we don’t have to disrupt anyone too much (especially them). There are 350 women whose lives were completely upended and scarred forever. Not to mention countless other children who have silently endured mental, physical, and emotional abuse.

There is no change espoused in this letter. To preserve USAG is to preserve an entity without an underlying philosophy beyond “winning medals.” If this continues to be what defines the program, then “anything goes as long as we win” will continue to be the driving mantra. The USGCOA is grasping to a dying program, one that is collapsing under the pressure of its own evils. USAG has no clear direction, and the USGCOA has no clear motive to exist except for preserving what they know. To write this letter is short-sighted and it reeks of self-preservation.

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Introducing New Fiction by Mary Farias!

Mental Block is the first book in a series that focuses on older gymnasts and what they go through in the gym. It will be available at amazon.com in May 2019.

Allison is an upper-level gymnast who will not go for her giant for some reason after competently performing the skill multitudes of times. Mental Block focuses on how the problem is internalized (and externalized) by the gymnast, how her coach and parents handle the situation, and how Allison ultimately overcomes the problem. Does she prevail over her mental block, or does she give up?

By the author of the Gym Rats series, Mental Block is for the more advanced gymnast (and her parents and coaches!). Older gymnasts are considered role models in the gym and are seen as invincible in the eyes of little gymnasts. Mental Block is a real story about how important it is to maintain the cognitive side of gymnastics, and just how valuable it is to be given the tools to overcome mental obstacles.

Cover_Mental Block

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In Support of the Everyday Gymnast

Elite gymnasts are in the spotlight. They are in newspaper articles. We recognize them in magazines and on cereal boxes. We also now know what they truly have given up to achieve their notoriety. In 2016, 103 of all 125,216 USA Gymnastics members (.08%) trained in USAG’s Women’s Elite Program. They are a special breed and generally come from a handful of gyms and coaches from across the country.

The rest, ninety-nine plus percent, of gymnasts who compete under USAG represent the Everyday Gymnast. With all this talk of revamping, removing, and/or replacing USAG, the conversation seems to always revolve around Olympians and elite athletes; the Everyday Gymnast is lost in the dialog. Outsiders (and insiders) are so concerned with the optics at the elite level that they do not realize that where the change needs to occur is at the foundation.

Tens of thousands of Everyday Gymnasts in this country, almost all of USAG’s membership, are willing to do what it takes to make their dreams, whatever they are, come true. They condition, work out with sore muscles, stretch to increase their flexibility, and do bars with rips on their hands. They push themselves to their limits, whatever they may be for them, and they push through pain on a daily basis.

The Everyday Gymnast dedicates her young life to the sport. Her extracurricular time is devoted to going to the gym. Her Saturdays are eaten up by practice. But she doesn’t mind; she just wants to be in the gym. It’s what she does.

I stand for the Everyday Gymnast: the gymnast who loves gymnastics because it’s where she fits in, where she can try new things, where she can shine, and where she can have fun. The Everyday Gymnast won’t make it to the Olympics, may not get a college scholarship, might not get to level 10, or even do a giant, but will probably compete through the beginning levels of competition. This doesn’t change her dedication to the sport; the Everyday Gymnast loves gymnastics. She eats, breathes, and sleeps gymnastics. She does it in the living room, on curbs, in her mind during the day, and in her dreams as she sleeps. It seems that all she wants to do is be upside down.

Successful Olympic coaches, Martha and Bela Karolyi, brought American coaches and gymnasts to their Karolyi Ranch to teach gyms throughout the country their methods in how to produce Olympic athletes. All of a sudden, gymnasts and families didn’t have to relocate to Houston in order to have a shot at Olympic competition; it could happen in any state across the country. It became possible.

This is what USAG and the USOC charged the the Karolyis to do. But in doing so, they brought a fear-based totalitarian mentality and method of coaching, a system reflective of their upbringing in communist Romania, to American gymnastics. The Karolyis’ expertise had infiltrated and taken hold, and Americans started winning – and then winning big in the last decade. As a result, USAG and the USOC basked in their glory. Unfortunately, we now know that the USA did actually win at all costs, particularly to the detriment of so many young girls who never even made it onto the Karolyis’ radar.

Those eager and moldable American coaches who brought back what they learned from the Karolyis to their own gyms changed what gymnastics became to the Everyday Gymnast.

The elite mentality has, as a result, trickled down into the beginning levels of gymnastics competition. Perfection, which was once reserved for elite gymnasts, has now become a mainstream and oftentimes mandatory facet of gymnastics at the lowest levels of competition. Everyday Gymnasts are not cut from the same fabric as elite gymnasts. It takes a certain mentality to want to be elite, to work that hard, to put up with the pressure and the abuse – internal and external. There is a certain masochism involved that most regular kids do not possess.

When the gymnastics community (under USAG) treats the Everyday Gymnast with the same approach that it treats an elite gymnast, even in competitive level 2, then there is an inherent problem with the system. Coaches who do this are taking advantage of a small child’s love of the sport by turning her into a robot. If she does not conform and produce near-perfect scores, then she is of no use to the team, and she is pushed out.

The culture imbedded in USAG needs to change, and to keep USAG’s structure in tact for all gymnasts for the sake of .08% is absurd and detrimental. There needs to be a complete shift in how we approach the Everyday Gymnast. The only way to do this is to recognize that the culture is unhealthy for the vast majority of gymnasts, admit there is an inherent problem, and change the system. To keep USAG intact at all costs is not the path. USAG has failed in too many ways to be beneficial and continue to lead the gymnastics community. A complete bulldozing and rebuilding from the ground up needs to happen. This could take years. What would benefit the Everyday Gymnast right now is a competitive structure already in place. This exists! Coaches and club owners need to consider USAIGC as a viable, competitive, and healthy alternative.

Be a part of a movement of choice. Give the Everyday Gymnast a chance to thrive. Be the coach you set out to be.

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USAG Clubs are Taking a Back Seat and Merely Watching the Story Unfold…

“The uncontested absurdities of today are the accepted slogans of tomorrow.” – Ayn Rand

What is your gymnastics philosophy? Does it involve paying and supporting a National Governing Body that facilitates and enables the destruction of children’s lives? No?

THEN DO SOMETHING!!

Gymnastics clubs across the country need to demand better from their National Governing Body (USA Gymnastics) and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). Club owner and coaches’ silence and do-nothing attitude is exactly what enabled Larry Nassar to become the serial sexual predator he was for decades and why some upper-level coaches have become the emotional and physical abusers they are still to this day. Too many coaches and club owners support USAG by staying silent: they complain in the background about what’s going on, but they aren’t willing to stand up and do something about it. Why not?

The worst thing that could happen in the world of gymnastics has already happened. So now, what are coaches afraid of? A bad score? A fifth place finish? From where I stand, all I see is a huge group of enablers unwilling to put themselves on the line for the children they supposedly love and want to protect out of deference for a corrupt organization that could care less about 99% of gymnasts who won’t make their national teams (our girls!). It disgusts me. I am so angry with my fellow gymnastics coaches who have decided to “weather the storm” or “see what happens” and stick with USAG. It has been two years now, as one horrible story after another comes out. How much longer will the acquiescence continue? Plastic trophies are not worth supporting an organization that is more concerned with other things…

…than doing the right thing for our children. In fact, had coaches stood up and protected their athletes from the beginning, a great number of girls would have been spared their permanent scars and lifetime of anguish.

One coach in particular, John Geddert, of Twistars in Michigan, stands out. Geddert reached great heights as a coach in USAG and was the 2012 women’s Olympic gymnastics coach. He made videos and sent newsletters to gyms detailing how to train athletes, but a few years later he stands out as a prime example of how not to run a gym and coach gymnasts. According to multiple lawsuits, Geddert allegedly knew about Nassar’s abuse from as far back as 1998. And according to Olympian McKayla Maroney, and corroborated by Aly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber, Maroney told Geddert about being sexually abused by Nassar in 2011. Geddert didn’t stand up then, and he’s not standing up now in support of any of the survivors – many of whom are his own gymnasts.

Hundreds of girls could have been spared if USAG didn’t cultivate a culture in which someone like John Geddert could thrive.

It’s regrettable to me to know that so many clubs across the the country have chosen to remain with and defend USAG throughout this ordeal, especially when a positive and viable alternative (USAIGC) exists. Owners and coaches maintain that they are in this business for the kids. But if that were true, then many more clubs would have ditched USAG long ago. There have been plenty of straws that could have broken the camel’s back throughout the past two years. (Even before two years ago for my club!) At any of these points, gym owners, coaches, and parents could have demanded something better for their kids. I have been trying in Arizona, but so far it is clear that USAG’s grip on the clubs here is still too strong.

So many clubs have taken a back seat and watched the USAG story unfold, insisting that it “has nothing to do with us.” Garbage! It most certainly has everything to do with local clubs – from mobility in their lowest levels to meet sanctions at the elite level. To the club owners and coaches who don’t think that the USAG mess is their mess: you are paying for this right now. Your money is in the form of your annual membership dues, your gymnasts’ membership dues, your sanction fees, your continuing education fees, and your meet fees – they are all going to support this organization and its mismanagement. But it would be one thing if this were only business mismanagement. This is the mismanagement of so many innocent lives. Lives that are supposed to be built up by our great sport, not ruined because of it.

The real behaviors that have caused USAG’s downfall have nothing nothing to do with sexual abuse, but with a culture of treating children with disrespect and encouraging and enabling harmful training practices and regimens, which cause emotional and physical harm, and create the perfect places for predators like Nassar and many others to take advantage of vulnerable children. Many clubs may be scared to stand up against USAG because then their training practices and methods might be scrutinized. They might open themselves up to scrutiny for not putting kids first in their businesses, like they contend they do. It’s not too late to change.

There are many more great gym owners and coaches out there than bad ones; I believe that individually, owners and coaches want to do the right thing for their gymnasts. However, they may feel impotent, like the problem is much bigger than they can change; they don’t know where to start, and so they do nothing. If enough individuals stand up, listen to their gut and remember what drew them to coaching gymnastics in the first place, then they can find the courage to stand up against USAG and the mess it has made of gymnastics. It’s up to the individual gym owners and coaches to pick the sport up and start over in a proactive way. USAG’s not doing it, nor do they have the knowledge or the proper philosophy to start making things right. They may not even have the chance to try if the USOC’s threats are followed through.

What life lessons are we teaching the kids we coach if we sit back and do nothing? Sooner or later the kids will realize that their coaches’ doing nothing is what got us to this point in the first place, but the damage might already be done by then – what a shame!

Have courage to stand up for what you say you believe in; don’t say that you believe in something you’re not willing to stand up for. Too much is at stake here. If good people don’t act, then the good are to blame.

If you need the courage to do it: do it for the kids. Visit USAIGC.com and know there is a choice.

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Questions All Gym Owners and Coaches Must Ask Themselves as They Remain Members of USA Gymnastics

I love gymnastics. The sport is so good, and provides so many lessons for life. However, the entity under which most gyms and gymnasts in this country compete does not deserve our support. If you are a gym owner or a coach still currently under the auspices of USA Gymnastics, I invite you to ask yourself these questions.

  • How can I knowingly support an entity that created and endorsed such a harmful and damaging culture for children, both physically and mentally?
  • How can I support a program that places winning over the wellbeing of our gymnasts?
  • How can we pay money and support an entity with members and leaders that knowingly covered up such a large and egregious scandal against innocent children? The very children who we say we want to teach, guide, and protect?
  • How can we knowingly use this entity as a guideline for us to teach children in any capacity?
  • How can we trust this entity’s judgment and give credence to its authority?
  • How can we trust that this entity will all of a sudden begin protecting children over an effort to make itself look good?
  • How can we leave our daughters and sons under the auspices, direction, and care of such an entity?
  • What if one of my gymnasts were one of the survivors? Would I be able to support this program?
  • What if my daughter or son were one of the survivors? Would I be able to support this program?
  • If one of my gymnasts is a survivor, how can I, with a clear conscience, continue to support such a program?
  • How can we trust that our money is going to something other than a legal defense fund?
  • How does this entity have the temerity to survive, and why do I continue to support something that is inherently harmful?
  • What has USAG done to deserve my support? Does this outweigh the harm it has caused?
  • What are my options?

USA Gymnastics is not the only program that oversees competitive gymnastics in this country. There is a choice. USAIGC gives clubs a choice to not be a part of the corrupt atmosphere of USAG. I urge all club owners and coaches to read the USAIGC website and decide for yourselves. I am here to tell you that what you see is what you get with USAIGC. They put gymnasts first; they don’t just talk about doing so. They mandate 100% background checks for ALL adult club employees and volunteers. They have a highly competitive program, and they truly have the gymnasts’ wellbeing at heart.

It is our right to have a choice and a voice. It’s time that all club owners and coaches exercised theirs and stopped pretending that their still being a part of USAG doesn’t affect their gym or doesn’t lend support to the harmful and corrupt culture that bred such atrocities to occur.

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Win Medals? Part II

Since our gym cut ties with compulsory USA Gymnastics in the fall of 2016, the score requirement to move up from level 4 to level 5 has been raised to a 34.0 all-around. The stats I report below are accurate, as they are based on the previous requirements, contemporary with the meet. The updated required scores do not change my stance in the least. Instead, they raise the question of why the scores were raised in the first place: for the good of the child athletes involved or in order to justify the direction USAG was already trending?

In “Win Medals? Part I,” I introduced some of USA Gymnastics’ Rules and Policies having to do with the Junior Olympic Program.

Let’s start at the top:

Before moving up a level, every athlete should show proficiency at her current level.

What does “proficiency” mean? The dictionary definition is, “a high degree of competence or skill; expertise.” According to USA Gymnastics, to advance from Level 3 to Level 4, a gymnast must show “75% proficiency” in skill, not competition (competition is not required by USAG for mobility out of Level 3). When competition is required for mobility, a gymnast must obtain a 31.0 all-around score (7.75 per event). See the chart below, taken from USAG’s Rules and Policies, Chapter 8. In both cases, that’s a “C” average. That seems obtainable and reasonable, especially when dealing with children.

Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at Wed, Feb 21 ∞ 12.23.42 PM

Let’s compare this to something we can all understand: school. In school, a child passes to a higher grade level so long as he or she does not fail his or her current grade level. There is also typically a bell curve that demonstrates that most kids hover around the average grade (B- or C+). Most kids are average, meaning in the middle. To translate that into gymnastics terms, “average” would be right around the 7.75 score, or the 31.0 all-around. Again, this sounds reasonable. Just as we cannot expect all students to get all As, we cannot expect all gymnasts to get all 9s. Right?

2014-10-03-blogbellcurve-thumb
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/hans-hickler/pay-attention-to-the-midd_b_5924640.html.

At the 2015 Level 3 Arizona State Meet (according to Meet Scores Online), the average all-around score was over a 36.0 (a 9.0 per event). In school terms, this would mean that the average student would receive a 90% for their grades across all subjects. This concept is not remotely plausible. At this particular meet in Level 3, only a total of FOUR all-around competitors, received a score of 31.0 or lower. That is out of approximately 150 competitors (2.6%)! So much for the bell curve hovering around a B-.

This average of a 36.0 all-around in a meet translates to 90% proficiency, not only at individual skills, but at competing. In gymnastics, it is one thing to be able to perform skills in the gym at practice. It is another thing to be able to perform them just as well in a meet situation with a crowd watching and judges scrutinizing one’s every move. In my gym, competition is a learning experience. We teach the kids how to 1. improve over each season, and 2. how to improve at competition over her career. By no means do we expect a Level 3 gymnast to be a seasoned competitor.

Over a season, in 2015, it was common for the top kids to show an improvement over the season of .675-1.5 points in all-around score. In contrast, the girls on my team showed a typical improvement of 2-2.5 points in all-around score, most of them receiving scores around 8.5, demonstrating approximately 85% proficiency throughout the season (a “B+” average).

Which athletes are doing better? I would argue that mine are, as they are demonstrating a greater improvement throughout the season. However, how do I prove that to a 9-year-old when she is barely placing (or placing last) against kids who are receiving scores of 9.8 (or higher) on events and 38.0 (or higher) all-around scores?

How did this blatant disregard for the USAG Rules and Policies happen? I believe that it happened over time and by the lack of sanctions in place for not following the rules. Not enough good coaches, with their gymnasts’ best interests at the top of their priority list, have stood up over time, calling for repercussions for violating USAG Rules and Policies, especially on a local level. Rather, they watched the game unfold before their eyes, getting worse and worse every year, perhaps whispering amongst themselves on the sidelines about how the other teams get the benefit of the doubt and the highest scores. Their silence acted as approval and excused the unprofessional practices. Then all they could do to make sure their kids kept up was focus only on perfecting routines, and not improving on skill.

I posit that had some of the good coaches, who did not agree with the manner in which youth sports had been abused, including myself in years past, spoke up and demanded that the rules be followed, then we wouldn’t be to the point where the average of gymnasts’ scores in the Level 3 State Meet were over a 9.0.

The gyms at the top, their coaches, and even some judges have written it off, saying that the sport is just getting “more competitive.” In fact, in that same Level 3 State Meet, one gymnast received a 10.0 on bars. I happened to be sitting next to the Arizona State Administrative Committee Chairman for USAG at the time. I saw the score and was appalled. She told me how great it was.

“Great” for whom? The kid who got the 10.0, doing the same routine she performed at the 2014 Level 3 State meet the year before, scoring a 9.575, and also winning first place? What does that teach her? That she wasn’t good enough finishing first last year, that she had to repeat it until she got it right? What happens when she never scores a 10 again? She has achieved perfection at a young age. Will she ever be able to live up to that expectation again? Or was it “great” for all the other kids who were in the same boat, yet not winning, repeating Level 3, despite being very successful the year before? Or was it “great” for my gymnast, who, in her 2nd meet ever competing, improved her all-around score by 1.275 from her first meet, yet came in dead last? And, in her words, got to witness the “rare 10,” thinking that that was the yardstick against which to measure herself? Or was it “great” for the coaches and the gymnast’s club? They were able to successfully drill into a Level 3 gymnast how to be perfect at 9 skills in a bar routine. (To be fair, there was also a 9.925, a 9.825, and a 9.8 on bars in that same session of the meet, all from different clubs.)

The rules are being ignored by clubs and their ignoring the rules is being ignored by USAG, and this “competitiveness” is violating the “spirit of youth sports in general,” to use USAG’s direct words. The question is who is being “more competitive” at  the expense of whom?

Adults are being competitive at the expense of children.

This mentality, winning at all costs, is cultural throughout USAG and other youth sports. A coach at one of the most winningest clubs in Arizona was overheard saying about Level 3 gymnasts, “If they’re not going to win, what’s the point of doing gymnastics?” Here are a few reasons: goal-setting, hard work, competing in front of crowds, overcoming fears, learning new skills, being a part of a team, learning about success and failure…

There is an interesting point: learning about success and failure. I’ve often heard, and I have come to understand it with experience, that failure plays a major part in success. What happens if kids only know what it feels like to succeed? I would call getting a 90% all the time a pretty high success rate. When do these kids learn how to lose? When do they come to understand that failure is a part of success? When do they learn how to bounce back? I’ve seen many a high-scoring gymnast cry at the sight of a 9.3 or a 3rd place medal. I’ve also seen a typically high-scoring gymnast crumble, hysterically crying, when she fell off bars in a meet, having three events left in the competition. If we can’t teach them this valuable lesson in youth sports, where will they learn it?

Paul Spadaro, President of USAIGC, is quoted as rightfully saying:

It’s really not about the medals. It’s about the gymnasts succeeding for themselves. Their success really lies in completing a routine the best they can. As they learn the skills in the right environment they learn about success and failure. Success means different things to different children. Learning how to handle success and failure is a life skill some adults haven’t learned yet.

The USAIGC wants to help develop an intelligent all-around young lady who loves our sport, succeeds in school, has time for family and friends and time for other hobbies/interests. The one thing I believe gymnastics teaches in the correct environment, the ability to learn how to win and lose.

This is the correct attitude to have: knowing that children are not perfect, and perfection should not be expected of them. As coaches, we should be more interested that our gymnasts are learning and improving, in and out of the gym.

I challenge every coach to examine your philosophy. What do you want your gymnasts to learn from you? Do you want them to walk away hating the sport, knowing that they could never be good enough? That they were never worth a lick because they didn’t come in first place for you in low-level competitive gymnastics? Or do you want them to leave the sport loving it, having learned valuable life lessons, like how to both win and lose gracefully, how to set goals and reach them, how to manage their time in and out of the gym, and how to believe in themselves? Then decide if your gym’s governing body reflects, and is helping you, reinforce your philosophy.

In my next blog, I will examine the next point in USAG’s Rules and Policies having to do with mobility.

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Welcome to Objective Edge

385D9EED-6291-4A70-9C90-1CAE263B48D0My name is Mary Farias. I am a gymnastics club owner, head coach and program director, writer, wife, homeschool mom, gymnastics mom, adherent of a plant-based diet, aspiring objectivist.

I’ll cover many topics in this blog, beginning with a series of articles about the toxic and dangerous culture of USA Gymnastics. I know many people in the gymnastics world, including coaches, elite-level gymnasts, everyday gymnasts, and parents. A great number of coaches are in the sport for good reason and to help children realize the positive benefits that involvement in the sport can provide. Many others, however, are in it for the fame and ego feeding frenzy that coaching an elite athlete can bring.

Eating a healthy plant-based diet is also a main focus and priority in my family’s life. Asked for years to write down and share recipes, I am finally starting to do it here.

While mine is just one perspective on many issues, my main goal is that I make people think about the topics I present, whether or not they agree with everything I espouse.