coaching, competition, everyday gymnast, Gymnastics, Life Lessons, parents, USAG, USAIGC

Life Lesson #3 – Kids should be kids

USAIGC‘s “About” page states, “Training Times were created. The USAIGC believes a child must NOT give up their childhood for any sport.”

There are many reasons why the USAIGC limits training hours for gymnasts in each competitive level. One important reason is that they believe that children should remain children. Just as the USAIGC says, “a child must not give up their childhood for any sport.” There should be time for other things: school, friends, family, music, other sports. Do we really need to pigeonhole a child to one sport when she’s seven? Six? Five?

Another important reason why the USAIGC limits training time is to level the competitive playing field. Every gym must limit skill training hours to a certain number per week, depending on each competitive level. This is important in competition in a sport where some coaches require anywhere from five to 30 hours of training per week. Under USAG, there are no limits on training hours; some teams in the same level compete against one another with their training hours varying by more than double the time. This does not lead to fair competition. Arguably, the child training more hours will have the competitive advantage… until she cannot train anymore, which leads us to perhaps the most important reason to limit training hours.

The USAIGC limits training hours to naturally slow the skill-building process so that the toll our sport takes on the growing body is kept at bay. According to Dr. Tommy John, “What we’re looking at is an across-the-board, all-sport, injury epidemic, with kids today finding themselves needing medical intervention at younger and younger ages when surgery and rehab shouldn’t be words in their vocabulary—because times have changed.” Keeping training hours lower naturally helps major injuries from occurring and allows time for important injury prevention exercises.

The USAIGC’s intelligent and responsible training rules help keep children safe and well-balanced throughout a childhood in gymnastics. Participating in gymnastics doesn’t have to require a gymnast to give up everything for the opportunity to be competitive. Rather, by limiting training hours, gymnasts have time to be kids, play fair, and keep their bodies intact so that they can enjoy their sport longer.

Life lesson #3 – kids should be kids!

coaching, competition, everyday gymnast, goals, Gymnastics, High School, Life Lessons, parents, season, USAG, USAIGC

Life Lesson #2 – There is more than one way to get somewhere

USAIGC’s “About” page states that “An Optional Only ‘College Bound’ Competitive Program was put into place,” paired with “Our highest Competitive Level uses NCAA Competitive (Premier) Rules.”

Contrary to popular belief in the gymnastics world, if a gymnast is not a USAG level 10, college gymnastics is off the table. What’s more, USAIGC has actually created their program around the NCAA rules, mirroring the NCAA rules in their highest level of competition.

College coaches would be very happy to see that a gymnast, following the same rules that she would follow in college, is successful at this USAIGC level. College coaches recruit in many ways. One very important way is by watching videos of prospective gymnasts. If they like what they see, and the gymnast fits their program, then the gymnast will be recruited.

Many gymnasts, parents, and coaches are stuck in a rut believing that there is a perfect formula to develop a collegiate athlete. One of the greatest detriments is believing that if a gymnast isn’t a successful level 10 by the time she’s in 8th or 9th grade, then there is no chance for her to compete in college. It is true that the very top schools in the NCAA recruit and sign kids early. However, there are many more schools out there that wait until 10th and 11th grades to recruit and make offers as late as 11th and 12th grade. Like so many other things in life, there is more than one way to get to where you are going.

The USAIGC’s basing its highest level of competition on NCAA rules grooms athletes to peak at the right time in high school in order to develop their skill level, maintain a healthy and injury-free body, and also leave room for improvement over the next four to six years that the gymnast has left in the sport.

When it comes to college athletics, gymnasts must think outside the box. If a gymnast wants to compete gymnastics in college, she must look for a college that reflects her skill level and love of the sport. The competitive structure from which she comes is not at issue; her skill level, health, and passion for the sport are what will drive the process.

Life lesson #2 – there is more than one road to lead to where you are going!

coaching, competition, everyday gymnast, goals, Gymnastics, Life Lessons, USAG, USAIGC

Life Lesson #1 – Individuals FIRST!!

One of the most fulfilling things a coach can do is impart “life lessons” on her gymnasts.

USAIGC highlights some important differences between their program and USAG’s on their “About” page on their website. Throughout this and future blog posts, I will highlight some of these facets and dissect why they are important life lessons for our gymnasts to learn.

1. The Restrictive Compulsory Competitive Program was eliminated.

This may not sound like an important life lesson on its face, but it truly is. By doing away with prohibitive and limiting compulsory routines for each introductory competitive level, gymnasts are inherently treated as individuals. Coaches are allowed to cater to gymnasts’ strengths and teach a wider variety of basic skills, rather than merely teach to perfect a routine. Not only does this allow for more gymnasts participating in competitive gymnastics, it also eliminates the basic “formula” for perfection and subsequent pigeon-holing of athletes at the very beginning of competitive gymnastics. This rule allows for greater creativity and individuality in the sport, allowing gymnasts greater opportunity to build self-esteem and self-confidence because they are able to set themselves apart from others, and focus on their strengths.

Contrast this with the USA Gymnastics compulsory program. I have written extensively on the detriments of the system within which we (our gymnasts at TGC) were compelled to compete. This was the case until we brought USAIGC to Arizona. Under the USAIGC optional-only system, our gymnasts are free to meet the requirements in any manner they choose within the rules. This teaches gymnasts that what they do as individuals matters. This teaches them that there is more than one way to do what is best. This teaches gymnasts that when they perform to their strengths, they are more confident in themselves and their abilities in the gym and on the competition floor, translating to greater self-esteem and self-confidence later in life.

Life lesson #1: Individuals FIRST!

coaching, everyday gymnast, Gymnastics, parents, SafeSport, USAG

Investigating Coaches

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.

coaching, everyday gymnast, Fiction, Gymnastics, Junior Olympic, parents, USAG, USAIGC

Gym Rats: Glide Kip

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.

coaching, everyday gymnast, Gymnastics, parents, USAG

Too Many Reports, Too Little Action

— A Note To Parents —

Part one of a two-part blog

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.

To be continued in the next Gym Rats Blog.

Gymnastics, USAG, USAIGC

2018 USAIGC World Championships

Part 2

While publishing this post, “the United States Olympic Committee has filed a complaint…against USA Gymnastics, seeking to revoke USAG’s recognition as a member National Governing Body of the USOC.” This action is long overdue, and will be the topic of my next blog post.

The 2018 USAIGC World Championships meet, held in Orlando, Florida in June of this year was a culmination of our six-month-long inaugural competitive season under the umbrella of USAIGC. As a gymnast and coach, I have been at USA Gymnastics’ (USAG) State Championships, Regional Championships, Westerns Championships, and National Championships. The differences in the World Championships and the rest of these meets highlights differences in the two programs. The USAIGC World Championships is an expression of the USAIGC program as a whole – it’s an accurate and refreshing expression of what IGC claims to be and what competitive gymnastics ought to be.

To begin, in reading the “About” page on USAIGC’s website, one gets a sense that the organization is in it for the development of children into well-adjusted adults, not just star athletes.

Our Competitive Program provides an environment that fosters and nurtures the attributes of a sound mind, sound body leading to successful, healthy and well-rounded gymnasts. Our Competitive Program is built on long-term skill development with the intentional slowing down of our gymnasts’ learning curve providing them the necessary time to develop and perfect gymnastic skills in a safe, logical, progressive manner within our recommended training hours per level. Over-training is the number one reason gymnasts leave our sport. Our Competitive Program provides our Gymnasts with ample time for school responsibilities, family activities and an outside life with friends. Life is about experiences and the USAIGC/IAIGC provides a positive well-balanced Competitive Experience for ALL of its USAIGC & IAIGC Gymnasts.

Contrast this with USAG’s website, also taken from its “About” page, which is trying to right the wrongs of its distant and recent past by playing “catch-up” with its corruptive atmosphere:

USA Gymnastics is committed to creating a culture that empowers and supports our athletes. The organization has and will continue to take specific and concrete steps to promote athlete safety and prevent future abuse by vigorously enforcing the USA Gymnastics Safe Sport Policy, which requires mandatory reporting; defines six types of misconduct; sets standards to prohibit grooming behavior and prevent inappropriate interaction; and establishes greater accountability. Other efforts taken to strengthen that commitment include establishing a dedicated, toll-free number (833-844-SAFE), the safe sport email address (safesport@usagym.org), and online reporting to simplify the process for reporting; building a safe sport department that is developing a comprehensive education plan for members; and adopting bylaw amendments to provide the basis for further developing our safe sport programs and governance. The Athlete Assistance Fund, established by the National Gymnastics Foundation, provides financial resources for counseling services for any current or former gymnast who was a member of USA Gymnastics and suffered sexual abuse within the sport of gymnastics.

It is obvious that the two organizations vary greatly in their focus and mission. USAIGC is clearly proactive in its attention to promoting a positive and safe atmosphere in each of their member gyms with the decisions they make and the values they present. Their clear intent is to put children first, and to give them the best possible life through their involvement in USAIGC’s program. USAG, on the other hand, is unquestionably reactive in its approach to explaining who they are. They focus their attention on making up for the wrongs they have committed, and giving members resources to turn to in the case of past and future abuse. In no way does their webpage provide a prospective member the feeling of security and confidence that USAIGC’s page does.

Being a part of USAIGC for over a year, I have found that the organization lives up to its promises. When Paul Spadaro took over in 2001, a background check on every member club’s employee and volunteer over the age of 18 was mandatory. This was groundbreaking in gymnastics at the time. In contrast, for USAG, background checks were only mandatory for those coaches and judges on the floor at competitions, leaving open many gaps in knowledge about many coaches and volunteers (which is what Larry Nassar was) within a club’s walls. USAG has since updated their policies, however, only as a result of the backlash of the largest sexual abuse scandal in sports history.

As a new member club in 2017, we hosted a Rules and Policies clinic for all clubs and judges interested in being a part of USAIGC. Judges are required to be recertified every two years. The recertification is free, and it is held by USAIGC’s Technical Director, Mary Bakke-Spadaro. This recertification ensures that the judges are keeping up with rule changes, that they are scoring correctly, and are applying the rules the way in which they were intended.

As such, Paul and Mary are extremely accessible, and they are willing to answer emails or calls immediately. I have even received a response from Mary on a technical question while she was on vacation! Contrast this with USAG’s past CEO, Steve Penny, who allegedly tabled complaints regarding Larry Nassar, and is now formally indicted and charged with removing and/or destroying documents related to Nassar’s investigation.

Paul and Mary Spadaro walk the walk when it comes to USAIGC. They believe in what their program stands for, and they back it up in every move they make in the program; their program makes sense, and they know it does. What’s more, they believe that gymnastics is more than the ability to flip and twist; there are important life lessons inherent in the sport, that we have the responsibility as youth coaches, to be teaching the kids we coach.

USAG, on the other hand, produces many rules that they fail to enforce. Their competitive structure is one that is rife with abuse, and the main focus of competition is not on learning valuable life lessons, but on winning medals and team trophies.

The USAIGC World Championships meet welcomed gymnasts from all over the United States and other parts of the world. Gyms heralded from Canada, the United Kingdom, and South Africa. Next year, Germany will be joining us. At the meet gymnasts swapped t-shirts with kids from other parts of the world, something that they will forever remember. This emphasis on camaraderie versus competition was evident among the relationships that the gymnasts forged with one another at the gymnast parties, as well as on the competition floor. Coaches extended helping hands to one another, and we truly got along very well with our competitors. The competition was friendly; we were all in it for the same reasons – the kids.

Why does this difference between USAG and USAIGC matter? Whereas USAG breeds an expectation of uniformity among its member clubs where beginning mandatory levels of competition require that all gymnasts perform the same routines and skills, USAIGC highlights the independence of its member clubs, which is inherent in its optional-only program. Each rule that USAIGC has intelligently tweaked reminds us that this is a kid’s sport, and we are in it to help develop and protect children. In it, kids learn about winning and losing with dignity and grace. Kids aspire to improve their skills, and they are rewarded for it. They learn to push themselves for themselves, and not for anyone else, or out of fear of their coach or governing body. These differences remind us that gymnastics is not just something that wins us medals and team trophies; it teaches us how to confront obstacles, make goals, and work hard to strive for them.

Ultimately, it is refreshing to be a part of a program in which the season culminates with a meet where the emphasis is on the benefits of the kids. I am proud to be a member of a competitive gymnastics organization that continues to strengthen the lives of its athletes. I am also proud not to be a part of a program that is just trying to not ruin the lives of any more of its athletes.

Gymnastics, USAG, USAIGC

2018 USAIGC World Championships

Part 1

At the end of June 2018, our team traveled to Orlando, Florida to participate in the USAIGC World Championships. Each gymnast needed to qualify in her level in order to attend the meet. Some gymnasts were able to qualify as all-arounders, and others, as individual event specialists. Some even qualified in two levels, with the opportunity to compete in a total of six events! As a club, we had a fun time competing, as well as vacationing in Orlando. Many of our families made a family vacation out of the competition.

Overall, the meet was a very positive experience. It was the culmination of a six-month first season under USAIGC. We had a number of gymnasts qualify for event finals on all four events, and we had three World Champions on bars! The beauty of the meet was that it was anyone’s game, and all the gymnasts not only knew it, but they believed it. They had a chance, and they were excited to compete for their chance to win.

USAIGC differs from USAG in that it is an optional-only program. Kids are able to compete their strengths, and not just prescribed skills, in order to fulfill the requirements at each level. Naturally, as a gymnast increases in competition level, her options of skills to fulfill those requirements increases. This makes for well-rounded gymnasts, as well as for more creativity and individuality in the sport. Under USAIGC, my gymnasts work their routines, but they also work upgrade skills, trying to add them to their routines throughout the season, once they gain competence. This makes the season more interesting (for gymnasts and coaches), and gives them more goals to strive for.

USAIGC uses skill-based mobility rather than the score-based mobility in USAG. In fact, there is a mandatory move-out score of 37.85 obtained twice in a season. These attributes appealed to me from the very beginning, as that is how I already ran my program. I took the minimum score requirements delineated by USAG seriously, and as long as my gymnasts reached the requisite score, and was ready for the next level, I let them move on. It turns out that that is how the majority of kids wanted it; there have been only two kids in the six years of operating my gym at a competitive level who have wanted to be held back (and one of them was due to fear and not just so she could have high scores).

As coaches, once we switched to USAIGC, our gymnasts no longer felt “stuck” at a certain level until a specific score was obtained. This common-sense approach to mobility also allows gymnasts who would naturally be better at optional skills rather than the compulsory routines, to move at their own pace through the levels, or even begin competition at a higher level to begin with, without being hindered by an arbitrary skill set. There is no starting at the requisite Level 4 (or even 3, or 2), and working her way up, even if she has Level 7 skills. Under USAIGC there is no incentive for coaches or club owners to hold gymnasts back until they obtain a high all-around score (and team score), solely because of the mandatory move-up score.

Built into this system is an inherent scoring reward to those gymnasts who go above and beyond the basic requirements in each level. For instance, in USAG’s Level 7, it is commonly known that gymnasts should do the minimum requirements, do them cleanly, and get off the apparatus, otherwise her score will be hurt. I have even been told by a judge to hold a gymnast back and not allow her to compete a beam series just so she could score higher. The judge asked me if I had a reason to put it in her routine. I told her that I wanted the gymnast to gain experience competing it as a second-year Level 7, so when she went Level 8, she would be more confident. The judge didn’t like that idea. In USAIGC, my same gymnast is rewarded for performing a series in the Silver level (the equivalent level to Level 7), rather than holding back and simply doing a back handspring.

Because of this common-sense approach to competitive rules, my gymnasts thrive under USAIGC, and were extremely successful at the 2018 World Championships (and the meets leading up to it throughout the season). My kids are challenged, my parents are happy, and we, as coaches and gym owners, are elated to have such a positive alternative to USAG.

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.