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

Gym Rats: Glide Kip is available on amazon.com!

Book 5 in the Gym Rats series, Glide Kip, is now available on amazon.com!

The book is available digitally or in paperback form online. You can also buy your copy at Tucson Gymnastics Center on December 21st during my book signing.

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.

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.

Gymnastics, Junior Olympic, USAG, USAIGC

Win Medals? Part III

The idea behind the USA Gymnastics’ Rules and Policies is sound. Below is the second point in the USAG J.O Program policy regarding mobility:

Once a high level of proficiency is achieved at the athlete’s current level, she should strive to move up to the next level, as long as it is done safely.

On the surface, this seems logical. USAG’s point number 1 (discussed in “Win Medals, Part II) states, “every athlete should show proficiency at her current level.” But in point 2 (stated above), they need a “high level of proficiency” before striving for the next level.” Here begin the loopholes for clubs and coaches whose highest priority is winning.

According to USAG, in Level 4, a gymnast must receive a 31.0 (77.5%) all-around in order to move up to the next level of competition. As a USAG coach, I took that to heart, and did not create arbitrary all-around scores for my athletes to obtain before moving up. If at the end of the season, they reached the USAG-set score, and they had a strong enough foundation to safely build more skills, then they had the opportunity to work up to the next level. If they safely had their SKILLS (not a score) for the next level before season, then they were welcome to compete the higher level. I did not expect my least experienced kids to be expert gymnasts, and I certainly did not expect them to be good competitors yet. (These are two different skills – being good at practice versus being good at competition.)

In my experience as a coach, my method puts the onus on the athlete to work for her goals. This gives the athlete responsibility for her own gymnastics. As coaches, we provide the opportunity to work upgrade skills. As athletes, it is their job take the initiative to work them. Also in my experience, when I ask kids what their goals are, they say that they want to compete at a higher level or learn more difficult skills, not be the best at the level they are now, or repeat their current level until they achieve a certain score, no matter how long it takes them.

As a club owner and coach, I have not set an all-around score that my gymnasts must obtain before moving up. However, many clubs and coaches do. The mother of one gymnast says, “A specific coach wanted [my daughter to get a] 37.5 or better and top of the podium to move to the next level. It was frustrating and she was held back three years, even placing 1st in two of the years.”

There is so much wrong with the above scenario that it deserves special attention. Her daughter needed a 37.5 all-around, which means she needed a 9.375 on each event to move up. But not only did she need 94% proficiency, but her daughter needed to be on top of the podium as well. To me, “top of the podium” means first place. To use the metaphor from “Win Medals, Part II,” not only would her daughter need a solid A, but she would need to receive the highest score in her class in order to pass to the next grade level. “I’m sorry; only the valedictorian gets to graduate high school.” This is ludicrous. Parents (rightfully) would be up in arms if this scenario happened in school.

There are two inherent flaws in this concept of achieving an arbitrary high score and first place. One, not only does her daughter need to have the meet of her life, but she has to do it on a day when no one else has the meet of her life. She must not only do her best, but she has to bank on the fact that others won’t do their best. In addition, although there is typically more than one age group in a particular level in a meet, the number of them is finite, meaning that there would only be about 3-10 first-place spots available in any one level. Under this scenario, does this mean that only 3-10 kids, so long as they achieve the requisite score, move up to the next level? What about the kids who all receive 38+ all-arounds, but come in 2nd through 5th place. This isn’t good enough? Not according to these standards.

This doesn’t even take into account the fact that judges vary from meet to meet. Scores are subjective according to the judge and the day; they don’t happen in a vacuum. A 9.375 today could be a 9.5 or a 9.1 tomorrow.

The most troublesome part of the above quotation comes in the second sentence. “She was held back three years, even placing 1st in two of the years.” This child competed the same level for three years in a row. What’s worse, this child won two of the three years she competed, yet was not allowed to move up because she did not achieve her coach’s required score. To what end? Look at USAG’s mission statement for the answer…

To win medals.

One mother of two competitive gymnasts says of her experience with her daughters when winning medals became the focus in her gym:

It was tough on my daughters because we did not expect it [the focus on winning medals]. At first, every medal was exciting – no matter the event or place. Every meet was exciting. Even if they medaled one meet and not the next, they looked at improvement, circumstances, etc. and wanted to keep working at it. Then the team started winning and everything changed. Whereas once my daughter was happy with a few medals a meet and an 8th place all-around, suddenly it was a quest to be 1st place. Her confidence was affected by it. It did not matter how proud we were of her; she was sad because she was not first place. It would be one thing if it was a goal she was working towards, but it felt more like she wanted the validation that her coach would give her instead of the sense of achievement from reaching her internal goal. This really bothered me.

Notice that she says, “Then the team started winning and everything changed.” In my experience and research, when kids are held back until they achieve a certain score or placement, it is for “the good of the team.” It has nothing to do with her ability to safely compete the next level up. What matters is the team score, despite what is best for her as an individual, her self-confidence, motivation, and her gymnastics progression.

The mother of the gymnast who was held back for three years says, “It was emotionally difficult for both of us and I feel it affects her psychologically and emotionally to this day.” As coaches of children, it should be our goal to psychologically build up the children we work with. We shouldn’t be the source of their problems; we should be the ones teaching them how to solve their problems, and teaching them how to be strong in the face of adversity. I ask again, coaches make up these arbitrary rules to what end?

Again, look at USAG’s mission statement.

When one of my gymnasts moved from her old club and began competing for mine, she so wisely said after her first season with me, “Before, I felt like I was losing every tenth. Now, I feel like I am earning every point.” This is gratifying to me; she knows that she is working toward her goals, not toward a coach or club’s goal of winning team trophies. My personal philosophy is such that we are a team of individuals. When we give our gymnasts what they need individually, and they improve, and they work toward their own goals, then then team automatically becomes stronger.

It is true that my team scores were not as high as other clubs’ under USAG, but I didn’t care. My focus was, and continues to be, on each individual gymnast, teaching her how to improve her skills, and how to learn how to compete. I will never hold a child back in order for me to look good, or to fulfill USAG’s mission of winning medals.

Carefully look at USAG’s policy on mobility once again:

Once a high level of proficiency is achieved at the athlete’s current level, she should strive to move up to the next level, as long as it is done safely.

“Once a high level of proficiency is achieved” can mean anything to any coach. To me, it means the 31.0 all-around as stated by USAG. To another gym, it means a 34.0 all-around. To another yet, it means above an 8.5 on each individual event, and to yet another, it can mean a “37.5 and top of the podium.”

“…She should strive to move up to the next level…” means that she might start working upgrade skills as soon as her coach wants her to, and this could include a multitude of different scenarios: maybe she starts working upgrades on her strongest events first; maybe she needs to receive an 8.5 on an event before trying new skills; perhaps she starts drills for upgrades while still competing regardless of score; and perhaps she has all of the skills in the next level up, but she has yet to achieve the requisite score and “top of the podium” designation needed to compete in the higher level. It must be highlighted here that the word “should” does not mean “must” and “strive” means different things to different coaches.

“…As long as it is done safely.” What is the definition of “safely”? To me, it means that a gymnast should work drills and progressions towards an upgrade skill so she forms the understanding of the skill and prepares herself physically and mentally in the process, so as to avoid injury. New skills will not be perfect, and perfection is not a metric of safety.

The loopholes inherent in USAG’s language on this point regarding mobility make it quite impossible for anyone to question a gym or coach’s personal philosophy on mobility to the next level. On the surface, the idea is sound, but by wording this policy the way they have, USAG has taken a hands-off approach to handling any complaints that any gym or coach could encounter, making USAG a paper tiger when it comes to enforcement of their own policies. A solution to this problem is to have a governing body that leaves mobility up to the coaches, yet enforces a strict adherence to a mandatory move-up score (see USAIGC Rules and Policies).

Coaches must take a look and see how their policies are affecting their gymnasts. Do you have move-up scores? Must your gymnasts win in order to move up? Do your policies reflect what is best for your gymnasts, or what is best for your trophy case?

I highly suggest that if you are a parent and you don’t like how your daughter’s coaches or gym owners are handling the situation, or you are concerned about how it might be detrimental to your daughter in the future, then you need to act now and do something about it now, before it becomes a problem for her psychologically or emotionally.

Educate yourself and your family. If your daughter spends 6 to 20+ hours a week in the gym, that is a significant amount of time. You must ensure that it’s for her benefit – time and money well spent. This may include conducting your own research into and asking about your gym’s governing body, its philosophy, and by taking an objective look at how it’s affecting your daughter, her growth in and out of the gym, her self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-motivation.

 

Gymnastics, Junior Olympic, USAG, USAIGC

Win Medals? Part I

3DDF96DC-DB68-41D2-903D-E349D4EA419DThe above is a snapshot of USA Gymnastics’ mission statement in their Women’s Program Rules and Policies through the end of 2017. For many years, the first two words of their mission statement were “Win Medals.”

Five years ago when my husband, Marc, and I opened our gymnastics club in Tucson, AZ, we were not planning on competing immediately. We wanted to attract recreational kids and teach them sound progressions, and bring them up to compete, eventually, when they were ready. But even though we weren’t planning on competing yet, we found it a necessary component of our business to be a member of the governing body for gymnastics clubs in this country.

The only option we had in Arizona was USA Gymnastics. I hesitated to be a part of it, as from my experience, it was difficult for my philosophy and coaching style to thrive within USAG’s parameters. There was another association, available in other parts of the country, that sounded like it fit my philosophy better, but it did not exist in Arizona.

Even though it was USAG’s top priority, our goal was not to “win medals.” Our philosophy was, and it continues to be, to provide kids of all levels of ability sound gymnastics instruction and all the positive life lessons that participation in a great sport like gymnastics can provide. I had a positive gymnastics career. I had positive club coaches, and I had a positive experience in college gymnastics. I wanted to pass that on to as many kids as possible.

We teach sound progressions and technique in our gym. Some kids take longer to understand and apply these techniques and progressions, so their gymnastics is not perfect. And as coaches, we believe that it is okay and perfectly acceptable to have children who are imperfect. A child is learning. A child should not be expected to be perfect. Perfection is a topic inherent in gymnastics training, especially when dealing with elite athletes. I’ll reference this topic in future posts.

On the surface, and in reading USAG’s past and current Rules and Policies, it would seem like our sport’s National Governing Body provides logical and reasonable parameters for entry-level gymnasts in its Jr. Olympic Program:

A. In the spirit of good sportsmanship, fairness to all athletes and competitive balance, the mobility system within the Jr. Olympic Program should be followed in the manner that it was intended:

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

  2. Once a high level of proficiency is achieved at the athlete’s current level, she should strive to move up to the next level, as long as it is done safely.

  3. 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.

(2013-2020 USAG Women’s Program Rules and Policies, Chapter 8)

What happens if the “mobility system within the Jr. Olympic Program” is NOT “followed in the manner that it was intended”? My competition experience has proven that this is more often the case than not.

In Parts II-IV, I will call attention to USAG’s negligence in enforcing their own rules and policies, how they look the other way when gymnasts and entire teams outscore others by competing perfect routines at the beginning levels of competition, and how this contradicts their supposed adherence to good sportsmanship and the spirit of youth sports. I will demonstrate how the organization is detrimental to the “unknown gymnast,” the young gymnast who is not destined to be an elite athlete, the gymnast who goes to the gym three or four days a week because she loves the sport, loves her teammates, and wants to learn more. These are the little girls who aren’t highlighted in the newspaper or the best-selling books, who don’t have a voice, and who are affected everyday by the policies that USAG makes up and then chooses to ignore.

In the mean time, please feel free to read my “Gymnastics Manifesto,” prompted by our club’s recent experiences in USAG’s Jr. Olympic Compulsory Program.