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, competition, everyday gymnast, Gymnastics, High School, season, USAIGC

2020 High School Meet Recap

My four high school gymnasts and I just returned from our trip to New York for the USAIGC High School Invitational. We had a great trip!

“The Big Apple” Tradition

Again, we were able to see some of the sights like Central Park and the Guggenheim. It turns out that each year we do something just a little bit different with our time in the city, which is a great thing for an annual trip.

This year, I included some more leadership objectives. I relayed to my girls that whether they see themselves as leaders or not does not matter; the little girls who look up to them see them as leaders and role models anyway. This is a role that they must take seriously.

This much is true: we don’t get to choose who looks up to us. We don’t get to choose who we inspire. The only thing that we can do is control how we handle ourselves through adversity, and how we carry ourselves in any given situation. This may be difficult for teenage girls. They are on display everyday in the gym, and they are working through their own difficulties, fears, mental blocks, etc. The kiddos who look up to them look to them for guidance on how they should act and handle adversity.

Contrary to the unattainable societal standard, gymnasts are not perfect. The youngsters know that the older gymnasts will falter, stumble, fall. It’s in how the high schoolers handle themselves, pick themselves up, dust themselves off, work through problems, and keep moving forward that will really show the little ones looking up to them what it is to be a leader.

I am proud of all of my high school gymnasts. They push themselves, problem solve, and try to be their very best in and out of the gym. It’s very hard to be on display when you yourself are learning. My girls do a good job of it, and prove that a perfect result is not what we are necessarily striving for; we are striving for a perfect effort to make oneself better. Good job, girls. I’m proud to be your coach.

Central Park
competition, Event Specialist, everyday gymnast, goals, Gymnastics, High School, USAIGC

High School Invitational 2020

This weekend, I am on my way to New York City to celebrate my high school-aged gymnasts. We will spend a long weekend bonding, celebrating their leadership in and out of the gym, and thinking about what they can bring back to their younger teammates to help guide them on their gymnastics journeys.

This will be the third year we compete in this special meet held by USAIGC. The gymnasts compete their highest level on each event. There are no individual awards, just team awards. It truly is a meet that highlights what it means to be members of a team, and what it means to be a part of an exclusive group of high school gymnasts.

It is HARD to hang in there in a sport like gymnastics throughout high school. Ask any one of my high school gymnasts, and she will tell you her story about what she has gone through, the storm she weathered, and how and why she is still in the gym. These girls have histories. They have injuries. They have heart. They have grit.

High school gymnasts should be celebrated as veterans of the sport, and I am thankful that our gym found a governing body (USAIGC) that recognizes their value and celebrates the leadership they have to offer.

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, Event Specialist, Gymnastics, USAIGC

2019 USAIGC World Championships

A couple of weeks ago, our team returned from the 2019 USAIGC World Championships gymnastics meet in Nashville. The venue (the Gaylord Opryland Resort) was terrific. Although I didn’t stay on-site, a number of our gymnasts did, and they thought it was great — restaurants, convention center, water park, and more, all under one roof.

USAIGC held two parties just for gymnasts, and all of my gymnasts who attended had a great time. They really felt like they were a part of a special event.

The meet was well-run and organized. The sessions ran on time, and the awards were fast and efficient. Overall, the scoring was fair and consistent, and the meet was competitive. Scores weren’t handed out to athletes; gymnasts had to earn their awards and titles.

To top it all off, although I spent the 4th of July working, it was something very special to have the National Anthem sung so beautifully on our nation’s 243rd birthday.

Once again, the same as last year, the coaches were all very nice and cooperative. Although we were there to compete against one another, the fact that we all had a basic respect for the USAIGC program and its underlying philosophy, gave us a sense of camaraderie. We were there to support our gymnasts and to give them the best experience possible. This healthy attitude was displayed throughout the week from all of the coaches. Our gymnasts see coaches from different clubs working together, and they become more friendly with one another too. This is one of the things I really enjoy and respect about USAIGC.

Another intelligent aspect of the USAIGC rules is the encouragement of the event specialist. This year, even more than last year, the event specialist was truly celebrated. This is a very realistic view to have of gymnastics. “The USAIGC/IAIGC promotes and encourages Individual Event Competition in all competitive levels with the same qualification procedures. Collegiate gymnastics is built upon Individual Event Specialist” (USAIGC Rules & Policies, pg. 9). Not all gymnasts excel at the same rate on all events. This is normal. In fact, event specialty is a fundamental part of college gymnastics (for instance, I was recruited for my vaulting prowess), something which many of these young gymnasts want to be a part of one day.

In USAIGC, if a gymnast does not qualify to World Championships as an all-around gymnast, she has the opportunity to qualify on up to two individual events. She is not held back on her stronger events because of her weaker events. Then, at World Championships she has the opportunity to qualify in her age group as an event finalist, competing again, and having the chance to become a World Champion. In any other organization, this would not be possible. Many of my gymnasts did not qualify as all-around competitors, but as event specialists. This rule makes sense; it is a smart and realistic rule for the sport of gymnastics.

Just as in college gymnastics, let’s not hold a gymnast back because of what she cannot do, let’s give her the opportunity to go as far as she can and push herself to the best of her ability on what she can do. Let’s see where her talents take her, not force her to quit or compete at a lower level because she doesn’t have all four events at the same level.

We appreciate USAIGC and its intelligent structure. Our gym has finished our second year of competition under its umbrella, and we cannot be more happy about the change we made for our girls.

coaching, Gymnastics, High School, USAIGC

USAIGC High School Meet 2019

I was fortunate, once again, to take five of my high school-aged gymnasts on a trip to New York City for the annual USAIGC High School Invitational. This is the second year that we have offered this meet to our high school gymnasts, and we had a great time!

We spent all day on Saturday in New York City, taking in the sights, and meeting Paul Spadaro, the President of USAIGC, for a fabulous lunch. Because we were traveling with older kids, we could do some more mature New York City sight-seeing, like visiting the 911 Memorial Museum. The girls, all of whom were not yet born on 9/11 except one, were touched and awestruck.

This year, we had five gymnasts and three adult chaperones, plus myself, so we decided to rent a house in Queens for the weekend. The girls were able to all stay in the same room together and bond. Because the high school meet is about celebrating age and years in the sport, and not level, not all of my girls work out in the same group in our gym. Therefore, they were able to get to know one another a little better. We gave them the freedom to cut loose (within reason) and really get comfortable with each other. They also stayed up late, watched movies, and talked, like teenagers like to do. They even bought matching socks for themselves (and me – thanks, girls!) so they could make the weekend even more special.

Much like last year, I gave my five high school girls the opportunity to (somewhat) dictate how their practices would look in the gym leading up to the meet, so they could have input on how they could best prepare themselves.

It turns out that my five girls have truly taken their roles as leaders and role models in the gym seriously. I am proud to say that they took the initiative to bring home an idea of the “Positivity Board” from the host gym. They came to me with the idea, and I thought it was a good one, so we decided to implement it. I bought a white board and markers, and it was the high schoolers’ job to explain the purpose of the board to their teammates. Reading over what their teammates write on the Positivity Board is now one of the highlights of the week for many of my gymnasts, all because of the initiative taken by my team leaders – my high schoolers. One of my greatest goals in coaching is teaching kids how to take initiative and lead. When I watch them begin to do it on their own is very rewarding.

This meet served as a great opportunity for my high school-aged gymnasts to know that they are special, important, and valued members of my competitive team. I am thrilled to offer this meet on our schedule each year, spend a long weekend in New York City with the girls, and reward them for many years well spent in our great sport.

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.