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 (firstname.lastname@example.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.