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