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.

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.