Recently the USOC (United States Olympic Committee) has filed to remove USA Gymnastics as the governing body for gymnastics in the US. Though it sounds like doom and gloom for American gymnastics, it is, in my opinion, an important step in the organization getting it’s house in order. Gymnastics meets and clubs will continue operation as usual. Recommending de-certification is the USOC drawing the line on USAG getting it’s affairs in order and, if it wants to continue being the NGB (National Governing Body), motivating it to act.
USAG lost it’s way when it stopped being an organization that was there to encourage and develop athletes and grow the sport. It changed it’s operation from being a supportive-athlete based mission to be a corporate entity running like a business. It’s goal became developing a world champion collection of athletes at any cost and it forgot about the safety, well-being, and development of athletes as kids in a great sport.
I had worked for USA Gymnastics as a safety educator for over 10 years and eventually stepped down when it became obvious to me that it was more about getting coaches “certified” as safe and not about actually “teaching” them about safety. I am still a professional member and Gymfinity is still a member club; I do not plan on changing that in the immediate future. I am a pretty smart guy, and I wanted to express some thoughts on what USAG should do, in my opinion, to improve and retain it’s position as the NGB. Here are 5 ideas:
1. Structure of the corporation. I believe that USAG needs to maintain a governing board that finalizes decisions and policies to be made, but I think that all power should be decentralized and put out into the regional structures that are already in place. When we allowed a CEO to be the decision maker and all policy to be developed by a centralized office in Indiana, we opened ourselves up to ruin should that body ever be corrupted. When corruption was revealed it destabilized the entire organization and brought us to the mess we are in today.
By decentralizing the operation we put more control into states and regions who have a better communication with individual clubs, teams, coaches, and athletes. It allows for bottom up control and direction as opposed to top down. No one person should be in charge. Rather than looking to replace the several “bad” CEO’s that USAG has had with another failure, we should divide the position into 3 parts and let them operate as a committee rather than a single CEO. USAG should also re-establish the advisory board from past years, a board that contained doctors, lawyers, teachers, coaches, club owners, athletes, parents, and judges. When USAG reduced the advisory numbers, they lost touch with the very people that they served, and they became devoid of integrity. Left unchecked they became single minded to develop a gold medal regardless of the cost. The organizations direction can never be left unchecked again.
I think also that instead of having national training camps, that we should have regional training camps where a national staff can travel and help develop athletes as well as coaches. By educating coaches (see point number 3) we ensure future generations of quality athletes and programs.
2. USAG needs to take steps to protect it’s members, athletes, families, and professionals. We cannot merely give lip service to becoming “safer”. We need to require accreditation for coaches and other professionals to provide over-watch on the industry and it’s members. Having people take a test online is NOT enough to protect our children. There needs to be live education seminars where coaches and professionals can be trained in maintaining a safe environment and safe practices. Parents should be given the opportunity to receive similar training and should be very aware of the qualifications of the people and programs that are interacting with their children (see point number 5).
3. Coaches need education. Gymnastics has evolved to be a scientific pursuit as much as it is a sport. Techniques have been developed that have allowed the skill level of gymnastics to evolve past a point where even I, as a young gymnast, ever thought we could evolve. Without a solid understanding of bio-mechanics, a coach today is, at best, guessing how to develop a gymnast. Kids are progressed through “tradition-itis” and learn from coaches that teach based on how they were taught, and how their coaches were taught. Some of the practices from yesteryear were ineffective and even downright counterproductive. So doing what was always done is no longer good enough
Yet when USAG is give an opportunity to train coaches they focus on elite level skill development over basic skill foundations. This has led to a striation of coaching that doesn’t allow young coaches to learn based on the old-timer’s wisdom or the new techniques of scientific development. At Gymfinity we do so much to educate our coaches and yet I feel that we have no organizational or national support in that mission.
Young coaches need to learn bio-mechanics, child development, child psychology, basic nutrition, and competition codes and values. When a coach is deficit in any of those areas the gymnast suffers, and the situation is easily fixed.
Right now, there are a few forward thinkers developing the US Professional Gymnastics Coaches Association. There mission is to be able to provide credibility to coaching by providing accessible education to people, like myself and many of my staff, that choose gymnastics coaching as a career. I will work tirelessly on helping them succeed in their endeavors.
4. Being a member of USAG needs to have meaning. I have developed a program that surpasses the standard by providing a well designed and maintained facility, equipment that is NEVER in disrepair, and staffing that is educated on everything from safety to gymnastics philosophy, and even basic business. Yet a competitor can open 2 miles from me and provide none of that. We can both be USAG members because both programs sent in a check for $150. Meaningless.
My suggestion is to have a level of membership that grants access to any club to be able to participate in USAG sanctioned events, a minimum of requirement would have to be maintained; safety certification and basic sport comprehension, both of which are required currently. However, I believe that there should be another level of membership that submits to rigid qualifications on staff training, safety education, facility maintenance, and program quality. These locations could be inspected and reviewed to maintain their accreditation every year. Of course, this would come at a cost, but it would allow the consumer, a mom who has a kid with a dream, the opportunity to make an informed decision between a program run by professionals with standards and a program run as a hobby.
If a club is a member of USAG it should hold weight in the eyes of the public.
5. USAG should provide a national database of all members (at a cost, of course) that allows a parent to review the person who is working with their child. It should contain, level of education, certifications, experiences, location history, and a picture. Allowing a parent to comfortably see if the “new” coach is qualified, has a habit of moving every 6 months (a red flag), or if they are dedicated to the sport and profession. This will guarantee a safer marketplace. It will also make it harder for suspicious characters to disappear and reappear without notice, and it will encourage that coaches and programs insist on being better educated and qualified.
Now I have not submerged myself in the suggestions that USAG will be receiving from the US Olympic Committee as to what needs to happen for the organization to maintain it’s status as the NGB, I am just making observations and suggestions as a coach of 38 years, a USAG member, a past employee of USAG, a coach, a dad, and a citizen concerned with he safety and development of the world’s greatest sport. The worst-case scenario is that one organization dies, and another grows in it’s place. Whether we rebuild USAG or help create a new body, there are a lot of people out here with good and thoughtful ideas. Someone should listen.