The problem with Traditionitis

Ok. Just venting.

I am appalled at somethings I see things in the children’s activity industry and I wonder what the heck is going on.

Case in point: I see an advertisement for a local children’s activity franchise that shows a child doing a back bend, or what in gymnastics or yoga is known as a bridge and I get upset. Why?

Our industry is plagued by “Traditionitis” or a thought process that tells us that we should always do what we have always done. The problem with such thinking is that doing what we have always done, gets us what we have always got. Umm, even my head is spinning from that paragraph. Let me explain.

My coaches, Gary, John, Mickey, Greg and even Chuck have bad backs. Their coaches had bad backs. I would venture to say that their coaches coaches had bad backs too. As a gymnast we were made to do endless sets of bridges to stretch our shoulders. However if you ask any kid doing bridges what it’s stretching (if they know it’s supposed to be a stretch) and they will say ‘their back’.  Gymnasts by the nature of strength development, and children just in general, have limited flexibility in their shoulders and when doing a bridge the spine is flexed to compress the vertebrae together causing pain, disc pinching and the potential for long-term instability. I have a bad back. That’s 3 generations of gymnasts that have been negatively affected by “doing what we have always done.” I decided 20 years ago that I would no longer have my gymnasts do bridges with their feet on the floor. By elevating the feet to about the height of the elbow when the hand is placed on the floor, the bridge position reduces vertebral compression and isolates the shoulder joint which it’s intended to be stretching in the first place. Stretch mission accomplished and back concerns averted just by being smarter and understanding the body and the sport. The tradition stops with Gymfinity.

I was so please to talk with my friend Doug Davis the CEO of Tumbl-Trak about this very topic and he practically embraced me in agreeing. He told me how his back issues have developed from years ago and he was out “preaching the word” about bridges and how to do them correctly to many young coaches around the country. I’ve known Doug since I was 12 and it felt good to be recognized for having the right ideas even in the face of conventionality.

Here’s the vent part. I see these print ads in every children’s/parent’s magazine for this local franchise gym for kids and they show a child doing a bridge. Not only a silly skill but he’s doing it on his tippy toes and with flexed arms because he has no apparent flexibility. I can practically hear his spine shout in pain because I was that kid. Now I grant the premise that the average “Joe Public” types see a bridge and think gymnastics right away. Unfortunately it’s probably because they associate doing bridges in P.E. when they were young and it calls to mind the gymnastics unit where they had to perform them. So I understand the ad is associating gymnastics with children and then back to this franchise, but unfortunately these little boutique gym franchises are so out of the loop that they don’t even see how inappropriate they are.

The problem with all franchises is that they are impersonal. They have canned lesson plans that come from a corporate office and the lessons don’t adapt to the children to which they’re implemented. They also often hire inexperienced people who’s only knowledge of the sport is what the canned plan tells them, or they were once gymnasts and due to an unfortunate lack of knowledge they fall back on doing what has always been done. Sad. Completely unqualified and doing more harm than good, but cheap unqualified labor means more profit.

Am I over-stating? Maybe. And maybe you think I’m over the line but I post in this blog week after week about the benefits of gymnastics and how it is so good for children and when someone comes along doing it wrong (and glorifying their inability in print) I just get worked up.

For Pete’s sake, when you are looking for an activity for your children please consider the qualifications of the program, not the person who owns it or runs it (though those should be impeccable credentials too), but the program itself. Does it claim to have no responsibility because it’s activities are  just for fun, or does it at least qualify itself by staying on top of the industry standards? Choose wisely, your child’s health is at risk.

I apologize for the gratuitous ad that may appear in posts now. I have no control over them being placed or in product selection. 


  1. gymfinity on December 19, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    I received a call from a person who took this post very personally. I have amended the offending text but when I am speaking about the health and safety of children, I will not amend the meaning behind the text. I apologized to him and I will also state here in the same forum that offended him, that I apologize for him feeling that my post was solely about his program. It is not. I don’t need to attack any one gym, one gym owner or coach, its the industry itself that is suspect. The are a fraction of programs out there that see gymnastics as a profitable activity that they can provide. It’s business.
    Our national governing body does an amazing job at educating young coaches and businesses on responsibility and safety. They have strict standards that member clubs must abide by and yet they cannot demand that anyone claiming to “teach” gymnastics join the governing body and maintain the same standard. That affiliation is what separates gymnastics gyms from the equivalent of people teaching gymnastics in their living room and charging for it. It demands professionalism and credibility. Sadly most of the consumers of sport and activity programs don’t know the difference and so believe that all programs are equal. But would you go to a surgeon that is not a member of the AMA? However credible affiliation is only a start. I unfortunately also share the gymnastics community, as a whole, with programs who believe that they have no responsibility to provide safe and current training. In fact I have spoken on this topic (doing bridges as a cause for long term back pain) in my former position as a safety educator for USA Gymnastics. You could say that I have been on this soapbox for over 20 years. And still some folks will defend their wrong-doing adamantly because in their heart of hearts they know I’m right, but they hate to admit being wrong. So though I apologize for offending a few gym owners, my response is that they need to honestly examine their program and decide if I am right. If they feel that I am not then they can blissfully carry on, but if I am then they need to take it upon themselves to be better.

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