This is a difficult time for gymnastics. It’s a time that needs to happen and is overdue, but still difficult. In the last few years, gymnastics has taken a black-eye with an Olympic coach being found guilty of owning child pornography, a national team doctor being found guilty of the same, but accused of much worse, and now our national governing body is found to have paid hush-money to an athlete to keep quiet about the abuse she suffered. Hit after hit after hit. Gut punches. I have previously written how this sport has given me so much and has been the object of my dedication since I was a small boy. I hear about these men and organizations, and it breaks my heart.
Most of the accused are prominent figures in the sport. It sickens me because I know some of these guys and I would never have thought that they were capable of such offenses against children. Children, the resource of our industry. I have stated before that gymnastics allows kids to conceive of their own potential and provides tools to help them exceed their own perceived limits. It is a vehicle with which we can develop adults with healthy concepts of success, great character, and an appreciation for physical health. Knowing that some in my industry have violated our sacred trust to do just that, is a blow that leaves me reeling and wondering what is real and what might be a nightmare. Unfortunately, it also leaves many parents wondering if having their child in a gymnastics program is right.
99.999% of coaches in this sport are good and solid people. There are men and women who are certainly not in it for the money; we are in it because we feel we can help kids grow up. We can feed society a positive force that will ultimately shape our world to be all that it can be, and more. Does that sound lofty? Of course it does, but I have never been more serious about my love for this sport and what it can be for kids. I am proud to say that despite its most recent history, USA Gymnastics (our governing body) has been on the forefront of solving these problems. There is a new CEO. She replaces a man who made USAG a money making machine. He ran the corporation like a corporation and the most important thing was winning. The cost to get such a heavily marked W column was to ignore the very foundation of the program, his administration did not realize that their purview was to also keep our kids safe and healthy. Without that, we have no victories at all. There is still much house cleaning to be done at USAG, but changes are being made, and I can hope that it will place us on the right path. I assure you that I will do everything in my power to bring that to fruition.
USAG was the first governing body to develop a list of banned professionals who, after a review process, were determined to be dangerous or, in the least, not driving forces for positive development of children. They required criminal background checks for professional members, and they mandate safety education for all professional coaches. I operated as a USAG safety instructor for over 10 years and I can say that they were dedicated to providing good and professional level education to members in the name of providing the best for our kids. Gymfinity has always been many steps ahead of USAG and has been since it’s inception in 1999.
- We not only require safety education for our competitive coaches, we require it of every employee, including our office staff.
- We are renewing our policy of background checking all hired staff and use checks to hire new employees as well. If there is a red flag they are immediately removed from consideration for a position.
- Our staff is required to attend training seminars and continuing education throughout their tenure at Gymfinity. There is a credit load they must achieve annually in order to maintain their position. Our training includes everything from customer service to treating/recognizing concussions. We provide training from technical skills (teaching) to child psychology. We have courses from spotting to lesson planning; from emergency response training to class management and everything in-between. But, when it comes to staffing, our best feature is that we have assembled a community of professionals that believe in our sport being a gift we can provide to kids. Our staff keeps a watchful eye out for anyone that might jeopardize our mission. We have a staff of people who care about your kids. Period.
- Our facility opened in 1999. When I designed the building, which I literally did on a napkin while we met with the builder, I emphasized that our lobby must be positioned so that parents can always see where their children are in the gym, and with who. I knew then that people coaching children can often be immediately suspect. The same consideration was made in 2014 when we expanded.
I personally have lobbied state legislators to abolish the statute of limitations in regard to crimes against children. That is a position that several coaching colleagues across the country informally agreed to pursue in our own respective states. But none of those efforts made the news. So shines a good deed in a weary world.* Meanwhile, with the benefit of the #MeToo movement and the strength and courage of several athletes, we have had the brightest of lights shone upon our industry, and the roaches are running. Good riddance. Note that I said “Industry” not “Sport“. The sport of gymnastics and the 99.999% of trustworthy and positive people who coach it is still one of the best things that a parent can provide their child. Our industry has some repairs to make. I, for one, am happy to see that as a community of coaches and professionals we stand by our integrity and the strength within our ranks. Together we must make it better, we are the only ones who can, and now is the time.