Younger Sister Banned From Gym

To: Ask the Coach
Subject: Siblings in different competitive gyms

Sex: female
Age: 12 & 10
Gymnastics Level: Levels 8 & 4

I have two daughters who are competitive gymnasts with varying degrees of abilities, skills, and goals as evidenced by their ages and Levels. We determined that our older daughter, who competed Level 8 this past year, needed a new environment and different coaches if she wanted to continue to progress into the higher levels of Optional gymnastics. But, the younger daughter, a Level 4 gymnast, was happy as a clam at the current gym, which is a Parks & Rec Team Program. When I met with the head coaches of each of my daughters’ teams to discuss my older daughter, they were not happy that we were exploring other gyms, because they feel that their Optional Program is strong and the responsibility lays solely on the gymnast. They also said that if I moved the Level 8 daughter to a new gym, the Level 4 was not allowed to stay at their gym. My younger daughter has no desire to move gyms and will now no longer be a competitive gymnast. It seems to me that a program could be the perfect fit for one gymnast but not for another, particularly as gymnasts progress. Is this a policy that USA Gymnastics supports or other gyms would enforce that siblings are not allowed to be in two different competitive programs?

So sorry that you, and especially your younger, daughter has been placed in this position.

USAG and Switching Gyms

While USA Gymnastics does not have specific policies about switching gyms, especially in your somewhat more complicated situation, I sincerely doubt they would actively support this action by the coaches, in any way. Switching gyms is a fact of life (at least, life in gymnastics) even at the Elite level. There is a long history of Elite gyms recruiting gymnasts from other programs and parents jumping gyms, and those practices are rampant throughout the sport and at all levels of gymnastics. There is also a history of bad blood, controversy and lack of professionalism among coaches and gyms that lose gymnasts. Just this year, potential Olympian, Gabrielle Douglas, switched gyms (to Chow’s gym, coach of Olympic gold medalist, Shawn Johnson) and there was a controversy about some of the statements, from her old gym and coaches.

Siblings Not Allowed to be in Two Different Competitive Programs?

I doubt this two gym situation was or is a formal, written policy in almost any gym anywhere in the country. But no coach really likes their coaching (read ego) to be challenged by parents and gymnasts considering or actually switching gyms. Not allowing your younger daughter to stay sounds like either a punitive act or a desperate attempt to coerce you to keep both daughters in the gym. This is certainly not an action that would increase anyone’s view of the coaching professionalism involved here.

Responsibility Lies Solely on the Gymnast?

Many gymnastics coaches are unable to evaluate their own program and coaching in an unbiased and objective manner. If they were able to do so, their program would likely be considerably better. There is substantial evidence that the coaches and gyms, that are capable of producing Elite (and other high level gymnasts) will have already proved that by having done produced Elites in the past. That fact is true evidence that coaching matters, and the idea that gymnasts are solely or primarily responsible for their progress in the sport is highly misleading, if not an outright misrepresentation of the facts.

The Responsibility for Any Gymnastics Team Program Falls on its Coaches

Don’t for a moment think I do not understand the difficulties of trying to run a high level gymnastics program in a Parks and Rec environment. Or that I do not understand how it feels to have one of your best gymnasts recruited out from under you. It happened to me once. But from both a business and coaching point of view, everyone should understand the reality that gyms need to provide the best for their customers or they cannot (nor should they) expect gymnasts to stay. If a gym or program is not the best in their area, it is the responsibility of the coaches, managers and/or gym owners to fix it and make it the best, regardless of how much it takes to do that. If it cannot be the best or fixed, a true gymnastics professional (whose primary concern is for what is best for each gymnast) would do everything to help gymnasts and parents to find the best program for them and ease their transition.

You Are Lucky You Found Out

As you have no doubt already realized, quality, professionalism and positive psychology are sadly missing from this parks and rec program. It should not be not surprising that a rec program, and the coaches there, are not the top gymnastics trainers and most successful program in the area. The depth of the lack of professionalism in banning your younger daughter from the program might have surprised you. For the sake of your daughters’ best long-term interests, it is likely a good thing that you found out and are “forced” to make a move to a better gym. You didn’t really want your daughters to be influenced by that kind of coach, anyway.

Search Carefully for New Gym and Coaches

My recommendation is always to put gymnasts in the best gym and program available, as early as possible. The only modification to that advice I give, is that sometimes there is a single superior lower level coach at one gym, and a better high level program at another. Just like with school teachers, the most important effect on a child is the teacher who actually teaches them. So sometimes, it is not just enough to find the best gym, but instead you must find the best coach (who will actually be coaching your gymnast). And unfortunately, a lack of professionalism is more rampant in gymnastics gyms than any of us would like.

Don’t Give Up on Your Younger Gymnast Yet

Again, I apologize for the bad situation in which you have been placed. But I also recommend that you don’t give up on finding your younger daughter a new place in the sport as well. It is sometimes difficult for young children to deal and accept change, but it is a lesson that they must learn about life, which is constantly changing. Encourage her to try out the new gym you pick. Encourage the coaches at the new gym to work to include your youngest gymnast as well in their program and try not to prejudge the potential of any gymnast, including your daughters. And hopefully she and your older daughter will both find a better place in our sport.

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