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For Parents New to gymnastics - coaching concerns

Theone001

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We recently got our 5 year old daughter in gymnastics. She is already extremely dedicated, and gifted. I imagine we're going to be in this sport for years to come.

Her current class is small, and led by a fantastic teacher. We love the focus that she gets, and her teacher does a great job of getting her in shape and learning the basics. The concern is the next level class.

The next level is around 12 girls, and led by two guys. The older guy pretty experienced, along with a 20 something year old inexperienced teacher. I'm not comfortable with guys as her instructor. They were working on bars, and he was helping them rotate. Its alot of hands on contact, with someone who isn't there because of his expertise. I'm considering another gym to find a female teacher, but I'm curious if this is something I just need to get over? No other parents seem to care, which I don't understand either. What do you consider acceptable?
 

Tmacs

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Feb 19, 2019
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I understand your concern. Male coaches are super needed at the optional bars level... they have the strength to spot correctly. So, if it’s a long term commitment to gym, male coaches will probably be a part at some point. And they are usually spotting when the girls are older.
My daughter really connects only with male coaches in her gym and ninja classes so it’s never been a concern of mine...but I could see in this day and age that it could be uncomfortable if you didn’t know/trust the gym (which I do 100%).
 
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Sk8ermaiden

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May 6, 2013
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I really think you need to get over it unless your gym is tucking the gymnasts away in back rooms alone with male instructors or something. Unless you're willing to change gyms and teams every time a coaching change happens (which is really often in gymnastics programs), you'll face this eventually, and if you're going to do that, then you should probably pull her out of gym now and put her in a sport that does not require physical contact between coach and athlete.

I live in a large city with dozens of gyms and I don't think a single one has any kind of policy against male coaches for female gymnasts. In fact, at the higher levels you tend to see far more male head coaches than women, and there are very few teams with only female coaches. My daughter has had some really incredible male coaches in the sports she has done, including gymnastics, and I can't imagine deciding she shouldn't be allowed to learn from them because of a miniscule chance they'd be a predator (out in the open with parents watching.) Emotional abuse from male and female coaches is 100000000x more likely in this sport.

And as for the coach who "isn't there for his experience" (being trained by a coach who IS) - if there is one thing that I have learned, it is that gyms always need spotters. Young, strong (usually male) coaches who can be trained up to spot are valuable. And when that coach is there and there can be two stations with spots instead of one, everyone learns and progresses faster. My kid was always the kid they used to train the new spotters because she was small and light and you could be reasonably sure she'd execute the skill they were trying to teach the spotting of (as opposed to bailing or something.) This has never bothered me a bit.
 

JessSyd

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Oct 10, 2013
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Any gym that can afford to has coaches in training. Good coaches are hard to come by, and taking the time to give your own junior coaches guided experience is an investment in the future of the program.

My daughter is mid levels now, and is always quite happy having a male coach spot her. The current spotting coach in the gym was trained there. He is big, and very strong. And at first he wasn’t a great spotter. Now he’s the one she feels safest with.

I have watched them working together many times. He is very, very careful about where he puts his hands. I bet he stresses about it 100 times more than the female coaches do, and I know they are very careful too.
 
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ZB55

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May 6, 2020
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Male coaches are very common, especially at upper level bars and flipping vaults. I would be more concerned with the quality and character of the coach than with their gender.

I would recommend that you watch practice carefully and assess exactly where and how they handle the girls if that is the concern. As just an example, if they need to squeeze their rear, I've seen coaches make a single finger point to that area from the side, not a whole hand on their rear. You can see if they are deliberate and careful about where they touch, especially when making corrections. Most spotting on bars I've seen (and am comfortable with) is a hand on the wrist in case of a slip, on the back and legs while in motion, on the waist to hold them in handstand, etc. If you watch carefully, and think about what skill they are doing and what the coach is trying to teach them or motion they are trying to guide them through, the hands-on should make sense.

Of course if a gymnast is actually falling, wherever they can grab them and save an injury, you'll be grateful for!
 

Gigi

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Apr 20, 2016
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Male coaches are needed at the upper levels to spot and catching them.
But I am with you, I felt very uncomfortable, especially at first. I would watch practice once or twice a week. I know some parents here think that means I am crazy gym mom, but I enjoy watching my daughter do gymnastics and chat with moms. Looking back, I should have watched more! Back to topic, when I am there, I also watch like a hawk for any inappropriateness, whether weird rapport, touching, language, harshness, everything. I trust, but watch like a hawk. The most trusted are usually the ones who hurt you. I talk to my daughter, in age appropriate way of course. My daughter also danced and there is a lot of touching there too, like bending them or lifting their arms or legs, etc. It is a lot more touchy, in my opinion, than gymnastics. I would watch for anything that is different from what the female teachers would do. I think it is ok to be on top of it. It's shocking but we personally know two coaches who have been accused of sexual assault. Coaches who we trusted and asked for advice! Neither of them coached my daughter, but if they did, I would have watched like a hawk, even though we were personal friends first.
 
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gymjunkie

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Male or female, you need hands on corrections if you are going to teach gymnastics properly. Once the child learns the correct shapes, they should be able to achieve them by having the coach cue them rather than touch them (most of the time). I would be fine with an extremely burly female coach as a spotter for my L10, but most of her best spotters past L7 have been males. I would be very uncomfortable if the male coach was overly cuddly or touchy in an inappropriate way, but I'm thankful when a male coach is there to catch my gymnast.
 

Fina

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Just watch the practices and let the coaching know you will make yourself comfortable watching is my recommendation. I have always done it. Everyone is used to the presence. (Judge all you want, but I am there most of the time). Honestly, I don't think many coaches do coaching so that they can communicate with parents. Getting the vibe in the gym and observing often is valuable and I think Responsible gym would not discourage it.

I would also say be mindful that many of the abusers are women and trust could also be a two way street. You don't want competent coaches to be fearful of properly spotting your child. I think its a balance. Its good for you to have the concerns and ask the questions, they are valid I believe.
 
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gymgal

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As a beginner gym parent, no you are not being overly sensitive, especially in today's gymnastics world with so much coming out. You see something that could potentially raise a red flag and you are acting on it. I think what ZB55 wrote is on target. Watch practice - really watch. Where are the hands going? Where are the eyes going as well? Are they watching the skill movement? Are they touching only the areas as touch points to cue the gymnast? If they are coaching older/advanced levels, what does the spotting look like there? Are the female coaches touching in the same places/ways? What everyone else said about male coaches in the upper levels is true. There will be at least one upper level male coach in most gyms you visit. It is something you have to get used to but that doesn't mean that you let your guard down until you feel comfortable that the spotting is genuine and you trust those coaches - male or female.
 
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ldw4mlo

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You would be hard pressed to avoid male coaches in any sport.

And in gymnastics it’s nearly impossible for a gymnast never to touched by a coach.

So if these are concerns of yours maybe sports is not something you want your child doing, especially gymnastics.

And 20 somethings can be quite capable of coaching. My daughter learned quite a lot from a Div 1 gymnast who coached at our gym this summer. Helped get her BHS on the beam straightened out.
 
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skygirlpc

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I feel like some of these replies are a little harsh. I think with all that is coming out about the gymnastics culture (hopefully a culture we are moving away from), that this kind of fear is only to be expected. While I think some of these responses were a little too harsh there is some good information in them.

I agree that you should really watch the practices (also take note that you are allowed to watch). Teach your daughter about body safety. Encourage her to have a voice in other areas of her life. If she says no to something involving her body, empower that so that she will feel free saying no to others. Ask her regularly if she feels comfortable, discuss what may be making her uncomfortable and how you can both handle those situations. Communication is the key!!

My daughter is 6.5 and has had the same young male coach for a few years. I am very picky about who is close to my child and even now there are times that I will really watch their interactions and make sure that there are no warning signs. I love her coach dearly but I always stay aware.

I think that we have choices, we can let fear rule our life and take good oportunities away from us and our children or we can educate ourselves and learn how to handle things wisely. Good Luck! I hope that you are able to find a situation where you feel empowered and not controleed by fear!
 

sce

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What is your concern with male coaches? Just being male does not make them a danger to girls. There are many male coaches in this sport. My 18yo son teaches both boys and girls beginner gymnastics. Does the gym have protocols in place so athletes are never alone with coaches.
 

profmom

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Also the parent of a male gymnast who, before the pandemic, had a job coaching. His very experienced coach had begun teaching him how to spot. He was coaching advanced rec, including girls, and occasionally the little guys' team practices, and if things get back to normal, will be doing that again and more.

Your young male coach is or was possibly also a gymnast. If so, he's spent years growing up and working out in the same space as girls, watching the bigger girls with amazement at what they can do. He has watched girls get injured, rehab, and fight their way back. He's seen girls doing strength training and for most of his young life, was spending a lot of time around girls he knew were stronger and more accomplished than he was. In the US, male gymnasts have consciously chosen to stick with a sport where the women are the big stars and they are more of an afterthought. They are a special and wonderful breed.

In my kids' gym, the JO girls' team has three male coaches, two of whom were gymnasts. I literally trusted these men with my daughter's life, and I have personally witnessed all three of them make spotting saves that prevented possibly catastrophic injury. (Was not at the gym the day my son peeled trying to do a blind change, and his coach broke his fall with his body and had to go to the hospital himself for a brain MRI.)

So yes, keep an eye on things, but this is the norm in the sport.
 

M2Abi

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My daughter has a male coach that she has been with for about 5 years. We love him. At a meet last winter, she dove over the high bar and he caught her and went down to the mat with her. They were both fine.

I get being uncomfortable with it at first. I was too, but I watched practices until I did feel comfortable. If you get a specific creepy vibe, run. Otherwise, it's part of gymnastics.
 

Madden3

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I think it is great you are thinking about these things in regard to your child. It is, of course, a statistical fact that sexual abuse typically comes from a male in a child’s life. But not necessarily ADULT males. A significant portion of sexual abuse comes from other children. Also, while quite rare, women may sexually abuse as well. And of course, there are other types of abuse.

It does no good to live in fear. There are many misconceptions about abuse. For example, there is little if any reason to assume a young inexperienced coach poses more of a risk than a long time, high level coach. Or that either represent a significant risk.

As a parent, learning the facts about childhood sexual abuse can be upsetting, but it is also very empowering. There is no point in worrying about every male who may be in close contact with your child. But there definitely is a point to learning about child abuse in all its forms and learning specifically the practical things you can do to help prevent abuse.
 

TumbleTimes4

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My DD’s first coach was male, and he was great with her. She also occasionally works with a male coach now who spots her on bigger skills and she feels safe working with him. What I don’t want to see in this sport is for a group of coaches to be discriminated against, become suspicious of, or be mistrusted simply because they are male. I was a tumbler when I was younger, and I always preferred working with the male coaches over the female coaches. They were stronger and I felt safer with them when they were spitting me. I trusted them more than the females.

There has been a lot of good advice given in this thread. It’s good to be vigilant and to watch practice and hand placements. But maybe try and be open to giving a male coach a chance. At some point in this sport, the odds are that she will have and/or need one for spotting purposes if she goes high enough in the levels.
 
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ernestine

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I understand your concern. Male coaches are super needed at the optional bars level... they have the strength to spot correctly. So, if it’s a long term commitment to gym, male coaches will probably be a part at some point. And they are usually spotting when the girls are older.
My daughter really connects only with male coaches in her gym and ninja classes so it’s never been a concern of mine...but I could see in this day and age that it could be uncomfortable if you didn’t know/trust the gym (which I do 100%).
I don't have any problem with male coaches, but this is a super sexist comment. My girls have two female coaches who are fabulous at spotting bars and would never drop them.
 

JBS

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I am a guy and a Head Coach. If I ever had a staff of all female or all male coaches... I would be looking to hire the opposite to gain more balance. Just my opinion... but I like having both.

We have both young male and young female coaches that spot and double spot bars on a regular basis. They are not really coaching... they are spotting a station... manual labor. While many of them are just learning to spot and basically only double spot kipping and casting... some of them are very capable advanced spotters.

The most experienced coach does not need to be the spotter. They need to be the lead and direction of the program.
 

gymgal

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I don't have any problem with male coaches, but this is a super sexist comment. My girls have two female coaches who are fabulous at spotting bars and would never drop them.
The comment wasn't sexist at all. It was stating a reality. In most gyms, more males than females are spotting the older/more advanced girls on bars/vault. That doesn't mean that females can't or don't. It is just logistics. Female coaches tend to be former gymnasts and more petite in stature, which makes it harder to spot older/more advanced girls. Not impossible, just harder.
 

pt coach

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Just to add in, our head optional bar coach is a woman and she is the best spotter I have ever seen in my long career (I am old lol). I think it is a common assumption that male coaches make the best spotters, and sometimes that is true and sometimes it isn't. In our case the bar coach is petite but she is super strong and very technically proficient. She spots gymnasts that are over 5 -6 inches taller than her with ease. In my state I can think of numerous high level female optional bar coaches. I have watched them in action and they are super competent. So, all this to say that women are certainly capable of spotting high level skills and one should not assume that a program that has female bars, vault or tumbling coaches will be at all limiting for progression in the upper levels.