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For Parents Would you report emotional abuse -- has anything really changed?

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gymjunkie

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I'm sure this article has been read by many. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/03/...QxVfyuhiDpdc-gFDfJTnYW7_f9ARWJuzutQONKatTc-sE

Good for all the gymnasts coming forward. It's long overdue that they were heard! I would like to hear from parents (and/or non-abusive coaches) of gymnasts who are contenders for a spot on the national team or a scholarship (or something of that nature) if they would report emotional abuse while the abused child is still competing. When I ask friends who are parents or coaches who meet the criteria I outlined, the answer is still a hard NO WAY. We all admit we would wait until the gymnast was in a place safe from retaliation (and the gymnasts themselves feel even more strongly about this). That doesn't mean we would leave them in an abusive situation, but we all know that reporting emotional abuse is still unlikely to be taken seriously and still very likely to lead to retaliation. I have spoken with folks from both SS and USAG and they both acknowledge that emotional abuse is very hard to prove and that they are unlikely to take action (meaning USAG, since SS does not have domain against emotional abuse). I would say the same is true for the type of abuse that is physical in nature that does not involve actually striking a gymnast (such as insisting a gymnast do a skill they are going to get hurt doing as their punishment or to prove a point). Even in the case of sexual abuse, I can only imagine what Maggie's answer would be to the question, "do you wish your abuse had been reported AFTER you had competed in the 2016 Olympics?" Does anyone know how to get past this in our sport? I would especially love to hear from anyone who is also in law enforcement or a mental health practitioner.
 

flippin out

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that is a hard question. Although not involving the contenders for National Team, I know of one case (recently resolved) where multiple athletes (many still competing, just not at said gym) came forward against a former coach. SafeSport found this person guilty through a preponderance of evidence, that mental, emotional and physical (not the striking kind, but punishing kind) to have more likely than not occurred.
So, yes athletes are coming forward and reporting even while they are still competing. From what i've been told, many more athletes and professional members participated as witness (many corroborating the claims and some to try and negate them).

BUT -- even though many of the coaches (and even those employed by the accused) have privately admitted that the accused coach was a horrid person, only a few came forward in support of the claims and gave testimony......none of the employees. While I totally get that they are afraid of their job being terminated, it is actually their duty to report misconduct. All USAG coaches take that mandatory course and are mandatory reporters. The accused was (for a lack of better word) found guilty of specific acts violating the codes. So, not only did they fail in reporting, they failed their athletes again when they chose to cover their own culpability by lying about or omitting what they witnessed. I do not say that lightly, I have heard a few of them (including some currently, and formerly employed by accused) privately complain for years about how bad the claimant's behavior has been......so they had to have seen (unless they have been lying when telling stories for years). Whether coaches didn't report due to fear of termination of position, or some misplaced "code of honor system and friendship" I can't say.

Now, here's a question and it's a tough one. All coaches must take this mandatory safety course where they are all made well aware of what their responsibilities as to reporting are......SO, when a coach is found guilty and put on a suspended/permanently ineligible list, what repercussions should coaches working in said gym face if any? Should they be held accountable for not speaking up or do they just get a pass on that?
 

MuggleMom

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SO, when a coach is found guilty and put on a suspended/permanently ineligible list, what repercussions should coaches working in said gym face if any?

I feel like from a due process standpoint that would be harder to prove than the (already difficult) misconduct charges were in the first place. What if they just witnessed bad behavior but not "code violating behavior" There can be coaching styles and actions that can be in bad taste or ineffective but technically not abuse. Perhaps they were complaining about that...that the person is a jerk and they dont care for them or their coaching style but that they never saw them actually violating any codes so you are taking their "complaints" out of context? This is all devils advocate hypothetical of course but thats where the issue would lie. What if parents reported to safesport but never the head coach maybe they are a bad owners and really didnt have a clue what was going on in their gym? I think it would be harder to prove they had direct knowledge of code violating behavior but ignored it.

Now if the owners ignored multiple documented complaints from parents (like I emailed you the coach did X, Y, Z which violates codes) and the owners said ya I know they did that I dont care or they refuse to even investigate claims I think you have a stronger case for going after non-reporters. But everyone agreed hes a a-hole is more hearsay than direct knowledge.
 
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flippin out

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@MuggleMom i get what you’re saying. I wasn’t meaning owners responsibility (hadn’t really thought about owners or absent owners at all). I was more meaning other coaches working alongside a coach that is found guilty of abusive training practices.
 
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gymjunkie

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that is a hard question. Although not involving the contenders for National Team, I know of one case (recently resolved) where multiple athletes (many still competing, just not at said gym) came forward against a former coach. SafeSport found this person guilty through a preponderance of evidence, that mental, emotional and physical (not the striking kind, but punishing kind) to have more likely than not occurred.
So, yes athletes are coming forward and reporting even while they are still competing. From what i've been told, many more athletes and professional members participated as witness (many corroborating the claims and some to try and negate them).

BUT -- even though many of the coaches (and even those employed by the accused) have privately admitted that the accused coach was a horrid person, only a few came forward in support of the claims and gave testimony......none of the employees. While I totally get that they are afraid of their job being terminated, it is actually their duty to report misconduct. All USAG coaches take that mandatory course and are mandatory reporters. The accused was (for a lack of better word) found guilty of specific acts violating the codes. So, not only did they fail in reporting, they failed their athletes again when they chose to cover their own culpability by lying about or omitting what they witnessed. I do not say that lightly, I have heard a few of them (including some currently, and formerly employed by accused) privately complain for years about how bad the claimant's behavior has been......so they had to have seen (unless they have been lying when telling stories for years). Whether coaches didn't report due to fear of termination of position, or some misplaced "code of honor system and friendship" I can't say.

Now, here's a question and it's a tough one. All coaches must take this mandatory safety course where they are all made well aware of what their responsibilities as to reporting are......SO, when a coach is found guilty and put on a suspended/permanently ineligible list, what repercussions should coaches working in said gym face if any? Should they be held accountable for not speaking up or do they just get a pass on that?
I don't think anyone in that position would view it as getting a pass. Coaches know that when a highly regarded coach or official is accused everyone rushes to their defense, showers them with praise and the accuser backs down (after being harassed). The end result is that the accused coach gets their ego stroked with the accolades they receive during the process. Some of us just don't want to contribute to that process when we are told by USAG that emotional abuse is difficult to define and prove. I say this as a coach who has twice reported sexual abuse and was unable to have the coaches disciplined (in one case one was fired, but he was coaching again within weeks).
 
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Gymsanity

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Wow, where do you guys find all these articles??? I must be living in a cave luckily, never heard or seen any of them. Here is an unpopular answer. Leave. Yep, plain and simple if you feel that any coach in any way is hurting or abusing your child, leave. Different coaches have different 'styles' and if theirs isn't compatible with you and your child, go somewhere where it is. I've witnesses coaching that I felt was abusive in my opinion, but see the kids and parents seemingly happy. I've seen coaches that were both loved and loathed, so decide which it is for you and act accordingly. If enough people feel that they are abusive and leave then the coach is left two choices; change, or go out of business. Either way, problem solved. ALWAYS TALK and most importantly LISTEN TO YOUR CHILDREN! When it comes to feeling abused in any form, nobody can decide that other than your child.
 
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gymjunkie

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Wow, where do you guys find all these articles??? I must be living in a cave luckily, never heard or seen any of them. Here is an unpopular answer. Leave. Yep, plain and simple if you feel that any coach in any way is hurting or abusing your child, leave. Different coaches have different 'styles' and if theirs isn't compatible with you and your child, go somewhere where it is. I've witnesses coaching that I felt was abusive in my opinion, but see the kids and parents seemingly happy. I've seen coaches that were both loved and loathed, so decide which it is for you and act accordingly. If enough people feel that they are abusive and leave then the coach is left two choices; change, or go out of business. Either way, problem solved. ALWAYS TALK and most importantly LISTEN TO YOUR CHILDREN! When it comes to feeling abused in any form, nobody can decide that other than your child.
Yes, leave -- but the coach can still retaliate after the gymnast has switched gyms. This is what keeps reports from being made (that and the fact that emotional abuse is hard to define and therefore hard to punish). Anyone who has had a gymnast switch gyms for lesser reasons knows how uncomfortable that gymnast feels when they run into their former coach at a competition. Running into them and having them watch you compete just amplifies the normal anxiety an athlete feels when they are competing. That's nothing compared to what the athlete who makes an allegation of abuse experiences! They also fear the loss of a scholarship or other big losses.
 

Gymx2

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Wow, where do you guys find all these articles??? I must be living in a cave luckily, never heard or seen any of them. Here is an unpopular answer. Leave. Yep, plain and simple if you feel that any coach in any way is hurting or abusing your child, leave. Different coaches have different 'styles' and if theirs isn't compatible with you and your child, go somewhere where it is. I've witnesses coaching that I felt was abusive in my opinion, but see the kids and parents seemingly happy. I've seen coaches that were both loved and loathed, so decide which it is for you and act accordingly. If enough people feel that they are abusive and leave then the coach is left two choices; change, or go out of business. Either way, problem solved. ALWAYS TALK and most importantly LISTEN TO YOUR CHILDREN! When it comes to feeling abused in any form, nobody can decide that other than your child.
So, is verbally abusive coaching just a different "style"? What if young girls don't recognize the abuse immediately and speak up? Just leaving the gym and letting other young girls figure it out and "act accordingly" is the plan?
 
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gymjunkie

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So, is verbally abusive coaching just a different "style"? What if young girls don't recognize the abuse immediately and speak up? Just leaving the gym and letting other young girls figure it out and "act accordingly" is the plan?
Gymnasts do recognize the abuse, but also think it's normal (and it is). They don't think to speak up because nobody else is speaking up and they fear retaliation. Or they see the retaliation first hand when someone else does speak up.
 
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Gymsanity

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' emotional abuse is hard to define and therefore hard to punish ' (well said, that it is. As far as filing a report, if you waited long enough to warrant one of those, you waited way too long! Shouldn't take but a time or two for you or your child to realize that that isn't the right environment for YOU. I can think of several coaches I wouldn't let in the same building as my kids, but other kids adore and worship them so I wouldn't want to deny them of each other, just not for us. It's about that freedom of choice sort of thing. If enough people feel like you do, the coach either changes or is out of a job. As for your other concern, going to another gym is always uncomfortable, just like going to another job, school, etc. That's just life, but the part about a coach retaliating? Not sure where you are doing gymnastics, but I don't know of a single coach that would put up with that! When I have a girl in that situation I make it a point to go see her ex coach at the meet and say 'hi' to clear the air, we exchange pleasantries and move on. I've had a couple of girls switch over the years and I can't think of one that didn't come up and say 'hi' and/or give me a hug at the meet.)

' So, is verbally abusive coaching just a different "style"? ' (Yes. You don't have to like, agree with, or tolerate, but yes it is. I'm willing to bet you know at least one parent who you would say raises their children in what we would call a 'verbally abusive style'. There are a million ways to coach and a million ways to parent. Kids can't pick their parents, but they sure as heck can pick their coaches with your help!)

' What if young girls don't recognize the abuse immediately and speak up? ' (Then you need to do a better job teaching them how to spot it and use your adult eyes to help them see and learn how to recognize it. If they don't learn it now, what kind of relationship do you think they are likely to end up in later in life??? Yep, that's my guess as well.) Thanks for the reply.
 

gymjunkie

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' emotional abuse is hard to define and therefore hard to punish ' (well said, that it is. As far as filing a report, if you waited long enough to warrant one of those, you waited way too long! Shouldn't take but a time or two for you or your child to realize that that isn't the right environment for YOU. I can think of several coaches I wouldn't let in the same building as my kids, but other kids adore and worship them so I wouldn't want to deny them of each other, just not for us. It's about that freedom of choice sort of thing. If enough people feel like you do, the coach either changes or is out of a job. As for your other concern, going to another gym is always uncomfortable, just like going to another job, school, etc. That's just life, but the part about a coach retaliating? Not sure where you are doing gymnastics, but I don't know of a single coach that would put up with that! When I have a girl in that situation I make it a point to go see her ex coach at the meet and say 'hi' to clear the air, we exchange pleasantries and move on. I've had a couple of girls switch over the years and I can't think of one that didn't come up and say 'hi' and/or give me a hug at the meet.)

' So, is verbally abusive coaching just a different "style"? ' (Yes. You don't have to like, agree with, or tolerate, but yes it is. I'm willing to bet you know at least one parent who you would say raises their children in what we would call a 'verbally abusive style'. There are a million ways to coach and a million ways to parent. Kids can't pick their parents, but they sure as heck can pick their coaches with your help!)

' What if young girls don't recognize the abuse immediately and speak up? ' (Then you need to do a better job teaching them how to spot it and use your adult eyes to help them see and learn how to recognize it. If they don't learn it now, what kind of relationship do you think they are likely to end up in later in life??? Yep, that's my guess as well.) Thanks for the reply.
While this is great advice for dealing with the discomfort that comes from changing gyms, it doesn't address retaliation which is the big problem. I am talking about coaches who do have the power to limit a gymnast's future in the sport (and will use it). Also when you say, "Shouldn't take but a time or two for you or your child to realize that that isn't the right environment for YOU," you are assuming that one can know that gym option B, C, or D are any less abusive than the current gym. Many high level gymnasts stay at an abusive gym because they know (or fear from other gymnast's feedback) that other gyms are even worse. I dare to suggest that abuse in some form at higher levels occurs more likely than not, so switching gyms may change very little for the athlete. The book Little Girls in Pretty Boxes came out 25 years ago. The fact that we have made so little improvement in our sport (if any) in 25 years says it all.
 

Gymsanity

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' it doesn't address retaliation which is the big problem. I am talking about coaches who do have the power to limit a gymnast's future in the sport (and will use it) ' (I'll have to take your word for that as I'm not familiar with it. My girls have gotten numerous scholarships over the years and I have no idea how anyone could have interfered with that. Also, should I be such a sack of garbage, I have no idea how I could prevent or interfere with another girls gymnastics future.)

' you are assuming that one can know that gym option B, C, or D are any less abusive than the current gym.' (If I know my peers as well as I do, they'll bite their tongues off for the chance at a high level girl if they are told she is there because the other coach was mean! lol That actually brings us to potentially the crux of the problem. What is abuse? The problem is that depends on who you ask since it is entirely subjective. I've talked to gymnasts that I thought were 'abused', but they used words to describe their coach like challenges, structure, discipline, excellence, hard work, goals, etc. They respected and protected their coaches and what they were doing. So, at the end of the day you need to teach your children what is acceptable and what isn't and that varies with each individual. Keep looking till you find it because it's out there.) :)

' The fact that we have made so little improvement in our sport (if any) in 25 years says it all.' (Lol, I know it can seem that way sometimes! Believe me, I was coaching back then and omg it's sooo much better. I would never say things that were 'normalized' back then, what were they thinking!? Having said that, there is no doubt that there is room for plenty more improvement and it can never happen too fast.) Thanks for the reply.
 

gymjunkie

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' it doesn't address retaliation which is the big problem. I am talking about coaches who do have the power to limit a gymnast's future in the sport (and will use it) ' (I'll have to take your word for that as I'm not familiar with it. My girls have gotten numerous scholarships over the years and I have no idea how anyone could have interfered with that. Also, should I be such a sack of garbage, I have no idea how I could prevent or interfere with another girls gymnastics future.)

' you are assuming that one can know that gym option B, C, or D are any less abusive than the current gym.' (If I know my peers as well as I do, they'll bite their tongues off for the chance at a high level girl if they are told she is there because the other coach was mean! lol That actually brings us to potentially the crux of the problem. What is abuse? The problem is that depends on who you ask since it is entirely subjective. I've talked to gymnasts that I thought were 'abused', but they used words to describe their coach like challenges, structure, discipline, excellence, hard work, goals, etc. They respected and protected their coaches and what they were doing. So, at the end of the day you need to teach your children what is acceptable and what isn't and that varies with each individual. Keep looking till you find it because it's out there.) :)

' The fact that we have made so little improvement in our sport (if any) in 25 years says it all.' (Lol, I know it can seem that way sometimes! Believe me, I was coaching back then and omg it's sooo much better. I would never say things that were 'normalized' back then, what were they thinking!? Having said that, there is no doubt that there is room for plenty more improvement and it can never happen too fast.) Thanks for the reply.
Why would you assume that I am talking about challenges, structure, discipline, excellence, hard work, goals, when I referred to it as emotional abuse? By minimizing what I called emotional abuse (and the examples in the article), you have unintentionally validated everything I am trying to say. I disagree that it is so much better than 25 years ago. What is it that has improved?
 

ReluctantGymMom

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There is a coach at our gym that I would probably put into the category of emotionally abusive. Multiple talented gymnasts have left our level and others because they couldn’t deal with her. My kid tolerates her because she knows she’s moving from this coach soon, and because she’s come to the conclusion that this is a character defect on the coaches part. We looked at other gyms, but people absolutely flood our gym coming from other gyms with reports of abusive coaching and love it here because the coaches are so nice comparatively, so there’s no where to go. A lot of gyms in our area (and I’m willing to drive an hour easy) have lost all their coaches or needed to close due to Covid. We’ve had frequent meetings about this coach and the owner knows all the complaints about her - she is bizarrely harsher and ruder on the kids she wants to do well and leaves the rest alone - that’s how she’s driven off some really good talented gymnasts ‍♀️ The only reason I don’t pull my kid out is because I do see her making changes and a real effort to modify her coaching over the last year, but lord she was not meant to work with small children.
 

Gymsanity

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' Why would you assume that I am talking about challenges, structure, discipline, excellence, hard work, goals, when I referred to it as emotional abuse? By minimizing what I called emotional abuse' (The point I was trying to make is that not all girls feel they are being abused, it's a matter of perception. One girl might interpret something the coach says as being 'mean' while another girl might feel it's 'motivating', one might feel a task is designed as punishment while another sees it as a way to challenge her. If every athlete and parent felt a coach was abusive I can assure you they would be out of a job and kids. So if by your standards a coach is abusive, leave and find one that isn't. The vast majority aren't, so it's your job to go seek out a good one for you.)

'I disagree that it is so much better than 25 years ago. What is it that has improved?' (If that needs an answer I'll make the assumption you weren't coaching back then. I cringe sometimes just thinking about those days! Several years of that is exactly what forced me to open my own gym. I had the belief that you could produce top level gymnasts without all the horrible things and so far I seem to have been right.)

'abuse, verbal or not, is not just "a different style". it is a violation of the human right's of the kid, no matter if done by a coach, teacher or parent. it is just wrong. (Not going to get an argument from me on that. Merely saying that the definition and standard of what abuse is is different for different people.) Thanks for the responses.
 

Gymsanity

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There is a coach at our gym that I would probably put into the category of emotionally abusive. Multiple talented gymnasts have left our level and others because they couldn’t deal with her. My kid tolerates her because she knows she’s moving from this coach soon, and because she’s come to the conclusion that this is a character defect on the coaches part. We looked at other gyms, but people absolutely flood our gym coming from other gyms with reports of abusive coaching and love it here because the coaches are so nice comparatively, so there’s no where to go. A lot of gyms in our area (and I’m willing to drive an hour easy) have lost all their coaches or needed to close due to Covid. We’ve had frequent meetings about this coach and the owner knows all the complaints about her - she is bizarrely harsher and ruder on the kids she wants to do well and leaves the rest alone - that’s how she’s driven off some really good talented gymnasts ‍♀ The only reason I don’t pull my kid out is because I do see her making changes and a real effort to modify her coaching over the last year, but lord she was not meant to work with small children.
Wow, sorry to hear of your situation, that's a tough one. It hits close to home for me as I had a very 'good' (nationally awarded) coach working for me and she was flat mean! We fought like cats and dogs over it and I would ask her 'do you even like kids!?' The kids would go home in tears more times than not, but the catch was she was making positive gymnastic results. After it became clear to me that she had no intention of changing, I had to let her go. And to my surprise I had a huge backlash from the parents!! They would tell me 'we know she is mean, but she is so good.' That's when I got a real wake up call about parents! I was like 'are you kidding me!?' Nobody is that good! I'd be interested to hear how your situation ends. Good luck to the both of you.
 
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gymjunkie

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abuse, verbal or not, is not just "a different style". it is a violation of the human right's of the kid, no matter if done by a coach, teacher or parent. it is just wrong.
I agree, but for those of us who grew up in the sport and go way back, this was the thinking. Sad that active coaches still feel this way. That's why I say nothing has really changed.
 
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gymjunkie

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' Why would you assume that I am talking about challenges, structure, discipline, excellence, hard work, goals, when I referred to it as emotional abuse? By minimizing what I called emotional abuse' (The point I was trying to make is that not all girls feel they are being abused, it's a matter of perception. One girl might interpret something the coach says as being 'mean' while another girl might feel it's 'motivating', one might feel a task is designed as punishment while another sees it as a way to challenge her. If every athlete and parent felt a coach was abusive I can assure you they would be out of a job and kids. So if by your standards a coach is abusive, leave and find one that isn't. The vast majority aren't, so it's your job to go seek out a good one for you.)

'I disagree that it is so much better than 25 years ago. What is it that has improved?' (If that needs an answer I'll make the assumption you weren't coaching back then. I cringe sometimes just thinking about those days! Several years of that is exactly what forced me to open my own gym. I had the belief that you could produce top level gymnasts without all the horrible things and so far I seem to have been right.)

'abuse, verbal or not, is not just "a different style". it is a violation of the human right's of the kid, no matter if done by a coach, teacher or parent. it is just wrong. (Not going to get an argument from me on that. Merely saying that the definition and standard of what abuse is is different for different people.) Thanks for the responses.
Very scary that your point is not all girls "feel" they are being abused. Sound familiar anyone? That's what all of Nassar's survivors said as well. The truth is when abuse becomes your norm, you don't realize you are being abused (especially when you are a child). There is also gaslighting of these young kids. Some would say you are attempting to gaslight me right now (but I'm sure it's just my perception and you are actually trying to motivate me). FYI, I've coached much longer than 25 years and competed before I coached. I'm also a former gym owner. I see the same abuse I always did, but I also coach with my eyes wide open.
 
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