update: We attended a different gym yesterday where Tia was evaluated by a new coach. It was a wonderful experience for me and for her. This coach was extremely encouraging and kind. He actually smiled and praised Tia. Thank you for your encouragement and prayers. Now I have to have the unpleasant conversation with her current gym about why we will be leaving.
“You want a job?” he asked in his thick accent and I blinked in surprise. I had only stopped by to meet some local Russians so I could have contacts that would help me practice my language skills. I hadn’t even been thinking of asking for a job, but as I looked around the building I could see something special there so without missing a beat, I answered.
It was August of 2000 and I had been married all of one month. Neither Lee nor I had jobs when we got married. It was very exciting then. Or stressful.
Depends on who you ask.
We moved to Dallas after marriage because we thought Lee had a job lined up there, but it fell through on our honeymoon. I had just graduated from Baylor with a degree in English Professional Writing so it only seemed natural that I should work as a gymnastics coach.
The plan was for me to work at the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy for a little while until I found a full time job, but unexpectedly, coaching at WOGA wound up being the best job I’ve ever had. I loved it so much, in fact, that I continued to work there for two years. While I interviewed for some real, big girl office jobs, I just couldn’t leave the gym.
The environment was so electric that many days I went into work early just to watch the girls train. I watched Carly Patterson learn her famous Arabian dismount and and marveled at a teeny tiny Nastia Liukin flipping up and over the vault.
You never knew who else would be at WOGA, either. Some days you might walk in to see the cast of the Cirque Du Soleil warming up and practicing. Other times I came face to face with five time Olympian Oksana Chusivitania. It was always a surprise coming to work and I loved it.
One of the saddest things about moving away from Dallas was having to leave WOGA. It wasn’t just my work place. The coaches all became dear friends. Because I spoke Russian, Lee and I spent a lot of time with Evgeny Marchenko, Valeryi Liukin and the many, many other wonderful Russian coaches. For me, working there was like a dream. I was paid well and I got to speak Russian every single day.
Having grown up around gymnastics and working in that environment, I have a pretty good understanding of what good coaching is. I watched two All Round Gold Medalists train in their early years and I was mentored and guided as a coach myself. I know what good coaching looks like.
Tia is very good at gymnastics, but I’m a realist. Her daddy is six foot two and I’m five six so math tells me that she is probably going to outgrow gymnastics pretty quickly. I’m not looking to create a champion, but I do want to give her the chance to succeed in a sport she loves for as long as she loves it.
Sadly, the coaches at the gym we’ve had her at have almost killed her love of gymnastics.
Never in my life have I witnessed coaching like this, particularly from a head coach in charge of running the team program. I should have pulled Tia out of this program months ago, but I kept talking to other parents who would assure me this woman wasn’t that bad and she really was good with the kids and everyone who gives her a chance ends up loving her.
I gave her a chance for three months. It’s not working. Every time we need to leave for gymnastics, Tia develops a stomach ache and gets very weepy. She is terrified of this coach – and this woman doesn’t even coach Tia’s team. But she’s in close proximity screaming and shouting at other girls. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it and I worried it was just me.
Maybe I’m too judgemental? Maybe my experience at WOGA turned me into a coaching snob. Nobody else seemed as offended by this coach’s cruelty, so what is my problem?
Saturday I volunteered at a meet at the girl’s gym where I watched the little ones, levels two and three, compete. They didn’t do great, but it was their first meet and good grief they were cute in their little leotards and sparkly hair. As this coach walked by, I remarked, “The girls are doing great.” She cut her eyes at me and shrugged. “Your job is to be encouraging and tell them they’re great,” she said. “My job is to tell them they are never good enough. Unless they make it to State. Then I can tell them they’re good.”
And then I scraped my jaw off the floor, picked up my things and began researching new programs.
Yesterday I called another gym to talk to them about their team program. I wanted to be sensitive to the situation. While I find the coach’s methods at our current gym just short of abusive, I am not going to bad mouth her around town. So I delicately asked, “Do you all make gymnastics fun? Because my daughter is five and I just want her to enjoy it, not spend an hour and a half doing sit ups and pull ups and being barked at to suck in her stomach.”
“Aaahhh…” said the coach on the other end of the phone, “You must be coming from —. We have 2-3 new gymnasts enrolling in our gym every week who are coming from that gym and I can promise you, we do things differently here.”
So it turns out I’m NOT the only one appalled by bad coaching.
If you feel so led, please say a prayer for my sweet daughter’s heart as we try out this new gym. At this point, I think she may be slightly traumatized and we’ve already decided that if we need to pull her out of gymnastics for awhile (or forever) we will. While good coaching can take little girls to the gold medal platform, bad coaching has the power to kill their dreams altogether.
I’m kicking myself for waiting this long.