Abuse in the Gym: How to Recognize It and Combat It

This is a pretty touchy subject right now in the world of gymnastics. As a parent and a coach, I see both sides of the picture. As a coach, you always want your team to succeed and be the best. You want them to stand out on top, hit the podium every meet and end on a great note as state champion. You push your athletes beyond limitations at times because you know they are fully capable of being the best at what they do. But where do you draw the line? I have seen coaches scream and belittle their gymnasts, punish them when they don’t do a skill properly or fall off the beam or balk at a tumbling skill or the vault. What should be conditioning exercises, become an exercise in public torture and punishment. Falling off the beam equals 50 pushups immediately after falling off. If you cry, it’s 100. Didn’t matter if you were at practice or at a meet. I asked myself, what in the world is that teaching the gymnast? NOTHING. It’s showing them that conditioning is punishment not a requirement for strength. What does yelling in the face of a 7 year old child do? NOTHING except make them sob which does nothing but frustrate them and you the rest of practice. Seeing it as a coach was bad enough. But to be the parent of a child who was the victim of it, is downright heartbreaking. So what do you do? As a coach? As a parent?

This IS mental and emotional abuse. It slowly destroys a child’s confidence, makes them feel like they aren’t worth anything and at the very worst creates a monster in the child where they think it’s ok to act that way. So what do you do? As a parent, if you see this, remove the child immediately. This is not a safe environment for anyone. This environment becomes even more dangerous because the coach is angry and cannot control him or herself. The coach may also need to be removed and reprimanded. If nothing is done, remove the child from the gym. Your money you paid in tuition, fees, leotards, etc., is not worth more than the child’s mental state. I have seen children require therapy after a coach’s actions. I’ve seen them quit the sport completely and mentally deteriorate because they trusted this person and this person hurt them in ways they never imagined. Please do not think is this how a coach should coach. Yes, a coach can tough on their athletes. Yes, a coach can be demanding. But in no way, shape or form, should a coach ever belittle, humiliate and degrade an athlete. Calling a gymnast a loser for not sticking a beam routine, telling them they won’t ever amount to anything as an athlete, telling them they don’t know why they even practice at all when they can’t perform, is not coaching. It’s ABUSE! When your child comes home crying every day and doesn’t want to go to practice or puts up a fight to go, DON’T FORCE THEM! There is a reason that child who loved the sport from day one now hates it. There are so many gyms around that it won’t be a problem to change gyms. We did. And we were better for it. The smile your child comes out of practice with should be a tell tale sign. Your child should come home from practice tired from the workout not tired from sobbing through practice.

As a coach, if this occurs and you see it, remove that child. Report the incident immediately. Do not let the incident go unnoticed or unattended to. No coach should ever treat an athlete with such disregard that they are degraded in public or in the gym. We are

trained to see the signs not just with physical abuse, but mental and emotional as well. As coaches, yes it is frustrating at times, but no child should ever feel that wrath regardless of how you feel at the moment. They are still children and they are still growing. Teach them to grow positively and teach them positive ways to deal with their own frustration. They get frustrated too. Step back for a moment if you need to. Have another coach step in so you can take a breath and calm yourself. Never let your emotions get the better of you.

In short, gymnastics is the most difficult sport. It requires long hours of training, conditioning, and mental strength as it is. Look for positive reinforcement for the gymnast. Teach them that if they ever feel horrible because you made them feel that way, to come to you and express that. Don’t push them away. You are their guiding force and you are there to create coachable children who become great employees one day. Be their mentor, someone they look up to and trust. You never know what you could in the long run for that child.


Leave a reply