By Robert B Andrews MA, LMFT
The USAG sexual abuse scandal has rocked the gymnastics community to its core. Many are questioning what went wrong, while others seek to maintain the status quo.
Certainly, the focus needs to be on healing the wounds that this horrendous abuse has caused and educating coaches, gym owners, administrators, parents, and athletes. Perhaps an overhaul of the leadership body of USAG is in order, as is being called for by many.
Very prominent gymnasts are speaking up. They are courageously vocal about their treatment in the USAG system.
The deeper question that must be asked is what made the gymnastics community vulnerable to this type of abuse? And why was it kept hidden by USAG for so long?
I worked with the U.S.A. men’s national, world, and Olympic gymnasts and teams from 2007 to 2012. I resigned from this position after the London Olympics for what I and others in the system saw as a failure to address key leadership issues that led to poor performances in the 2012 Olympic Games. Unfortunately, these same program deficiencies were still in place for the 2016 Rio Olympics, and the men’s team had another disappointing, almost identical performance.
I worked with Simone Biles for 3 1/2 years before the 2016 Rio Olympics. She has been very vocal about our work together. I did not work directly with the women’s program as I did with the men. But I have worked with many gymnasts in the USA Women’s National Program. From this work, I was able to gain a deep understanding of the inner workings of the women’s system and the culture that was in place.
In my work with gymnasts of all levels throughout the United States and other countries, I have seen many different cultures from program to program and gym to gym.
One disturbing theme I have seen in many, not all, but many gyms and in my individual work with many male and female gymnasts from all over the United States is a culture of disempowerment. [Read more…]