Is this normal for gymnastics, or are these coaches being abusive?

(23 Posts)
NameChange2OO Mon 27-Apr-15 12:31:33

I've name changed for this, but am a regular.

I have a relative whose 7 year old DD is in the elite squad at their local gymnastics club. This little girl has been in the squad for over a year now, and in that time my relative's unease about the treatment of her DD and the other girls has been growing. Neither of us adults have any previous experience of high level gymnastics, or any other sport, so we have no comparison but things really feel off.

The girls in the group are all 7/8 years old, and do ten hours training a week, split over three days, two evenings and one weekend, so gym is a very big part of their life. Every session they do what I think is called stretching and conditioning where they stretch the girls joints beyond what they find comfortable, this apparently normally ends in several of the girls in tears, the girls who cry are told off for making a fuss.

If the girls do something "wrong", such as spending too much time in the toilet or talking when they're not meant to be, the coaches give them the "hairdryer" treatment, shouting right into their faces. Often when one girl does something wrong or fails to do what she's asked to do the whole group will be punished, something like if one girl fails a certain physical task the group will have to do thirty push ups. If one girl fails to do the whole thirty the group will be forced to do ten more. Some girls are in tears several times every session.

There seems to be no compassion or empathy from the coaches that these are young children, but the coaches are all gymnasts barely out of their teens themselves and I assume they were coached this way so to them I guess it's "normal". One girl was taken out recently by her parents, according to my relative this girl now hates going to school, cries when left and won't go to any extra curricular activities at all because of the treatment she had at gym. However most of the other parents are perfectly happy with what the coaches are doing as their girls are progressing, and the squad as a whole is very successful in winning in competitions.

As an outsider my feeling is my relative should take the child out now, before any more damage is done, but she is a very good gymnast and as I said the start, I don't know if this is just routine for this kind high level competitive sport. I know that if my DCs were being treated like this at school I'd be making an official complaint at the very least, but this is something I know nothing about.

glittertits Mon 27-Apr-15 12:37:31

Obviously this is not okay treatment. I am surprised the parents have kept her there this long. Lots of sport at an elite level is very strict (ballet dancing as a teenager was brutal for me - the stretching for example, happened to me in the 80s, though not to the point of injury, but to feel the strain).

This however is just cruel. If children are dreading going, they shouldn't be. And I'd be reporting this to someone in the sporting world - unsure who though? Sport England? The Lottery Funding people (if it applies?). I'm sure somebody with more practical answers will come along soon.

FructoseTart Mon 27-Apr-15 12:40:29

I used to be a gymnastic coach and this behaviour is disgusting!

Every child is pushed a little more (especially in elite training and with the hours they are putting in) but no child should cry from pain. This can damage them. They are pushed until they feel strain and are to hold there for x amount of time so they condition and stretch their muscles.

The shouting in their faces etc is a definite no go. I wouldn't be happy coaching in that environment and I certainly wouldn't allow my child to go back if it did happen.

NameChange2OO Mon 27-Apr-15 12:41:10

Thanks, I feel like it needs reporting too, but I'm totally out of depth with this world and I don't know who to. Also as I don't have a child at this gym I'm not sure I can.

QuintShhhhhh Mon 27-Apr-15 12:41:55

Governing body for gymnastics - these would be the people to talk to:
www.british-gymnastics.org/

JemimaPuddled Mon 27-Apr-15 12:50:06

It's wrong. BG have a good safeguarding system and will be in a position to take action.

Hurr1cane Mon 27-Apr-15 12:53:20

Surely nothing is important enough to allow small children to be treated like this?

GottaFeeling Mon 27-Apr-15 13:12:51

I remember watching a documentary years ago about that little Russian gymnast, Olga?

This showed young Russian gymnasts receiving the treatment you describe and was viewed with horror by people from British Gymnastics. However, they also had to admit that this is the reason that British Gymnastics (at the time) had very little success.

FructoseTart Mon 27-Apr-15 13:14:07

This information will help OP. Certainly needs reporting!
http://www.british-gymnastics.org/coaching/coach-membership/ethics-welfare

FructoseTart Mon 27-Apr-15 13:20:30

To be avoided:

 Unrealistic expectations for a ‘quick fix’.

 Situations where gymnasts may feel ‘exposed’ i.e. for stretching box splits it is better to have

gymnast lying on stomach as opposed to lying on back, better to have gymnasts wearing

shorts etc.

 Coach stretching gymnast to the point of excessive pain or extreme discomfort.

 Exercises that place the coach’s and gymnast’s bodies in ‚close proximity‛ and could be

considered inappropriate.

The coach should never:

 Touch a gymnast’s inner thigh, groin area or buttocks during stretching exercises.

 Use their full body weight to push down on a gymnast.

 Work alone and with only one gymnast.

 Work alone in a secluded or separated area in the gym where they cannot be observed by

other adults.

It is impossible to establish guidelines for every situation that may occur in our sport and common sense should be used at all times. If you are unsure of the appropriateness of any stretching activity do not be afraid to discuss it with someone you trust or alternatively contact British Gymnastics.


This is from the Flexible Training document which is mentioned on the page I previously posted.

RocknRollNerd Mon 27-Apr-15 17:19:13

You could also contact the NSPCC, they run courses for SportsUK on how to coach children appropriately (including at elite level). They should also be able to advise I would expect.

ScaryMaryHinge Mon 27-Apr-15 17:27:55

Thank you so much to everyone who has responded, you've pretty much confirmed my feelings.

I will show my relative these posts, because the majority of the other parents are happy with the situation I think it's harder for her to be the objective outsider I am. I find it especially interesting that the NSPCC run courses for coaches, I suspect a lot of children in the past have suffered psychological abuse in the name of sport if they've had to get involved.

ScaryMaryHinge Mon 27-Apr-15 17:29:33

Oh dear, I forgot to name change back, I doubt it matters but I name changed because the post wasn't directly about me.

LineRunner Mon 27-Apr-15 17:31:15

Of course it's wrong.

For fuck's sake.

HeartsTrumpDiamonds Mon 27-Apr-15 17:39:33

I would be interested to hear what British Gymnastics has to say about it.

feetheart Mon 27-Apr-15 17:42:01

My son is several steps down from the elite squad but trains alongside them one night a week. I have never seen the behaviour you describe from any of the coaches at his gym and I have spent far too many hours there watching all sorts of classes - boys, girls, acro, trampolining, rhythmic, etc

The coaches work the boys hard and seem firm but fair and the boys have HUGE respect for them. Gymnastics days are always DS's favourite day (as are athletics days to be fair, and probably Cubs day and parkrun day too!)

What you describe sounds awful and needs to be tackled.

RocknRollNerd Mon 27-Apr-15 17:54:10

The NSPCC/SportUK course was excellent when I did it a few years ago - it was tailored for sports coaches and so recognised that there are situations where you need to touch a child in order to correct grip, position etc but how to do it appropriately and safely. It was also very strong in recognising that children can form a special bond with their coaches and how that can put you in a position where they may disclose to you and how to handle that but also to recognise the boundaries and keep them.

GymnasticsMum1 Mon 27-Apr-15 18:04:32

Yes, this is abuse. All British Gymnastics registered coaches have to do a safeguarding course every three year to renew their insurance, so they know it is wrong.

Your relative needs to find a gym club with a kinder, more supportive ethos asap ( preferably by personal recommendation, otherwise use British Gymnastics website to locate). Go for a taster session to check out how happy the children are. The new club will undoubtedly know about the reputation of the old club and you will probably see familiar faces from the old club as harsher clubs tend to have a fast turnover rate of children.

Then report, report, report. The club has to have a registered Welfare Officer but you need to report direct to BG via the website, as the culture of acceptance probably pervades the whole club.

There are many nice clubs out there and their gymnasts do equally well!

prepperpig Mon 27-Apr-15 18:13:50

Just a question, is the relative sure this is all happening? The DD is 7. I know I can't take everything my 7 yo says as gospel and often there will be more to the story.

I used to be a gymnastics coach and obviously if this is all accurate then it shouldn't be happening.

However, when I was a gymnast (many moons ago) competing at a fairly high level we would get squad "punishments" such as 20 press ups. It wasn't a punishment at all it was a jokey way of getting us all to do more press ups. So someone falls off the beam. "Oh no 20 press ups everyone!"

The stretching and stuff does hurt a bit sometimes in that it's uncomfortable (although clearly nobody should be hurt to the extent that they are crying).

I think the relative should maybe observe the sessions just to make sure this isn't a seven year old who doesn't want to go anymore and so is exaggerating slightly. I say this simply because if it was all completely true then I really can't believe anyone would send their child.

ScaryMaryHinge Wed 29-Apr-15 09:16:29

Just thought I'd update this, my relative has withdrawn her DD and has written an email to the club with her reasons, and has CCed in British Gymnastics.

Prepperpig- at the gym in question there's a kind of viewing gallery where the parents can watch the session from, so this was observed by my relative. One of her concerns for the future was that they are currently building an extension which would include an area for the elite sessions that wouldn't be visible from the viewing gallery.

feetheart Wed 29-Apr-15 10:23:21

Thanks for updating, I'm glad she has removed her daughter and made those who need to know aware.
I must admit that you were in my thoughts as I sat watching 40-50 gymnasts working hard last night. Lots of encouragement and support from the hordes of coaches, no-one shouting, no-one in tears and lots of kindness for the tiny elite boy who was obviously shattered smile
Final conditioning warm down done en masse to 'Uptown Funk' with coaches encouraging/joining in and parents clapping along and dancing a bit. This bit is new but sums up the atmosphere of the club well smile

amybear2 Fri 08-May-15 22:59:41

If they are in a squad they are expected to take it seriously and not fool around in the toilets etc and if they are they will be told off.Though shouting in their face is obviously wrong
The 'punishments' are better regarded as forfeits and part of the conditioning programme.Stretching is uncomfortable and unpleasant but the child is always ultimately in control.For box splits, I personally think applying pressure to the inner thigh is more effective than doing it the other way up.I would not do it myself though.I would have one or more likely 2 other gymnasts doing it.The child is always ultimately in control and can stay stop.Usually children who aren't gritty and driven enough to endure stretching and conditioning are not suitable for competitive gymnastics.
Girls are not allowed to compete until the year they turn 8, so they are only at the very beginning of their journey.

amybear2 Fri 08-May-15 23:03:08

I know the dos and don'ts above are from BG, but I was a bit shock at don't place gymnasts and coaches bodies in close proximity.How are they supposed to support the kids???

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