It only took an hour of observing the first day of USA Gymnastics’ May Developmental Camp to notice the positive culture. A culture change does not happen overnight, but High Performance Coordinator Tom Forster, Elite Development Coordinator Dan Baker, the rest of the National Staff, and the individual coaches at the camp are all embracing this positive environment, which was evident while observing Developmental Camp. These are just some of the aspects of camp culture that Chalk Warrior noticed during the May Developmental Camp.

May 2019 Developmental Camp athletes

Athlete Accommodations

While FlipFest is only about a 15-minute drive from the main town of Crossville, Tennessee, the cell phone reception at the camp isn’t great. FlipFest does have a WiFi network, but to use it, most have to pay a fee. However, USA Gymnastics has covered the cost for all campers, staff, observers, and media, so everyone attending the camp has access to the internet at all times.

Athletes are encouraged to bring snacks to camp for when they get hungry between meals or workouts. The gymnasts go to eat before their coaches and National Staff, and any dietary restrictions are accommodated. Even if a gymnast doesn’t like what is being served, the kitchen staff are more than happy to make something the gymnast will enjoy. We ate lunch and dinner at camp, and it was good!

Athlete Safety

The gymnasts stay in cabins onsite at FlipFest with no more than eight to a cabin. Each of these cabins has a female SafeSport certified chaperone whose sole purpose is to make sure the athletes are feeling okay and act as second mothers to the gymnasts. The chaperones do not stay in the same cabin as the athletes, but are next door and are accessible 24 hours a day by gymnasts and also by their parents. The coaches (including female ones) are not allowed to enter the gymnasts’ cabins. Additionally, security guards are on site 24 hours a day.

Gymnasts being treated for therapy are not in a separate back room, but in an open area near the front door to the gym, and there are two trainers with the gymnasts at all times. Also, if a gymnast needs therapy or needs to go ice before her event is over, she is allowed to do so. Chalk Warrior asked about the injury communication policy and found out that if a gymnast is injured, the trainer informs her coach of the injury. Even though most of the time the coach notifies the gymnast’s parent of the injury, the trainer always contacts the parent to notify he or she about the injury – no matter how minor. Following camp, the trainer follows up with the gymnast’s parent via phone call or email.

Some Developmental Camp athletes with their cabin chaperone

Embracing Education

Tom Forster was quick to note that he hates the phrase, “well, that’s how we’ve always done it.” He believes that there is always something new to learn and that over time, change will occur and the ability to adapt to this change is essential. One of the arguments about the old USA Gymnastics culture is that it was in fact… old. Now USA Gymnastics is taking the steps to educate the coaches further.

During the four day camp, Forster and Dan Baker led two coaches meetings where they discussed embracing a positive culture and creating a mission statement to have the coaches think about the reason why they choose to coach at the elite level and the values they must bring to involvement in the sport. They discussed cultivating an environment where gymnasts can thrive not only in gymnastics but throughout life. Towards the end of the meeting on Thursday, Forster once again noted the importance of further education, and as new technology is developed and new research is conducted, change must be embraced.

Tom Forster hosting a coaches clinic on the importance on positivity and creating a coaches mission statement

Focusing on Improvement and Potential — Not the Negative

It goes without saying that Developmental Camp is going to be intense. These are 39 gymnasts ranging in ages 10 to 14 who are working to become the best athletes in the world. However, this intensity appears to come from drive and motivation, not fear. One of the things we noticed throughout the camp was when a gymnast made an error; she was not degraded by her coach and National Staff for the mistake. An example of this occurred on the final day of camp when a gymnast kept falling on an element – one that she could probably do with her eyes closed. After falling three or four times, her coach pulled her aside. Clearly frustrasted and with tears in her eyes, the gymnast followed the coach as he said, “there’s no need to cry. It’s okay to make mistakes. Mistakes are how we learn.” The athlete then went back to bars and finished her rotation strong.

Instead of solely focusing on what the gymnast did wrong, the coaches focused on what the gymnast did right. The coaches also pointed out the corrections she made from previous turns taken, and then noted why the gymnast made the mistake she did and how she could fix it. When she would make that correction and do the skill correctly, National Staff and coaches would smile and clap. There was no belittling, raising voices, or shaming the gymnasts for their mistakes.

Some Developmental Camp athletes

Parent Accessibility

Unheard of until last year, parents are invited to watch workout. While most parents choose not to observe camp, they are always welcomed. Parents are also provided with the weekly schedule as well as updates from camp.

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