Parents Verbally & physically abusive coach?

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Hi there,

I'm new to this board and am not sure if I have a real problem on my hands or this is typical of a competitive coach.

My daughter is 7 yrs old and she came away from her coach crying saying the coach hurt her by poking her really hard in the stomach and butt to try to make her tighten her muscles. She now has slight bruising where the coach poked. Previous to this she has complained about her coach hurting her while pushing down too hard for splits and stretches, but I just discounted it. She has this coach once a week and the other days she has another. She said no onther coach has ever hurt her before. Another girl on her team came up to me right after the incident and said that the coach had hurt her before as well, and actually used her foot to poke her. A few other parents told me of similar things happening to their daughters.

She yells and is very demeaning on the girls. Many have quit because of it. Although many parents are aware of this, and I know there have been several complaints, the club seems to take no action. There seems to be an aura of fear about speaking out now. Some people just don't complain for fear I guess of being ostrasized. Some justify it by being of the mind that while the coach is over the top and crosses the line she is just "old school."

The coach came to see where my daughter was and when I told her she was crying because of the pokes, she got very angry and told me among other things that she was lazy with her stomach and legs and if she doesn't tighten up the way she holds her back she will get scoliosis. She went on like a crazy women. She was saying or ranting that her and my daughter maybe shouldn't work together because they don't see eye to eye (my daughter is 7....she is in her late 40s or 50s) I was so angry I was speechless. I had to leave before I blew up.

Personally I am beginning to think she may be a little sadistic. Any thoughts on this? I'm not sure where to go with this. Obviously the complaints the club has prevously had about her have had no effect.
I would be pulling my girls out soo fast!! they do need direction and a little poke here or there but not one that hurts!!
I think this is something no child no matter what age should get but esp at the young age of 7! my oldest is 7 as well and she would have stopped loving the sport if this was her!! I do think a little "Push"
i definitely think that is crossing the line. i would be demanding that the gym owners do something and if something wasn't done, looking for another gym. there is no need for that kind of behavior. the parents at that gym need to band together and demand either change, or for that coach to leave.

what you describe is what i fear big time. my DD is 5 1/2 and will be moving to team in march. i won't be able to stay the whole time and it freaks me out that something like you described might happen. i do feel a bit better in that i found out that one of her current coaches is the main level 4 coach and i love that coach, as does my DD. there is a new coach that some seem to love and some not. i think he coaches other levels, but i have heard he yells a lot. ugh. i have talked to my DD about team and that she can always tell me if she is having issues with a coach or anything.

hugs to you and your daughter.
:eek::mad: I think that it is def abuse. a poke to tell someone where to tighten should not cause a bruise- think about the amount of pressure to cause a bruise. My dd is very thin and it still would take quite the hard poke to leave a mark or bruise. As for the verbal there is also a difference between yelling in a busy noisy gym and yelling at someone directly in front of them with anger. If the gym wont do anything maybe the USAG should. I think you should check into other gyms
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In the end you really have three choices, each of which will change the way your DD deals with future bullies and abuse.

1. Ignore the abuse, tell your DD to suck it up and get used to the abuse.:mad:

2. Complain to the club, encouraging some other parents to write/phone or email their complaints in at the same time. Being clear, itemizing the issues and telling the club what you expect. Ideally that this coach is not going to be dealing with your little one. Ultimately that this coach be no longer employed.:(

3. Leave, and leave quickly. A club that ignores this kind of abuse clearly has the interest of it's staff before the well being of it's gymnasts. Let your money do the talking, and your feet do the walking. If others have left, more will follow.:)

As parents it is our job to protect our little ones, and big ones, from abuse. You know that the situation is wrong, I can tell it makes you feel sick. That is called intuition, as my friend says (proffessor of Physycology at a major uni specialising in bullying), it is there for a good reason, use your intuition as a tool of protection.

I know this is very hard, but you have to advocate for your little one , she is asking you to help. Better be ostracised than abused.

Good luck, these things are never easy.
We moved a few years back, and while checking out a few gyms in our new area we tried one with coaches like that. Thankfully since we were trying the gym I stayed to watch the whole practice. They didn't actually do anything to my dd, but I saw how they treated some of the other girls and knew eventually it would be mine. Needless to say we did not pick that gym!! All that kind of coaching does is take little girls who love gymnastics more than anything in the world and make them hate it. I would get her out of there asap, imho.
We have been in the situation of the verbal abuse and believe me just because my gymie was 11 and moving to optionals didn't justify it or make it right. She got to the point where the thought of going into the gym made her physically sick. We got her out of there and she is happy in a new gym where there is no verbal belittling/demeaning. Some parents think the only successful coaches are the screamers----that this is what is needed to motivate their child and make them winners. Usually kids in this situation feel trapped and helpless and eventually just give up.

What I find interesting is, if you were seen treating your dd like this coach did in public, someone would probably call the police or social services. So, what makes it ok for it to be done by a coach? This lady's behavior is abusive and I'm sure your dd won't be the 1st or the last to incur her wrath. Doesn't sound like the gym cares, so you could try meeting with the owners, but I'll bet they've heard complaints about this lady before and they let her continue on.

I would run(not walk) to the nearest door and get out of that gym. Don't worry if your dd has to miss a month or so until you find a gym that is much more suitable. Let me tell you psychological damage can be done very quickly to kids by those in positions of authority and I would much rather have her miss a little gym time, than have to take more punishment.
I agree with the previous posters - I would run, not walk out of this situation! I was at first not as concerned about the poke, & stretches for splits pretty much come with the gymnast territory. But the way that she handled the situation with your dd AFTER you spoke to the coach is a TELL ALL. If she is that horrible to your child with you there, I can only imagine how she will treat your dd in class now (let alone how she treated her before). A child of any age should not be subjected to this by anyone. I would think it can be especially damaging to a gymnast because they spend so much time every week with their coaches. Good luck and my thoughts are with you as I am sure this is a very difficult situation to deal with.
I've had kids at a couple of different gyms and there is a level of negative "breaking down" that exists. I've also encountered this with many of the sports coaches. When you're in a competitive sport, you will find many styles of motivating, but when confronted with a similar situation at our gym, we decided to talk directly to the coach before pulling our daughter out. We basically informed her that any form of physical or verbal abuse, including pinching, poking, pushing off the beam, smacking, etc., would not be tolerated and we would pull her from the program and take legal action if it went on. She, surprisingly wasn't defensive at all, and responded with " I'd never want to do anything that would hurt her, blah, blah, blah," and it's been a couple of months and our daughter once again loves gymnastics and hasn't reported an incident since. Our gym is one of the most respected in the area and it would be tough to switch.
Please encourage your daughters to be honest and tell them they will not get in trouble for it because they can become very intimidated and be afraid to tell you about all that goes on. Most coaches genuinely care about the success and progress of their teams, but some are young, not parents, and inexperienced in child psychology and don't realize the damage they could be doing to your child's self esteem. From the other perspective, gymnastics is not for everyone and some children have a hard time with the constant criticism that comes with the territory. Just wanted to let you know that your not alone.
I was in a situation similar to gym law mom. The coach was extremely abusive to the point that it became damaging to my dd. No amount of talking to anyone at the gym did any good. We left the gym, and it turned out to be the best move we could have possibly made. But, low and behold, the new gym ended up hiring that same coach after the old gym "let her go". I think gym owners sometimes look the other way when there is a problem, especially when they are in a coaching bind, since coaches are hard to find. If you leave the gym and go to another one, hopefully the abusive coach won't eventually show up there.
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Unless you have some indication that the gym was going to discipline this woman (or preferably remove her) I would leave right away. As someone else pointed out, her reaction to you and your dd is the really concerning part. If she were a normal person who got a little carried away, I would expect her to react like the coach Rainee described.
She, surprisingly wasn't defensive at all, and responded with " I'd never want to do anything that would hurt her, blah, blah, blah," and it's been a couple of months and our daughter once again loves gymnastics and hasn't reported an incident since. .
Thank you all for your imput

Hi there,

I would like to thank you all for your imput.

I have pulled my dd from the club and will be filing a complaint with the ......Gymnastics Association.

I realize gymnastics is a "hands on" sport. The coaches do need to be able to poke and prod to show the athlete the proper position. I also realize that the coaches need to keep the athletes focused and this cannot always be done with a singsong voice. Coach has to deal with 7 - 9 year olds and I know that can be frustrating. The problem is, because it is such a hands on sport and a little strictness is necessary, it is very easy for someone to cross that line in frustration. We have never hit our children specifically for this reason. There have been times when I have been so frustrated and angry with their behaviour I would have loved too. But at that point who has proper control of themselves? How hard is too hard and where is the line? Children remember the pain and the humiliaton not the lesson from being hit.

I think this coach has an anger and frustration problem. I think she is very knowledgeable about the sport and really does mean well. Somehow though she gets very angry and frustrated when they don't pay attention or don't "get it" and hurts them. She takes her anger and frustration out on them with her pushes or pokes. Belittles them.

From reading blogs and speaking to other parents, I gather that this type of behaviour from a coach is not really that uncommon. I've seen crazy hockey coaches, crazy soccer coaches and even nasty piano teachers, that are verbally abusive, but the problem here is that the coach has easy access to dd's body and it seems quite easy to inflict physical pain and cover it up simply by claiming sensitivity. DD is very quiet and shy. Perhaps this isn't the sport for her.

I went in this morning to file a complaint and head coach was there and informed me I must speak to her only, not to the administrator who I wanted to speak to. She said she does not use excessive force. She claimed to never of had a complaint before. She tried to convince me that dd just bruises easily, because Head Coach bruises easily too. If I wanted to pull dd that is fine but dd is a good athlete and she hopes she continues somewhere else. She is "just not the type of coach for dd." When I persisted on filing a complaint she then told me dd's last coach wanted to drop dd down a level (I suppose meaning dd just can't handle it and it is dd's fault) Then she told me to lodge a complaint with the ....... Gymnastics association, there will be an investigation and the police will get involved (I suppose she was trying to scare me away) I informed her that I planned to file a complaint with them as well.

DD is going to take a break from gymnastics for now. She keeps changing her mind. She wants to continue one minute then not continue the next. I think she needs some time away to decide.

Once again, thank you all.
Good for you for listening to your Mom intuition. following up on the complaint will mean that the situation will be investigated, that is a very good thing. Coach is obviously a control freak, your DD is safer not there.

Your little girl will be able to enjoy her break and decide what to do next.

Gym for little ones should be all about fun, no matter how good they are. Our coaches are firm and have incentive programmes for good behaviour, listening,hard work etc. This works very well in the 7-10 year old crowd and really helps them focus.

My girls have occcasionally been bruised by the coach at the gym, but it's when they are being "saved" from a crash, you don't have to poke to get a kid to tighten up.

I also do not hit my kids, I figured if I didn't need to hit kids when I was a coach and then a children's nanny, I could parent without getting physical. I just give my kids "the look"!

Your child being sensitive is a good thing, she's a little person, not a rock!:D Enjoy your extra time with her.
glad you followed your intuition as well. i can see how your DD might be ambivalent about starting again. a break will probably be just what she needs to decide if she is ready to give it another try. maybe check out some other gyms in the area and talk to the moms if you can.

good luck to both of you. your daughter will always remember how you "stuck up for her".
I agree that this needs to be addressed and fast. If the gym won't do anything about it I would be going 'gym shopping'

I am not a doctor - but I don't think you can give yourself scoliosis !!! I have it and the doc's told us it is mainly hereditery- my grandma had it and our pediatricians check my kids often because I have it.
Please keep us updated as to how this all turns out. I commend you for your efforts and wish I had done the same thing. Good luck.
celestinejean - I too am glad to hear that you followed your intuition.... You took a stand for your child and that is to be commended! I am sure that it was not an easy decision to make.

I hope that this experience did not ruin your dd's love of gymnastics, because there are many fantastic coaches out there.

My dd is also very quiet and shy. Her coaches are no nonsense (most of the time:p). I was worried about how she would react to them when she first started as they are strict, and do expect the girls to come and work. (they are hands on & also poke to show where to tighten, or sometimes to spot). They have removed children for being disrespectful, playing, not listening etc. Anyway, much to my pleasant surprise my dd not only flourished with them but she is a different person in the gym, she is as comfortable as she is at home. She is never fearful to ask questions, or for help - she is always excited to participate. The right coaches can make a difference. kudos to all of the great caring coaches out there:D... and shame on coaches that forgot their true purpose.

Best wishes to your little one and to your family.
I join in commending you for standing up for your dd. :applause:

I hope that this experience doesn't sour you or your dd on gymnastics. Gymnastics is a wonderful sport and can really teach kids a lot. In particular, shy kids can learn to tackle challenges and become more confident.

If you look around, hopefully you can find a gym with better coaching style. IMHO, there's no need for negative coaching at all. I do agility with my dogs, and these days almost every dog trainer out there uses 100% positive reinforcement. If we can train dogs literally to jump through hoops using positive reinforcement, there's no reason kids can't learn backhandsprings on beam the same way. In the animal world, trainers have swithced from correcting the undesired behavior to rewarding the desired behavior based on research that shows that this is much faster and more effective. I think it's ridiculous that there a still so many coaches out there that think that screaming and punishing is the way to motivate kids.
Im soo glad you listened to momn instincs and are lodgiing a complaint!! she needs to learn thsi is not acceptable!! my oldest is 7 and there is no way she could handle that Tho even if she were a teen or an adult eother It is abbuse!!

I do hope she can get back into it some day and know there are som Wonderful coaches out there!! I know my girls have some great ones!!!

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