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The hierarchy of Fear

This is the first article of a two part series. Read part two, The Environment of Fear, here.

The hierarchy of fear is often established with small, incremental steps. These can take the form of subtle actions, which individually can pass almost unnoticed. Fear is the emotional reaction which occurs when a person identifies that an action or event will cause harm.

The hierarchy of fear
The hierarchy of fear - Australian Gymnastics Journal

Fear of Missing Out

FOMO, the fear of missing out on something, is the most basic type of fear within our community. It is often used in advertising, to persuade people to purchase something before it is all gone, or the price has gone up.

It is also used to encourage a person to comply with certain attitudes or behaviors, for fear of being excluded from a social group or missing out on being selected for a sporting team.

Fear of Failure

An individual with a good imagination can envisage a desired outcome. This outcome may be of an internal nature, such as achieving something new, an activity not tried previously. It may also be a goal set by somebody else, with the outcome of success or failure defined by others.

When the desired outcome is not achieved, this can result in a sense of failure. The repetition of an inability to reach a goal can reinforce the sense of failure, to the point where a fear of failure develops. The fear of failure can be so strong that the person suffering it no longer attempts to reach her or his desired outcome.

Where success or failure of an individual is defined by others, the comments they make , over time, can affect the individual’s sense of self worth. The verbal feedback can be used as a strategy of control by those in positions of authority.

Fear of Rejection

When an individual desires to be part of activities with another person, or group, then he or she may become afraid of being unwelcome with them. This fear of rejection may inhibit the individual from approaching the others, or it may happen later, when the person is already part of the social arrangement.

A person, who is already part of a group, may fear rejection so strongly that she or he will go along with bullying behavior initiated by others in the group. This implied approval encourages the bullying and is likely to make it worse.

Fear of Attack

Attacks can be verbal or physical. In the interconnected world of social media, verbal attacks on individuals are far more common than physical attacks. The identity of the attacker is often unknown, meaning defensive strategies to combat the attack are limited. Yet those cowards, hiding behind false names, who are bullying others have their own supporters. Many of them are afraid of becoming the next victim if they are rejected by the group.

The most common form of physical attack is punishment, imposed by an individual in a position of power or authority over another person. This can take the form of excessive, repetitive physical activity or of hitting the less powerful person. The strategy is designed to ensure compliance with the wishes of the person in authority.

Fear of Speaking Out

Speaking out means having the courage to stand up for what you believe in. Yet feeling elements of fear of undesirable outcomes can inhibit speech. As well as the fears listed above, an adult may hold a fear of losing employment and income if she or he speaks out. Along with this, gossip and lies may be spread to prevent further employment, destroying an individual’s reputation.

The hierarchy of Fear can govern our lives, but ultimately:

"The standard you walk past is the standard you accept." (David Morrison,2013)

The Environment of Fear

This is the second article of a two part series. Read part one, The hierarchy of Fear, here.

The environment of fear is created around a code of silence. This is intended to deprive those who would question harmful behaviour of having a voice. The code of silence may be imposed on the intended victim of abuse, or on any person who identifies that abuse is happening and sounds the alarm about it.

Code of Silence

At the start of an abusive relationship, an intended victim may be given special privileges, always with the words: “this is our secret”. This is both coercion and an assertion of power by a potential abuser. As further contact follows, this becomes: “don’t tell anyone’. This is rapidly followed by: “don’t tell anyone, or else ......” as the victim expresses reluctance about what is happening, or tries to escape the situation.

Don’t Tell Anyone

Initially, “don’t tell anyone’ can be a part of a strategy of belief of inclusion in a special, privileged group or club. The intended victim is one of the chosen few to participate. This could well be true, but the nature of what they have been chosen for is not clear at this stage.

When the words become: “don’t tell anyone, or else....” a range of conditions are added. This may be in the form of coercion, such as an opportunity withheld or exclusion from the chosen group. It may also be bullying, as in being falsely accused of doing something which is wrong. Sometimes an abuser will impose a punishment at this point, a reinforcement of the assertion of power which generates fear. When this strategy is repeated it becomes harassment and persecution and leads to a loss of good reputation in the community. If the victim is employed, this loss of good reputation can be used to justify firing the person.

Using the fear of exclusion can be the way an abuser asserts power over another person.

Intimidation

There are different forms of intimidation, these can be direct or indirect, and asserted against those who would help victims of abuse as well as those individuals being abused. They are intended to undermine the value and credibility of anyone who challenges the abusive behavior of a person with perceived authority.

A common method of intimidation is to spread lies and gossip about the people who challenge the authority of abusers. This can extend to making false police reports, a ‘look over there’ strategy designed to turn the focus away from the abusers, and discredit the people sounding the alarm on bad behavior at the same time. It is a form of projection of an individual’s actions onto others.

Another method of intimidation is to question the motives of those reporting abusive behavior. This can be very effective when challenging victims of the abusers, as it undermines the belief in oneself: am I at fault? Is it only me who causes this to happen?

Similarly, the competency of any person drawing attention to abusive behavior is questioned. The intention is to discredit anything that person has to say, to deprive that person of a voice.

Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid lost her voice to a monster so she could pursue her dreams. It worked for a little while, then she was abandoned. She had lost her voice, all for nothing.

Human Movement, Flexibility and Balance

In human movement, flexibility and balance have a close relationship. The balance distributed across the heels, toes, balls and outside edge of both feet is adjusted when a single step is taken. The centre of gravity of the body’s mass is initially moved sideways over one supporting leg, then forward over the ball and toes of the supporting foot. It is then transferred sideways in the opposite direction if the other leg is then used for support in standing, or for another step.

Balance with a Double Support

When trying to find balance using two, or more, points of support, small movements by the muscles controlling the mass directly over each point can correct any tendency to tip over. These movements can compensate for each other, allowing a stable position to be reached. If any part of the body above the centre of gravity is repositioned, such as reaching out to open a door, then further movement to adjust balance will be needed. This is to compensate for the changed position of the centre of gravity.

Balance with a Single Support

When balance is over a single support then any movement or position over that support has to be counterbalanced, to ensure the centre of gravity remains directly above the supporting point. This is when flexibility becomes critical, for if a compensatory movement is not made at the same time as a movement is started, then the body will overbalance and fall.

Counterbalance and The Principle of Moments

When an object is balanced it is in equilibrium. The sum of the clockwise moments is equal to the sum of the anticlockwise moments. The moment is the turning effect of a force and is found by multiplying the force by its distance from the pivot. The effective pivot in a human body is the centre of gravity of the body. This means that a small force further away from the body can balance a larger force closer to the body.

Flexibility and Balance

The more rigid the position taken, the less likely a small correction can restore balance. The positions of the ends of the limbs, the hands and feet, often dictate if balance can be held, or not. This is especially relevant for a gymnast.

If an arm, wrist or fingers are locked in position then they cannot be flexed slightly to change position and correct balance before it has become critical.

If a foot is flopped or has scrunched toes then the early warning system of extended toes touching and giving neural feedback before a changed balance position is adopted is lost.

Citations

Balancing turning forces – the principle of moments.

The Center of Gravity in Human Movement

All objects with mass have a center of gravity. In human movement, such as gymnastics, balance is achieved around this point. The position of the center of gravity within the body, relative to the apparatus, will determine which moves can be successfully completed.

The Center of Gravity in Human Movement - A gymnast responding to the force of attraction to the Earth.
A gymnast responding to the force of attraction to the Earth. - Australian Gymnastics Journal

The Force of Gravity

Gravity is the primary external force affecting a gymnast’s movement. It is the force of attraction of the planet Earth which pulls the mass of the human body toward it. The internal force of energy supplied to muscles allows us to overcome the force of gravity and get out of bed in the morning.

The Gymnast’s First Law of Motion

This is based on Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion referring to rigid bodies with mass: The First Law of Motion states: "A body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion unless it is acted upon by an external force." This can be defined as inertia.

A rigid body is a solid object which resists being deformed into a different shape. As a gymnast is a flexible, living body, many other parameters also apply, including motion directed by an internal force.

The Rigid Body

A hard, smooth sphere, like a billiard ball, has its center of gravity at the mid-point of the sphere. A cube with sides of equal length also has the center of gravity at the mid-point if it is balanced on one corner. If a cube is balanced on one of its sides, then the center of gravity is a plane through the center of the cube and parallel to the side it is resting on. This assumes that the composition of the material making up its mass is consistent through the object.

A hard cylindrical rod also has the center of gravity at the mid point. However, the distance from the ends of the rod to the center and the radius in cross section may be quite different. Stand a long, thin rod upright on one end and it is more likely to fall over than a short, fat cylinder, when an external force is applied.

The Center of Gravity in Human Movement - A gymnast demonstrating how the center of gravity has to be vertically aligned over the balance point to maintain balance.
A gymnast demonstrating how the center of gravity has to be vertically aligned over the balance point to maintain balance. - Australian Gymnastics Journal

Center of Gravity and Gymnastic Skills

All gymnastic skills are actions around the center of gravity of an individual gymnast’s body. Yet there is another sense of balance which is critical for gymnastic skills: the balance between external and internal forces. When these are applied efficiently, then particular skills can be more easily achieved.

The bottom line is this: the greater the mass, the greater is the force needed to get the body moving.

The exception is when it is falling. Gravity is a force which acts on all matter and is a function of both mass and distance.

Balance and the forces affecting it will be discussed in more detail in following articles.

Australian Gymnastics: It’s a Secret Activity

Why would anybody want to keep Australian gymnastics a secret activity? There could be a number of reasons, including wanting to avoid scrutiny of coaching capabilities and maintaining closed shop business activities and nepotism. However, these strategies will ultimately undermine participation in the sport.

Coaching Capabilities

A teacher of physical education in an Australian school has to satisfactorily complete a four year university degree, before being allowed to independently supervise children in sporting activities. This degree actively promotes the idea that the whole child is being encouraged to learn and grow.

Gymnastics Australia runs coach accreditation courses which are nowhere near as rigorous. These courses focus on teaching specific gymnastic skills, with very little emphasis on why the skills should be taught that way. Hopefully the beginner coach will pick up more information under the supervision of a more advanced coach in the gym, but there is no guarantee of this happening while both are supervising different groups of gymnasts.

The question then arises: if a coach is instructing young gymnasts in incorrect technique resulting in injury, when is this classified as child abuse?

An accredited coach can be reasonably expected to know what the outcome of a physical action will be.

Business Activities

Every business has to be aware of the cost structure involved to maintain the business model. A service model, such as gymnastics instruction, is highly dependent on its customer base to remain viable. There are two major ways to expand a business:

1. Persuade existing customers to spend more in the business. This might be by encouraging young gymnasts to participate in many competitions, paying an entry fee each time.

2. Find more customers. In an activity largely kept secret from the wider community, this can involve taking the customers from another gymnastics club.

Another question: Is the club management focused more on the growth of the business, or the well-being of the young gymnasts?

Club management has a legal responsibility for the welfare of children who are within its care.

A Secret Activity

There is very little publicity of Australian gymnastics events allowed outside of official channels. This means that the sport is at the mercy of the official providers, who are often nowhere to be seen at the individual club level. Yet those who would photograph gymnasts from their own club, with their permission to promote the club, are banned from doing so. The reason given by the governing organization is to protect the gymnasts’ privacy. This means the opportunity to grow participation in gymnastics from the greater community is denied.

Gymnastics in Australia: What has it got to hide?

The Tumble Pass

In artistic gymnastics, successful execution of the tumble pass depends upon throwing your weight around in a controlled manner. Accuracy of body position will help to avoid injury, as will a power-to-weight ratio sufficient to complete each skill.

The Tumble Pass - Gymnast executing a backward salto in a tumble pass.
Gymnast executing a backward salto in a tumble pass. - Australian Gymnastics Journal

Movement Sequence

Every movement has a beginning, a middle and an end. In a tumble pass, the end of one element is usually the beginning of the next element. The end of any individual element should be on balance and in the correct alignment to continue the sequence. If it is not, then power and impetus will be lost, with a subsequent element likely to stall before completion. This can result in an uncontrolled landing with heightened risk of injury.

Difficulty Score

It is up to the coach to ensure the tumble pass includes a sequence of elements which allow an individual gymnast to attain his or her highest possible score, according to ability. While the FIG Code of Points allows elements to be repeated in an exercise, no difficulty value is assigned to the subsequent repeat element. A range of skills should be demonstrated in the exercise by each gymnast.

Execution Score

If an adequate preparation is done for all elements included in the desired tumble pass then correct positioning should be achieved, leading to a good execution score. Adequate strength and flexibility to allow the successful completion of a skill can be developed over time with a targeted program.

The focus should be on ensuring correct balance and positioning at the start and end of each element when putting the individual skills together. A gymnast struggling with one element in a tumble pass risks losing points on the execution of the other included skills. It may be better to choose a substitute for that element, one that the gymnast has more competence in performing.

The Tumble Pass

Total concentration on the task is the best way a gymnast can approach the tumble pass. The natural rhythm of each individual’s body will dictate at what rate each element is completed. The transition between elements can be modified slightly, a conscious decision in a split second to deliver minor corrections.

The tumble pass is a total commitment to a course of action.

The preparation for the tumble pass will determine success or failure in its execution.

Dance in Gymnastics - Responding to Rhythm

Responding to rhythm is a basic element of dance in gymnastics. It has two components. The first is the natural rhythm of life everyone has, and the second is the rhythm imposed by the music used for the floor exercise. In Australian gymnastics many coaches compile a floor routine with elements fitted to phrases in the music. This gives scant attention to rhythm, producing a series of snapshots of movement rather than a cohesive, flowing presentation.

Natural Rhythm and Movement

Natural rhythm in an individual is expressed in the heartbeat, for an adult at rest this is between 60-100 beats per minute, for children the heartbeat is faster, 70-100 beats per minute. The rate of 120 beats per minute is often used in military march music as it generates efficient activity which can be maintained for some time. This music has two beats per bar and four bars per phrase, meaning eight even walking steps in each phrase if rhythm is maintained.

Another natural rhythm depends on the proportions of the gymnast. Those with a shorter, more compact body type can generally rotate more quickly than a taller gymnast, who will require more height to complete similar rotations when in an extended body position. How long each skill takes to reach completion depends on the unique attributes of each individual gymnast.

Move to the Music

Music can be composed using a wide variety of rhythms, or none at all, as in a soundscape, which is a construct of sound designed to evoke an emotional response. However, when it is intended to be used for dance it usually has a distinct primary rhythm, which can change during a single composition. This can be a challenge for somebody trying to move to the music.

A good way to start learning how to move with the rhythm of music is to clap along with it, remembering to keep the claps evenly spaced apart. Marching music is a good place to start this activity, because the next step is to get up and walk around, taking a step on each beat. After some practise this should come naturally, without having to think much about it. This is the foundation on which dance in gymnastics is built.

Why Bother Responding to Rhythm?

Learning to move to rhythm is a learned skill, the same as a gymnastic or dance skill. Moving to a rhythm gives a greater awareness of balance and position, as it imposes an artificial constraint on the movement.

Once awareness of a specific movement is heightened, this allows greater control of movements on all apparatus, with smoother transitions from one skill to another on balance beam and uneven bars.

The precision, or repeatability, of even the most simple steps to the rhythm of the music, assists a gymnast to develop correctly executed skills, which can be successfully transferred from floor to other apparatus.

Competition Structure in Australian Gymnastics

The regulations set out by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) are used as the basis for competition in Australian gymnastics. There are four competition phases: 1. Qualifications, 2. Individual All Around, 3. Individual Apparatus Finals, 4. Team Finals. The FIG Individual All-Around World Cup event recently held in Melbourne showcased Phase 2, the Individual All-Around, and Phase 3, Individual Apparatus Finals, for men’s (MAG) and women’s (WAG) artistic gymnastics.

Competition Structure in Australian Gymnastics - Gymnasts waiting for their turn at the 2017 Senior Gippsland Championships Individual All-Around. Individual Apparatus and Team Competition at the same time, South East Region Qualifications for the Victorian Artistic Gymnastics Championships, Tumbling and Trampoline events (Levels 2-8) held simultaneously on Sunday October 8th 2017 at Maffra.
Gymnasts waiting for their turn at the 2017 Senior Gippsland Championships Individual All-Around. Individual Apparatus and Team Competition at the same time, South East Region Qualifications for the Victorian Artistic Gymnastics Championships, Tumbling and Trampoline events (Levels 2-8) held simultaneously on Sunday October 8th 2017 at Maffra. - Australian Gymnastics Journal

1. Qualifications

Gymnastics Australia is the body responsible for selecting which of our gymnasts have qualified to compete in the World Cup. These gymnasts have progressed through the ranks from junior levels, where participation in nominated events allows the young gymnasts to qualify for regional competitions. In turn, performing well at a regional event leads to qualifying for the State Championships, then the best of these athletes qualify for the Australian Championships.

2. Individual All Around

Each gymnast trains on every apparatus. Those who manage to become skilled on all apparatus are then in competition with each other to become the best individual all-around gymnast. Many young gymnasts do well on one or two of the apparatus and have to work harder on the others. These gymnasts may place for a podium finish on an individual apparatus. However, sometimes a more consistent good performance all-around can lead to success.

3. Individual Apparatus Finals

The individual apparatus finals are for the gymnasts who have shown the best skills on each apparatus in the all-around competition. A gymnast may qualify in the final group for one or more of the apparatus, or for none. At junior levels, there may not be a final round, and the scores the gymnast received in the single round of competition serve to give the awards for each individual apparatus.

4. Team Finals

If enough individuals from a representative group have qualified in their own right, then a team score can be calculated for this group in competition. A successful team is often made up of several gymnasts who are highly skilled on particular apparatus, plus one who is good all-around. The team is built on the individual skills of the gymnasts selected for it.

Competition and Gymnastics Clubs

The primary advantage of the structure given in the FIG phases of competition is that each individual is encouraged to be the best that he, or she, can be.

A basic display of expertise in gymnastic skills needs to be attained, in order to qualify to participate in more advanced competitions. The individual all-around competition provides a chance to shine, and also gives a ranking of ability compared with other gymnasts. The individual apparatus finals provides a gymnast with the opportunity to display the best higher level skills she or he has acquired during the many hours of training. Finally, a team is selected from those gymnasts judged to be capable of delivering the highest possible combined score for the organization, or country, which the team represents.

Many Australian gymnastics clubs emphasise that it is being part of the team which is most important. Some gymnasts are not allowed to advance to their own level of ability because club management wish to have a winning team at a lower level. They believe that the accolades are a good business strategy for the club.

Some of our best gymnasts are being actively held back, for the sake of the team.

This is a direct contradiction to the aims contained in the FIG competition structure, which is there to nurture and encourage gymnasts toward excellence in gymnastics.

The ABC of Child Abuse

The ABC of Child Abuse sets the scene for child abuse to occur in sporting organizations. It can be summed up by three basic conditions: ambition, bullying and coercion.

Ambition

Ambition feeds the desire to be a winner, preferably the one at the top. This can be a key motivation even for a junior gymnast, although it is often a parent’s ambition expressed through their child which is the driving force.

Ambition may also be a primary quality expressed by a coach or club management, wanting to collect the reflected glory of training a champion gymnast. This will attract parents who want a similar outcome into becoming paying customers to the gymnastics club.

Ambition tends to cultivate acceptance of otherwise undesrirable behavior, to believe what an authority figure says has to be done in order to achieve the desired goal.

Bullying

Bullying is a strategy sometimes implemented by a person who wishes to get his or her own way in the shortest time possible. There is rarely any consideration shown for the welfare of the victim. If a child raises any objections about the bullying behavior, these are often readily dismissed by the bully who holds power over the child.

A parent can bully a child into persisting with training even when the child is injured or ill. Sometimes a child does not wish to continue with gymnastics, but the parent will insist he or she does keep going.

This child may then enter a pathway to get away from the sport. It starts with a minor injury. If the parent insists that the child keeps training, this will be followed by a more severe injury. When the parent bullies the child into continuing after this, a major injury, such as a broken bone, often follows.

A coach can bully a child into learning and following unsafe physical activities. This may be done by saying: “This is the way we do this skill here. If you do not want to do as you are instructed, then you can sit out.” The child quickly learns that to be included, you must do as you are told without question.

Coercion

Coercion can be initiated both in a positive way, as in a promised reward, or a negative way, by cultivating a fear of missing out. This method is often maintained over a longer period of time, encouraging a young gymnast to develop an attitude of wanting to please the authority figure, be it parent, coach, club management or the governing body of administrators of the sport.

Setting the Scene for Child Abuse

The conditions of ambition, bullying and coercion can be easily set in place and maintained when two other conditions are present in any sporting or gymnastics organization.

When an organization holds a monopoly over participation in a sport, and maintains a policy to avoid scrutiny by independent observers, then the people in charge of that organization have set the scene for child abuse to happen.

The New Gymnastics Australia WAG Program

The new Gymnastics Australia Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Program, under Mihai Brestyan’s direction, is a good start, but it does not operate in a vacuum. An important aspect which will determine its success or failure is the prevailing culture of the community implementing the program.

Girl’s Activity Preferences

According to the Australian Sports Commission’s AusPlay Focus on Women and Girls Participation Report, the top 5 activities for girls 0-14 years of age are swimming (35%), dancing (15.4%), netball (14%), gymnastics (12.1%) and football (round ball) (6.4%) with Aussie Rules coming in 10th position at 2.6%. This position is likely to improve with the new AFLW competition generating more junior recruits.

Swimming, dancing and gymnastics are the preferences up until 8 years old, after which netball becomes the activity of choice behind swimming, with dancing, gymnastics and tennis making up the top five activities in the 9-11 years group.

By the time the girls are in the 12-14 years group, netball is preferred by 33.4% of them, followed by swimming, football, basketball and dancing, collectively another 52.2%. Gymnastics has disappeared from the radar, but why?

Gymnastics Program Structure

The new WAG levels program is structured with age constraints to the levels, as was the program it is replacing. The review by Suiko Consulting of High Performance Gymnastics in Australia states: “To succeed, Gymnastics needs to be inclusive, maximise use of collective resources and be aligned with a common unity of purpose.” A program which nominates maximum ages for each skill level excludes many older gymnasts, who may have started gym later and have the required skills to compete at that level.

The new program has the expectation that a young gymnast will attain the skills necessary to compete at Level 7 by 10-12 years of age. Yet the pathway to the Future International stream is capped by a constraint of a maximum of 13 years, and the Junior International group is limited to 13-15 years of age.

There are two major problems here. The first is that a girl will have to gain skills to Level 7 standard by a maximum of 11 years old. The second is that she will have to upskill three more levels by the time she is 13 in order to keep progressing as a gymnast.

This leaves any gymnast currently at Level 7, and 13 years of age or older, with nowhere to go.

If it is skills which are being assessed, why is a maximum age cap necessary?

New Gymnastics Australia WAG level program.
New Gymnastics Australia WAG level program. - Australian Gymnastics Journal

Competition as Assessment

The program makes provision for more than one level to be attained in any given year. However, there are logistical constraints to this happening. When performance in competition is the means of assessing whether the required standard has been met to advance to the next level, timing is important.

The appropriate level of skill would have to be attained before the qualifying round for the next competition. These may not be scheduled at times of the year which allow time to learn new skills. Currently the major competitions for Level 7 and higher are in the first half of the year, and those up to and including Level 6 are in the latter part of the year.

According to the Focus report, girls of 12 -14 years of age are walking away from gymnastics. The structure of the new levels program gives them no pathway to becoming an elite athlete even if they wanted to stay as a competitive Australian gymnast, unless they are already in a high performance stream. Many Australian Gymnastics Clubs cannot field a Level 7 squad, the girls have all left by then.

This program is likely to act as a disincentive for girls to start gymnastics. Every child has a role model she or he looks up to. The dream has to have a visible pathway, no matter how unlikely a parent may think it is. But if there is no provision to step off that pathway for a time without losing all opportunity to realise the dream, then a parent will try to encourage the child to choose something else.

Why Do They Leave?

At 12-14 years of age most girls have gone through puberty to become young women. They are not the person they were before, with the changes to the body. This means that the gymnastic skills they had before have to be learned again to fit the new body dynamic.

It takes a highly skilled coach to assist a young woman to adjust her technique to suit her changing body shape.

It is far easier for her to take her changed shape and do something else.

Citations

Australian Sports Commission, Ausplay Focus on Women and Girls Participation pp18-19 (Nov 2017)
Gymnastics Australia, WAG Program Structure 2018 and Beyond pp7 (Oct 2017)
Suiko Consulting, Independent Review of High Performance Gymnastics in Australia. (28th Oct 2016)

Our Girls and the Concept of Ownership

Historically, the term ‘Our Girls’ was used to assert dominance over a group of females. It was often used in a benign, affectionate sense, yet still implying that the ‘girls’ were unable to think or make decisions for themselves. In fact, they were not seen as individuals at all.

Our Girls and the Concept of Ownership - Our girls and Australian gymnastics clubs.
Our girls and Australian gymnastics clubs. - Australian Gymnastics Journal

‘Our Girls’ in Gymnastics Clubs

Currently I sadly note that the concept of ownership of ‘our girls’ is proliferating in gymnastics clubs. It is a blast from the past which our community can well do without, for it strips individual identity away and opens the door to the exploitation of young people.

The Importance of Being an Individual

Each person has a unique collection of physical and mental attributes. This means that any skill will be developed in an individual way. Standard methods of instruction or coaching can be used up to a point, after which the technique has to be refined to assist the gymnast to overcome weaknesses and enhance performance.

A Fast Track Way to Failure

An attitude of seeing ‘our girls’ as a group actively undermines the overall performance of the group. It prevents each gymnast from gaining maximum skills from her own ability.

There often comes a time when a gymnast has to change coach or club in order to keep improving. She will be personally held back if she only sees herself as one of a group of ‘our girls.’

The Customer and Contract

Ultimately, the relationship between a parent, gymnast and club is one of a customer and business. The gymnasts may belong with the club but they never belong to it. Claiming gymnasts are ‘our girls’ is like asserting ownership over them.

This is like claiming a customer in a clothing store is owned by the store once a garment has been purchased, and that customer is not allowed to purchase anything from another store from that time onward.

A contract for services is not the same as a contract for servitude!

Career Paths for Australian Gymnasts

The main career paths for Australian gymnasts are as gymnastics coaches. Employment as a gymnastics coach can be with an established club, or by becoming the owner or manager of a new club.

Career Paths for Australian Gymnasts - Australian gymnast getting ahead in life.
Australian gymnast getting ahead in life. - Australian Gymnastics Journal

Australian Gymnastics Coach Accreditation

Gymnastics Australia offers an online Beginner Coaching Course, which is a general pre-requisite before any other face to face coaching course can be done. These courses are offered in various club venues in the different states throughout the year, at additional cost to participants. The choice of which gym sport to pursue higher accreditation in is made after the successful completion of both parts of the Beginner Coaching Course.

This accreditation is recognised in all clubs affiliated with Gymnastics Australia, and is often used as a marketing strategy by the clubs.

Club Management

A gymnastics club can be set up as an independent business, where the owner manages it and takes responsibility for running it effectively. The rewards of a good business are shown in the profit it generates. The owner-manager is likely to receive higher pay than someone who is an employee of a club.

Wages for coaches are calculated according to experience, starting at $23.00 per hour for adult coaches with less experience and ranging up to $75.00 per hour for senior coaches and around $65,000 per annum for coordinators or employed managers.

Other Career Paths

There are other careers which gymnasts may move into, but many of these also require skills in the performing arts. They may also require the gymnast to go overseas. Some gymnasts are employed by Cirque du Soleil, others may become stunt doubles for a film.

Occasionally a stage or film production in Australia requires dancers who can also perform gymnastics skills with polished execution. These opportunities are rare and the work is intermittent. The audition process for these roles is highly competitive.

Australian gymnasts can enjoy great satisfaction while participating in the sport, but for most it will not provide a career path. It is a very expensive vocation, in time, effort and money, for very little reward.

Becoming an Australian Gymnastics Coach

Why would a person think of becoming an Australian gymnastics coach? Is nature or nurture the inspiration prompting the decision to follow this path?

The Nature of Physical Activity

Some children are active right from the start. They pull themselves up to reach further, to grasp something which is just out of their reach. When they fall they pick themselves up and try again. Yet a physically active child can become frustrated when activity is prevented.

The Process of Nurture

An active child benefits when given the opportunity to achieve new skills. Gymnastics can provide a diverse range of physical activities which the child may not experience otherwise.

A parent may choose to take the young child to gymnastics sessions to give a productive outlet for all the excess energy. Hopefully the child will then be tired enough to rest after the session. Yet often the sport is a family affair, with a parent having been a gymnast, and maybe still a participant in a club.

A Pathway to Becoming a Coach

When a child feels satisfaction in participating in gymnastics, then the activity can become long term. Social connections are made with other group members, and what started as a recreational activity can evolve into being part of a competitive squad. The young gymnast moves up the levels until a plateau of achievement is reached. This may be around Level 6 or 7 for many Australian gymnasts.

The early teenage gymnast has been a participant for most of her, or his, young life, so what now?

Many clubs will encourage these young gymnasts to remain in the sport. They will be invited to be assistant coaches and help to supervise the younger children in gym activities.

Legal Requirements

All states in Australia have mandatory requirements for school attendance and any employment of young people must not compromise their school learning activities. They also require accurate record keeping of an employed child’s work hours and activities, as only defined light work is allowed to be done.

Employment can be voluntary or paid: it is work carried out at the direction of the employer.

In Victoria, a permit must be obtained by the employer from the relevant business authority before a child under 15 years of age can be employed. The youngest age that a child can be employed in a gym is 13 years.This work can only be for a maximum of 3 hours per day and 12 hours per week including rest breaks. They can start no earlier than 6:00 am and finish no later than 9:00 pm but not work during school hours during the school term.

Similarly, in Queensland the minimum age for employment is 13, with a maximum work load of 4 hours per day and 12 hours per week.

In the ACT children under 15 can only be employed with the informed, written consent of the parent, and the informed consent of the child, for a maximum of 10 hours per week. Employment during school hours is not allowed, nor is employment permitted at late or early hours which may compromise school activities.

The authorities in WA require written permission from the parent, for a child aged 12 - 14 years to work between the hours of 6:00 am - 10:00 pm, but not during school hours. Record keeping is important.

In SA there is no minimum working age, but a child between the ages of 6 - 16 years cannot work during school hours.

In NSW there is no minimum legal age limit to start work. Children are required to attend school from 6 - 17 years of age.

In all states in Australia, provision of adequate supervision and appropriate work safety standards are required to protect the young person from hazards.

An inspection of the workplace can be carried out by the authorities at any time.

Legal Responsibilities

It is the responsibility of all gymnastics clubs to ensure they are compliant with the relevant laws for employing young people in their state. There are very large financial penalties for not doing so.

It is the responsibility of all parents of young assistant coaches to ensure that the employer, the gymnastics club, is complying with the legal requirements under which the child is employed.

It is the responsibility of the young employed person to let somebody in authority know if anything is happening which they have doubts about.

Child exploitation, of any kind, should be prevented before it can become established.

Integrating Dance with Gymnastics

In women’s gymnastics, the floor routine shows the best example of integrating dance with gymnastic or acrobatic elements. Yet a sense of rhythm is a critical factor in the execution of skills on all apparatus.

This is a video of Elizabeth Heyblom from Morwell Gymnastics Club (Out of business) at the Senior Gippsland Championships 2017, performing her qualifying floor routine for the Victorian Gymnastics Championships held at the Geelong Arena in November 2017. She was competing in Women’s Artistic Gymnastics at Level 7. - Australian Gymnastics Journal

Code of Points

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) code of points is the defining document of both dance and acrobatic elements which will receive a score when performed in a routine. A score for the level of difficulty of each skill is allotted, then another score is allocated by the judges for the quality of execution displayed in the successful completion of each skill.

Dance Elements

Individual dance elements of jumps, hops, leaps and turns have strict technical requirements for each skill to be awarded full points for difficulty. Joining several dance moves together is also required, but simply performing each dance skill is not enough.

There should also be a cohesion and continuity to turn steps into dance. This gives a visually pleasing flow to a routine and allows bonus points to be awarded by the judges.

Acrobatic Elements

Traditionally, gymnastics coaches have concentrated on developing acrobatic skills in young gymnasts. The technical requirements for each of these skills is also listed in the FIG Code of Points.

Yet the emphasis many Australian gymnastics coaches place in teaching each skill is often to encourage the gymnast to ‘just do it’. The execution of the skill can be tidied up later. Or can it?

Choreography

Every gymnast, like every dancer, has individual strengths and weaknesses. Mandatory routines are in place to assess that all gymnasts in a specific level have the basic skills required for that level.

Optional routines allow each gymnast to showcase the things they do best. Choreography for a gymnastics routine should create a blend of acrobatic and dance movements into a seamless presentation, a routine designed for the individual gymnast. The music should be at a tempo in which the gymnast feels comfortable doing the required movements.

Integrating Dance with Gymnastics Successfully

Choreography is much more than the total of moves strung together. A good choreographer will create a routine integrating dance and acrobatic elements. This is designed to maximize the opportunity for a gymnast to get a good score for execution. The score which can make the difference between winning, or not.

Role Models for Young Gymnasts

Where do we find good role models for young gymnasts in Australia? At the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games many Australians saw elite gymnastics for the first time. This inspired young people to try gymnastics out, to ‘have a go’ at it.

Role Models for Young Gymnasts - Tatum Cotterrell: A fine role model for young gymnasts.
Tatum Cotterrell: A fine role model for young gymnasts. - Australian Gymnastics Journal

High Achievers

An elite level Australian gymnast can provide a good role model for young gymnasts. The hopeful junior gymnasts can watch the high achiever performing difficult skills and imagine themselves doing the same thing. This is very effective if seen in real time, at an event or in training. Don’t look away, or you will miss it!

Good Coaches

Imagining performing a skill can be fun, learning how to do it is even better. A good, competent coach will assist the gymnast by directing him or her in appropriate physical activities. These help to develop the strength and flexibility needed to perform a new skill successfully. If a gymnast is properly prepared for the new skill then the risk of injury is minimal.

A Winning Attitude

The first challenge is for a young gymnast to want to be the best she or he can be. This can be encouraged by parents, coaches or teachers and friends.

The second challenge is to be rewarded for real achievements. Receiving an award simply for turning up directly undermines gymnasts who work hard and achieve higher level skills. If the reward for doing very little is the same as the reward for doing a lot, then there is no value in doing a lot.

Young Australian Gymnasts

Young gymnasts in Australia are looking for role models to inspire them to higher achievement. Unfortunately such people in the gymnastics community are very few. Our last taste of real success was at the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000, over 17 years ago. None of our young gymnasts were even born then.

Australian gymnastics will have to seek a new direction.

The Australian Gymnastics Coach and Competition

Who chooses to become a gymnastics coach? Why? Does the coach want the athletes under her, or his, supervision to be the best that they possibly can be?

The Australian Gymnastics Coach and Competition - The YMCA Geelong arena gymnastics club.
The YMCA Geelong arena gymnastics club. - Australian Gymnastics Journal

Such a coach will take the initiative to ensure personal ongoing education, to be familiar with what is happening in other countries. Relying solely on the workshops provided by the governing body will not be enough to give the coach the knowledge to produce high performance gymnasts.

Is the coach trying to live personal dreams through a young gymnast’s achievements? Or the opposite, trying to assert how much better than the young gymnast he or she is? Either way, this is more about the coach’s ego than the gymnast.

Or does the coach subscribe to the ‘everyone’s a winner’ philosophy? All this does is ensure everyone is a loser. In the words of W.S.Gilbert, of Gilbert & Sullivan: “When everyone is somebody, then no one’s anybody.” (The Gondoliers)

The motivation for doing something has the greatest impact on the success or failure of the outcome.

Selecting a Gymnastics Coach

In Australia, many parents enrol their children in a gymnastics program because of a gymnastic club’s reputation. Yet a club is made up of people. Which of these people is delivering the kind of outcome the parent’s desire?

The parents may want a social network for their children which delivers a basic level of physical fitness. In this case an easy going club philosophy, where coaches have a basic level of knowledge to ensure physical safety, will serve the purpose. However, when a young gymnast wants to improve skills in order to achieve more personally, this kind of situation will be incredibly frustrating.

The gymnasts who want to be the best they possibly can be will have to seek out a coach who can help them achieve this.

The Coach and Competition

Competition, by definition, is about winning and losing. In gymnastics, as in all sporting competitions, it is about who has the best performance on the day. Yet for an elite athlete the driving force for achievement is to be better than the last time she or he did the activity. The competition is with oneself.

This is true for all gymnasts when they mount the apparatus in a competition. Anything that happens from that point on is entirely up to the gymnast. Any decision, any mistake or recovery is at the gymnast’s initiative.

A good, competent coach will have ensured a good preparation for the event, both physically and mentally. He or she will be on standby to assist if a skill is likely to fall short and risk injury to the gymnast. Once the performance on the apparatus is completed, both gymnast and coach look to the scoreboard. This is the time when the competition with other athletes becomes significant.

A personal best is always worth celebrating. When it is better than all the other competitors, that is the icing on the cake.

Australian Gymnastics and High Performance Levels

Where do we look for Australian gymnastics and high performance levels? How a coach defines what high performance is will have a direct effect on how a young gymnast develops skills. A gymnast, like any athlete, is limited by the competency and attitude of her or his coach.

Australian Gymnastics and High Performance Levels - Awards for high performance gymnasts in Australian gymnastics.
Awards for high performance gymnasts in Australian gymnastics. - Australian Gymnastics Journal

High Performance

The best skills displayed by a gymnast in a competition can be deemed high performance. The gymnast may be called a champion yet the overall standard be at a very low level.

Another way of defining high performance is by the accomplishment and mastery of specific skills. The FIG (International Federation of Gymnastics) code of points is the defining guide for gymnastics. It lists which skills are included and how they should be done. Points for difficulty and points for execution are added together to give a gymnast a total score. This guide gives a coach the basis from which gymnasts can be brought to elite levels of performance.

Coaching for High Performance

Gymnastics is developing the skills of controlled falling to avoid injury. Yet many coaches and clubs promote the idea of a gymnast as flying. A gymnast becomes very aware of the force of gravity and its effects on balance and strength.

Just as a baby learns to walk, by mastering a change of balance, before learning to hop or skip, so should a gymnast be secure in a basic skill before moving on.

A gymnast should be able to repeat a skill and remain balanced at the completion of it. This is achieved when execution is given great importance, so that each move is polished and consistent. Drills to develop specific strength and flexibility in preparation for more complex skills come next.

If a gymnast shows a higher level of expertise than most, where to then?

Australian Gymnastics High Performance Centers

Australia has one facility for male gymnasts at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra. There are currently two National Centers of Excellence for elite female gymnasts, one in Perth and the other in Melbourne.

The National Center of Excellence in Perth was threatened with closure in mid 2016. Gymnastics Australia came to the rescue and it remains open. Now the program in the Melbourne facility is under threat over leasing arrangements but GA cannot assist in this case. The proposal from Gymnastics Victoria is to allow individual clubs to coach our elite gymnasts in their own regions.

Attitude to Competition

A highly performing gymnast is one who can demonstrate a high level of skill under the pressure of competition. The attitude of the coach can guide the gymnast to be the best that he or she possibly can be when the pressure of competition is greatest.

On the other hand, the misguided attitude of an incompetent coach can undermine the efforts of a gymnast in a competition. The gymnast can only perform up to the level of the coach's competence and no higher. Without highly competent coaches we cannot expect our gymnasts to demonstrate high performance.

Scouting for talent

Where do we look for Australian gymnastics talent for a film about gymnastics? Everywhere!

This is an old video of Leyla Berry at the National Clubs Championships in 2012. She was competing in Women’s Artistic Gymnastics at Level 5. - Australian Gymnastics Journal

Serendipity

Sometimes a considerable time elapses between when a talented individual first comes to a producer’s attention and when a role becomes available in a film. Sometimes the paths of the two interests cross again. Sometimes an individual who had other priorities at an earlier time now has a change of priorities. Sometimes serendipity can open the gates to a whole new world.

Putting the art in Artistic Gymnastics

Putting the art in Artistic Gymnastics - Australian gymnast puts the art in Artistic Gymnastics.
Australian gymnast puts the art in Artistic Gymnastics. - Australian Gymnastics Journal

What form does the art in Artistic Gymnastics take?

Is it the strange expressions of concentration on the faces of the gymnasts as they prepare for and execute a move? A dramatic component like a mime performing on stage.

Is it the colorful costumes worn by the gymnasts? Like the plumage of birds in a ritual display.

Both of these elements play their part, but the artistic expression in gymnastics is provided by the cohesion of the dance. Unlike gymnastics elements, dance is more than a sequence of elements or moves one after the other. It commands and holds attention through having continuity of visual impact. Dance has an intimate emotional connection to the music joined with it in the performance.

Yet to have the greatest impact the dancer appears to be making no effort at all. An illusion which pulls those who are watching into the world of the performer. It catches the imagination, and for a short time the watchers feel like they are performing with all the skill and charisma of the one who is the center of attention.

How does this fit into an Australian Gymnastics routine?

A gymnast whose moves appear to be effortless can transition from one move to the next smoothly. The execution of each element will be neater and more controlled, allowing immediate progression from one element to the next to give bonus points.

Best of all, every human movement has its own natural rhythm. When we learn to work with our own natural rhythm, injuries become less likely to happen.

Dance encourages physical self awareness and firmly places art in Artistic Gymnastics.