This has been swirling around and around in my mind for the last two weeks as the events of Tokyo confirmed a lot of my worst suspicions.
Forster, and feel free to disagree, is pretty clearly a shit High Performance Coordinator.
Amongst other things, he’s allergic to making decisions, is obsessed with rank order (potentially because he’s still salty about Atlanta?!), the gymnasts for the most part seem to disdain him, and he very clearly had absolutely no strategy besides “We have Simone.”
I’m not super interested in relitigating the Olympic team selection since we’ve all done that and I feel that there’s not really any compelling non-hindsight argument for some other team makeup.
I think the bigger problem for the US program is his complete and total lack of leadership. There have been multiple gymnasts, selected and left off, who have indicated that he basically hung them out to dry as far as communicating expectations/standards/goals, and Simone saying outright that after prelims everyone except the gymnasts was visibly PANICKING has stayed with me, as well as her being made hyperaware that she was expected to carry the entire team (something she’s never indicated she’s felt before!).
Forster boasts about the US B and C teams being world-beaters while apparently paying those gymnasts no attention at all and seems to have no real ability to instill any kind of confidence or trust in him in the gymnasts.
There’s no one else for the job because frankly who would want it, so how does the US program move forward from here with Simone taking a break at the very least and literally all of the medal-winning gymnasts from this quad going off to college?
Will Forster just shift to putting it all on the shoulders of someone like Blakely or McClain or DiCello or Wong? Will he actually coordinate something? Or will he just continue making vague noises while the gymnasts all roll their eyes and the individual coaches and their athletes do their jobs in spite of him?
USAG badly needs to do a postmortem on both the Olympics and the last quad. Or, probably better but less likely to happen, they need to hire an outside organization who won’t be biased to do it.
Taking the results of that, they need to draw up a development plan for the next quad, and the quad or two after that. Where did the US struggle here, why, and how can they fix it. Who are the up-and-coming athletes, what are the general strengths and weaknesses of the team, and how can they correct the weakness and fill in gaps?
Ultimately, I think they need to break the NTC position into a couple of different roles, with specialists in each.
You need someone who is literally a coordinator–organizing camps and events, managing the paperwork, identifying what competitions or training exchanges would be beneficial for the US and its athletes.
You need a head coach, who is actively working with the national team and potential national team members at the camp. This person needs to be both a great coach, very code savvy, and have qualified or be capable of qualifying as a judge, to be able to provide detailed feedback on what’s working and what isn’t. If they can’t find someone who those code and judging capabilities who is also a good coach, they need to bring in a judge to work with them. The head coach should also have standing meetings with everyone on the NTC camp rosters, discussing the athlete’s goals, how they relate to the team’s goals, the plans in place to meet them, and the progress at that point. Every athlete should know exactly what is expected from them at all times.
They need someone to handle outside communication. Someone who can work with the media, provide clear statements, and generally be the spokesperson for the program
You might be able to combine some of these, but it’s a very diverse set of skills, and I don’t think it’s likely or reasonable to find them all in the same person. And for all of those people, organization and communication skills need to be some of the most important factors in making hiring decisions.
Frankly, the bar is set so low, I would do his job for 100 grand no problem.
Talk to athletes with respect and not be a creepass on social media? I can do that. Set clear expectations and be realistic with all what, 18 gymnasts? I can do that. Tell gymnasts and coaches when skills are shit? I can do that. Hire a judge to give insight and actually listen to them? No problem. Represent the team with an ounce of dignity and not be a baby when they don’t win gold, or hang unrealistic expectations on young women when things start going wrong or leave them out to dry? I can do that. Travel to Paris, as well as other gyms ocassionally? I can do that. Not let predators or psychos or narcissists run the gymnasts into the ground or abuse them? Uh, yeah I can do that. Attempt to turn the world’s most disgusting organization so that it’s at least facing the right direction, and not give a shit if I get fired??? Shouldn’t be a problem.
Until USAG finishes it’s clean up (settling with survivors, etc) I don’t see a qualified person taking the job.
I do wonder how much of Tom’s terribleness was actually his fault. Was usag leaning on him to maybe keep athletes ‘happy’ and just not be a Marta-like dictator or not to make controversial choices (so he made no choices). I admit that this is speculative but in other sports like baseball sometimes the managers hands get tied by the GM and the manager isn’t completely at fault.
I bet Tom sticks around through worlds and maybe one more quad. He will cry “Covid” and “our star got twisties.”
But I hope there is a plan to get better judging feedback. Am I right that tHe us is the only major team not to get any foreign judging feedback in the last year? Some of that is COVID but they should do better.
You can easily blame COVID for some of it. With injuries and lost training time due to gym closures, etc., and no competitions over the extra year the US girls definitely weren’t coming into this year as ready as they would’ve been in 2020.
But Tom has never demonstrated any real understanding of judging or the code since his go-to move when US gymnasts didn’t receive scores in line with domestic ones was to whine incoherently on social media about the rules being unfair.
I can buy him not being given any real power to make decisions behind the scenes. But that only really covers team selection. I sincerely doubt anyone at USAG would’ve given a shit if he actually tried to cultivate those B and C team gymnasts he loved to brag about. He didn’t need to be a dictator to pay attention to the entire national team and communicate with them.
I’m getting tired of the “but who will want the job” argument. I get that no one wants this job lol, but I want somebody even remotely qualified and not a dick to step up and own it and say “I will take this job for two years at least, and it will destroy my career, but these girls and the future of this sport are more important, and I will fight for them come hell or high water, and I think I know what I’m going to do to try and make some big changes.” Call me crazy but that’s what I want. Bueller? Anybody?
Also, re: upper management interference. I’d definitely believe that USAG didn’t want him to make waves or be controversial, but I have a hard time believing they were that specific about it. I think adhering to rank order is his own thing to offload responsibility (and/or to “prove” something about '96) since you could easily be transparent about selection by just…telling people the expectations and needs beforehand and the reasoning afterwards. Someone’s always going to miss the cut and someone’s always going to be angry about it, but so much of the anger towards Tom has been people not knowing what was expected of them until they were left off of National Team or not advanced to the next competition etc. and his explanation after they were already out of it revealed what it was they didn’t do. And sure in some cases it likely wouldn’t have changed anything, but you still don’t want your athletes to be in a constant state of confusion about what they need to be focusing on.
It would be nice, but it seems like anyone remotely “qualified” is equally guilty/dirty and doesn’t want the spotlight on their own sins. And it would be detrimental to progress for the new leader to be just as gross as the past ones.
Although anyone else will have to work to be as bad at media relations and communication as Tom is!
I would accept someone who made mistakes like daily weigh-ins and is now a reformed person who admits they were wrong. Someone who wants to lead everyone and lean into a change. Nobody is going to be lily white because of the culture in which they learned to be abusive from their abusers.
I have mentioned before that Jess Graba and Brian Carey don’t seem to have any top flight juniors in the pipeline. They both seem to understand the code and able to pace athletes. Brian Carey also seems to be the only person who understands FIG qualification processes too.