How Do You Solve A Problem Like Tom Forster?

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This experience was well before COVID, so I can’t speak to how the same Korean age group is doing today. But It’s been a year and half–American kids are plenty used to masks at this pooint. I’m not sure why they wouldn’t be just as capable of the same basic behavior–they’re developmentally at the same place. The main difference is how the adults around them are treating the situation. The problem isn’t the capabilities of the kids; it’s the behavior of the adults.
Bringing us back on topic…

Is the problem Tom Forster, or is the problem the position itself? I mean, Tom clearly sucks. But what exactly is this role? Is it supposed to b the public face of the US elite program, with attendant media responsibilities and accountability? Is it a quiet, behind-the-scenes role to win as many golds as possible? The final say on everything elites do, including training plans, routine construction, etc? (ha ha ha, hardly. Not even Marta could get elite coaches to stop being so stupid with routine construction)

Honestly, I have no idea. It seems to be a strange mish mash made worse by having someone like Forster, who is clearly in over his head and won’t keep his enormous ego in check, in the role.
I think pre Tom there was a good understanding of what the role was and the problems during Marta’s reign were due to Marta, not the role being unfit for purpose. My take is that Tom has attempted to reinvent the role to suit his ego. From courting the press to his unhelpful presence in podium training, he seems to be making it all about Tom Forster. So whilst Tom attracted criticism for his media silence following the Simone situation, no one would have expected previous NTC to be front and centre responding to questions, Tom’s lack of public presence through it all spoke volumes, given how keen he was when it was positive news
I think Tom was trying to answer the request for transparency at the beginning. The problem is that once he did that, people engaged with him, and now he has them in his head.

I still think transparency is good, but it belongs with someone else.
I still think transparency is good, but it belongs with someone else
I agree–there’s a difference between the agency needing to be transparent and the NTC providing that transparency. That particular job needs to go to someone with training and skill with media and communications. They also need to be someone different from the person who might be handling any crises that happen on the competition floor or at a NT practice–when there’s a crisis there, the NTC, coaches, and athletes involved need to be able to handle the practical problem without distraction, while someone with good communications skills handles informing the media in a way that both protects privacy (as necessary) and doesn’t make a PR nightmare for the individuals involved.
I have said this before. No gymnastics powerhouse is without its legacy of abuse, that abuse just manifests differently in different countries. From a historical perspective, we hear next to nothing about abusive coaching in the USSR. Other than Korbut, I cannot think off the top of my head of any high profile gymnast to have made allegations. There are cultural reasons for that, and I imagine it’s a similar case with China.
Currently, Valentina’s behaviour is the subject of jokes amongst gymnastics fans and shrugged off as oh, that’s just Russia and Russians but there can be no doubt that the Russian national team is an extremely emotionally abusive environment. I have also mentioned that several RG clubs in Russia turn a blind eye to escort agencies scouting their 18 years who don’t quite make national level.

As we’ve seen when abuse scandals come to light, different gymnasts recall vastly different experiences with the same coach, often during the same time period. It cannot be overstated how important emotional resilience and mentality is to becoming an elite gymnast. I think in recent times, especially in the US, the feeling is that physical talent should be enough but it never has been, and what Russia/Eastern bloc and China have always been better at is not pushing those who “can’t handle it”.

Are there individual examples of coaches and athletes who have reached the top of gymnastics using mutual respect and a positive environment, absolutely there are, in many countries. But it’s not possible to cultivate a top level program like that, or at least no one has yet figured it out. Domination in gymnastics is only ever achieved by instilling fear and exercising control
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There was a point at which I agreed.

I now strongly disagree and am ashamed of the way that I thought about it in the past. I’m also still dealing with the body image issues that I have had since age 11 and a lifelong battle with toxic perfectionism so I suppose I am intimately acquainted with some of the drawbacks of the sport.

Do I have these issues because I mentally “couldn’t cut it?” Frankly I think that notion comes from the smelly end of a bull. These issues would’ve been 100% unnecessary. Somebody could’ve helped me learn to monitor food intake and body weight in a healthy way instead of it being either totally healthy or completely unhealthy (in my mind). Somebody could’ve helped me understand that even though I was working towards “perfect” execution in a sport, it didn’t define who I am as a person. Frankly I probably would’ve been better at the sport if someone had.

I never, ever want any child of mine, if I end up having kids, to feel the shame I felt over small mistakes or to think that they need to avoid ever making a mistake in the first place even to learn.

I have become convinced that positive motivation works better in the long run. It can be harder at first in a sports environment because it takes time to cultivate, whereas anger works right off the bat, but positive motivation grows in potency as negative motivation declines. We all recognize that gymnasts need to be self-motivated to a good extent to excel in the sport. Negative motivation with it’s degradation of self-concept actually damages that motivation over time in that there is a point where it breaks the spirit of the athlete. How many athletes of the past retired earlier than necessary because they just didn’t want to deal with the mental end of it anymore? I am sure it was more than we know by a huge degree.
Yes. To be frank, you couldn’t hack it. There’s no shame in that, the majority of people cannot hack the mental and emotional pressure of elite level sport, even when they have the physical talent. That’s why those who do reach the top are truly extraordinary.

I couldn’t hack it either, I did RG and it left me with eating disorders and drug use which persist to this day.

Ultimately this goes back to what I said previously about the tendency in America to not remove those who are struggling. In Russia it’s different as the coach will usually say look, she doesn’t have what it takes, sorry. That doesn’t seem to happen in America so really it’s about parental responsibility. If your child is struggling then remove them from the situation, even if they say they don’t want you to. You are the parent, so parent.

There is also a tendency as we get older to see our childhood experiences through our adult eyes. Even very trivial things, we look back and say wow, how the heck was that allowed to happen, even though as a child, it felt safe and normal. It’s easy to concentrate on those who were damaged by the sport, but there are many who’ve thrived too. Do I wish there was another way, of course I do. But as someone who has experienced training and coaching in both Britain and Russia, the reason that Britain is just never quite as good and will never be as dominant is that there isn’t enough fear. It’s that simple.
I frankly don’t think it has to be that choice (though if I had to choose I would choose healthy kids), but as long as we keep telling ourselves that we have to be awful to each other in order to win there will continue to be abuse in the sport.

I dislike a lot of the ways in which Tom Forster handled the program the last few years, but “didn’t instill enough fear” is definitely NOT one of my criticisms.
I’m sorry this is kind of a tangent, but do we have reports of emotional abuse for MAGs? I mean, they also train while they’re 12 and 13 so I guess it could happen. I’m trying to understand lately whether and why this is an issue that only seems to affect WAG. Any of the ex gymnasts or heck, women, care to venture a hypothesis? I really have close to no idea what this environment is like.
You absolutely do hear it from the more dominant MAG programs, even GB had a scandal. US Mag does have anything like the culture and ethos of top level MAG programs, it’s basically a NCAA team
Until parents feel the same way and pull their children out then it will continue. Far too many children who cannot cope emotionally are pushed into elite level gymnastics
Frankly this perpetuates the problem and blames the victims. The Maggie Haneys of the world would love this attitude. We also have heard from gymnasts who were very successful elites that the atmosphere in the sport was not okay at multiple levels. They could by your definition “hack it,” so why do they have a problem?
But as someone who has experienced training and coaching in both Britain and Russia, the reason that Britain is just never quite as good and will never be as dominant is that there isn’t enough fear. It’s that simple.
That is so wrong I don’t even know where to begin.

EDIT TO CLARIFY: I am saying that the idea anyone could even think that is "so wrong … " I am not saying “omg, that’s so tru and it is such a shame that is the case!”

It is NOT “that simple” and Britain absolutely could be as good and in theory "could* dominate without resorting to “enough fear”.

Also, I’m sorry I felt it necessary to clarify that. It should pretty much go without saying.
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