Leading gymnasts and coaches are calling for a radical transformation of the culture surrounding young athletes and believe enhanced support networks can blaze a trail for change.
Eminent names in gymnastics, in addition to coaching and child protection specialists, gathered on a Safe in Gymnastics webinar delivered by M.I.C Gymnastics in aid of the NSPCC to deliver their verdict on how to improve aspiring athletes’ experiences.
The webinar, which was supporting the NSPCC Child Protection in Sport Unit, Parents in Sport Week campaign, looked at how positive parental involvement, and relationships with coaches, can help keep young people safe and enjoying their sport.
The discussion was hosted by two-time Commonwealth Games competitor Mimi-Isabella Cesar and also featured Max Whitlock’s coach Scott Hann.
Kay Salisbury, former elite gymnast and sports psychotherapist, also shared her insight while Olympic medallist Amy Tinkler - accompanied by her mum, Nora - contributed to the discussion.
The webinar covered a number of topics and Hann, also Director of Coaching for the South Essex Gymnastics Club, believes enhanced emphasis on mental health and communication holds the key to effecting change.
“Over the last 15 years of my journey, I’ve realised that you’ve got to focus on motivation, inspiration, respect and empathy,” he said.
“And from that, you gain a mutual respect and a motivation from the athlete that means the only thing you need to do is enhance it, and enjoy the journey with them.
“It’s not just about the mental health - it’s about the inspiration and the feel for loving what you do.
“It’s always about responsibility and leadership to make sure coaches, and parents, know how to interact and communicate and get the best, and most safe, environment possible.
“It is absolutely essential for welfare to have that ability and power to be able to step in and deal with something, but in a non-confrontational way.
“Again, that comes from leadership. You need to have that ability to intervene, and intervene is the biggest word, and not cause a conflict.
“It’s all about communication. I think it’s all about treating everybody as equals - there’s no one major player in all of this and everyone is here doing their part.
“We are all equals and we have to work together to get the best out of everybody. That environment is absolutely key.”
Laura Whapham, Child Protection in Sport Senior Consultant at NSPCC CPSU Wales, and broadcaster Charlie Webster were also involved in the insightful discussion.
The significance of the webinar was heightened by the experiences shared by Tinkler and Cesar, who were candid about the poor coaching relationships they had struggled with in the past.
Revolutionising the environment surrounding young athletes was at the heart of the debate and Salisbury believes transparent relationships between coaches, parents and athletes are fundamental for further progress to be made.
“The current research shows that good quality relationships in all support systems helps the athlete to tolerate stress in high-pressured environments,” she said.
“And that means that athletes are likely to perform better, to suffer less with injuries and to continue with the sport much longer.
In whatever form, mistreatment is unacceptable and has no place in gymnastics. Any gymnast who feels they have been mistreated should report it either to our Integrity Unit firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the BAC/NSPCC Helpline on 0800 056 0566 pic.twitter.com/8vIDqPGkF8
— British Gymnastics (@BritGymnastics) August 4, 2020
“There needs to be a level of honesty that the opposite of that could actually be quite detrimental to the athlete, where the support networks almost act like an emotional crutch.
“We need to be looking at outward, trustworthy behaviours. To reassure the athlete that whatever this is, we can handle it and make it really safe. We need to look at being non-judgmental and around respect and respecting their feelings.
“Creating a safe environment at home, or in the gym as well, where we can start to have those conversations.
“It’s around communication, and feeling safe in relationships to have that communication.”
Childline service provides a safe, confidential place for children with no one else to turn to, whatever their worry, whenever they need help. £4 could help answer one call to Childline. Visit //virginmoneygiving.com/team/MICGymnastics to donate.
This summer, following a number of gymnasts speaking out on their experiences of abuse, mistreatment and bullying within the sport, the British Athletes Commission funded the NSPCC to set up a free, confidential and independent helpline as a safe space for anyone in gymnastics to voice their concerns. If you have concerns about mistreatment in gymnastics the NSPCC & BAC helpline is available on 0800 056 0566.