Funk has done gymnastics at our local Parks and Rec since she was a toddler. While we’ve tried other sports (too short for basketball, not aggressive enough for soccer) gymnastics has always been her happy place. That’s really important, because she has a fair amount of anxiety in general.
“When I am doing gymnastics,” she said all the time, “I don’t feel stressed out or worried or angry. I’m happy. I just feel free.“
Last year, some of Funk’s favorite coaches decided that some of the girls might benefit from a competition team. After all, what good would basketball practices be if you never played a game? How would you assess your golf skills if you only practiced your long ball and putting, and never played out 18 holes? Competition is a vital part of gymnastics.
Funk competed at the very lowest level, at the lowest level of commitment. It didn’t cost much extra, we had $15 leotards, but she loved it and she flourished. If she loved gymnastics before, after that first season it became an obsession. Funk went from someone who “did gymnastics” to being a GYMNAST.
After the competition season, over last summer, our gymnastics program fell under a new Director. She had more experience than our past director, but she also came with a LOT of baggage. From the beginning, she was often thoughtless in the way she spoke to other coaches. She rubbed parents the wrong way. She had a sordid past that was whispered about in the parent waiting room from the moment she stepped on the scene– a past that, if uncorrected, made her not the best role model l for our girls.
Whatever you are thinking about? Yes, that. And that. And that, too.
But I waited.
I believe in fresh starts. No one would want to be judged forever by their worst moments– I sure wouldn’t. We owe each other that grace, I think.
So I waited.
I stepped up as president of the Booster Club. I volunteered to sew leotards for the whole team, to save everyone money and so the girls could have something a little fancier than they had the year before. I baked cookies for bake sales, I volunteered at events. I ran meetings. I tried to advocate for our girls.
Over time, it became obvious to me and many other parents that not much had changed for the Director (Let’s call her Critical McSoulcrusher, or CMS for short.) One of our very first interactions with her involved receiving an email sent to all parents that called us “uneducated” and told us that all of the problems we had were because of US. There was little information exchanged, other than what was expected of US, and how we had failed in those (previously uncommunicated) expectations. When information was exchanged, it was often incomplete or completely inaccurate. She treated the parents like stupid children who were only there to write checks, and the coaches under her even worse. I received the brunt of this, because of the role I had volunteered to take on.
This blog post could never be long enough to catalog all of the many, many, MANY awful ways CMS treated people, me in particular. It was bad.
Never one to keep my damn mouth shut, I involved her supervisor. CMS was “talked to.” That happened a few times, but nothing seemed to change. There was never an admission of wrong doing, never an apology– only excuses followed by why it was our own fault. Then I talked to CMS’s boss’s boss. Nada. With each new transgression, each more unbelievable than that last, I just kept going up the chain. Nothing. Surveys were taken, but no results were ever shared. Some parents and myself launched a letter and phone campaign to have our concerns heard. NOTHING. I knew we were in trouble when the Director of the entire Parks and Rec yelled at me for “harassing his employee” though he had never spoken to me before. He didn’t doubt the veracity of these transgressions, mind you… but his answer was to stop letting the girls compete– to go back to a purely practice-only gymnastics program. In short, punish the children to make the parents stop making waves.
What did CMS’s transgressions look like?
Pointing to a bunch of 6 year olds at their first competition and saying to our girls, “look at them, they are 6 years old and better than you guys.” (Though true, how or why was this helpful to our girls?! She said this kind of thing all the time, pitting our girls against each other and making them feel bad about themselves.)
Telling my seven year old that she was yelling at her because she was upset her own uncle had been brutally murdered a few days prior. (My daughter doesn’t need to know that real people get murdered in real life at SEVEN.)
Yelling at the two other coaches AT A COMPETITION, in front of judges and the girls. (Um, whoa. Just whoa.)
Texting through the entirety of another competition, instead of watching the girls. (Not coincidentally, the team of girls who had won the least at meets.)
Throwing two twelve year old girls out of the gym for rolling their eyes at her, leaving those girls completely unsupervised. She did not call the parents, she did not even step foot outside the gym to see where they had gone. One of the girls walked out of the facility unsupervised, in a not-stellar area of town. (Um. SUPER WHOA.)
Repeatedly ordering me to write a check to her for expenditures that were a) not voted on by the Booster club and b) had no receipts. (I quit my role with Booster club after this happened the second time. I told her to stop emailing me, that I would send everything she sent me to everyone, because they were so hateful and rude. Her quote? “Release the check to me and I will release YOU.”)
But unarguably the worst transgression? She was tearing down our girls. One by one, I watched Funk and many of her friends start to dread gymnastics practice. It wasn’t the burpees or the falling off the beam that turned them away– it was CMS. CMS never, ever had anything nice to say to any girl that wasn’t a favorite. She only criticized. She only spewed warnings. Long diatribes about how right she was (even if she was wrong), how much experience she had (experience isn’t the same thing as being good at something), and how ONE DAY THEY WOULD THANK HER. She never apologized. She argued for tough love, and told us she wouldn’t coddle our girls, since the world would not. The problem, she said, were the other coaches– who were nice to the girls when they should be hard. In a meeting with Funk, she once came close to paying her a compliment… but then said “don’t get me wrong, you still have a LOT of BAD habits…” (And then went on to list them.)
YEAH. FUNK IS SEVEN. She has plenty of time to learn how hard the world is, how ’bout you back the eff down?
We stuck it out, so Funk could compete, but by March her confidence was shattered, her favorite coaches were fired by CMS for insubordination (daring to challenge her dangerous training approaches and hypocritical policies), and Funk left every practice and meet in tears. In the beginning we talked to Funk about how “different coaches had different styles” and “seeing something through is important, even when it is tough.” We even pulled out the old “CMS wouldn’t be so hard on you if she didn’t think you had talent.”
But by the end of the year, the talks were more like “Funk, it’s time you learned that some people in this world are just mean, thoughtless jerks. And CMS is one of those people. And you get to decide if you are going to tell her that what she said hurt you, or let it go, and that might seem like a lot for an eight year old but she is YOUR coach and she will not care what Mommy says if I try to talk to her about this. You don’t get to call her a jerk, though.”
Instead of being Funk’s Happy Place, gymnastics became the place where she felt she was never good enough. Her beloved coaches she had known since she was 3 years old were gone, and she felt alone and hopeless in the face of an adult that seemed to openly hate her.
Gymnastics no longer made her feel free. It made her feel less than, in every way.
My little girl, who saw herself as nothing less than a future gold medalist at the Olympics a short year ago, became a girl who wouldn’t try ANYTHING without being spotted, because she “knew she would fail.” Because CMS told her she would. She lost skills she gained with other coaches, because she didn’t trust CMS to spot her, or because CMS had convinced her she could not do it.
And then came the day when I mentioned to Funk that she had gymnastics practice and she collapsed on the floor in a heap.
“I would rather quit gymnastics forever,” she said, “than ever be in the gym with CMS ever again. I love gymnastics, but I can’t do this anymore.”
So much nope.
We start a new gym in June. I cannot say if I waited too long to pull her– maybe I should have months ago, even if it meant taking the competition season off, even though she was begging to stay with her friends– I will always second guess how long I let this go on. I can say that we won’t take another day. I did everything in my power to change things, to advocate for my daughter and the other girls I have come to love and be proud of over the past few years. I loved the parks and rec program, and I believed in what it taught our girls, and its place in our community. I did everything I possibly could. I can’t say I always kept fighting the fight for the right reasons (sometimes it was a stubborn refusal to let CMS win, to let her have this thing that we loved, even as she was killing the thing we loved) but for the most part, my reasons were true. I hope the damage done is reversible. I hope Funk can love gymnastics again, that it can be her happy place, where she feels free from the anxiety that haunts so much of her day-to-day life.
There is nothing left to try, and nothing left to stay for.
And so we are gone.
Enough is enough.