We all think we know the daily, weekly, monthly life of an Elite athlete based on the life of our own athletes or of those we train.
But how much do you really know?
What do you know of the financial sacrifices made, cruel training techniques used by some coaches, the impact injuries have, and so much more?
Lyn Ferrer, mother of Jr. Elite and soon to be LSU Tiger Bailey Ferrer, spoke to us about the journey her family navigated while Bailey trained at the Elite level.
Here is Part 2 of our interview with Lyn. If you missed Part 1, click here.
GBC: Is age a factor at the Elite level?
LF: With an Elite, they have a lot to lose. One is made to believe your age is a huge factor. So, to an Elite gymnast the clock is ticking fast especially if you are injured in the winter months, in hopes you will be ready for spring/summer Classics and Championships.
GBC: What types of financial strains are incurred on an Elite family?
LF: We built a home and within 6 months we refinanced our home not once, but 3 times to support Bailey’s Elite travels to and from the “Ranch”, the USA Gymnastics National Training Center. The amount of monies for qualifying meets, hotels, American Classics, P&G’s, Classics, etc.; none of which includes your normal gym fees, doctor visits, and surgeries.
Did I mention your grocery shopping list changes as well, for your gymnast.
GBC: How do medical expenses and injuries play into the process?
LF: Medical expenses can be huge when an injury happens. The little broken toes, fingers, and ribs that pop out is a common thing. We hustle to get the x-ray to see if the growth plate is involved. Nine times out of ten, it is.
You get one of those body parts lasered for 2 weeks to speed up recovery, still train and do what event you can. If it’s a broken toe you buddy tape or wear sneakers but training continues. The bigger breaks cost a fortune.
I recommend for Elite parents to purchase Aflac accidentally insurance on top of what your child already has. Most importantly make sure you have medical insurance that includes MRIs.
Bailey is a walking light, she is up to 14 MRIs in her career.
As parents in this sport we taught Bailey to except that injuries are a part of the sport. The higher level and more hours in the gym lead to your chances of injury at some point.
If a gymnast can except that injuries will occur, it makes it a bit easier on their minds. However, the disappointment isn’t any less.
GBC: Some Elite level coaches are rumored to be “intense”. Have you witnessed any of that and/or did you have to shield Bailey from these situations?
LF: I will without a doubt say yes. Having traveled to qualifying meets, both my husband and I have spoken about how different the Elite world really is. Most of the coaches we heard stories about, came directly from the gymnast herself while talking to Bailey and comparing each other’s coach.
GBC: Talk about the mental state or demeanor of Elite gymnasts.
LF: Elite girls are so serious, and have trouble expressing themselves in a positive manner. It’s like watching robots. Each gymnast was so conditioned to think one way. Be one way. Never get too close to the other coach’s gymnast. Except when you were one of the lucky ones to have been chosen to attend the camps at the Ranch, you did bond with your Elite teammates. A forever bond to this day for Bailey.
Much different from the JO world. All because Elite gymnasts go through the brutal wear and tear of their bodies with no complaining, the girls push through the sometimes never-ending screaming, threats, and degrading by their coach. A friendship that is forever understood.
Most of the coach’s Elite gymnasts were expected to perform during verification to perfection. If you did not, the gymnast paid the consequences and were at times left alone while the coach walked out of the gym for hours leaving the child feeling like a failure.
GBC: Do you feel any of Bailey’s coaches or have you witnessed other coaches using inappropriate coaching techniques? What were these techniques?
LF: These types coaches have carried a reputation for years now. As a parent receiving that phone call from far away hearing her voice in complete hysteria, she had been told in an abusive way “you are worthless” was devastating to say the least. As parents, you learn how to calm that situation down so your child is ready to go back to training with all the confidence in the world.
One of the most common situations is being told, after spending hours on bars, to climb the rope 5 times or more. And then blood begins to appear on the upper private area of the gymnast due to repeatedly being sent up the rope or else.
When a coach loses his temper to the point he picks up a podium box and throws it at the gymnast, and you better move out of the way.
Your coach takes a shoe off and throws it at you.
A coach uses force and throws you off the bar out of frustration as if you, the gymnast, are purposely not making the correction.
If you are being demeaned to the point of having to stand in the center of the floor while your teammates are being told to stand around you while the coach calls you disgusting and degrades you for 45 minutes to an hour and you are numb with disbelief.
A coach does not have the right to text a gymnast and for hours telling them how disappointed they are in them.
Pushing a gymnast to get the best out of them is not going to happen out of brutality and to the point the gymnast begins to believe they are a worthless human being. The gymnast at this point will give up the sport, many think of suicide and some have tried. At best, many are under a psychologist.
GBC: When does it become necessary for a parent to report a coach to either USA Gymnastics or Safe Sport?
LF: In my opinion and being involved in depth within the gymnastics world at all levels, you need to pay close attention to your gymnast. More than likely she will not come right out and give details of her concerns out of fear of what the coach will do to her. If in fact she tells her parent that she is being harassed, threatened and/or physically attacked in anyway, this must be reported. If punishment is being used in a physical manner for not be able to correct a skill in the manner in which is being asked of you this is also a problem.
GBC: Looking back, was there ever a time you should have called USA Gymnastics or Safe Sport on one of Bailey’s coaches? If yes, why didn’t you?
LF: As we look back on Bailey’s Elite training, my answer would be yes, we should have filed a complaint throughout those specific years.
There was not a Safe Sport during Bailey’s years of competing Elite. I coached while she was being trained and stayed very close to situations that occurred. I admit, I thought I could get her through each incident once she was home and we began damage control with her almost nightly. Having to mentally put her back on track.
Bailey is one of those kids that has the ability and maturity that she could realize the craziness of her coach was his issue, not hers. She learned to ignore the negativity and only hear the corrections vs. the threats and demeaning comments and lectures.
GBC: Did Bailey ever come to a point when she said, “Enough is enough!”?
LF: Yes. I asked her after P&G Championships in 2014 if she wanted to move gyms. Knowing in my heart it would have been the right time. She would have one more year as a Jr. Elite before becoming a Sr. Elite.
Even after dealing with many incidents at her gym, she convinced us she had the mental strength to pursue her training and stay put. A year went by with some small injuries and then, unfortunately, our luck ran out.
One day within a split second of her coach demanding and threatening her to continue, Bailey began to “speaking back” clearly explaining why she needed to stop. The threats and harassment continued with much aggression and anger. Bailey pushed through knowing she was seriously hurt.
That was the last time she ever stepped into her gym of 5 years.
GBC: Did you ever want to pull Bailey out of gymnastics or move her back to Level 10?
LF: I would have never pulled her out or suggest that. Her father and I have watched Bailey come into this world with a special talent and passion for this sport. It truly has been her life. We promised her full support through the good or bad at any given moment. It would be her decision if she ever wanted to pursue a different avenue.
As far as dropping back to level 10 she made this decision after competing what would be her last time at the Ranch.
GBC: When did Bailey make the decision to drop back to Level 10?
LF: Before dropping back, Bailey had a couple of goals. One was to qualify as a Sr. Elite. She did this at the Ranch, Bailey won Bronze on Bars, and she did it in front of Martha Karolyi before she retired. Bailey then had one more goal to wrap up.
She competed Internationally in Canada. She wanted to win be the AA Champion and she did. I had a gut feeling once we got back she would lay down her Elite career.
Bailey felt it was best for her body to cut back a little and concentrate on her LSU future as a Tiger and the hopes to walk in strong to compete all 4 years. This was by far the hardest decision she made and, in some ways, even for us. We wanted her to have no regrets. I’m not sure that is, or will ever be the case.
GBC: Knowing what you know now, would you have allowed Bailey to become an Elite gymnast? Why or why not?
LF: As we look back on everything, yes would we have done things differently. We probably should’ve given more consideration to other elite coaches that were interested in Bailey and observed a bit more. However, choosing the path we took as a family we do give credit to her former coaches for Bailey’s successes in the time which she competed Elite.
Do I think it’s important more than ever for both the parent and gymnast to know their coaches style and their personal believes in how an Elite gymnast should be trained, absolutely. This is the key to a young gymnast physically having a better chance of lasting in their Elite career.
GBC: What have Bailey and your family learned from her Elite journey?
LF: What the Elite experience has taught her is something that cannot be taught by her dad or me. It has taught Bailey to be determined, to persevere, have faith in God, and to know what absolute sacrifices are.
The support is a must for any Elite hopeful pursuing their dream. I hope she will take these life lessons with her into adulthood and mentor a young gymnast along the way. Even for me, coaching girls in this sport at any level, all that matters are that they have a smile on their face and walk out of the gym feeling accomplished. That is the bottom line. I know then I am doing my job well.
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