Does Your Club Have HUGS?



Source: USA Gymnastics

HUGS, Hope Unites Gymnastics with Special Athletes, is a competitive program offered through USA Gymnastics for athletes with special needs.

The mission of HUGS is, “To grow the sport of [gymnastics] by creating a program that integrates athletes with special needs into mainstream events”.

Gyms and athletes have multiple competitive programs to choose from including; Women’s Artistic Gymnastics, Men’s Artistic Gymnastics, Power TeamGym, Rhythmic Gymnastics, and Trampoline and Tumbling!

The philosophy of each HUGS program is to give the opportunity to HUGS athletes to participate in a USA Gymnastics sanctioned event with the option to compete alongside Junior Olympic athletes.

USA Gymnastics writes, “The expectations are that the fundamentals of the sport are to be taught and performed, and will be evaluated with the technical standards of [artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, and trampoline & tumbling].”

Basic participation requirements for all HUGS program’s coaches and participants are –

  • Athletes must have a current USA Gymnastics Introductory membership
  • Coaches must be a USA Gymnastics professional members
  • HUGS competition can be included in any session of USA Gymnastics sanctioned meets

HUGS’ Artistic and Rhythmic routine requirements can be meet by either using routines from the Special Olympics or by creating your own routines based on the HUGS requirements.

Cindy Bickman, owner of Chattooga Gymnastics & Dance, USA Gymnastics Advisory Council member representing the Special Olympics, and a founding member of the HUGS program, it can be beneficial to use the Special Olympics routines so that athletes can participate in both HUGS and the Special Olympics.

The benefits of HUGS, according to Bickman, are many which includes INCLUSION!

“Gymnasts with special needs are like all other gymnasts.  they have the same love of the sport, willingness to work, and excitement when they achieve success.  So, they should be in the gym and on the competition floor with everybody else.  Sometimes, I think the gymnasts who do not have disabilities benefit the most from seeing the HUGS gymnasts.”

Trampoline & Tumbling and TeamGym use scaled down versions of USA Gymnastics’ program requirements.

You can read more about each HUGS program’s requirements by clicking here!

HUGS competitions can be found throughout the country.  USA Gymnastics and Special Olympics North America sanction a Championship meet for HUGS and Special Olympics’ athletes each year.

Source: USA GymnasticsBickman hopes everyone would consider starting a HUGS or Special Olympics program in their gym.

She states, “It will be the most amazing journey anyone can imagine!  The rewards are worth so much more than the time and effort spent starting the program.  It’s a win-win situation.  As a gym owner, can you imagine the hurt the parents feel when their children are not allowed to participate in activities because they have special needs?  And can you imagine how they feel when you not only open your gym doors to those children, but welcome them as a special part of your program?

If you do not have a HUGS program or Special Olympics program in your gym, USA Gymnastics has some great resources to help you get started.  You can find these educational resources HERE.

In addition, USA Gymnastics held a webinar with Cindy Bickman called, “Working with Special Needs Children” to help you start your program.

For further HUGS information or competition information, contact Cindy Bickman at

Source: USA Gymnastics


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