Things Are Happening – December 9, 2021

A. Tom Forster Goes To Farm Upstate

Congratulations, you can now officially go back to having no opinions about Tom Forster and thinking about him never. No one is happier about this than Tom. The internet is in 2nd.

Yesterday, Tom Forster announced his resignation as High Performance Coordinator after a three-and-a-half year tenure marked by printing out the all-around results and standing there. While Forster successfully cleared the extremely low bar of not being an active criminal, he ultimately proved ill-suited to the strategic, technical, interpersonal, and public-facing requirements of the position. This had to happen.

It now falls to USAG to try to fill this nuclear sludge barrel of a job once again. Expectations are low. USAG may be best served at this point by hiring an elite national team head coach—one whose purview is routine feedback, coach development, and a non-abusive culture but who is explicitly not involved in team selection—then hiring a literal Excel document to select teams, and establishing a separate injury-petition committee made up of definitely-not-the-coaches to intervene on judgement calls that a spreadsheet and extensive documentation can’t manage.

But if USAG maintains the same structure, there are a few things that can be done to avoid some of the recent pitfalls.   

–Rewrite all selection methodology from scratch, making sure it is clear, detailed, and explicit for every single spot on any competition team or national team. Make sure it is published many months before selection, and make sure it is actually followed when selection occurs. Also, make sure it’s not just “the all-around standings” because that has no bearing on team score in 3-up, 3-count. It has to make sense.

For better or worse, I think we’ve moved beyond “the remaining spots will be at the discretion of the selection committee.” That’s not to say it doesn’t work—just ask Valentina, whose “I will pick the ones I like the most because I have eyes and obviously, and you all can shut your stupid fart nozzles” strategy proved the most successful by far this year. But that’s no longer an option for a USAG that might occasionally have to answer for its actions and should be trying to be…not horrible to everyone all the time? There will continue being no trust in the new national team coordinator, so every decision needs to be justifiable with evidence.

So if it’s not going to be “THE COMMITTEE’S DISCRETION,” while still trying to win and select the best teams, the system should be detailed, mathematical, and complicated. Math is not a vice. Complicated is not a vice. It’s how you can arrive at the actual most successful team while covering all the bases for all possible weirdies that might happen and trying to maintain some semblance of fairness in a process that is always going to be at least a little bit unfair.

I will obviously have a problem with it, and I’m not alone in that (hello, beloved gargoyles), but when you can point to, “See, this is the method, this is what we said we would do, and we stuck to it” things go better.

–Clearly communicate expectations to the athletes using human words. Secrets help nothing. This isn’t a reality show, much to the chagrin of NBC. You don’t need to create a dramatic reveal. No one should be surprised that they didn’t make the national team, or why. They should be in constant communication with the national team coordinator and know exactly what they have to do (where they have to place, what events they need to show and at what level) well in advance of any competition.

–Fully reconstruct national team camps as a learning experience rather than a proving-yourself experience—and completely separate them from public, full-routine, scored selection competitions. None of this verification camp business. Verification as a concept is an unhelpful holdover from the previous regime. National team camps should be a place where athletes and coaches learn from each other and get feedback from a national team staff that is empowered to intervene and qualified to provide expert skill analysis, as well as judges who can say “hey, Donatella just did a Zoom where she said that leap is XXXXXXX, so you shouldn’t do it,” rather than being a pressure cooker of secrets.

Experience trying to hit under pressure is also valuable, so by all means have more public competitions that are used to select teams for meets (we like watching gymnastics, and there’s no pressure like a camera), but that should be a completely separate thing from a training camp.

–Get smarter and more humble. The US is not the best team in the world, but should try to be again. Look at what the team that’s beating you is doing better than you instead of just assuming that you’re the best and that any time you don’t win is unfair or out of your control. Follow the trends and try to gain every tenth. Based on experience and precedent, I’m half-seriously worried that the US is going to show up in 2022 doing a bunch of side jumps on beam with the old technique, and that’s a problem.

–Select someone who is media savvy and good at handling criticism. This is a criticism-based job at which 90% of people will hate you at any given moment. You’re always the Big Bad. Be good at dealing with that instead of pissy about it.

–Also, still, don’t be an abuser or general criminal of any kind. I mean it shouldn’t need to be said, but this is USAG, so that winnows out at least 87% of the possible candidates.

B. Fun Stuff?

OK, this is mostly about Tom, but here’s something else to lighten the load.

It’s college preview season, and several of the teams are making their events available to your humble self before the season kicks off with opening day between Kentucky and Arizona State on January 5th. Here are the upcoming events you can actually watch so far:

Thursday, December 9
7:00pm ET/4:00pm PT – Michigan, Central Michigan, Western Michigan Exhibition (Stream – $) (Scores)

Friday, December 10
6:30pm ET/3:30pm PT – William & Mary Preview (Facebook)

Saturday, December 11
3:00pm ET/12:00pm PT – Georgia First Look (SEC+)

Friday, December 17
9:00pm ET/6:00pm PT – Utah Red Rocks Preview (Free stream)
9:00pm ET/6:00pm PT – Arizona State* (this used to have a stream listed but doesn’t anymore, FYI)
10:00pm ET/7:00pm PT – UCLA Meet the Bruins (P12N)

7 thoughts on “Things Are Happening – December 9, 2021”

  1. Thank God Tom’s gone. Whoever they bring in needs to prove they know the new 2022-2024 Code of Points backwards and forwards. Tom seemed to have HUGE deficiencies in his knowledge of the Code and we need a coordinator who can maximize both team scores and the scores of individual gymnasts.

    Spencer made an excellent point about camps. I hadn’t thought of it before, but almost every camp does seem to be tied to a semi-high-stakes competition. As Spencer said, the national team more than ever needs to make a collaborative effort in helping every member of the team improve their skills and routines rather than focusing all effort on “verification.”

    And I’m all for clearer team selection guidelines. In fact, that would take pressure off of the coordinator since he or she would have a clear criteria to use to explain the selection. In the Tom era, he always had to explain his selections because the guidelines were so opaque.

  2. For most of 2020 and 2021, I thought he needed to be gone, and I’m not unhappy he’s resigned. But after the Games I realized he is a microcosm of all the problems the next NTC or NTC like person is going to have to address. So keeping him in the role and hiring a consultant to educate and correct him would have also been an acceptable next step. He’s fundamentally not a good fit for this position (ex: communicating with media, or anyone really) and his resignation was inevitable. But yes, Simone is right, he was not the problem. IMO, he just embodied all the problems. In terms of barriers to international success, though, the freakin’ judges need an overhaul. What is the point in selecting teams based on scores if those scores don’t live in reality?

  3. Various people keep referring to problems but have not actually communicated the specifics of these problems. The USA gymnastics system is supposed to be decentralized meaning a vast majority of a gymnast’s time is spent at their home gym. Now, I completely recognize their failings when it comes to the handling of sexual and physical abuse – that side of USA gymnastics is shameful and abhorrent and is still a massive problem to work through.

    But on the performance side, what more can USA gymnastics do beyond employing a solid performance coordinator, hosting camps that are beneficial to elite team members, and developing crystal clear team selection procedures? If the coaches don’t develop gymnasts properly, then no amount of national team coordination is going to fix anything. The issue with Tom is that his communication skills were disastrous and his team preparation and selection skills were horrendous. If you fix Tom, the camps, and the selections, how much more on the performance side is there to fix?

    I still haven’t wrapped my head around what the “deeper” problem is supposed to be and I don’t know if people actually know when they say it either. I wish Simone would expand on her thoughts because she was in the middle of it and could explain better than almost anyone what she means by “Tom isn’t the problem.”

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