At RALIANCE, we are always eager to check back in with our grantees, who are making a direct impact on their communities. We recently spoke with Shelba Waldron, Director of Member Club Education and Outreach at USA Gymnastics.
USA Gymnastics sets the rules and policies that govern the sport of gymnastics, including selecting and training the U.S. Gymnastics Teams for the Olympics and World Championships, promoting and developing gymnastics on the grassroots and national level and serving as a resource center for members, clubs, fans and gymnasts.
In 2021, Waldron and her team earned a RALIANCE grant that helped them to build a framework to create a better culture within gymnastics and across the sport.
RALIANCE: What are some of the sexual harassment challenges that gymnasts face?
Waldron: The principles of an athlete/coach relationship can leave a gymnast vulnerable to the abuses of
a coach because of the nature of the power imbalance inherent in the relationship. Coaches who abuse their power for manipulative or coercive purposes leave their athletes vulnerable to abuse such as sexual, emotional and grooming.
Athletes are asked to trust their coach. A coach that uses their power to manipulate and control the athlete will often groom the family in a similar fashion. While sports can help children increase their circle of safe and supportive adults, some may take advantage of the child and parents trusting instincts.
Athletes can also face abuse by their peers and fellow athletes. These abuses can include bullying, cyberbullying, hazing, sexual harassment, sexual assault and intimate partner violence. There is a fear that athletes will be retaliated against if they speak up in a team environment where it is common for teammates to set expectations of silence.
RALIANCE: How can people who are closely involved in gymnastics help prevent and address sexual harassment in sports?
Waldron: USA Gymnastics Safe Sport Policy states that all interactions between a coach and athlete must occur in observable and interruptible environments, including training sessions, travel, medical treatments and electronic communication. It is vital to empower children to speak up to their parents or trusted adults if they are ever uncomfortable or asked to be in a secluded environment by an adult in a position of authority. Any adult in a position of authority in a member club must be Safe Sport trained, as well as trained in mandatory reporting and emotional abuse. USA Gymnastics encourages parents and members of the community to also become trained in topics of abuse so they can learn to spot the signs of grooming and sexual misconduct.
RALIANCE: Can you tell us a little about the work the RALIANCE grant supported?
Waldron: In 2021, RALIANCE awarded a generous grant for USA Gymnastics to develop a best practices
toolkit for its member clubs. The best practices were crafted using tools developed by and for other youth-serving communities such as youth sports, summer camps, afterschool programs, and childcare, along with direct input from owners of USAG member clubs.
They are categorized into seven areas of focus:
1. Human Resource Practices
2. Athlete Wellness, Injury Prevention, and Injury Response
4. Diversity and Inclusion
5. Environmental Safety
6. Prevention of Abuse and Misconduct
7. Reporting and Responding
After 18 months of work and with the support of Praesidium, a consulting firm that focuses on providing youth-serving organizations a range of services, the “Best Practices Guide and Toolkit,” was introduced to our membership in August 2022. The best practices encompass all aspects of the protection of athletes in the care of the club.
The best practices and self-evaluation were designed to help gymnastics clubs evaluate their risk management practices in areas of hiring, personnel, misconduct and overall safety. This self-evaluation will help the club establish a baseline to determine where they are excelling and identify areas of opportunity. The assessment also provides resources and action plans based on the identified needs.
Each month, USA Gymnastics sends out newsletters to educate its membership on components of the toolkit and includes templates for policies and procedures that the club can implement to help improve its own processes. Live and in-person sessions are planned at our regional congresses all summer to encourage clubs to complete the self-evaluation and to start looking at the protection of athletes as part of a full risk management continuum. We encourage the development of strong policies, robust staff professional development programs in reporting and response, child development and positive coaching practices. We also encourage heightened communication with parents and better protective practices while their child is in the care of a sports club.
RALIANCE: How can readers stay informed and learn about what USA Gymnastics is doing to create a safe and respectful environment in gymnastics?
USA Gymnastics frequently updates the educational opportunities for the community. You can find our webpage for the Best Practices and Toolkit where community members can find templates for policies that are updated weekly, and resources including our Safety Champions page with frequent updates to resources that range in topics from combatting cyberbullying to setting healthy boundaries with minor athletes. We also recently published a Hiring Resource Guide that covers topics related to safe hiring practices, interviewing and onboarding.
USA Gymnastics offers webinars on a myriad of topics that address misconduct, professionalism, supervision and much more.
RALIANCE is a trusted adviser for organizations committed to building cultures that are safe, equitable, and respectful. RALIANCE offers unparalleled expertise in serving survivors of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse which drives our mission to help organizations across sectors create inclusive environments for all. For more information, please visit www.RALIANCE.org.
The RALIANCE Grant Program has supported more than 75 sexual violence prevention projects with a total of $3.2 million in grant funding from the National Football League (NFL). The majority of the grant projects funded to date were awarded to programs serving people of color, LGBTQ+ communities, people with disabilities, religious minorities, immigrants, young people, and others who often are heavily impacted by sexual violence yet historically overlooked by funders. Learn more at www.raliance.org/grant-program/grants.