The most recent issue of International Gymnast Magazine published a great article about GymACT. The process started a few months back when Jim Holt emailed a few of us coaches, asking some straight-forward questions about our newly formed organization. The timing was perfect. He asked about the very same issues we were painstakingly addressing in our monthly conference calls as well as at our annual membership meeting in Annapolis (National Collegiate Championships), which had just taken place.
"Despite lack of Athletic Department sponsorship, a number of programs are successfully bucking the trend and today men's gymnastics at the highest level collegiately is growing." - Jim Holt, IG Magazine, September 2019
From broad stroke concepts (philosophy, mission statements and long-term dreams) to the nitty gritty logistical details of everyday business, workouts, budget items; we all took a long hard look at our individual programs as well as our collective ideals. Still in our critical early stages of building the organization, we wanted to convey a clear and well defined message our prospective members and the impact we can/must/do create in the gymnastics community around us. We take these responsibilities seriously and consider the effect of our decisions carefully along the way.
Preparing for the IG article helped us more clearly define our organization’s short- and long-term goals. The published story highlighted a few of the topics discussed, painting a good picture of who, what and why we are around. It also defines our vision and the direction in which we want our organization to go.
Equally important to the organization’s consensus is the point of view, opinions, needs and desires of each GymACT member program. Each team’s unique perspective is based on their program’s set of circumstances: location, affiliations, community support, history, strengths and challenges. We use this wide pool of knowledge to systematically create a set of standards that best fits our organization as a whole, today and into the future.
Our thanks to Jim Holt for writing a great article a grateful nod to International Gymnastics Magazine for their publication. Thank you for helping us spread the word of our mission to not only keep men’s college gymnastics alive, but to continue to grow and expand.
To read the IG article please visit: https://www.gripsetc.com/index.php?products&action=products&category_id=22&btx_i=615437&btx_pub_id=9518&btx_m=28762&btx_hl=1&btx_a=3467783&btx_p=38&btx_hl=0&article_id=3467783. (subscription required)
Below are some of the original ACT answers as well as full responses to Mr. Holt's questions from individual programs:
[Breeze on ACT] In less than one year we have already become the platform of choice for every member alternative we conceived for college teams to have in a high-level competitive arena. Our membership is formed of long-time self-funded programs (ASU, UW), newly formed teams (NYA, SCU, NCU), NCAA dropped programs (TMG), NAIGC teams seeking a higher competitive field (NIU).
We may be small in size, but the breadth of experience in our membership is astounding. We can (and have thus far) democratically reach decisions that best suit the organization’s long term vision while taking care of each individual program.
Our broad goal simply is concisely stated in our mission statement: “To foster the growth of men’s college gymnastics.”
In other words: we want more teams, more athletes, longer and healthier gymnastics careers and higher quality gymnastics/competition.
On our website we add: “strengthen and raise the level of our sport and protect the relationships and integrity of Collegiate gymnastics.”
Larger student-athlete body lends itself to (thru effective coaching and positive and healthy competition) higher quality gymnasts. STUDENT-athletes, means we encourage FIRST that these gymnasts pursue an education which may provide a quality of life beyond their competitive gymnastics years.
And: “While promoting the essence of the sport and its competitiveness, we provide ideas and tools to inspire the creation of new teams and support existing programs in their pursuit of higher standards.”
Each program is unique, yet there are many approaches and tools that have been proven effective when starting and growing a successful college gymnastics program. We are devising resources (a manual, if you will) and sharing knowledge and tools to help new teams join and maintain their team.
[Garison, on ACT] In the short term, I feel our goal is to legitimize the organize and build GymACT’s foundation for the future. This needs to be done financially, organizationally, and socially. Together, the founding teams are working diligently to define who we are, how we want to operate, and what we need to do to make sure GymACT benefits the gymnasts most of all. In the long term, our goal is to simply “foster the growth of men’s college gymnastics.” We want to increase the number opportunities for male gymnasts to continue training and competing past high school.
Do you have strategies on how to "create and grow" additional programs and if so, how?
[ACT] In order to grow, one must be clearly defined in the present. From the get-go we built this organization with a strong moral foundation and sense of legitimacy. We set out immediately to establish a clear and concise mission statement; sought/received non-profit (501.c.3) status; created and implemented bylaws & constitution which represent fairly not only the needs of the founding members, but well prepared for a robust and inclusive organization in the years to come.
Creating and growing additional programs relies greatly on our ability to clearly communicate the message: college gymnastics IS healthy and growing. Not a belief, but fact. We have been doing it and we can help YOU start one in your area.
Recruiting tables at gymnastics meets. informing gymnasts/parents about existing programs they can join as well as listening to their intentions of where they will be going to college. Many times they don’t know what training/competing options are. If there is no current program, we support them by contacting local gymnastics community and help them settle into something about which they can be proud; continuing to grow as an athlete.
This year we are going to have a great setup at JO nationals in Reno and hope to create some great-big positive ripples there. We’ll display our materials and chat it up with everybody, promoting college gymnastics with enthusiasm and respect (coaches and athletes from many different GymACT programs will participate in ‘manning’ the tables). The point is to be encouraging of the student-athletes intentions of continuing in gymnastics, wherever he ends up.
Workshops and clinics. Coaches participate in camps all over the place (JO, NAIGC, High Schools) and share their technical expertise as well as information on starting and maintaining a new program. Meetings with members of sister organizations (NCAA, CGA, NAIGC, USAG) at championships.
J.H.: What’s already being done? What’s working? What needs to change?
[Garison, NYA] I think the first step is to look into existing college age teams that are at the skill level of GymACT and would be interested in participating with the organization. Next, we should work with the New Program Committee of the CGA in any way that we can. Finally, utilizing platforms like the NYA, SoCal, and NorCal (teams comprised of students from multiple colleges/universities in a geographical area) we can make it easier to build a full team while providing greater educational opportunities for the athletes.
J.H.: What are the biggest challenges that limit bringing new teams into existence?
[Jesse, Temple] Building/reviving a team takes a specific set of circumstances (facility, coach to lead, funds to operate, etc..) to be successful. There must be a highly dedicated individual that is willing to sacrifice a lot of time, effort and money to get things started, incorporate more individuals, and keep the fire burning, regardless of any obstacles. Since there is no support from the athletic department, the job of a head coach is very complex and demanding. As long as there is a place to train and a dedicated person with a vision, a team can start to form.
[Garison, NYA] I think the biggest challenges are two things:
Compiling dedicated individuals who are willing to work hard to achieve new teams
Ensuring there is long lasting financial support for the team
J.H.: What are the differences between NCAA teams and gymACT teams?
[Breeze, NorCal] Each NCAA team is affiliated with and funded by a single university -- fully supported (cared for and under the rules and regulations of) by said educational institution. GymACT programs, on the other hand, are self-funded (donations, volunteers) and our athletes may attend a college or university of their choice while pursuing his athletic career. While NCAA teams train in common gym/facility, GymACT athletes may do the bulk of their training in their own area (possibly with the same coach(es) he has trained his whole life), coming together as a team whenever possible for workouts, fundraisers and competitions.
Some of the GymACT programs are affiliated with a specific school (i.e. Temple, NIU). These teams are formed by students of a a single university, yet (as mentioned above) self-funded. Athletic departments may offer certain benefits (facility for training and competition) but the athletic department financial support is typically minimal.
[Garison, NYA] The major difference is how they are funded. The NCAA teams are part of the athletic department of a single college/university and recognized by the NCAA. GymACT teams are self funded, not necessarily associated with a single college/university or its departments, and not recognized by the NCAA. We have decided however to adopt the competitive rules the NCAA uses. We also want to ensure that GymACT is supportive of the NCAA and the NAIGC and that we all co-exist in a way to best support each other.
J.H.: How does your team fund itself?
[Jesse] My team has taught several clinics this year, set up equipment at meets, data entry at meets, alumni donations, stick pledge, selling apparel, raffles. We are hosting our first meet fundraiser on April 13, which we hope to grow in the coming years.
[Breeze, NorCal] Because of our unique geographic situation (athletes coming from a wide area covering much of Northern California) we rely on individual donations and affiliated gyms to help support our team financially.
Supporting gyms donate their facility (and coaching staff time) so that our athletes can train free of charge. Work-trade agreements also help offset training costs. Gyms share their fundraising event proceeds (meets, rec events, sales) to our organization. We host a Youth Ninja event at Technique a few times per year and 100% of the funds goes to the program.
[Garison, NYA] As of right now, we have funded ourselves with personal donations, donations from individual supporters, and selling apparel. We hope to help with meet set-up and break-down, host JO competitions, and provide any other services to the NY JO and Region 7 Gymnastics program that they may need from us.
J.H.: How do you recruit?
[Jesse, Temple] Phone calls, emails, social media, anything and everything. The team needs to have a strong presence and be “on the map”. Once people are aware there is a team by means of social media, website, and most importantly, through competition, students will start to be drawn to the program. I also make sure to set up a table at States, Regionals, and Nationals to chat to JO gymnasts and parents about GymACT and my program. I also inform the local high schoolers about any open house dates that Temple has. That way they can see the facility, meet the coaches and members, as well as explore the campus.
[Breeze, Norcal] We are in constant communication with local coaches, teams, gyms and schools. Some of our team members are also JO coaches, so we have a presence/representation at many of the local competitions. Meet directors (local, state and regional) are always gracious in helping us set-up space and tables for advertising materials at their home meets.
Having a wide area from which to pull can be both a benefit as well as a hindrance when it comes to recruiting. Sure, it gives us more flexibility to say “You can go to any college/university in your area and still be part of our team”, but than we have to make sure that student-athlete and his needs are locally addressed (training, coaching, traveling, etc).
[Garison, NYA] We visit USAG JO State, Regional and National Competitions to promote our program, inform people about who we are and how we operate, and speak to athletes/families that may benefit from participating with NYA. We use every commutative platform possible to build awareness about NYA (Social Media, Website, Phone, Emails, Etc). We invite NY high school upperclassmen to participate in NYA recruiting events.
What are the long-term objectives for YOUR program?
[Breeze, NorCal] Our number one goal this year was to qualify to Nationals as a team -- that, by the way is the first line item in the GymACT membership agreement. This is our second season and we were able to gather enough momentum with our small roster to fulfill the national qualifying score of 275.00 points. Twice this year we overcame that and our team was fully represented at National Championships this year. Long term goal is to have a FULL roster (5 up on each event) and continue to edge up our team scores in order to be more competitive with the rest of the RTN pack.
[Jesse, Temple] To me, ASU has paved the way for ideal success in our tier. They are fully self-sustainable, have a fantastic gym, multiple coaches, a large roster, and they develop excellent citizens and gymnasts, who later become judges and coaches for our very community. I look up to what Scott Barclay and his team have built and there is a lot for me to learn and to implement with my program at Temple. Therefore, long term, I would like to see a full squad of 20-30 Owls training high level gymnastics in North Philadelphia, giving back to the community, providing services, competing well, sustaining ourselves year-to-year, and winning in both the classroom and gym.
What are the biggest challenges for YOUR program?
[Breeze, NorCal] Raising enough funds to fulfill our needs to fulfill our goals is probably the biggest ongoing concern. Secondly, the wide geographic expanse of our student-athletes. We work hard to create a unified team experience for the team members -- travel arrangements, for example, have an added level of complexity, but with a little bit of foresight it is a manageable task.
What are your views on the future of men's college gymnastics?
[Josh, NIU] The future should be in gymACT scholarships being partially funded by taxing head counts at JO meets -- $10 per head and should go to kids who will go on to compete for gymACT and the USAG collegiate nationals.
[Breeze, NorCal] College gymnastics needs to be guided by a strong, yet malleable organization. The robust infrastructure already laid by GymACT supports both well-established gymnastics programs as well as new-and-developing teams. NCAA is the current standard of competitive excellence, but its strict rules and restrictions limit the number of athletes able to join their teams. Increasing participation is a key element to improving the quality and enjoyment of the sport. We need to adapt to the changing demands of a shifting educational landscape. The physical and mental health of our student-athletes needs to be addressed; as well as the longevity, let alone quality, of their gymnastics careers.