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Sailing the Storm From a Business Owner’s Perspective
By Tina Ferriola

In lieu of the events surrounding USA Gymnastics there are many topics that may be difficult to address or discuss but I would like to share some learning opportunities I have had over the last few months. I hope it will help you navigate the waters in your own program or business. As the owner/CEO of NYC Elite my top priority is to move forward in a positive direction and provide the ultimate protection to the athletes in our gymnastics clubs and industry.

1. Communication is KEY
I feel the number one priority you must have within your organization at this critical time is communication. Yes I agree it is uncomfortable to bring up and discuss some aspects related to abuse in our industry but it is absolutely essential. I have heard some club owners mention that they have not heard anyone or very few in their club ask about the abuse relating to our sport but I can assure you in the notion that your customers are thinking about it even if they do not verbalize it. It is our responsibility as owners, program managers, and coaches to bring light to the situation. Use this opportunity to acknowledge it, show your support to the survivors, and to assure parents their children are in a protected safe environment. Take time to explain the safety measures you have in place for well being of their children as well as the policies you have in place at your club to create a positive safe training environment for your students.

2. Give People the Means to Help
During our communications with our families at NYC Elite the response and willingness to help and support the survivors is enormous. It is absolutely amazing to see the network of gymnasts, parents, and coaches come together with such a desire to help and assist their fellow athletes. It certainly goes to show what a passionate sport we are part of and how by joining together we can make huge difference. As a member of the National Gymnastics Foundation Board it has been an honor to chair the Athlete Assistance Fund to provide the financial means and guidance for gymnasts that have suffered sexual abuse in the sport of gymnastics to obtain counseling services. Use your creativity to develop different events and methods your families can be part of in supporting the survivors and overall safety in our sport. We are organizing a Fun Run for our athletes and local clubs to participate in support the athletes by raising funds for the Athlete Assistance Fund. You will be astonished by the amount of generosity and support the gymnastics industry has for one another.

3. Use Your Resources!
As difficult a topic that abuse and child welfare will be in the beginning to discuss you will be astonished at the resources and individuals that will come forward to help you continually raise the awareness and safety in your facilities. Many of your club parents may specialize in careers such as social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and child welfare workers and they will want to provide assistance in continually providing the optimal safety and well being to the gymnasts in your club. Another terrific resource to utilize is your local Child Advocacy Center (CAC). I highly recommend hosting a safety forum within your organization to educate and enlighten the parents AND athletes about the safety policies in place at your club. The local CAC specializes in educating and knowing how to discuss sexual abuse and grooming processes to adults and children. Most often they will come in complimentary or for a nominal fee per child (to cover the cost of a workbook) and educate your organization on safety and abuse. Your customers will be grateful for the opportunity to address this topic and know you as an owner have their child’s safety and well being as a top priority. It is essential for the children to hear this information in front of their peers, parents, and coaches.

Make it a priority to continually review and improve your safety policies within your organization. Make it an effort to talk to fellow club owners and program managers about what safety policies they implement within their facilities. We can only learn from each other and everyone is willing to share. If we can learn from the past to improve the future we will all be in a better spot moving forward. And once again, do not be afraid to address the uncomfortable topics. Your customers will appreciate it and your athletes will be provided with the safe and positive training environment they deserve.