After a lengthy search, USA Gymnastics has just named Tom Forster as the new women’s national team coordinator.
The national coordinator position had previously been held by Martha Karolyi from 2001 until her retirement after the 2016 Olympic Games, upon which Valeri Liukin, who had been in charge of the developmental program for three years prior, was named as her replacement. Liukin served in the role for just over a year, leading the U.S. women to four medals at world championships in Montreal before resigning in February.
We participated in a conference call with Forster this afternoon, who said:
“I’m humbled and excited for the opportunity to lead the elite community in a forward, positive direction. It’s an exciting time, but we have some challenges ahead and I’m excited to tackle those. I’ve been helping the coaches through the elite development system for the past six years and I’m happy to have a great relationship with them.”
According to USA Gymnastics president and CEO Kerry Perry, Forster “has a training philosophy aligned with a culture that supports and hears our athletes.” She noted that athletes and coaches needed to be part of the hiring of the new head of the women’s national team, and so the board spoke with current and former athletes and coaches, included their questions in the interview process, and incorporated their feedback into the selection process.
In his interview just after being announced, Forster talked about the culture within the national team and the sport in general, and said his main priority is making sure gymnasts know that they can some forward and trust the leaders of the women’s program knowing that there will be no retaliation for speaking up.
Forster wants athletes to not only be able to complain about anything they want to complain about, but to also feel heard and know they can make a change if they feel something isn’t right. “The whole purpose of my job and the national team staff is to support them in their quest as athletes. Their voice matters. They have the right to speak up.”
When asked about his coaching style and history, Forster said: “I’ve been coaching at my own club for 35 years and my style is to try to inspire and motivate athletes using positive reinforcement. My goal has always been that when gymnasts walk away from their experience at my club, they’ll say ‘what a great experience that was.’ I want the same experience for our elite athletes.”
“My role has always been about education, not team selection,” he continued, “so I’m looking forward to bringing that into the role and coordinating everything in a positive way so athletes and coaches feel heard. I want to make the selection camps about learning. That’s what makes the sport exciting — you can still learn things, rather than being stuck doing the same things over and over again. Learning makes gymnastics exciting and fun.”
Forster mentioned that he feels he has the respect of coaches, and says he has no conflict of interest between his club and his new role, as he hasn’t had an athlete on the national team since Natalie Foley in 2001.
In addition to coaching at his top-ranked club, Colorado Aerials, Forster has been on the USA Gymnastics staff since 2010 at the developmental stage, helping out new coaches who hadn’t yet qualified kids to the national team and needed guidance, and feels that many of the current elite athletes, Hopes athletes, and developmental athletes have grown up with him and respect him as a leader.
USA Gymnastics hopes to announce an interim training site for national team camps in the near future, and noted that parents will be allowed — and encouraged — to observe training sessions at camps. The permanent center is still in the developmental stage, but will be “much more than a training center,” according to Perry.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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