Picnics, Playtime or Preparation?

You walk into a building. Blankets, camp chairs, tents and snacks while parents are sleeping, talking and eating with a circle of activity swirling around them. Wow……this looks like fun! Where am I? A school picnic? A family reunion? I can’t quite tell.

Surprise! I’m in the warm up area of a National championship sporting event. Who would know?! While athletes who are the very top in the country and the world at what they do, who have trained for hours and years for this one moment are warming up……..one parent sleeps in the camp chair, some coach is lounging in the corner, little siblings are chasing each other, the baby is in the stroller and that athlete is trying to dodge the traffic to warm up their most difficult tricks in a safe and effective way.

While we struggle to be identified as a sport and scoff at the Olympic sports we don’t think measure up as athletic as ours, we refuse to put the demands on our coaches and parents that other sports do. And, we look like a back yard activity at our own National championships.

Olympic parents spent weeks unable to see their child. They got a brief moment to hug and talk right after a big win and then the athlete was back where they should be; in the Olympic village where distractions were not allowed to interrupt their focus. Credentials are needed to access every venue, including warm up and performance areas. When you walk into the venue, there is no doubt as to who the coaches and athletes are, and where the spectators and supporters sit.

We need a solution. USTA cannot always man and do security at all the events. The responsibility begins with the coach. As a coach, we should be setting the guidelines for acceptable behavior of our parents. From the very beginning of attending competitions, our parents should know what is conducive to the event and their child, and what is not. As a gymnastic parent, I brought my child to the venue, she went in one door with her coach, I went in the admission door as a parent and I didn’t see my child up close, until after awards. I was the parent (even a parent with “skills” who choreographed routines and worked with the gymnasts). The coach let me know where I could and could not be and I dared not stray from that, even when she was a little one. Coach and athlete did their jobs in their place, while I did mine as parent, bill payer and biggest cheerleader for my child from the stands.

Our athletes have very long days. It is perfectly acceptable to have their training needs met. This includes; a comfortable area to rest between warm ups and performances, proper nutrition and a safe place to let down for a bit. If it’s on the borders of the practice area and out of the way, without becoming a distraction; it meets the needs of our athletes. What doesn’t meet the need is the parent who is unwilling to be in the stands, the bystanders who have nothing to do with the athlete’s immediate needs and the extra people using that area as a lounge, play or “hangout” area.

Having standards is a good thing. As a coach, we need to raise the standard of expectation to mean that our competitions are for athletes and coaches to train and execute, while parents support and applaud. If a parent is the coach, then the same expectations are set. I am proud to wear my credentials as a coach so that I am allowed on the floor. When a media person walks in and asks if I’m the Mom while walking around the warm up area, I am insulted. I am the coach. I am proud to be a Mom (to my own child) and a coach (to my students). But, in the gym there should be no doubt. I am there as a coach to my athlete. Look at the example set by the World’s finest. Coaches and athletes are focused on their job while parents are filmed in the stands as angst driven spectators!.

It’s time we, as coaches, set the standard for conditions that are optimal for our athletes by securing and limiting who is in the practice area. I know I coach a sport. I know my student is an athlete. I want to be supported by other participants in this activity that they respect our athlete’s needs as much as I do. My parents understand that I respect them in their role and I will coach their child through the competition. They understand it is not in their child’s best interest to be down on the floor. It takes trust. It takes commitment. And, it takes communication and designation of expectations.

Let’s raise our expectations for ourselves as professionals. Create an environment we can be proud of from all views of the competition. Give your athlete the best conditions possible for an outstanding athletic experience. Save the picnics and playtime for much better surroundings while preparing our athletes to do their best………always.

Kyle Keiser

The first lesson at age 5 would never have foretold the future National championships or career of coaching and judging in a dozen countries; producing numerous National champion and World medalist teams, pairs and individuals. After graduating with a Bachelor’s in Marketing/Advertising, Kyle decided to continue twirling and color guard instruction she began as a 15 year old. Today, Kyle is the choreographer and visual coordinator for the 300 member Western Michigan University Bronco Marching Band, the University of Virginia Cavalier Band and other high school programs. She coaches her athletes at the Bronson Athletic Club as a personal trainer for the sport of twirling, along with traveling to coach in other countries and programs. She has held offices in State and Regional councils, along with years of dedication to the Technical Advisory Group. Kyle is a master judge/clinician and remembers her first nerve wracking WBTF judging, as the only US Judge at the Frankfurt, Germany World Championships so many years ago! Kyle also manages and owns several industrial properties to keep her business skills challenged.

3 thoughts on “Picnics, Playtime or Preparation?

  • August 28, 2012 at 3:38 pm


    Thank you for caring and for the professional input. You have said so well. I support your comments and as a coach and professional in our sport will commit to do my part! Thank you!

  • August 29, 2012 at 7:14 am

    I agree 100%. My parents are not permitted in the practice areas. However, there is a problem with a location for the athletes when they are not in the practice area. I like the way it is done at International Cup where the athletes have a special place to watch in between sets but are not sitting with the parents.

  • September 11, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    I read the beautifully written article the other day on Education Central titled “Picnics, Playtime or Preparation?” and was so grateful that this particular discussion was opened. I attended Nationals this year for the first time in 30 years and have loved not only twirling, but more specifically USTA, my entire life. I can only imagine the many reasons Fred Miller and the other original board members started USTA. Thankfully they did, giving baton twirling a democratic voice which not only allows, but welcomes differences of opinions.
    When I first walked into the arena I too was shocked. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There were so few lanes running on the competition floor it was as though the contest was ending and they were wrapping up. Then when I walked into the practice arena and I saw all the blankets, I thought perhaps people couldn’t afford hotel rooms and had moved into the arena. But by 11:30pm I understood a lot more of how twirling competitions had changed. I thought I was going to have time to visit friends still coaching and judging and go to dinners together during the week. But that never happened because of the late hour we finished each day.
    I remember years ago when I brought students to Nationals, one year there were over 150 thirteen year olds competing in 2-baton. Now, many of the events don’t even have 7 contestants in an age group. And the youngest age groups are even smaller.
    Where is this sport I love so much disappearing to?
    To me, that is a more important question than the professionalism of parents and coaches. Let’s remember, without parents or coaches, there would be no contest or organization.
    Rather than wonder why a parent or coach would have a baby stroller in the arena, I would rather celebrate coaches like Melissa Marcus and Kellie Donovan Perelman and any others that bring their babies into the arena. They are young coaches building great twirling programs, and by the results they put on the floor with their students are obviously dedicating themselves to twirling and making sacrifices in their marriages and families for baton twirling. If we had more people doing what they are doing, the organization would be growing and not shrinking. Besides, Nastia Luiken did quite well by winning the Olympic All-Around Women’s Gymnastics gold medal 4 years ago and both of her parents were former gymnasts and coaching at the time. I saw her in a TV interview saying that she grew up in a gym because her parents were there all the time. And I doubt that they had her in the audience section.
    You know, it’s great to talk about being a sport and being on the level of the Olympics, something people have been working to make happen for 35-40 years, but really, as of now, twirling is an amateur sport and let’s take a look at the top, the best, the most successful and professional athletes twirling has right now. Jennifer Marcus, Karissa Wimberly and Jenny Hannah, as well as many others, all had their campgrounds set up in the practice arena. Please DO NOT misunderstand what I am saying. I am definitely NOT criticizing any of them, but making a point that these successful athletes KNOW what it takes to successfully survive the week of Nationals, and it takes bringing your own food and getting rest when you can.
    Years ago there were 14 lanes running at all times and we were finished each day by 4:00pm. This gave us time to have a nutritious meal at a restaurant, get in some practice time and SLEEP before the next day and socialize as coaches and judges. How many of you remember the fabulous Starline hospitality suite? What fun!
    When it comes to parents in the practice arena and the correlation between twirling and the Olympics there are a few differences. First of all, in the Olympics, once an athlete makes the Olympic team the Olympic committee pays for coaches and the athletes are required to get a certain number of hours of sleep. Also, the athletes are never left unattended except at the Olympic village. As for the Olympic village having NO DISTRACTIONS, I recommend you go to Google and search:
    “ESPN Olympic village”
    You will see that there are many distractions. MANY!!!
    Additionally, there are some legal issues which cannot be overlooked. Twirling is a youth sport, and even though there are athletes still competing at age 29 and even 39 years old, there are a lot of children involved in it, perhaps even the majority being children. I discussed the “Picnics, Playtime or Preparation?” article with my sister who is an attorney and runs international companies. Before she could even respond, as with attorneys, first she got a little more information from me, information such as the fact that local press in the host city where Nationals is being held invites the community to attend free of charge. There is a video online replaying a local Dayton news station segment of a twirling teacher and her daughter/student talking about the free competition open to the public at the Nutter Center which ran the week before Nationals as well as newspaper articles publicizing it. Also, the doors were open to all and the side doors of the building were open to all, leading to parking lots. The arena is huge with hallways, stairwells, elevators, etc., not exactly the safest environment for unsupervised children.

    She suggested that it would be irresponsible of the USTA to tell parents that they must let their children run around that wide-open arena unattended. It would be their right if they chose to, but irresponsible to say you should or must.

    Also, if you say it is a “secure” practice arena that you are offering, please be aware that there was a 450-unit apartment complex in Houston that hired an off-duty policeman and the complex said they had a “security guard” and offered a secure property. A woman was abducted and violated on the property and sued them because they told her when she rented her apartment, it was “secure”. She won 1.5 Million dollars in the suit. Apparently the jury felt she had reason to feel safe and the complex did not do their job.

    I know teams at Nationals are often on chaperoned trips and always together at the contest, so it could be understandable that they don’t have a group of parents with them in the practice arena, but that is not always be the case with individuals competing.

    I think Mark Nash’s email to USTA members on Mother’s Day says it well.
    Here’s a copy of it:
    “My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.” — George Washington (1732-1799)
    “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel Mother.” — Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

    As President of the USTA, I would like to thank twirling mothers everywhere for their selfless sacrifice in the lives of their families, their communities and the USTA. You serve as leaders, coaches, and supporters. You are fierce defenders of your children and of the sport they so love. You give your heart and soul to ensure the happiness and success of your child(ren) and others. I firmly believe that there has never been a successful twirler (human) that did not have the positive influence of a mother to push them on to great heights and success. A heartfelt THANK YOU to every mother, every woman who has wanted to be a mother, and every woman who has yet to be one. YOU are the lifeblood of baton twirling and the USTA. HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!
    It is my hope that twirlers everywhere will take time this weekend (and always) to personally and sincerely show their love and appreciation to their mother – and to the wonderful women who surround them. You are richly blessed to have a mother or mother-figure stand beside you on your journey through twirling and through life. Be sure to take time to show them how much it is appreciated!
    Mark Nash
    USTA, President

    Mark that was beautifully stated. You are amazing and I do agree with you, “Mothers are coaches”. We all know a great coach spends time teaching the Mother what to look for when helping the athlete practice. I know they too are proud to wear the badge of parent AND coach and have certainly earned that right as well.
    I appreciate the opportunity to offer a different view.

    Brian Champagne


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