As a gym owner, dealing with drama is often part of the job description—but bad or event toxic behavior from your athletes, team parents or coaches can make life difficult not only for you, but everyone who is part of your gym. CheerProfessional spoke with cheer professionals who’ve dealt with disastrous behavior to find out their wildest stories—and how they fixed the situation. See if anyone from this cast of characters sounds familiar, and see how to deal:
Case study #1: The parent who gave her kid a beatdown in front of everyone
Brandi Weaver, owner of Stepz All Star Gym in Wills Point, TX, has seen a lot in the 11 years that she’s been in business. One of the strangest experiences to date was when a parent came running across the floor and yanked her 9-year-old out of a stunt because she wasn’t doing it right, then proceeded to spank her right there on the gym floor, yelling, “I pay all this money, you’re going to do it right!” This was in front of the athlete’s 19 teammates, all of the coaches and another tumbling class.
Weaver says she and the parent had a “heated” argument, in which she made it clear that any type of violence was unacceptable on gym premises. The fight concluded with Weaver telling the parent that while her daughter was still welcome at Stepz, she was not.
“She was yelling all kinds of cuss words as I kicked her out of my gym and making a real scene,” shares Weaver. “And once I kick someone out, they’re never allowed back.” Unfortunately, the child’s mother wouldn’t allow her to return to the gym, which Weaver says is a real shame as she didn’t do anything wrong.
Case study #2: The 15-year-old athlete who was using crystal meth
Having coached at various gyms in Texas for 19 years, Danny Torres has seen a lot of questionable behavior. “At one gym I worked at, we had a child that was dabbling with meth,” he shares. “Her demeanor had changed to the point where she was unpleasant to be around. I hated having to call the parents and tell them something that bad, but I did, and asked them not to say that they heard from me because I still wanted the child to feel like they could trust me and come to me for help.”
The parents got help for their child, and they continued to come to the gym. “It was a really sad situation, but staying in cheerleading helped that child through what was going on,” he says.
During this time, Torres says he changed his coaching methods to include more stationary drills and less groupwork in order to better deal with the behavior while it was going on. While he never considered dismissing the child from the gym, it was emotionally very hard to be there for the athlete while she and her family worked through their problems. However, for Torres, it was worth it: “I see myself in the role of mentor as well as coach, and felt like I could help keep an eye on the kid for the parents.”
Case study #3: The coach who dated all of the gym moms
Weaver has one very simple rule for her staff: don’t date the customers. Unfortunately, not all employees take it to heart. “I had a very talented coach who was great when he was here, but who dated half of my parents,” says Weaver. “Plus, he had a girlfriend!”
Weaver discovered what was going on when the coach’s girlfriend started coming into work to keep an eye on him—which was also against the rules. When Weaver asked why she was there, the girlfriend showed her emails that he’d been getting from gym moms. “I was looking at her dumbfounded, because some of the moms she was naming were there at the gym while we were having the conversation,” says Weaver.
The coach’s actions were a direct violation of the gym’s code of conduct, which clearly spells out that employees cannot date parents or anyone at the gym. “He broke policy and brought drama to the gym, so I let him go,” she says. “And after he left, I found out there’d been a fight in the parking lot between the moms over him, and lots of drama amongst the parents.”
Weaver rightly believes that making employees sign a code of conduct is essential in this business—and necessary should you find yourself in a position where you need to fire someone. “It’s savage that you need to spell these things out to adults, but you do,” says Weaver.
Case study #4: The top athlete who defected to a competitor’s gym, then wanted to come back
When Adam Rufkahr, owner of Maryland Heights, MO-based Platinum Athletics, lost a high-level 17-year-old athlete to a competing gym, he was sad to find out she’d been bad-mouthing his gym all over social media. Rufkahr had coached the athlete for five years and felt close to both her and her family. A week after leaving, the athlete decided that she wanted to come back, but Rufkahr told her that wasn’t possible.
“We’d had run-ins with her before, where she was rude to new gym members, or to those who she felt threatened by, and skills be damned, I’d much rather have a group of hard-working kids than a few kids with higher skills who are just nasty,” he says, adding that when an athlete has had to be removed to the gym, it has always ended up being the exact right thing to do.
Rufkahr says it isn’t typical for him to just let an athlete go because of bad behavior. “We’ll meet with the athletes and coaches first, and if the behavior continues, we bring the parent in. Most of the time, that is sufficient,” he says. “But [if they] feel they’re above the rules because they have a higher skill set, that just hurts the gym in the long run, so it is best for everyone if they leave.”
-Lola Augustine Brown