So you are a parent and your little girl sees Shannon Miller or Michelle Kwan on TV and wants to be just like her. What do you do?
Don't panic--there are plenty of terrific coaches out there. Here is some advice from coaches and parents who have been there:
* Check out gyms in your area first. Observe, observe, observe. "Is this how you want your kid to be taken care of?" asks top gymnastics coach Mary Lee Tracy. If they won't let you watch the girls practice, leave immediately.
* Look for positive reinforcement. Are the coaches relying on fear and anger to motivate the kids? Are they treating the girls as robots or as individuals? "When they are frustrated and crying, that's when they need [the coach]," says another coach. "Not when they win."
* Go with your gut, says Gerry Mink, mother of a top gymnast. If you think something's amiss, it probably is.
* Coaches are human and can lose their tempers like anybody else, but if you see a serious situation, leave.
* Make sure your child has other activities in addition to the sport.
* Talk with your child. While disciplined athletes can close up, signals are there. "Is she saying she'd rather go swimming than to the gym?" says '84 Olympic gold medalist Bart Connor. "Then she's probably telling you she wants a break or it's not right for her."
* Don't send her away to train, unless you are prepared to follow.
* Keep her in school. Athletes may win more when they train more, but school is where they acquire normal social skills and the path to life after the sport. Most schools will let an athlete drop P.E. and electives to allow for more training time.