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From Surviving to Thriving in a Family Business
By Lainy Carslaw - Pittsburgh Northstars
Dec. 15, 2015

Whenever someone hears that I work for my mom or with my brothers and sister, the most common response I hear is: "I could never work with my family." Yet, in the gymnastics world it is becoming more and more common to make gymnastics a family affair. Some of the most successful gyms in the country are family owned including: Capitol Gymnastics in Austin, Texas, Biron’s Gymnastics in Texas, and Barron’s Gymnastics in Missouri. Pancott’s Gymnastics, Jarrett’s Gymnastics, and Jewart’s Gymnastics have passed the test of time and are onto their second generation of coaches. And many more coaches and gym owners are following their lead and finding themselves working alongside their siblings or parents.

For your own well-being, both in and out of the gym, it is important to know how to deal with the complications of working in a family business. I have helped re-build our team program with my brother, sister, and husband over the last ten years. It’s not always easy, but here is what we have learned along the way:

DON’T LEAVE IT AT THE GYM - You may be accustomed to hearing that what happens at work should stay at work but I am going to suggest the opposite. The kids you work with are your passion. The problems you face in training them are always on your mind. There is no point in pretending they don’t exist. Talk about them. Share ideas. Laugh about something that happened at practice. Celebrate your victories. Most of your energy in the gym is spent on the kids so much of your communication needs to happen outside of practice at meetings or family functions. Yes, setting boundaries is important but letting people beyond them might be even more so.

CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES WISELY - This may be the most important and it is all about putting things in perspective. Is it worth it to cause drama over a level 4 vault? Is it worth it to argue over whether a gymnast does a double pike or double back? Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. If you feel a gymnast is being put in a dangerous situation or set up to fail, speak up. Otherwise, it might be a good idea to just let it go. What is more important: your happiness and peace of mind or getting a 9.0 on floor? If you were right, most of the time, that will reveal itself in the end without you ever having raised your voice. Best-selling author, Anne Lamott, has something to great quote about this: “You can practice being right or you can practice being kind.”

BE A TEAM PLAYER - Gymnastics is an ego driven sport, but it doesn’t always have to be. You may want to control everything but if gymnastics teaches us anything, it is that we can’t. We can’t control how the kids compete, we can’t control when our students choose soccer over gymnastics, and we can’t control the scores. But we do have a large say in our own happiness and the relationships we create. Empowering others feels good and making them happy fuels us as human beings. Letting go of the idea of having to be perfect is liberating. Ask for help from your family members and implement their advice. Let them know they have a voice and an important role to play. When a family stands together, and owns each success and failure together, it only makes them stronger.

PRACTICE MOVING FORWARD - You are not always going to agree with the family members that you work with so don’t even try it. Accept it and learn to understand each other’s differences. Come up with healthy ways to deal with conflict. When there is an argument, move on. Holding grudges and staying angry can destroy families and can destroy your own sense of happiness in the workplace. Moving on and keeping the peace is not just for the good of the family but for the other people who work for you, and the gymnasts as well.

AGREE ON THE MISSION - There are hundreds of ways to skin the cat or teach the back-handspring, but you can only have one mission statement and it is of the utmost importance that everyone agrees on it. What is most important to your family? When times get tough or differentiating opinions create conflict, you can always go back the mission to find your answers.

DEVELOP TRUST - Every decision you make and every action you take is either working to build or breakdown trust. The more your family trusts you as a person, the more they will trust you as a leader or co-worker. Accept each other, don’t judge each other. Everyone in a family is different. You all have your own unique talents and characteristics but when they come together, it can be magic for a team.

The truth is, most people probably can’t work with their family. But we are coaches and we rarely do things the easy way. We never shy away from a good challenge and we know how to problem solve and find solutions. Working with family is never easy but remember this: At the end of the day, when things get tough and friends or colleagues seem to scatter, it is always family who shows up. Because we trust them, because we know them (for better or for worse) family may just be the most stable platform in which to build a gymnastics business. And if you build it strong enough—with the durable materials of family values, respect, and the proper perspective—it may just last long enough to pass on to the next generation.

**Lainy Carslaw is a 2nd generation coach with the Pittsburgh Northstars. She has been coaching for over 15years and has taken courses through the Katz Business School on family business. Jewart’s Gymnastics was voted family business of the year in 2001.