Now that things are settling down from the launch of our recruit ratings and databases, we thought we’d take a moment to sit down with the brains behind the system and discuss their thoughts, feelings and hopes for the future.
Congrats on the launch everyone! How are you feeling now that everything is public?
Elizabeth: If I had to describe how I’m feeling in one word, it would be exhausted. This project has been a long time coming and a labor of love. Launch week was absolutely crazy, and I’m excited to finally be able to sit down and use the data in some upcoming articles now that things are settling down.
Emily M: Rebecca has been floating the term “potato brain” and honestly…that sums it up. It’s a relief to have it out in the world, but there’s still so much to do!
Jenna: Launch week was exhausting but also really rewarding. Now that it’s over I’m excited to get started on the class of 2023!
Talitha: I would say that the initial feeling of exhaustion was soon replaced by the dread of knowing that we had REALLY gone public and that the project was out of our hands. However, now, with some distance, I just feel really proud of everyone who worked on the rating system; we worked very hard to make it happen, and now we can use it for so many further projects.
What sort of feedback, good or bad, have you gotten so far that you may consider incorporating into future updates?
Elizabeth: Let’s just say we’ve gotten feedback all across the spectrum, but most of it has been really encouraging. Coaches are excited about how the databases in particular will help speed up the recruiting process, and we’ve gotten so many gymnasts posting on social media about being excited to be featured in articles. As for the flip side, there’s always pushback when ratings like these go live. We’re taking the time to hear every bit of constructive criticism and talk through it where productive to do so.
Emily M: We’ve heard a lot about gymnasts’ mental health. So far it’s all been hypothetical, but I’m definitely on the lookout for any concrete feedback. That said, we’ve focused very hard on keeping our recruiting coverage positive, and that will continue.
Jenna: We’ve gotten a ton of feedback, both positive and negative, and we’ve taken the time to read and consider everything that’s been sent to us. One concern that’s stuck with me is the question of what happens if there’s a shortened or even canceled season for all or some of the level 10s in 2021; this will definitely be taken into account when we’re reviewing our formulas and processes for the spring updates.
Talitha: We’ve had a few people worrying about how the rating system will affect gymnasts’ collegiate opportunities. I think that I can speak on behalf of everyone on our team when I say that coaches should not and will not use our ratings as part of their rationale for recruiting an athlete. They know gymnasts personally, have much better knowledge of their progress and potential, as well as of the needs of their team. Nonetheless, we would be delighted to see coaches use our ratings after athletes sign their NLI in order to further legitimize and publicize their talent.
What are your short term and long term goals for the ratings?
Elizabeth: A short term goal would be for teams on signing day to hype up the fact that they just signed a 5-star recruit, or that they have the No. 1-ranked recruiting class for 2021—not calling you out or anything, UCLA, this is just an example… As for long term, I’m excited for all the fact-based recruiting data we’ll now be able to produce thanks to the databases.
Emily M: The short term goal for me is college SIDs using our graphics on signing day. Can you imagine?! Longer term, I’d love to see local papers and high schools using our ratings to help local communities understand just how good their neighborhood level 10 is. Also, I have big dreams about what we can track long-term with the data: the rise and fall of clubs over time, how scoring fluctuates in level 10 year-to-year and college programs’ recruiting tendencies.
Jenna: In the short term, I’m hoping to make improvements to the database so that it’s more than just a plain text listing of a few stats about recruits—I’d love to incorporate some visuals and add more sort/filter options so it’s easier to find out more about all the recruits, not just the ones with star ratings. Long term, I’m hoping the ratings lead to more media coverage of these amazing athletes at both local and national levels.
Talitha: In the short term, I just can’t wait to use the ratings to further popularize Leanne Wong once she announces her NCAA commitment. My Twitter feed will become a star fest. And it will be the same when Ciena Alipio commits because I love her gymnastics as much as Wong’s. In the longer term, I’m excited to re-rate the class of 2022 next June, as I look forward to seeing the progress gymnasts have made. Finally, despite the hard work, I’m also excited to rate the class of 2023, as it includes some truly spectacular athletes.
What about your wildest hopes and dreams?
Elizabeth: I want everyone to start using the ratings as legit qualifiers for describing gymnasts, just like they do in football and basketball. I want Kathy Johnson Clarke to say Amari Celestine was recruited at a 5-star athlete to Missouri during Celestine’s first meet on the SEC Network. I also hope we have some small part in helping to grow the sport because more people understand it just a little bit better and decide to check it out.
Emily M: I want people—beyond the gymternet, I mean Joe Smith hardcore Arkansas football fan who just loves the SEC—to start engaging more with gymnastics. I want that hypothetical Smith to be hyped that Arkansas signed two 5-star gymnasts, to buy his season tickets and to sit down to watch SECs on TV. Gymnastics has no reason not to be mainstream. Let’s get more people excited and buying tickets, more coverage on big TV networks; I know CGN won’t do that single handedly, but I do think the language of star ratings is a helpful piece.
Jenna: Echoing Emily, I want to create more excitement about the sport outside of the gymnastics community. I want Michigan State students to hear that the gymnastics team has a 5-star freshman and decide to go to the meets, and I want football season ticket holders at Florida to see its star-studded upcoming classes and decide to support the gym team too. In my wildest dreams, we would be a small part of increasing the popularity of the sport to the extent where we no longer have to worry about programs being cut.
Talitha: I really hope that the ratings will help to put smaller teams on the map! For example, I wish that having 5-star recruit Lali Dekanoidze joining the team will give North Carolina the boost of popularity it deserves.
What’s the next “milestone” you’re looking forward to?
Elizabeth: There are two. I can’t wait for one of our 5-star 2021s to commit to their future school. I’m also excited to rerate the class of 2022 next May and see how much improvement there is across the board and how many new gymnasts are rated or jump up to being 5 stars. I’m also excited to see which underrated recruits outperform their rating in college—there are always some.
Emily M: I agree with Elizabeth about the 2022s next May; that class was more affected than any other by the COVID closures, recruiting-wise. I think there will be a lot of movement in those numbers next year. I’m also just on the edge of my seat waiting for Leanne Wong’s commitment; we were so anxious she’d commit before we launched!
Jenna: Leanne Wong’s commitment for sure, but also Selena Harris and Ciena Alipio! I’ve been a college football fan for many years, and it’s always such a huge deal when a 5-star recruit makes a commitment—I want that for college gymnastics too! And just putting this out there: If any recruit wants to make a commitment via a hat ceremony video… I won’t hate it.
Talitha: NLI signing day in November! I can’t wait to use our graphics to give rated athletes that extra attention they deserve!
What do you hope people take from the project as a whole?
Elizabeth: Our big, overarching goal for the project is to put gymnastics at the level of other mainstream sports. We want to speak the same language. Football and basketball fans, for example, know what a 5-star means. I hope our ratings draw in more fans and make more people excited earlier on to follow these fantastic athletes’ careers in college.
Emily M: I agree fully with Elizabeth. I’d also add, directly to the gymternet: We know the growing pains in our sport have been hard and frustrating, and they’ve come at a time when gymnastics is dealing with so much trauma. I do truly hope that you all understand that we love gymnastics, and we’re not trying to muck up this community; we do just want to help bring in new fans to our sport!
Jenna: I hope people are amazed by the sheer number of incredible athletes there are in the sport—not just the rated gymnasts but those who didn’t receive a rating as well. If each fan learns about just a few new gymnasts they’ve never heard of before, I’m happy.
Talitha: I wish to further explain to people that the goal of the project is not to rank gymnasts against each other. It is to rate athletes’ gymnastics, in an attempt to both reveal their collegiate readiness at a particular point in time and, especially, to give visibility to the truly mesmerizing gymnasts they are.
Is there anything you want the readers, coaches, gymnasts—really anyone using or looking at the ratings—to know?
Elizabeth: We put in so much effort to rate the gymnasts as accurately as possible. While no system is perfect, and even the mainstream sports’ rating systems are subjective to a degree, we really feel like our methodology shows an accurate representation of college readiness.
Emily M: We don’t think any of the gymnasts we rated—or didn’t—are unworthy of a spot on a college team; quite the opposite, really! Ratings are only necessary because there’s so much amazing talent out there. We’d also love more than anything to see some of you prove us wrong.
Jenna: Gymnastics is a tough sport for data analysis because the available data is difficult to collect and often prone to sample size errors due to the relatively small number of meets. We’ll be the first to admit that no attempt at analyzing level 10 data will ever be perfect, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try–it’s not like star ratings in other sports are perfect either. We’ll constantly be reviewing our formulas and processes moving forward in order to make improvements, and we really are listening to all of the feedback we’re getting and will take it into account!
Talitha: I would like people to know that we worked REALLY hard on this project to make it as professional and as accurate as possible. Every athlete’s gymnastics was reviewed by multiple editors, the methodology was thoroughly discussed and every worry that fans, gymnasts, coaches and parents expressed was acknowledged and taken notice of.
READ THIS NEXT: Class of 2021 Recruit Ratings By the Numbers
Article by the editors of College Gym News
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