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Why I Opened JAG

No, I didn’t open a gym so I could wear sweatpants and a ponytail to work…well, not entirely anyway.

As a child, the gym in which I grew up was a home away from home for me.  I realize how cliché that is, and it is, but nevertheless, each day I walked through the doors of the gym I felt cared about, challenged and part of a community.    My coaches cared about me as not just an athlete, but as a person.  They reminded me to do my homework, asked me how my grades were, yelled at me when I acted like a brat and encouraged me when I wanted to quit.  They were another set parents, and my teammates my non-biological siblings.  Not only did I learn how gymnastics there, I learned to coach and to judge but most importantly I learned the life lessons that when done correctly sports develops in kids: tenacity, how to deal with disappointment, discipline and how to take feedback and correction.

And those lessons were reinforced over and over.  You see, I was not a terrifically talented gymnast.  Sure, I was athletic enough and had a dogged work effort.  But my body didn’t seem to cooperate with my mind as often as I would have liked.  My friends moved up faster, won more ribbons and medals and just seemed to have most everything come more easily to them.   But I loved the sport more than any of them and not once did my coaches make me feel less-than or unwelcomed because I wasn’t among the most skilled of kids in the gym.  They were patient and encouraging and as a result, I stuck with the sport much longer than most kids with my skill level would have.

When I moved on to college, one of the first things I did was look for a gym to teach at because I loved the sport and the community so much.  Of course, time moves on and so did I, graduating from college and moving across the country to begin my grown-up phase in life leaving gymnastics in my childhood.

Fast forward ten years, a graduate degree, a marriage and four kids later, when my then 5 year-old daughter begged me to take gymnastics lessons.  So I enrolled her into a class at a gym not too far from where she was attending kindergarten.  She quickly progressed from a one day a week to a three day a week “pre-team” program and all of a sudden I realized she had found her gym.

But it was nothing like the gym that I had grown up in.

The kids looked miserable.  The coaches, who also looked miserable, screamed.  A lot.   Parents of the older girls sat calmly knitting or reading a magazine, as these adults who were tasked with developing their gymnast belittled and humiliated their children.  Girls were constantly in tears or on the verge of tears.   Children who were less “talented” were ignored in favor of those who showed greater promise.   Fear was dealt with by bullying and intimidation.

I knew that I had to do something.

I tried talking to the management, and then the owner.  They were completely unconcerned.  They were the experts.  I was an idiot.  I should be so lucky to have a daughter selected by them to train with their “Olympic caliber” coaches.  And, if I didn’t like the way they did things, I should go open my own gym.

And so I did.

People sometimes ask me if I opened JAG for my daughter?  No, of course not.   It would be pretty odd to spend the kind of money, time and energy to open a business for a then 7 year old.  Rather, I opened JAG because of my daughter and your daughters and sons and all of the children who come after them.  I opened JAG to honor the space that helped me grow to be the strong, confident and disciplined person that I grew to be in large part because of my gymnastics upbringing.  I opened JAG because I passionately believe in all of the great things that gymnastics offers kids, physically, emotionally, socially and cognitively.  I opened JAG because I wanted a place parents like me could take their children and know that their child, irrespective of “talent” would receive quality coaching and be surrounded by people who care more about their child as a human than their child as a gymnast.  I opened JAG because I wanted to employ gymnastics coaches who, like the coaches of my childhood, are teachers who want to use the sport of gymnastics to influence children’s lives in a positive way.  I opened JAG because I wanted to create a community based on shared values and a common vision that what we are doing is helping families raise happy, healthy and smart children with good character.  I opened JAG to be a happy part of every child’s childhood no matter how short or long they are with us.  I opened JAG to do good things for kids.

As we enter our tenth year, I couldn’t be happier with my decision, prouder of all of the people who have helped me realize this ambitious vision or more grateful for the thousands of families who have allowed us to be a part of their and their children’s lives.   Thank you to each and every one of you for helping me realize this crazy dream: JAG Gym.

And yeah, it is a bonus that I can wear sweats to work and throw my hair into a ponytail…not gonna lie!

If you have a special memory or story you’d like to share about JAG or have any suggestions for future blog posts, please feel free to post below or email me at anne.josephson@jaggym.com.

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JAG’s Originals:  Carissa, Courtney and Rachel!  (our first three gymnasts)