What a Frog Can Teach Us About Being a Parent to a Gymnast: 18 Signs You Might be on the Road to Being “That Parent”

frog in pot

If a frog is dropped into a pot of boiling water, it will most certainly jump out.

However, if a frog is dropped into a pot of cold water that is placed over a burner that slowly heats it to a boil, the frog will remain in the pot, boiling to death.

Before you think I am some sort of sadistic animal abuser, the boiling frog story is a well-known anecdote told to illustrate how difficult it can be to notice subtle change.   The point of the fable is that while we will react vehemently to significant, sudden changes, if the change is a gradual one, we will not notice it and will not react.

And this, I believe is how the dreaded “gym parent” is created: from the pot of cold water that is heated so gradually until all of a sudden a good, well-meaning, loving parent one day is confronted with the awful realization that they have become “that” parent.

So, assuming you do not wish to be a boiled-frog-gym-parent, here are 18 signs that you might be on the road to “crazy gym parent” if…

  1. Your child and the word gymnast are one in the same. You introduce your child to people as “This is Janie. She’s a gymnast.” To people who don’t know her you refer to her as the “one who is a gymnast.” All of the gifts you buy her for her birthday or holidays are gymnastics themed. It is a given that she will go to gymnastics camp in the summer, so you don’t even bother to ask. If she is invited to move up and train more hours, you say yes without even talking to her about her interest in taking on that increased commitment.
  2. You have a “regular” chair in the observation area. If you are such a fixture in the bleachers or observation area that everyone knows that a certain spot is yours, you are spending too much time watching practice. Likewise, if you feel anxious or disappointed when if for some reason you are not able to watch practice, you might want to consider that you are over-involved in your observation habits.
  3. From this regular chair or during the car ride home, you coach your child. If your child looks to you for reinforcement, feedback, corrections and affirmations, you are no longer just an observer but are an active participant.  Essentially, you are taking the job of your child’s coach.  If the car ride home is more like a recap or cross examination of the evening’s practice than a time for you and your child to connect over the events of the entire day, don’t be surprised when your child begins to pop headphones in as soon as she gets in the car.
  4. You believe you know as much about gymnastics, if not more, than your child’s coach. To be clear, you know more about your child as a child. But your child’s coach knows more about gymnastics and your child as a gymnast. Each of you needs and benefits from the input of the other. However, when as a parent you begin to believe your opinion on gymnastics is equal or greater than your child’s coach’s opinion, you are crossing into dangerous territory. So, unless you are actually a gymnastics coach who is choosing to coach his or her own child, you are the parent, and the coach is the coach.
  5. You videotape practices or competitions and require your child to watch them to learn from her mistakes. Again, coaches job. Not yours. If you videotape and your child chooses to watch, that’s fine. Your job is to say nothing. Or if you need to say something you can say, “That looked great!” but otherwise mute yourself. Please. And thank you.
  6. You promise your child rewards for learning a new skill or achieving a certain score.   These rewards, also known as bribes, are designed to motivate your child to do the work of improving at the sport she chose to play. Read that last part of the sentence again: she chose to play. Why are you “motivating” her to play?   Yes, there are moments in a sport where an athlete can use a little extra push to fight through a rut but that is the job of the coach, not the parent.
  7. You say things like “We have a meet this weekend.” or “We are hoping to go Level 10 next year.” In short, your pronouns are confused. Instead of your child participating in the meet, in your mind and speech you are part of the process. You have your own goals and agenda for your child that may or may not match hers.
  8. You find yourself asking “Where is this going?” or make comments like, “After all this time and money, she better get a scholarship…” Essentially, you don’t see the point in your child participating in the sport if she isn’t “talented,” isn’t winning and/or doesn’t have a future in the sport. Instead of gymnastics being an activity your child pursues and you support, it is evolving into an investment of sorts for which you expect a return. Because of the sacrifice you are making for your child’s participation in the sport, you are owed something by her.
  9. “$%*#! I cannot believe she fell again. It’s like she wants to fail.” is the response to your child falling off beam at a meet. If you are embarrassed, frustrated or angry with your child when she has a bad practice or meet then you need to step back and reevaluate your emotional investment to your child’s participation in gymnastics. While feeling disappointed for your child when she falls is normal, being disappointed in your child is not.
  10. Your level of happiness correlates with how well your child is doing at gym. While it is natural to feel happy when our kids are thriving and worried when they are struggling, it is worrisome when personal emotional highs are experienced because Susie got her kip and depression occurs because she must repeat level 3.
  11. Meetscores.com is one of your most frequently visited websites. Check your browser history. Or, for those of you less tech oriented, if you keep a log of your child’s scores.   And perhaps even those of her competitors. Sure, you might tell yourself that you are simply keeping the scores to track her progress. But isn’t that her responsibility or that of her coaches’? Oh, she’s too young to keep track? Then for heaven’s sake, she’s too young to have you keep track too. Scores are the not the best measure by which you judge your child’s experience in the sport. In fact, they are a pretty poor one.
  12. You are convinced that the judges are either imbeciles or demons who favor the gym across town because your daughter’s score is almost always lower than you believe it should be. No, you aren’t a judge. But you are still sure that the score is wrong because you’ve watched enough meets to know.   Besides, all of the other parents agreed that your daughter’s routine was much better than that kid’s was.  Look, you should think your daughter’s routine was brilliant. You are her parent. But it is the judges’ job to score the routines, not yours. Let them do their job. I promise you they are doing the best they can. I also promise you that they will not follow you to your office on Monday and evaluate how well or how poorly you do your job.
  13. You are jealous of other gymnasts’ progress and the attention that the coach pays to them. While it is a slippery slope to be wrapped up in your child’s success, when you are threatened by other children’s successes you are entering really dangerous waters. You may monitor closely how many turns each athlete gets or how much time or attention a coach pays to a particular athlete. (I’ve even heard of stories where parents used stop watches to time the amount of attention each athlete received!). Then, there are the competitions about how many private lessons you schedule for your child or the bitterness about how many another child has scheduled for herself.
  14. You and your partner argue about how you react to your child’s sport. Your partner may avoid attending meets with you. Or you may find yourself being accused of taking this too seriously, putting too much pressure on your child or needing to control your emotions. If you have other children, they may feel as if they are less significant to you than their athletic sibling. While families will alter and adjust schedules to accommodate the needs of one another, barring something unavoidable like illness, no one member should dominate the rhythm of family life.   If gymnastics is threatening to do that or is doing that, you certainly want to be aware of the choice you are making and the possible consequences that it will have on your important relationships. You also might want to reconsider the role that it is playing in your family’s life.
  15. You find that most of your conversations are dominated with the topic of your child’s gymnastics or gossip about the gym. You are no longer friends with anyone outside the world of gymnastics because they cannot stand to hear another story about why Katie got to move to level 7 without her giants when your daughter was not given the same consideration.
  16. You are turning a blind eye on your child’s educational, physical, psychological or emotional well being in favor of her training. You let your child to miss school because she isn’t feeling well, but allow her to attend practice.   You tell her to “suck up” on-going physical pain or rush her return from an injury in order for her to compete at an “important” meet. You turn a blind eye to her coach berating her, calling her fat, telling her she’s a head case or even grabbing her harshly or pushing her against a wall because you believe he is just trying to get the “best” out of her.
  17. You sometimes feel badly about the things you say to your child after she practices or competes poorly, even though you know you are just doing it to make her a better athlete. Your intentions are good. You do love your child. No one is disputing that. Just make sure that you love your child the child more than you love the child the gymnast.
  18. People close to you express concern that you are becoming “that” parent. Instead of writing them off as jealous of your child’s amazing talent or of your incredible devotion, consider what they are saying as loving feedback and step away from the gym for a few days to give your child and her coaches some space.

It’s very, very rare that anyone starts out as a “crazy gym parent.” And it is very, very common to think “it will never happen to me.”

I hope you are right.

But as someone who has struggled with these impulses with my own children, not just in gymnastics, but also in dance, theater, karate and school, I know how difficult it is to notice that the water is getting warmer.

Jump out while you can. Not only does your child’s enjoyment of her sport depend on it, but so may your long term relationship with her.   Don’t compromise that over anything.