Gymnastics is NOT Life: 10 Things Nobody Should Give Up Because of Gymnastics
“Gymnastics is life. The rest is just details.”
“Life is…Never mind. I have no life. My daughter is a gymnast.”
I know these are cute slogans, designed for merchandise that gymnasts and their parents can proudly wear. Their purpose is to show their allegiance to the sport and to share a laugh with others who get it because they too are so devoted to gym.
So, there is a part of me that feels like a scrooge to say this but here it goes: I cannot stand these types of catchphrases.
They irritate me so because behind those hyperbolic statements is the idea that gymnastics, a sport for children is important enough to be elevated to the centerpiece of peoples lives. Should gymnastics be a significant influence in a families live? Sure, I’m comfortable with that. But it should not BE someone’s life.
Gymnasts, gymnastics should not BE your life. It should not be your life for a host of reasons, including that it is a hobby; something that will only last a few years of actively doing in what we hope is a very long life. Not to mention that it is a sport that can end in the blink of an eye because of injury, rapid growth or fear. Furthermore, as a child, you need to be developing many skills and learning many things, some of which are taught in gymnastics but certainly not all. Finally, there are many important things that you will fail to attend to if all of your energy is placed in making gymnastics your life.
Parents, your child’s gymnastics should not be your life. First of all, the operative possessive noun (hey, all of those grammar lessons were not for naught after all) in the sentence is “your child’s.” While it is terrifically important to be supportive of your child’s activities and dreams, to make it your life or to allow it to consume your life? Really? Yeah, let’s not go there. Unless of course you are comfortable with having your child in therapy for the rest of her life wondering how she could have succeeded in a sport so you would love her and, also, never meeting your grandkids.
Gymnastics can be very, very important to children and parents alike. Just make room for and consider prioritizing some of the following things in addition to or even over gymnastics. If these things are present in the mosaic that makes up the center of your life, then I think you all will be happier (and psychologically healthier) for it.
- Your parent-child relationship. Do not let a sport come between a healthy and loving parent-child relationship. Period. You child has the opportunity to have many coaches that cannot be said for parents.
- Your family. Are you missing major family milestone events (think weddings, big birthday celebrations etc.) and failing to make time for family bonding activities (vacations, regular meals together etc.) because of gymnastics? Think carefully about the message you are sending your child and your family at large: Other’s special celebrations are less important than your gymnastics training. If that is the message you want to send, I am not judging you for it (okay, maybe a little) but please do not be surprised when your family is resentful.
- Your friends. Parents and children alike need to have friendships, both in and outside the gym. Don’t let competitive pressures ruin the friends in the gym. And don’t forget to make friends that have nothing to do with the gym; it is good to have social interaction with people who do not know the difference between a walkover and a handspring and who could not care.
- Your financial safety. This one is more for the parents. Please do not go into debt, placing the financial security of your family, on your child’s participation in gymnastics. It is not an investment for her college education. The odds of a scholarship are quite small and the chances of her growing tired of the sport or getting injured before college are quite high.
- Your faith. If you have a faith, are you really going to put your God behind gymnastics? If so, I hope you have one of those forgiving types, because I would think God would be pretty mad about this choice.
- Your health and safety. Neither a lifetime of chronic back pain nor debilitating anxiety is worth it. Physically, emotionally and psychologically, your well-being must always be the priority. Training through pain against doctors’ orders, being bullied or belittled by coaches or being in a training atmosphere that is toxic might produce short term results (I can hear it now, “But this gym produces Olympians so what they are doing is a necessary part of the training.”) but create long term damage.
- Your perception of your body. Do not let anyone who is not a professional health care advisor (read: a doctor, a licensed nutritionist) tell your child that there is something wrong with the shape of her body or the number on the scale. If you come to find that your child’s coach is giving her “diet” tips, put an end to it immediately. And please, please, please do not tell your daughter she is “too fat for gymnastics.” Women struggle with body image enough without taking their hand and leading them to a life of eating disorders and feeling ashamed of their bodies.
- Your education. I find the trend in home schooling for the sake of gymnastics alarming. (Note: I have no trouble with people home schooling their children if philosophically that is their desire and they are actually educating their children. My issues are with those who use home schooling as a way to increase training hours and who do not give the child a quality education.) Likewise, I am concerned pulling kids as young as 6 or 7 out of school early to go to training sends a message that education is second to sport.
- Your hobbies and interests in addition to gymnastics. Don’t be a Johnny one note. Have hobbies and interests separate from gymnastics. Your child should have at least a couple hours a week to pursue something that is not school, religious studies or gymnastics related. You need a hobby beyond watching every minute of your child’s practice. Take a walk, read a book, enroll in a cooking class. Not only is it wise to have your eggs in multiple baskets, it is dreadfully boring to have to converse with someone who has only a singular interest.
- Your self-worth. You are worthy simply by being you. Not because you are an elite gymnast or the parent of an elite gymnast, just because you are you. Don’t forget that and don’t allow anyone to take that from you.
Gymnastics is not life. And you do have a life, even if your child is a gymnast.