Should We Switch Gyms? 8 Ways of Knowing When It Is Time to Move On

Kitchen locker

Should we switch gyms?

It seems to be one of the most frequently asked questions on gymnastics chat boards as parents struggle with the question of whether or not it is time to move on.

Here’s the thing: Marriages break up.  Siblings stop speaking.  Life long friendships end.  So we should hardly be surprised that family-gym relationships go south.

And while I do think that chronic gym hopping is a bad thing for an athlete’s development (and probably indicates something going on within the family), there are times when a family needs to think seriously about moving to a new club.

While sometimes the decision is an easy one, just as often it’s one that involves much angst and mixed emotions.

First, it is a decision that is further complicated by the vast array of stakeholders: your athlete, the coaches, the club owner/staff and all of your and your child’s friends.  Next, gym clubs can become a central part of our community, a second home.  So, even when we know it’s better to move on, we can struggle because we don’t want to hurt people who have cared about and for our children.  We have connections and even if we are able to maintain friendships we will miss the routine interaction and shared experiences.  Then, there is the fear of the unknown.  Finally, the decision can be complicated by non-gym family and friends who struggle to understand what a big deal this can be.

As a club owner, I’ve watched families come into my program from other clubs and watched families leave my club for others.  It’s seldom easy or unsentimental.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting to watch a child leave who I have watched grow and thrive in our program, especially when I believed that the athlete would continue to grow and thrive if she stayed.  But I’d also be lying if I didn’t admit that sometimes it made better sense for a family to move on.  (And, on a handful of occasions, there might have even been a sigh of relief followed by a celebratory cocktail upon their departure…).

So, how do you know if it’s time to move on?  Here are eight things to consider:

1. Logistical Reasons.  Your carpool falls apart. Or a great gym opens 20 minutes from your house when you’ve been driving 90 minutes one way to get your child to practice making life harder on the other members of your family as well as yourself.  You might adore your current gym but would be serving your entire family better by cutting that commute time and being able to be home more.  This can be both an easy and a hard decision.  Easy because it makes perfect sense.  Hard because you might be leaving a situation that is still a really good one.

2. Financial Reasons. Gymnastics is an expensive sport but there are clubs of varying price levels.  If the financial burden is too great on your family, it is perfectly acceptable to consider a more affordable alternative.  In turn, there are clubs that keep fees low by having major participation in a booster club, and that might not be feasible for you if you have major work obligations or other children.  Or, you might wish that your club had more and newer equipment, in ground pits or more expert coaches that are beyond the budget of the more affordable club.  Therefore, another club that has such a budget because it charges more tuition might be a better fit.

3. Safety Reasons. If you have safety concerns that have not been adequately addressed and fixed, this is a good reason to pick up and go.  Lack of supervision during practice, broken equipment that is not addressed in a timely manner or kids being told to train against medical orders are all good indicators that you might want to make other plans.

4. Inappropriate Behavior of Coaches.  An extension of safety, but so important it gets its own mention: If the coaches are abusive to or dismissive of athletes, playing mental games, ignoring them or calling them names, it’s time to go.  Not everyone is going to get along splendidly all the time: there will be misunderstandings, extra rope climbs and even times your child is sent out of practice.   But there is a difference between normal friction between coaches and athletes and nastiness, disregard or neglect.   Of course, if there is even a hint of physical or sexual abuse—get out and report, please.

5. Major Disagreement with a Core Philosophy of Program.  Clubs rules change and evolve over the years or as children reach the higher levels.  For instance, the month long vacation when your child was a compulsory level gymnast was permitted but now that she is an optional, the gym rules are no more than two weeks off at a time.  The gym is entitled to have that rule, and you are entitled to choose a different program.  Neither of you is wrong.  It’s a difference of opinion.  A mismatch in values is a recipe for constant friction and frustration which is no good for your athlete.    Likewise, gym clubs undergo changes in head coaches or ownership that might lead to a directional shift that is no longer a good match for your family.  Of course, have an open conversation before you decide whether the program is changing courses (a new owner or head coach don’t necessarily mean a program shift).

6. Need for a Different Type of Gym Program.  Your child’s goals may change over time. Your child may develop interests outside of gymnastics and want a more relaxed training program.  Or she may decide she wants to try to be a national team member and a program with a strong elite program is a better fit.  Occasionally, gyms may lack the staff expertise, equipment or space to train kids at the optional levels.  If that is the case and your child is ready for higher level gymnastics, a move is then needed.  Your child might be urging the change herself.  Listen to her concerns and weigh them into the decision.

7. Loss of Faith in Club or Coaches.  If you no longer believe in the coaches or the administration of the club and find yourself in constant conflict or are simply feeling like you aren’t getting the program you want, then do everyone a favor and move on.  Reasonable people can disagree.  You might think a coach is not adequate or that training hours are too much, and you get to make those decisions for your family.  In turn, the club gets to make these decisions for their program  But sitting in the observation area speaking poorly of the coaches or the club is just a recipe for disaster.  Irreconcilable differences happen.

8. Need for a Fresh Start.  Sometimes we need a fresh start.  A gymnast might be considering leaving the sport, having lost motivation, and beginning again at another club where her reputation is not known gives her the chance to develop a different self-image.  A parent who is overbearing might benefit from a club where new boundaries can be established.  There might be a genuine personality conflict between coach and athlete and another coach will simply be a better fit.  Sometimes kids are stuck for so long but still want to try to pursue the sport.  Occasionally giving them a different environment can give them the spark they need.  Or it can allow them to retire from the sport knowing they exhausted all means of trying to stay.

Breaking up is hard to do, but it is sometimes the best thing to do.  Do it with dignity and respect, treating others the way you would hope they would treat you were the roles reversed.