Should my Child Join a Gymnastics Team?
It’s a question that comes up this time of year when many clubs around the nation are winding down their competitive seasons and are sending invitations or holding placements to welcome new members to their competitive gymnastics teams.
“How do I know if competitive gymnastics right for my child?” is actually a more complicated question. First, it is important to understand what it entails to be on a gymnastics team, and, more specifically, what it means to be on a gymnastics team at the gym club at which your child is enrolled. Next, it is essential to determine if competitive gymnastics is right for your child, both generally speaking and at this specific club. Finally, it is important to decide if your child being part of the gymnastics team is the right choice for your family.
What does it mean to be on a gymnastics team? The answer to this question will vary from club to club. There are some clubs for whom being part of team is a highly selective process that involves selection on physical abilities and body type and includes many hours in the gym from a very beginning level, including private lessons and travel meets to other clubs where team is an option open to anyone who wants to join, has minimal hours in the gym and is considerably less regimented. And there is everything in between, including some clubs that run both a highly selective track and an a track open to all children.
Neither choice is superior to another—it is about what you (and your child) are looking for in their competitive gymnastics experience. What your values are with respect to the number of days you are willing to commit to gymnastics, the level of financial commitment you are willing to make and the philosophical outlook you have about your child’s participation and limiting the participation in other activities, religious and academic commitments and time at home. Additionally, it is important that you understand the gym’s goals, their coaching philosophy and all of their policies to ensure that the match is a good one and to avoid disappointment down the road. Gyms that focus on training Olympians might not be a great choice for a child who just wants to be on a team for fun, fitness and character development. Gyms that only participate in the lower levels of competition might not be a good fit for a child who wants to compete at the highest levels. Finally, be candid with this question: is this a place I want my child spending 6-12 hours (or more) a week hanging out? Are the coaches good role models? Do the other kids look happy? Do you feel like your child will be safe, well cared for and positively coached? Remember: you are raising a child first, a gymnast second. Don’t put your child in an abusive or dangerous situation simply because you think that the gymnastics training is good.
Is competitive gymnastics right for my child? Assuming you are comfortable with the gym’s team program, is it the right program for your child? Does your child love gymnastics? Does your child want to spend this many (or this few) hours doing gymnastics? Does your child understand the commitment and the unintended consequences of what being on a gym team means? (i.e. not playing soccer or having to miss birthday parties from time to time if they conflict with competitions) Depending on what the length of the season is, is it reasonable to expect your child to commit for this period of time? Is your child excited to do this or reluctant? Ask your child why they want to be on the team—you might get some answers that help open a valuable conversation.
Is competitive gymnastics right for our family? Again, much of this will go back to finding the right program for your child’s goals and your level of comfort to make such a commitment. But, additionally, you need to be prepared to understand what being on the team will cost financially and in time. If you have multiple children, what will the impact be on them? What about family vacations and other obligations—are they consistent with the program you are considering? Are you prepared to be the kind of sport parent who makes this experience a positive one for your child? Being clear on what the club’s policies are is critical to making sure it is a good fit for your family.
There are many valuable reasons to compete in any sport, and gymnastics is no exception. Some of my fondest childhood memories are from my time competing; and, I know that both of my daughters who did competitive gymnastics feel the same. At JAG, we have over 150 kids who are part of our gymnastics team and we work very hard to meet their individual needs but recognize that we are not the best fit for all kids who want to pursue competitive gymnastics. As there are many different kinds of competitive gymnastics programs available, it is important to ask the right questions to make sure that you find one that matches your child’s needs and your family’s values.
And, if in the last analysis, you and your child decide not to pursue gymnastics competitively, know that there are many valuable lessons and skills that can still be taught and wonderful experiences to be had by doing gymnastics recreationally.
Gymnastics is a wonderful sport. And participating on a gymnastics team can be a wonderful experience when the program, the athlete and the parent are all working toward similar goals together. So ask lots of questions and make sure you are setting your child up for success by selecting the right competitive program.