Is Pushing Kids Until They Cry Just a Part of Gymnastics?


Looking around a gymnastics forum for inspiration for a topic of a blog post, I came across a parent thread called: Pushing kids until they cry? Just a part of gymnastics?

Immediately I thought: Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner.

Is pushing kids until they cry just a part of gymnastics?

Here is the answer: yes and no.

Certainly, pushing kids until they cry happens at some gym clubs, but should it be a routine part of a young gymnasts training? Absolutely not.

On the other hand, there are times when kids cry for a host of reasons that are normal and acceptable, perhaps even good. Crying can release tension. It can cue us that what we are doing matters. It can let the adults around the child know that the child is in distress and may need comforting or further guidance.

So how is a parent to know when the tears are a warning sign versus when the tears are just a normal part of life? Here are some things to consider:
1. The frequency of crying. Is your otherwise even-tempered child crying every practice or more practices than not? This is cause for concern, particularly when accompanied by other signs such as like sleep disruption, appetite change or mood change.

2. Crying because of pain. Crying because of pain should always be addressed. Gymnastics is a difficult sport, and there will be times that conditioning is exhausting or overspills are uncomfortable. But still, tears with respect to pain always needs to be addressed to ensure the athlete is not injured or over-trained.

3. Crying because of frustration. Gymnastics is a frustrating sport. It is not uncommon for tears to fall because an athlete is aggravated. But again, this should not be de jour. An athlete who is crying daily because of frustration needs support to reduce her stress level or to find a different coping mechanism.

4. Crying because of disappointment. Again, totally normal. Again, if it occurs repeated the athlete needs help finding other ways to cope with big feelings.

5. Crying because of fear. If a gymnast progresses to a high enough level, he or she is likely to bump up against a skill that causes fear. For some kids, the accompanying frustration leads to tears, so see #3.

6. Crying because the coach is mad or yelled at the athlete. Just as sometimes your kids will cry because you discipline them, it may happen at some point that your child’s coach will need to discipline your child. If the child did something wrong, and the coach handled the correction in a manner that did not humiliate the child then crying is a normal reaction. But public displays of humiliation, name calling or bullying behavior by the coach is not okay. Ever.

7. The number of children crying. Unless a coach or teammate is leaving the club or some other horrific life news like a death or terrible illness occurred, the entire team crying should set off alarm bells. Likewise, if it seems that most all of the kids are crying at some point or another throughout the workouts, I’d be concerned. It is not uncommon for there to be a kid or two who cry a lot. It might just be their temperament or a personal problem for the child, and isn’t necessarily indicative of a larger problem at the club.

8. How the coaches cope with crying. Some clubs have a strict “no crying” rule and any child who sheds tears is sent out of practice immediately. That would concern me as a parent. These are children playing a sport, not professional athletes working a job. That said, I do not think it inappropriate that kids are asked to leave practice or even sent home for the day if crying is out of hand. A gymnast in great emotional suffering is not a gymnast who can safely practice and can cause other athletes to be distracted in their training. Being sent home should not be a punishment rather a logical consequence to protect the safety of all those training.

9. Crying that occurs on the way to the gym. If you child is crying before practice, a parent should be concerned. Sure, very young kids might have separation issues that disappear once the child goes into class, but if kids past that stage are crying before practice even begins, I would pay very close attention.

10. How your child talks about the crying when not in distress. Try talking to your child when he/she is not upset about what triggers their crying, how they feel about it and what they think causes it. Having a conversation can open up the dialogue for different ways to cope and give you valuable information as a parent as to the seriousness of the distress.

As parents, it is always our job to protect our kids from harm while equipping them to cope with the discomfort, frustration and disappointment that are a natural part of life. It is a tough line to walk. On one hand, it is our biological imperative to rescue our children if they appear to be in harms way. On the other, it is our moral imperative to raise kids who learn to self-soothe and to cope with the ups and downs of life. Like most parenting tasks, it’s one that requires thoughtfulness, following instincts, listening carefully to our children and having open communication and trust in those who are teaching them.

With all due respect to Tom Hanks, there is crying in baseball and gymnastics. It is the reasons that tears are springing to these young athletes eyes that tell us if it is a normal part of learning life lessons or indicative of something that is damaging to them.