the boys

the boys

Sunday, June 10, 2012


I started this post a few weeks ago and today as I sit here and watch the National Championships I decided to make time to finish it. 

"Would you let your daughter do gymnastics?"  I've been asked that question a thousand times in my adult life and my answer is pretty much always the same.  My first answer is that I think every toddler should do gymnastics.  Male or female.  It teaches coordination, how to play, how to listen and follow directions.  There aren't very many other activities that I can think of to do with your 2-3 year old that are better than a Tiny Tot gymnastics class.

But that's not what people are really asking.  What they are really asking when they hear the level of gymnastics that I did is would you let your child train an incredible amount of hours every week of the year, possibly move away from home, miss out on all "normal" growing up activities, and put such stress on the body at a young age? 

My answer is yes.  But it's not a simple yes.  Parenting decisions never are.  But the answer isn't just that yes, I would let my daughter compete in elite gymnastics.  It's yes, I will support my children to the best of my ability in any sport or activity that they desire to partake in. 

Will I spend the time, money, effort, and emotions supporting my children?  Umm, yeah.  As long as it remains the right choice for our family, the answer is yes.  Is gymnastics different than when I was 15?  SO MUCH.  But everything evolves.  I suspect the 30 something year olds watching Nationals in the 90's felt the same way.  It's just about perspective, I think. 

What I won't do is try to relive my experience through theirs.  There is so much controversy these days about elite gymnastics. Or maybe there isn't anymore than there has been in the past.  Maybe it's just that now I am an adult and seeing it from a different perspective.  Or maybe it's that the media plays it up.  Or that we all have Facebook to discuss it until we are bored to tears.  It's likely a combination of all. 

I posted something similar to this on a friend's Facebook page a few weeks ago.  The original post was about the destructiveness of elite gymnastics and the controversy about putting kids through it.  My response is that there are some girls that have a rough go of it and come out very scarred.  There are many others that come out just fine.   I suspect we just don't hear from them as much because they are going about their adult lives and treating their time as a gymnast as something they once did.  Not who they are.  Or who they were.  Or who they had the potential to be.....if only......

I went through a tough gym.  It didn't always have the best reputation, but I'm certainly not scarred for the rest of my life because of it.  I have lots of great memories.  Learned a lot of really good life skills such as focus, hard work, dedication, concentration, seeing things through to the end.  And how to cuss.  I learned how to drop a good F bomb, too.  So maybe not all of it was appropriate, but I made it through.  And honestly, those skills (including the F-bomb) have really served me well in life.  I could choose to focus on any negative memories, but that is true of every life experience.  And there were plenty of tough times, but now I can look back on them and laugh a little and realized what I learned from them.  How I want to do it different in a current situation in my life.  When I want to raise my own white flag and take a break.  Or when I need to suck it up and keep on pushing.  I don't need to look back on those tough times and whine about what could have been or "if only" it to death.  I learned how to take responsibility for my actions.  Not to blame someone else (like my coach, or the process, or the equipment).  Even if it was after the fact.  Life lesson learned.

Don't get me wrong.  It wasn't all sunshine.  There were tough times.  Like the times where I wasn't working hard enough or not working up to my potential and I was yelled at by my coaches.   Oh and the incessant hours of training and conditioning to be stronger and more fit.  That's right.  Big fat shocker there.  A coach yelled at an athlete to work harder, smarter, faster, and more perfectly.   THAT never happens in other sports.  So maybe it doesn't happen to 12 year olds in other sports, but it's not as if we all got into the sport not knowing that the peak ages are pre-teen and teenage years.  We weren't being forced to compete at these levels.  We did it by choice.  We aren't like other countries where the athlete's families are dependent on their success.  Some girls had families whose egos depended on their success, but not their livelihood. 

So those that speak the loudest about their suffering have always gotten attention.  The media eats that shit up.  And then dramatizes it a little bit, or a lot of bit, and makes it seem like the norm.  And then writes a book about it and makes it into a made for TV movie.  Because those things are always accurate!  It gives this unfair perception that the whole sport and the current selection process is all wrong.  Horrible for the athletes and the sport itself.  I will say that I know very little about the current system, but I suspect there were some retired gymnasts/parents saying the same thing about our system when we were going through it.  It's just perspective.  Don't pretty much all sports utilize competition as well as practices and training camps to determine their starting line up?  Because they want to win?  I can vividly recall every college gymnastics team changing the line up meet to meet and at the last minute in order to put up the best gymnasts that the team needed that particular competition.  Some girls come out of college gymnastics with the same issues.  Some come out with a positive experience. Some don't.   Some come out with glowing memories.  Some come out with scars (mental, emotional, and physical).  Does it make it right or wrong?  A horrible process or just one that wasn't a right fit for that athlete?  It makes it life.  What's so different with elite gymnastics?  There's only so many spots available and the Olympics only come around once every 4 years.  So not everyone is gonna make it.  That's called life.  It fits right along with my irritation that every kid gets a trophy at the end of sporting events because we don't want to identify a winner.  Whatever.  It's called competition for a reason. 

So, will I let my child do gymnastics?  Sure.  As long as it continues to be the right choice for our child and our family.  The same way we make every other parenting decision.  As my mom has always said, "I did the best I could with what I knew at the time."  That's parenting.  That's sports.  That's life.