Written By Lisa Rau
Gymnastics is a sport that requires an extreme amount of dedication not only on the gymnast’s part but also on the parents. There is no question that gymnastics is demanding on both, but the trick is to flow with the waves as this provides an incredible experience your child will forever cherish, remember and take with them life-long lessons. This sport teaches more than how to practice year-round nearly 5-6 days a week and how to salute the judge and pray that they can hit 6 for 6 routines (speaking as a parent of boys in the sport).
When I look back to when my children were first enrolled in the sport, I thought it was a summer camp Flip and Slide for a week that then we would move on to the next adventure. At the end of the week, my children enjoyed the camp so much they enrolled in classes. Again, I thought they would get tired of the incredible amount of fitness exercises that were required and quit after the semester. How wrong I was! They saw this challenge through graduation from high school and college.
A divorced parent and trying to raise my children to be the best they could be was a challenge. Gymnastics kept them off the streets. They had schedules that kept them extremely busy from morning to night including weekends. They maintained excellent grades in school and graduated with honors from college. They were very respectful to everyone they met. School activities, trick or treating, birthday parties, movies were all things the children had to often pass on. Now grown adults, I have asked them if they are sorry that they did not get the chance to be a kid playing video games and hanging with friends going to parties, etc. Their response was overwhelming “not at all”.
As a parent, I often look back and wonder what I could do to help others gather some understanding how we (as a family) made it through years of training, meets, long summer days in the gym, and get the best experience we could. I, still to this day and will continue, to stay in touch with parents from the gym and my children continually talk to their team mates. We are so blessed and grateful to have been given the opportunity to participate in gymnastics especially through a divorce when financial issues were a factor. The coaches and office works of the gymnastics center will always be recognized and receive thanks from us, because, we know that without their involvement in our lives, we truly don’t want to know where we might be today.
For years, I drove my children to gymnastics and sat upstairs watching. I considered gymnastics to be an incredible experience for them in every way physically and emotionally – so I decided I was going to be an active parent and let them know they had my support – so endlessly, day after day, I sat there watching. Some days seemed endless watching the same moves for months on end, waiting to see a new skill emerge. Watching routines evolve and knowing each element – so I knew if they made a mistake at their meets. I would not trade those hours of watching them.
As they were growing up, level after level, meet after meet, I followed some rules I heard from other parents when we joined the gym and made sure to keep in mind this was for my children and to find the best way to be a bystander as possible. I wanted them to enjoy their time on the floor with their coach as well as they wanted me to be able to say “yes I saw you do that tonight”.
Here’s just a few of my thoughts:
- When my children were on the floor, from start of practice through the end of practice, they were in the hands of their coaches. I was not a coach, nor did I want to be a sideline coach. The person who knew what they were doing earned the title “Coach” and was the coach I wanted to focus solely on teaching the athletes.
- If I ever had a question or wanted to talk to the coach, I would put in a request before or after practice to set up a time when we could talk. I always wanted the coach to respect the fact that I was never questioning his ability as a coach – so I was very careful to make sure what I wanted to ask did not question his ability.
- While I was financially struggling, I never questioned the meet schedule. There are many meets to choose from and the coach always tried to put together a schedule that would allow all the athletes to participate. There was always a travel meet – sometimes it required a flight, sometimes it was a distance to travel by car. When the schedule was put together, I made sure they were at each meet and at each team dinner or practice. I am 100% convinced that the travel meets were one of the best ways to provide some guidance to the gymnasts. They get to meet gymnasts from all over the United States and sometimes Canada or other countries. They make friends outside of their gym – that last a life time. While traveling they followed the coaches request of being respectful to everyone they encountered along the way. The stories they tell about travel meets after they graduate from the sport are funny and amazing.
- I ALWAYS tried to stay positive and upbeat (even when my children might not be getting a skill or did not medal at a meet, etc.) This was about my children. Too often I heard other parents in the stands talking about other parents, or coaches, etc. This is distracting and truly not good for the gymnasts. This is a virus that I would always move away from.
- Support of the gymnast is what matters more than anything. This is their sport – it’s what they want to do – if they no longer want to participate, as parents, we need to respect their decision. But unless there is a safety issue, it is the coach’s job to teach them to be the best they can be. It is our job as a parent to respect the coach and let them do their job. At home and in the car rides to and from the gym and meets – it’s our job to positively encourage them.
I can look back at our experiences in the gym at club level and college level and truly be proud of what gymnastics was able to provide for my children. It is not the job of the parent to micromanage the coach, the practice schedule, the meet schedule, or even the skills they are teaching. It is the parent’s job to SUPPORT the coach and put your trust in the coach. This will reflect to your child and the relationship you build with that coach will be life-long and treasured.
Gymnastics is a very rewarding but brutal sport. However, if everyone respects their individual role, it’s the athletes who will triumph!