Gymnastics teaches lessons I didn’t know I needed to learn

Four years later, each gymnastics season still reveals unexpected treasures in my child. For two years we bonded with a couple of amazing individuals who felt more like family than coaches. My daughter knew what was expected of her, she knew where she stood in the hearts of her coaches and she desired to make them proud. The thought of changing gyms had never crossed our mind, until one of our coaches unexpectedly left our gym at the end of last year’s season. The other coach remained. We attempted to stay and work through the transition, but the dynamics of the environment was altered in such a way that I felt like maybe it was time for a change. We were broken hearted but optimistic.

Finding a new gym was no easy task. Our expectations were high, considering the amazing rapport we had with our previous two coaches. We also wanted to pick a program that could carry us for years, provide future opportunities and stability. Much like picking a school district, you can’t just look at the “scores” either, you have to take a good look at all aspects of the program. It’s not just about a good coach or two, or a handful of elite gymnasts who have put the gym on the map. It’s about how the leadership is viewed by their peers, community and participating families. It’s also about how the gymnasts feel about themselves as athletes and individuals. It was important to our family to pick a gym that communicated efficiently with their families in a respectful way, provided clear expectations and guidelines, and could be nurturing when necessary, yet still maintain a level of authority that demanded hard work, not excuses. I also hoped to find a facility that celebrated her strengths, helped her get past her weaknesses and embraced her quirky personality. After all, she is a child first, and a gymnast second.

The first season at our new gym has ended and I can honestly say we found all of the things we were looking for and then some. Our coaching staff is well-rounded, each providing a little bit of everything necessary to relate to a multitude of personalities. There is no favoritism or unnecessary harshness. In the beginning, I missed the bond I had with our coaches. I missed the casual and familiar  way we communicated. I missed the feeling of my daughter’s coaches being just as much “my friends” as they were my daughter’s coaches. But what this year has highlighted, was the one thing I didn’t realize I was missing at the other gym, community. Although we connected with a couple of families, built friendships that have found their way outside the gym, overall, my connection was with the coaches, not the other families. This shift in relationships has effected me as much as it has my child, for the better. As she has grown physically in this environment, I have grown emotionally.

My daughter at a recent competition. Photo courtesy of Forever in Photos Photography.

It is possible to be too competitive. When parents of athletes spend too much time focusing on future achievements, we miss out on the present accomplishments. I was so ashamed of myself when I realized how many mistakes I honed in on during my daughter’s performances, rather than applaud the things she had mastered. Because really, at the end of the day, is it my hard work that has gotten her this far, or hers?

Sometimes life’s challenges require more mental endurance than physical strength. There are times when our body’s ability is not enough to accomplish what is being asked of us, because mentally we are not ready to tackle the task. I can see now that so much of gymnastics is really about being mentally strong, learning to have faith that each skill will bring them closer to the next, and overcoming the fear of pushing our bodies beyond its comfort level. It’s a lesson I need to utilize daily.

Supporting the community is more important than showcasing our own achievements. I was confused why our athletes are asked not to wear their medals outside of the awards sessions. In the past, my daughter would wear them around her neck, clinking loudly as she walked out to the car. I see now the negative impact this type of bragger action can have on an athlete’s character. Instead of being humble or thankful, they feel entitled. It is more impressive to see my child shake the hand of the athlete who scored higher, genuinely congratulating her on her success, than to watch her smile smugly at her own success. It has also taught me to applaud just as loud for someone else’s child as I do for my own.

Check your pride at the door. I am notorious for perceiving people’s tone or lack of communication as a personal attack. My immediate response is to be defensive, argumentative and impatient. The more familiar I become with such a diverse group of personalities, the more I realize how skewed my perception can be at times. I’ve learned to be more patient and forgiving. Instead of assuming one person’s standoffish demeanor is meant to be rude or impersonal, I now see that it could simply be their lack of comfort in dealing with my personality. I am an extrovert and I am finding that many athletes are actually introverts. One person’s strengths might be in working with children, while someone else’s is working with adults. I can’t expect everyone to communicate, teach or respond the same way I do.

I expected my daughter to excel both as an athlete and as a young woman if I provided her with the right environment. I knew a team of good role models and like-minded families would reinforce the values that our family strives to protect everyday. What I didn’t realize, was that by creating this type of environment for my daughter, I was also molding myself into a better individual too.

The proudest moment of this season will probably surprise you. My little one broke her finger less than two week’s before state competition, making her unable to compete two of the four events. She suited up, and showed up anyway. The first two events her team competed, beam and floor, were ironically the only two she could compete. I watched her body language intently as they moved to the third event. She was going to have to scratch, meaning she would have to salute the judges as normal, but then merely touch the apparatus, rather than compete on it, resulting in a zero score. Her face was tight, lips pursed. I knew tears hid behind those eyes. But as she walked away from the vault, her team mates lovingly gave hugs and high fives anyway, and our parents in the stands shouted out, “Good job!” and applauded as if she had just scored a perfect 10.

My daughter stood up tall, searched the sea of faces to share a smile with me, as we nodded in agreement that just showing up was more important than the score.

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About My Pajama Days

I am Emily Okaty Wilson, freelance writer, blogger and public speaker. It sounds better than saying I stay in my pajamas all day eating salt and vinegar chips. I claim to be a wife, a mother, a homeschool teacher and a musician. Sometimes I'm funny.
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5 Responses to Gymnastics teaches lessons I didn’t know I needed to learn

  1. cpolanosky says:

    Gymnastics (any competitive sports program for that matter) is a journey full of ups and downs for both the athlete and their parents. Sounds like your gymnast is very lucky to have parents who get it and are able to see the big picture!

  2. Coming East says:

    Wonderful post, Daughter. Dad loved it, too!

  3. This is incredible, well written and wow, what important lessons you all have learnt this season. The essence of these lessons though really would still imply to us who aren’t quite as nimble as the Hare. All the best for the rest of the season, or the next!? (Knowledge of gymnastics severely restricted). :)

  4. catcatbobat says:

    Awesome, Em. I’m forwarding this to Maddie’s karate instructors as well. I think they’d really enjoy this perspective because they try to instill this same thought process into their students also.

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