Avoiding the Parent Trap

Avoiding the parent trap in Gymnastics

Of all the wonderful things that sports offers our kids today, I never thought that I would get sucked into the so-called “parent trap”. I admit, it’s not one of my proudest moments, I was turning into “that” gym mom. Luckily, I came to see the err of my ways early on and was able to course correct.

In a world where instant gratification is expected and the grand lure of success is in front of our faces constantly, we often overlook that there is and always has been a process to everything, including youth sports.

People who excel in sports or business didn’t get there overnight. It was through years of blood, sweat and tears. A day-in day-out persistence, an inner flame and drive so deep that nothing was going to get in their way, or stop them from achieving their goals.

As parents, we get to see that spark through our children, especially when they are younger. It’s that little piece of us that over time our dreams of “what could have been” changed due to our upbringing, belief systems, society, and environment.

We changed and perhaps took a safer route or may have been guided in another direction yet, deep down we know there was that one thing that made us ‘come alive’ as a child.

Can you go back and remember what that was? perhaps it was through music, art, or a sport you connected with and loved. If you can remember think back and see what you saw, felt what you felt, hear what you heard.



When we see our children experience that spark through sports and when they find one they connect with (or have a natural talent in) a piece of us comes alive again and remembers that childhood feeling.

Then something happens along the way where it just takes an ugly turn. You start to get sucked into the parent trap. The grand lure of seeing our children as winners, excelling at a fast pace as we vision their successful future where they are destined for greatness. We listen to others and hear things like “your kid is a natural, so much potential, Olympic material etc.” and you start to read into and overthink it (way too much). Instead of letting the process unfold naturally you feel they may be missing out on something thus, feel you have to control it.

If you are new to youth sports and are you wondering if you are getting sucked in? Here are some tell-tale signs:

  1. You look around and compare other children with yours.
  2. Looking at wins/scores constantly and pressure your athlete to do better.
  3. Listening to other parents and start to believe that you know what is best for your child when it comes to their sport, instead of letting them enjoy and learn for themselves.
  4. You predict (sometimes demand) their destiny and outcomes because in your mind you can see their future.
  5. You become competitive and start trying to outdo other parents with your athlete (by privates, constantly posting videos on social media, talking about their accomplishments, etc)
  6. Stay and watch practice all the time and then try to coach athlete on the ride home.
  7. Talk as though they are in future tense, we are hoping for a scholarship (at age 7).
  8. Moving gyms to get better coaching and more hours. Homeschooling becomes an option
  9. Starting to revolve yours and your families life around your child’s sports

How can we take something so positive and turn it into something so negative? Is it our own “fear” that makes us believe that if we push them hard enough and try to control their outcome, they are destined for greatness? Therefore, we will shine as better parents? or is it the “fear” that if we don’t push them hard enough that they will be destined for a life of mediocrity.

The cold hard truth is you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make them drink it. We can drive them to practice, offer support and encouragement yet, it is them who must find it within themselves to continue the journey. They must have a big enough “why” to want to continue. So, just because you see that spark or natural talent at 7/8 yrs old doesn’t mean they are ready nor wanting to endure the long haul. They most likely are doing it because it is fun and they will have to go through the process just like everyone else no matter how long it takes them. Pushing them too young before they are ready will only lead to burnout and them wanting to leave the sport altogether.

Perhaps their sport serves a purpose when they are younger, to gear them up for something greater when they are teens/adults. Perhaps it is just a door and we have to be open to that possibility because in retrospect, something similar most likely happened to us.

Let me add the observation that the ones with that burning desire and have achieved success early on most likely didn’t have a competitive parent hovering over them. Most of these athletes had numerous siblings and these parents had to find a way to let their athletes continue doing what they love while attending to their other children and finding balance in their home, work and themselves.

To give you an idea, here are some stats on USA gymnasts who had this passion so deep that they stuck with it for the duration and achieved success.

  • Only 6 U.S. gymnasts have medal-ed in the all-around since the 1952 Olympic games.
  • There has been less than 115 U.S. team members since the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin.
  • Currently there are less than 1,800 athletes competing at the collegiate level (NCAA) and 79 Elites.
  • Overall, there are roughly around 90,000 US gymnasts registered from levels 2-elite in USAG JO program.

So the question should really be: are you ready to get sucked into the parent trap and willing to gamble with your family for an opportunity that may never come?” As parents, we have to be OK with carving our own path for our family and sports can be a wonderful part of it. However, It should not be the end all and shouldn’t take precedence over your family values.  So if something doesn’t agree with you perhaps its time to reevaluate what sports means to you and your family and what place it serves.

There are so many wonderful attributes that sports offer our kids today however, more importantly it is our jobs as parents to see how is compliments and brings our family closer together rather than drive a wedge between it, which can be seen with overly competitive parents in the trap.

Don’t get me wrong there are some amazingly talented young athletes that are absolutely destined for success. You can see it in their drive, their eyes and their souls. They want it more than anything and will not stop at anything. Simone Biles is a wonderful example.

I admit I thought my daughter had that at a young age and being new to the sport, I was easily starting to get sucked into the parent trap as I watched her progress quickly and eyes light up with excitement. Now I know that gymnastics will always be a part of her wherever it takes her. I will let her take the lead and I shall follow. She may not make it to HS, college or elite with it yet, I know that the drive and passion comes from her, not me. I can see it through her eyes, sit back and enjoy it while not trying to control it.

As a parent, I am there to cheer her on and wipe her tears through her frustrations. I can see it for what it is and not more than what it is. And yes, there are times where I feel myself getting pulled in and have to step back and remind myself, It is a wonderful place where she goes to challenge herself, build friendships and create her own memories while teaching her invaluable life skills. Either at practice or competitions, whether she wins or fails, it is all preparing her for who she is yet to become. I often think how blessed am I to have such a self-driven daughter who loves what she is doing.

So next time, if you feel like you are getting sucked in to the parent trap, compare your athlete’s journey to that of a lotus flower. A lotus begins growing at the bottom of a muddy, murky pool, and slowly emerges toward the surface, bursting out of the water into a beautiful blossom. During the night the lotus closes and sinks under the water, and emerges again with the sunlight of a new day.

If you think about it, the lotus in the mud symbolizes the hardships and difficulties of life, or a challenging time we have faced or are facing.  As with the stem growing toward the surface, we also grow through our experiences, through our difficulties, learning lessons along the way, removing obstacles and overcoming our adversities. As the petals unfold, we too unfold, and become like a lotus rising from the murky waters and flowering into something beautiful. Its open blossom stands for enlightenment and that’s what you can envision for their future wherever it takes them. Because in the end, it is their journey ….not yours.

This article is exclusively written for allgymnasts.com by our contributor:

jodiJodi Brichta-Coyne is a Small business coach/consultant, Lifestyle Coach, Author and Speaker. As a business and marketing expert she helps women redefine their business to be more profitable so they can enjoy more quality time with themselves and their family. Jodi is the Author of the best seller “Are you still there God? It’s me, Jodi.”
Like you, Jodi understands the challenges facing midlife women today with balancing a home/family, career and 2 young kids active in sports. She has started Gold Medal Moms to support parents and help them navigate the sports journey, you can find her at jodibcoynecoaching.com

Photo Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo

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