The Marathon Gymnast

Jodi Brichta-CoyneGymnastics ParentingLeave a Comment

A Gymnasts runs into vault

As a mother of a level 7 competitive gymnast, I sometimes find myself trying to figure out when she will make it to level 10. The highest level before Elite.

She first started out she was on level 4, where a lot of girls start, and she improved very quickly. I saw other girls her age skipping levels and thought, “Hey, maybe she should skip too, she has the skills.”

I Started Comparing My Daughter with Other Gymnasts

Then I found myself comparing my daughter with other girls her age to see where they were at. It started to get out of hand. When I find myself talking to other moms. The first thing that comes out of their mouth is “what level is she at? how old is she? is she moving up this year?”

I was getting sucked into the race. Where the race was more about who can get to level 10 the quickest. Not so much about the process to get there. Or the mindset of building endurance, keeping the balance, and finishing strong.

The part that scares me is my daughter lives in that race to get to level 10. The girls are so focused on levels (and not the process). They lose the real meaning of what the race is all about. So I stepped back and looked at it from a different perspective.

My job as a parent is not to push her to get in front before the others. It is to support her in the present moment. It’s one thing to have goals and strive to achieve them. And another to lose focus on the task at hand to get you there.

If I don’t teach her to breathe, stay focused, about grit, and other empowering tools she will need. Then, will she burn out and give up long before the race is over?

I recently read a staggering statistic from the National Alliance of Sports. It showed that 70% of kids will quit sports before they turn 13. I thought “WOW!” The survey concluded that the number one reason why they quit is that it is no longer fun.

What they enjoyed about their sport, i.e. gymnastics at levels 3/4 is totally different at levels 9/10. The higher level requires much more time, effort, and focus. In the beginning, it was all about having fun. Everything was new and it was so exciting to get to the next skill.

Gymnastics is a Marathon

Most parents didn’t need to push because they didn’t have to. They were excelling on their own and were beaming. Then somewhere along the way, the pressure got more intense as the skills got harder and took longer to achieve.

Isn’t that the same at the beginning of a marathon? your adrenaline is pumping as the race begins and you are full of energy. The energy of the other runners pumps you with excitement as you begin the journey together.

Then about halfway through, you notice that there are greater distances between you and the person in front of you, and behind you. It isn’t crowded anymore and you begin to notice people on the sidelines falling behind. Your mind races with thoughts of, “what if I can’t make it, what if everyone passes me and I can’t keep up, what if I quit right now!”

As thoughts swirl through your head of the reasons why you should stop your body keeps going. Then another thought floats through your head and you tell it to STOP!

You start to focus back on your breath and think about the reasons why you are here. You think, I can and I will finish and you push yourself to go further leaving the negative thoughts behind and focus in the moment (the only thing you really have control over).

Sure there are many legit reasons to quit, your body starts to hurt, you can’t breathe, you get injured. It happens and it happens to the best.

The one thing that young gymnasts don’t realize is that the race is long. It is so much more than skills they are acquiring as they move up in levels. In the case of a marathon runner gaining momentum and pushing to go farther.

They gain mental toughness, confidence, grit, and courage. Also faith, focus, determination, patience, perseverance, and respect. They learn how to work together as a team to support one another. They learn compassion and kindness toward their fellow athletes (especially when one gets hurt), their coaches, and so many other wonderful lessons.

Let Your Gymnast Be Gymnast

The race is long. There is no need to rush because in life some lessons just take longer to learn than others. And that’s ok. They say that a lesson keeps on repeating itself until it is learned, then you can move on. This is a race that an athlete has with themselves not only in their sport, but throughout all life stages.

Parents pushing them before they are ready never works. They must fall down, they must fail, and be disappointed. They must also learn how to get back up and get back in the race.

Sure we can encourage and empower however, they themselves must walk their path. In the end, we are here to guide them and send them off into the world.

So instead of wondering when she will make it to level 10 (and she may not ever make it and I am OK with that), I am going to sit back and watch her and enjoy the moment.

It is her sport, her journey. Wherever it takes her, the lessons learned along the way are much more valuable than striving to get somewhere before it’s time.

Photo Credit: © Al Bello / Getty Images

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