Gymnastics is an intense, sometimes crazy sport, and it can drive the best of us a little over the edge at times, but no one wants to be on the receiving end of listening to a crazy gym parent (CGP), and no one wants to discover that they are the crazy gym parent. Learn how to read the warning signs and avoid going off the rails.
The CGP is always at the gym
COVID may have temporarily curtailed this behavior in some states, but the CGP will be back and monitoring every practice as soon as possible. The CGP feels the need to keep an eye on every kid in the gym and may well give you an update on your kid’s progress as soon as you walk in the door.
Don’t want to be the CGP? Don’t live at the gym. Sure, watching practice from time to time is fun, and if you have any concerns at all about the gym environment you should get an in-person look at practice. Then there are parents who drive long distances, and it just isn’t practical to go home in between—those parents usually bring a book, or knitting, or a crossword puzzle during practice, and don’t spend hours eagle eyeing every kid in the gym.
The CGP only wants to talk to you about gymnastics
The crazy gym parent’s sole focus is on the success of his or her gymnast and they don’t have much interest in talking to you about anything else. If you try to start a conversation about any other topic, they quickly redirect it to the sport.
You: So, how was your weekend?
CGP: Great! Suzy spent all weekend practicing back handsprings on her beam in the basement. Want to see the videos?
Don’t want to be the CGP? Talk about other subjects. Of course, gymnastics is going to come up—it is a point of common interest, just don’t lose sight of your other interests outside of the sport.
There’s no “Team” in “I”
CGPs often forget that their child is actually part of a team, and the overall team success is just as important as their child’s success. The CGP sees every other kid on the level as competition and desperately wants their child to come in ahead of his or her teammates.
Don’t want to be the CGP? Don’t compare your kid to the other kids in the gym. Everyone is on their own journey, and it doesn’t matter if someone else got their kip first, or someone else is struggling with vault. Don’t worry about anyone else’s scores, and don’t grill your kid on how everyone else is doing at practice. Teach your child to support all of his or her teammates, and cheer for all of them yourself at meets.
Gotta get a scholarship!
As early as level 3 the word “scholarship” comes out of the CGP’s mouth at an alarming rate. I once heard a parent insist that if it wasn’t clear the gymnast was on the scholarship track by level 4, (yes, level 4) they might as well quit the sport! For these parents, the journey isn’t nearly as important as the destination—a DI college scholarship.
Don’t want to be the CGP? College costs a fortune these days, of course a scholarship would be amazing, but it’s a very long road from the early levels to a gymnastics college scholarship, and very few achieve it. Whatever level your child eventually reaches, it is the lessons learned along the way and the joy that gymnastics brings your child that matters. Maybe your child will get a full ride to a DI school, but don’t get so caught up in chasing the scholarship dream that you, or your child, miss all of the wonderful moments happening at the gym right now.
Rub some dirt on it
This is one of the most dangerous behaviors of the CGP—wishing an injury away, rather than seeking out medical treatment. It’s surprisingly frequent to find parents on gymnastics forums asking questions like, “My daughter may have fractured her ankle at practice last night, but she has a big meet on Sat. Should I wait until after the meet to take her in?”, or “My daughter has been complaining of back pain for months, should I get it checked out?”
Don’t want to be the CGP? No one wants their kid to miss a big meet—or worse, an entire season, but if he or she has been complaining about persistent pain for months, or might have gotten hurt during practice, don’t put off the doctor’s appointment out of the hope that the injury will clear up on its own, or can be dealt with once the season is over. The long-term repercussions aren’t worth it.
More must be better
CGPs frequently equate more hours with better gymnastics. Hours definitely do go up as gymnasts move through the levels, but the CGP is convinced their kid would be the best if only they did more, and more, and more. So, they’re lobbying the coaches to add extra hours, or bringing their kid in for privates four times a week, or outfitting the house with a home gym and encouraging their kid to practice as much as possible at home.
Don’t want to be the CGP? Trust that the coaches know what they are doing. Some skills may take your kid longer to get than others. That’s okay. Putting on more pressure and ever more hours in the gym is likely to backfire and lead to injuries and/or burnout.
Did you know my kid is a gymnast?
The CGP is The Parent of a Gymnast, and they need to make sure you know that too. Their kid just never stops being A Gymnast. You’ll see a stream of photos of their kid reading a book while doing a backbend, doing kips on a playground bar, cartwheels in the grocery store, or splits while watching TV.
Don’t want to be the CGP? Hey, we all post pictures or videos of our kids getting a big new skill or having success at a meet. It’s exciting to share their progress. But your kid isn’t just a gymnast, and focusing too much on that one part of his or her life isn’t healthy. Sometimes they’re just a kid swinging on the swings, or riding a bike, or enjoying an ice cream cone like any other kid.
If you find yourself sitting next to the CGP at a meet, or he or she tries to corner you at pick-up every night, just nod and smile and don’t let yourself get dragged into that mess. If you find yourself getting caught up in the craziness, take a deep breath and a big step back, and remember that this is meant to be fun, and that at the end of the day, it’s just gymnastics.
Jen Kula is a Massachusetts based writer, and mom to two gymnasts. She has published one novel, has worked for several magazines and websites including; MetroSports Boston magazine, Appalachian Mountain Club Outdoors Magazine, and Babyzone.com, and has an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College.