Maybe your child used to live for gymnastics, but lately they’re talking about quitting, or maybe they insist they still want to do the sport, but it seems like their spark is gone. How do you know when it’s the right time for your gymnast to retire and move on to new challenges?
Reasons to Stay
Like anything in life, your child’s time in gymnastics is going to have its ups and downs. There will be bad days, bad meets and maybe even a bad season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to move on from gymnastics.
“When a kid is struggling parents sometimes assume it’s time to quit, and they jump to ‘We don’t have to do this anymore,’” says Rebecca Smith, M.A., founder and CEO of Complete Performance Coaching and PerformHappy. “What the kid really needs is support and help to process how hard it is to do this sport.”
While it is normal for parents to want to step in and fix things when they see their child struggling, Smith recommends listening without trying to offer a solution.
“Parents need to stay neutral and really listen to what the kid is saying,” Smith advises. “Let them think it through and work it out in their own mind without giving them advice on what to do.”
In working with gymnasts Smith frequently finds that they are struggling with one or more of the following:
- The fear of disappointing their coaches or parents
- Perfectionism and not feeling good enough
- Mental blocks
- Comparing themselves to others in the sport
However, with the right support gymnasts can address and work through these issues. A sports psychologist can help your athlete develop techniques to manage fears or mental blocks. While it’s difficult to watch your child go through a rough patch in the sport they can come out on the other side and continue to thrive in the sport.
Signs that it’s time to leave
- The joy is gone. No matter how much your child once loved the sport, sometimes it just stops being fun. Not for a day or for a week, but for months at a time. The high hours, the push to get next level skills, competition stress, or just the desire to have time for things outside of the gym can all contribute to a gymnast wanting to move on. Yes, they’ve put years into this sport, and it once made them extremely happy, but if they’ve hit a point where the bad days far outweigh the good and they come out of practice feeling down more often than not, then it’s probably time to go. “I think the goal is for kids to be happy, healthy, and successful,” says Smith. “If they aren’t happy, then what is the point? Even if you are good at something if you hate it, then why continue?”
- Staying only to avoid being labeled a “quitter”. Whether they’re afraid to be viewed as a quitter by their parents, coaches, or themselves, the fear of negatively being labeled as someone who gives up can be a powerful force in keeping a kid in the sport long after they are ready to leave. “It’s not quitting, it’s retirement,” says Smith. “I remind gymnasts that you can’t control how other people perceive things, but you get to choose what you want to do with your body and your time.”
- Fear of losing their identity. Maybe for years they’ve been known among friends and family as “the gymnast”, and many of their closest friends may be from the gym. It’s a hard transition to leave behind something that has played such a huge role in their childhood, but that doesn’t make it a good reason to stay when they are really ready to go. Moving on gives them the opportunity to explore different parts of their identity.
- Wanting to try something new. As kids get older their horizons open up even more. Middle school and high school offer new sports and activities that they may not have had the opportunity to try before. If your child really wants to join the school play or try out for the volleyball team it’s time to look for ways for them to spread their wings.
- Injury. Injuries don’t have to end a gymnastics career, but if it’s severe enough that the gymnast is risking long-term damage or is worn down from dealing with injury after injury, it is time to move on. No sport is worth spending years in pain.
Consider taking a break
When your child has been doing gymnastics year-round for years it can eventually feel like a grind, and it might help to have them take a break.
“I love when gymnasts take breaks,” Smith says. “When they come back their motivation is so different. It gives them the feeling of choice, to opt in, and the kids who come back after a break really want to be there.”
If your gymnast is feeling burned out talk to your coaches about the possibility of reducing hours or taking an extended break with the door open to return in the future. Sometimes a little time off is all it takes to rekindle their love for the sport.
When it is the end
Youth sports today are incredibly demanding on parents. You commit a lot of time, money, and emotional energy on your child’s sport, and it can be hard to accept when it’s over.
“It’s important to have a grieving process,” says Smith. “I often recommend an athlete who is leaving write a love letter to the sport about everything they’ve learned and gained, and parents can do the same thing.”
Take some time with your gymnast to celebrate all of the joy and the memories they had over the years. A few ideas for celebrating the end of their gymnastics career include:
- A final gymnastics photoshoot
- Making a blanket or quilt out of old meet t-shirts, warm up jackets or leos
- A photo book, video, or framed collage of gym highlights
- A gymnastics shadowbox
If it is time to move on, remember that gymnasts typically excel at whatever sport or activity they try, and now you get to enjoy the next chapter of their journey.
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.