Your child’s first competitive gymnastics season is finally here! It’s a whole new world for your gymnast with routines to learn, brand new competition gear, plenty of excitement and maybe a bit of nerves, but it’s also a new world for you as a parent. Here’s our guide for everything you need to know to navigate your gymnast’s first season.
Know the team expectations
Many teams have a parent meeting before the start of the season and they may have a team handbook outlining rules and expectations, but if not, be sure to check with your coaches about any rules they have about meets. Some coaches are fine with ponytails, while others might require a more intricate hairstyle, which you probably want to practice ahead of time—trying to figure out how to do a braided bun before an 8 a.m. session is no fun. Coaches may have other requirements like no dyed hair, or no nail polish for competitions, or they may ask you to arrive a certain amount of time before the session check-in time, so it’s best to find this out ahead of time.
Your gym will likely give you a meet schedule a few months before the start of the season. This will tell you which competitions your child will attend along with the dates, but you probably won’t get an exact session day or time until a week or two before the meet. The coaches aren’t holding out on you—they also don’t get the final schedule until a week or two before the meet. Meets usually have a team registration deadline several months before the meet, which is followed by a level change and scratch deadline that happen closer to the time of the competition. Once the meet director has that information and knows exactly how many kids are competing in which levels, they put together the final schedule and send it out to the attending gyms.
Yes, you’ve already paid meet fees, but that covers your child’s entry into the meet (which includes venue rental, equipment rental, judges’ fees, and coaches’ fees), and there is usually an additional per person fee to enter the competition venue. Most meets will list the entry fee on their competition flyers or website, and it is almost always cash. There are often concession stands run by the host gym, and sometimes items like a “shout out” to your gymnast, so it’s a good idea to carry some extra cash beyond the entry fee for the meet.
Don’t worry about event warm ups
Warm up is the time for gymnasts to get comfortable with the equipment. The equipment usually feels a little bit different from what your gymnast is used to at their home gym and the warm up time gives them a chance to get a feel for this equipment. A fall on beam during warm up doesn’t mean they’re going to fall during competition, but as a parent it can be stressful watching a warm up that doesn’t look like the way you hope your child competes. If it stresses you out, just don’t watch.
Cheer for your gymnast and his or her teammates but remember that other kids are competing at the same time, so be sure not to be so loud that you distract those gymnasts. Many times, parents are videotaping their child’s routine—try to wait until they are finished filming or find a way to walk around them so that you don’t walk right through their video. Never talk about another gymnast or team while you are sitting in the stands. Every child out there has a family who is rooting for them, and no one wants to hear another parent criticize their child’s skills, appearance, or team.
Let the coaches handle it
You’re there to support your child—do not try to coach them from the stands, even if you’re really sure it would help if you just reminded them to point their toes! Your gymnast should be focused on corrections from their coach, not their mom or dad, and definitely do not decide to wave the coach over to ask a few questions about skills or scores in the middle of the meet. Any questions you may have can wait until competition is over.
The first few times you watch your child compete scoring may seem arbitrary. How can a child who fell on beam get a better score than a child who stayed on throughout her routine? It all comes down to deductions. Points are taken off a gymnast’s score for any errors and those errors are predetermined and listed in the Code of Points. Judges are required to go through a series of clinics, practical judging experiences, and tests before becoming certified to judge, and must have all of the deductions memorized. A skill that may look perfect to us as parents may actually incur several deductions, and throughout a routine, small deductions can add up. As you attend more meets you will probably begin to understand the scoring a bit better.
Coaches may not be there for awards
Meet sessions usually run back-to-back, so your child’s coaches may have to be on the floor preparing their next group of gymnasts about to compete. Or they may have been coaching sessions all day and awards could be the only chance they’ve had to grab something to eat and take a quick break. If the coaches can’t be there for your child’s awards ceremony it doesn’t mean they don’t care—they’ve watched your child compete and they are given the score cards at the end, and the awards are a time for the parents and gymnasts to celebrate.
Figuring out age groupings can be baffling for new parents. At one meet your child might be grouped with her best friend and the next time they end up in totally different age groups. Generally, meet directors break the kids into equal groups based on birthdays, so for one meet the cut off for the Junior division could be the day after your child’s birthday, and for another meet it could be six months later. It isn’t designed to be confusing or unfair, it’s just math.
Now that you’ve got some of the Meet Season basics down, enjoy your first season of watching your gymnast compete in the sport they love!
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.