Gymnasts How much did your parents push you to do competitive gymnastics?

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Proud Parent
I hear about parents who live vicariously through their children's sports. Sometimes they insist their child has exceptional talent despite the reality being different, or clearly want their child to be in a sport when the child is miserable. This often leads to burnout and resentment.

On the other hand, I’ve also spoken to people who have expressed some regret after quitting too early. They all say something along the lines of, I wish I’d been pushed just a little more to stick to it. I noticed this is usually the case for parents whose rule might be, “if you’re no longer happy you can quit.” But there could be stretches (especially for young people) when one might not know the difference between being low in motivation and wanting to quit altogether.

So if you are a competitive gymnast (or a parent of one), or if you ever regretted not going down this path, I’d like to know how much of the journey was your parents seeing some potential and putting you in the right opportunities to develop it. How much of the effort to train extensively was from yourself? Did your parents help with the discipline and commitment, did they push you, and did you see that as a positive or negative thing? At what age did you “switch on” and decide for yourself this was the path for you?

Asking for a friend who has a possibly talented gymnast, who is more afraid of screwing up her kid than never making it to the Olympics ;)
In my opinion, as a general rule of thumb: If a parent or coach is more committed to an athlete’s gymnastics journey than the athlete themselves, all parties involved are going to be disappointed.

A successful gymnastics education requires a healthy partnership between parents, coach, and athlete. But the goals of the athlete should guide this partnership. The primary responsibility of the coach is to provide technical mentorship in service of the athlete’s goals. The primary responsibility of the parent is to fund the technical mentorship. And the secondary responsibility of coach and parent is to provide emotional support through the inevitable ups and downs.

Of course, your average six-year-old might not understand the concept of a “goal,” so there is going to be some guessing involved in carving out an appropriate plan for a young athlete. But at every step along the way, the athlete’s physical and emotional wellbeing should inform all decisions.
When I was a young 4 yo, I was doing front handsrpings all the time everywhere. So we put me in gymnastics. I was talented but couldn't pay attention. I did like 2 months of gymnastics, but at a rec meet where they did selection I messed up because I didn't understand what was expected of me. I couldn't move on to a more advanced group, but was bored at rec so I left.
I kept doing handstands and handsprings and carthweels at home - with poor technique because I had never learnt them properly
I don't regret that. But I wish my parents had pushed me more to go back when I was a bit older, or at least told me it was an option. It took me 20 years to realise it was an option. I went back at 24 years old, and realised that gymnastics made me happy. I spent years being depressed, and I think sitting still was a huge part of that. I feel like I was meant to jump, bounce, fly, like gymnastics is who I've always been. I feel like when I can do gymnastics, I'm back to my real, happy self.

In general though: I do wish my parents pushed more in some ways. They were the type of "you want to do theatre? You figure out the transport" which is I think the opposite of pushing. They are not a big fan of kids being on serious tracks, as they think kids should be kids. I think it's lead to a lot of "what if" feelings. I used to find serious acting auditions 2 hours from home, and it was always "no, too far", but I couldn't find anything near home. Now as an adult with an eating disorder, I think I'm glad I didn't end up in that life? And there's more stories along those lines. But it does leave me feel a bit cheated and jelous when I hear kids who were pushed and achieved a lot. Most of all I really really wish I'd been pushed to go back into gymnastics classes, instead of pushed to sit still, and behave, and stop doing gymnastics stuff.

As for in depth advise:
1. Keep an eye on how the kid is doing and on the environment.
2. You can always quit, but when she's 20 you can't go back if you regret not giving her a shot.
3. Know the difference between supporting, (gentle) helpful pushing, and forcing. Helpful: "honey, I know you're tired now but you always feel better once you're up and about. Remember how fun it always is when you get to training?" Not helpful: forcing her to go if you have to take her crying every day.
4. Don't overreact on short term emotions, but do act on big problems: She's not been enjoying gym for the past 2 weeks? Maybe talk about why, does she need a break? Has somebody been mean? Does she need more food? Figure out the issue, and try and fix it. It's okay to take a break if needed, and it's okay if there's slump periods that feel less good. Those are the times to help by gentle pushing and supporting.
However, big problems require immediate action. Things like "The coach makes us do beam blindfolded if we complain its scary" or "I dont like how the coach touches us" or "the coach is always yelling" or being abnormally scared of the coach or practise are the types of things that require you to take action right away. Also long periods of being unhappy require action, slumps should not take forever.
I learned the lesson to let my child be the guide. She was always pretty "meh" about her involvement in swim and dance. She went, but didn't love it, and more often than not didn't really want to go to practice. I did all the usual bluster about "commitment" and follow-through and working towards goals, etc. Most of which landed on deaf ears.

When she got into gymnastics, all of a sudden she was ready to go twenty minutes before practice and rushing ME out of the door. She was super engaged, and has become very committed. She not only loves the sport, but the environment, and her relationships with teammates and coaches. Her engagement became, and now IS, self-driven.

I really learned that it's her life, and I can support and advise with all my parental will, but ultimately her track is her own. I don't push any more, knowing I've raised some kids that are least open enough to question their status quo and try new things when they decide what they've always done just isn't working any more. It just doesn't feel like my job to put any proscribed expectations on their choices.
When I was a kid I did lots of sports, was decent at them and I did dance. I learnt handstands and cartwheels on my own by watching other people do them in my dance class. And we did splits then too. My dad put me in gymnastics at like 12 y/o when I didn't even know what it was. (Not in the US so it was a lot less popular too). 4 years later, I'm hoping to compete L7 or diamond. I fell in love with the sport from the first day. I've always been the one to push for going to practice and not quitting such. My parents don't really interfere, now I think they would rather have me do a less intensive sport haha. But I keep going back to a sport that I'm not the best at. I don't know why - i could be really successful in a different sport. At some points, I do wish they would be more supportive of my gymnastics. But its working out all right, I guess.
Thanks for all your responses, I liked seeing different perspectives on the question.

My daughter is 9 turning 10 this year, and enjoys gymnastics a lot. I guess what got me thinking was two things - first, she doesn't ask to train more days than needed (for example, if she trains 4x a week, she doesn't ask to go on more days). To be fair, I only began thinking this was something of note because other gym moms says their kids beg them to train everyday. And second, when she comes home from school (maybe tired?), she sometimes says she doesn't want to go to practice. This happens maybe once in two weeks. Other times she says she is excited to go.

I do push gently, and in the car when we go home, there hasn't been a time when she said she regretted training that day. She doesn't complain about the intense conditioning they have to do, in fact she enjoys some of it, and her coach tells me she often asks to extend the time, is very hardworking, and has a cheerful personality.

This is on my mind because our gym prepares kids with the aim of representing the country (we are outside the US) - if they want to. She gets intense, quality training without any pressure right now to compete, although she has chosen to compete in the last quarter of the year. Her coach says she's good and has wanted to add another training day so she can learn more skills before then, so I guess I'm just trying to get a sense of where I should be as a parent of a young athlete. :)
That all sounds very normal to me. No athlete is dying to go to practice every single day, and not every athlete feels like they need more time to accomplish what it is they're trying to do. As my daughter said, some days she really doesn't feel like going to practice, but once she gets there she's always glad she went. That 0.1 percent of the time when she is insistent that she wants to stay home, she stays home. She needs a break, and that's okay.

If I had to make a list of what I think our jobs are as parents of young athletes, it'd look like this:

  • Transportation and money: Keep them on time and in sport
  • Cheerleading: Building them up when they need it
  • Emotional support: Real help smoothing out the highs and lows, letting them know that "this too shall pass" whether good times or bad
  • Perspective: Teaching them how to keep their sport in perspective; it's important and becomes a very central part of their lives, but the world is a much larger place than this sport, and they are much more than what they do in the gym.
  • Decision making: Providing a neutral sounding board to help them figure out the pros and cons of any decisions they will need to make, without bias.
  • Steering: For younger athletes, the full weight of making decisions about what goals when and with how much time devoted to them... because most younger kids can't grasp the realities of plans laid out in years.
  • Health: Can't forget our juggling acts of nutrition, first aid, doctor/massage/chiropractor appointment managers, etc. We have to keep them operating at top shape, even if it means forcing them to go to bed earlier than they want, lol
I'd be interested in what others would add to the list.
Great list, Messamare! I don't have much to add, but would say sometimes just being a sounding board is crucial. It's taken me years to recognize that I can't always offer advice or fix anything, but sometimes she just needs me to listen and be supportive. Now when she comes out after a bad practice I ask, "What do you need from me right now?" instead of immediately jumping in with suggestions.

I've never pushed. She has driven this from the beginning, but I have helped talk her through the tough times and celebrated the great times. I think a kid has to be very self-driven to make it to the upper levels, and no matter how talented a kid is they won't keep pushing if they don't really want to be there, no matter how much their parents might want it.
This is a tightrope I never thought I'd be walking. My kid is most definitely not a talented gymnast. Physically I think she could have been, emotionally she didn't express an interest in competitive until the ship had sailed.

So now I just want her to reap as much benefit from it as possible so I try to gently encourage, but I never want to be the parent who actually caused her to quit because I pushed too hard.

Incan confidently say we're not living vicariously, but really don't want to be at the Xmas dinner in 10 years with her expressing regret that we didn't push more.

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