After many years of taking gymnastics, Diva is now competing in meets. Sure, I'm used to having a child vie against others, but up to this point it's been in town rec sports like basketball and Little League which entailed an hour or two of practice a week. Gymnastics has been different because of the amount of work my daughter voluntarily puts into it; she spends 12 hours a week with her coaches.
So how can I, as a parent, help this 8-year old deal with the pressure inherent in any competition?
Well, first and foremost, I looked around and chose the right environment for Diva.
The gym we're working with emphasizes teamwork, nutrition, and personal self-improvement over everything else. This creates a nurturing atmosphere where members support each other. I've spent hours in the gym and haven't heard one child mock or berate another for not doing a move. The coach tells everyone before a meet to just do their best and that he will love them as long as they try. He instituted a program where he gave every younger child a “big sister” who acts as a mentor, making the older team members more conscious of their attitude and less likely to cop an attitude. The end result is that my daughter is even more in love with gymnastics than she was when she started on the team; she does what she needs to do (homework, chores, eat dinner, etc.) before joyfully sprinting to the car. She cannot wait to get to the gym!
The second measure I took to lessen the pressure has been to underplay the scoring aspect of the meets.
We've talked, nonchalantly, about how the scoring really doesn't mean much and how the numbers are just points used by the officials to compare one child's performance with anther’s. She and I have discussed that a number does not define you (whether it's a score on a test or in a meet, or a number on the scale). How you do one day will naturally differ from the next. The trick is to celebrate what you're doing well and problem-solve to figure out how you can improve on your weaknesses. Diva knows she is not competing with others, but rather, with her own previous performances. Thus, when she did not do well in one event, she was unshaken. “I'll have to work on that at practice,” she shrugged.
Lastly, before a meet, we casually talk about what we can do, at home, to help her prepare.
Sometimes, she spends time on the Internet watching YouTube videos of Olympic gymnasts and her own team; she scrutinizes their performances, commenting on what they did particularly well. She tells me what she would like to eat before a competition and after (carbohydrates before and plenty of protein after are her personal preferences). We agree that her bedtime the night before should probably be a little earlier. And often, on the way home from a competition, she tells what she thought of her performance and what she thinks she needs to work on. I can almost see the gears working in her mind as she analyzes the different aspects of gymnastics. It's fascinating!
I think my approach has been a healthy one. Whereas I understand others on her team have spent the week leading up to a meet crying, not eating, and exhibiting other signs of stress, the only symptom I've seen in Diva is a slight dip in her appetite just before a competition. Upon learning of the distress suffered by those other girls, the coach decided to just not enter them in the next meet. They came as spectators, of their own free will, to support their peers. "We don't have to compete, Mommy," Diva tells me. Knowing that her coach is behind her, no matter what, takes a lot of the pressure off.
Our family revels in her passion for and pleasure in the sport. Gymnastics is teaching her to love her body. It is teaching her discipline. She loves the team experience. As I write this, I am sitting in the gym where, a few minutes ago, I watched as the team watched each younger girl on the uneven parallel bars. After each athlete landed, the entire group clapped and shouted out compliments. My heart swelled as I watched my glowing daughter receive kudos.
Whether Diva chooses to stay with gymnastics (and it is HER choice) or quit tomorrow, the experience has been positive and is helping her grow.
How grateful I am that she's having this opportunity and that we've found the right community in which to nurture her abilities.
Additional resources on this topic include:
- The article “Competing Views On Competition” found at
- This wonderful piece by Dr. Sylvia Rimm on “Teaching
Healthy Competition” at
- “Competitive Sports - Helping Kids Play It Cool” is a
nice article that talks about healthy versus non-healthy stress; you
can find it here:
The KidsHealth website also contains a on good item on
- I LOVE this article by Wayne Goldsmith
outlining 50 things you can do to help your child achieve in a
sport. It includes ideas such as the warning that you not
introduce your child as 'my daughter, Diva, the gymnast' because the
sport is just something they do, not who they are (note: that is a
paraphrase of one of Mr. Goldsmith's incredibly valuable
suggestions). I wish every organization handed this list out at the
beginning of a season!
- The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
offers a PDF version of their article “Children And Sports”
I didn't think it was a great article, but it was worth a look.
Gymnastics is an expensive sport, as anyone with a child in it can attest to. One leotard is required, but several mean you're not washing the same one out every night. The best deal I found, so far, was a $10 leo which I got at Wal-Mart; it came with a matching scrunchy. Had they had more in Diva's size, I would have loaded up. The next cheapest I found was on the website Discount Dance Supply (www.discountdance.com) listed several recently for $17.55 and Amazon had the exact same models at the exact same price. The site dancewearSolutions (www.dancewearsolutions.com) listed at least two leos for $18.95. And the website Jillybeans Leotards (www.jillybeansleotards.com) contains a huge inventory with leotards starting at $19.99.
Since Diva loves all things gymnastics, she is immediately drawn to any shirts that proclaim her love of the sport. A few months ago, on a trip to Pittsburgh, we found a lovely little shirt in a Justice store there, on clearance, for $5! Again, had they had more in her size, I would have scooped up several. But there are websites that have cutesy little gymnastics stuff; these include:
- Zazzle.com (www.zazzle.com) – You can find keychains and buttons here for as
little as $3.65 each. I really like the assortment of gymnastics
posters here which would inspire any budding gymnast.
- Cafepress.com (www.cafepress.com) – This site has a ton of gymnastics-related
merchandise and I can tell you that they have WONDERFUL customer
service. When my son was unhappy with the quality of a iPad case we
ordered, they quickly replaced it with another one and told us to
keep the first one. I LOVE it when companies wisely make things easy
- Gymnasticsstuff.com (www.gymnasticsstuff.com) – Go there and you're likely to spend
hours perusing their gymnastics stuff. Their prices are
competitive, but they have a lot of links, so be prepared to do a
good amount of mouse clicking.
As always, thank you for reading. Please check back in soon, won't you?