A beginner's guide for helping your daughter decide whether gymnastics will just be an after school hobby or a sports...
How does playtime become a career?
You don't say whether your daughter is a beginner at gymnastics or whether she has years of experience in this demanding sport, but to some extent, I'm not sure how much that matters.
I think that the greater part of this "decision" will be answered by your daughter in the form of how much energy she puts into this activity, over a longer course of time. I've watched my own daughter get interested in a couple of different sports, get all the equipment, learn all the jargon, master the rules, etc. But, after a year in one case, or a couple of years, interest wanes. I've tried to determine when she needs a push to get over a learning hump and when I want to push her because the investment in the sport makes quitting annoying to me, this is not always a clear distinction.
When she has whined that she isn't as good player A, or as graceful as player B, I've struggled to express the idea that the girls who excel in a particular sport, usually work very hard at it. Player A was awarded the opening solo at the annual skating show because she practiced 5 days a week, not just in the 10 minutes before each group lesson. By this route I am getting to my point.
If your daughter is destined to make gymnastics a career, it will come from within her and develop over time. She will be one of the girls who is pestering you to allow her to stay late and work out every chance the facility is open and available for practice. She will acquire skills that bring her clearly to the atention of her school coaches. She will get involved in competitions not just as those the school sets up as part of the program but competitions that are set up by the local, state or national association that governs or oversees the sport in the US.
After years of watching my daughter and the various excellent participants in the sports she has played, it is clear that the one who excel to the point of having a career option are driven internally because they love that particular sport.
Of course, they need help to achieve that, but your help will be generally in the familiar parental roles of cheerleader, chauffeur, logistics manager and of course, the financial backer :) Particularly at the younger ages, she may know of a competition, but it will be up to you to make sure she is registered on time and that there are no conflicting family events on the weekends involved.
The more she competes in her sport, it seems, the more involved the competitions, the distances to them, and the commitment involved. These may well become the primary events driving family dynamics for a while, but it will be your daughter's initiative that gets the ball rolling.
I don't think I can stress that enough. The drive to compete, to participate and to win, will, and for that matter, must, come from within your daughter. To climb much beyond the after school hobby stage, the sport must capture her interest, attention and initiative to the point that you may need to remind her that she also has to study (she'll naturally want to compete at a collegiate gymnastics level when the time comes:), to achieve her ultimate goal.
Through this, you're still a parent. There may be times she doesn't achieve at the rate she wants to, she likely won't win every competition she ever enters, and disappointments hurt no matter what age, and therein is your job to help see things in perspective and to help her pick herself up and continue on.
In the beginning, she could play the sport because she likes it and wants to have fun. She may need encouragement to enter beginning competitions and the like, but within a couple of years, if that, the energy and drive to continue needs to come from within her if there is a remotely serious chance of making this her vocation as well as an avocation.
The flip side of this is, of course, that if you have to drag her to every practice, constantly remind her to take the necessary equipment to school on the right days and generally bug her to get it together , she probably won't stay with this sport for long, and certainly it will remain an after school hobby, at best.
As parents, it seems to me a lot of the time all we can do is put the opportunity in front of the kids and see what they do with it.
Some days we wind up sweeping up the pieces and some days we have to hang on with white knuckles in order to stay on the ride, but it's the kid who determines the route.
Whatever it is, take every opportunity to see her play and enjoy the sport. They grow up overnight.
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