What you should know before putting your child in competitive gymnastics
The life of a competitive gymnast
The life of a competitive gymnast is very different from the life of a normal kid or teen. It forces children into responsibility and maturity at an extremely early age. While there are many benefits to competitive gymnastics, the drawbacks are worth considering.
There are things you should know before your child becomes heavily involved and committed to competing in gymnastics; sure the prospect of a future olympian, or a college scholarship sounds fantastic; however, parents who place their emphasis on this will burn the child out and cause unnecessary stress.
Before your child commits, ask yourself, is this what I want, or is this what he/she wants? If he/she is successful but one day wants to quit, would I be okay with that, despite all that we have invested?
Realize that it is not just your child committing, it is your entire family and close family friends.
Make sure your child knows what you expect and what you don't expect out of the experience. Fore example, you may choose to say, "We will commit to trying this out for at least two competitions and then decide what you want to do." , or "If you ever feel overwhelmed, let me know so we can discuss our options."
Get to know the coaches and their personality. This can be important in determining how your child is being treated and what kind of training methods are being used. Often, in the realm of competitive gymnastics, the coaching techniques may be detrimental to a child. Be cautious of this. The best way of knowing if something is up is by communicating directly with the coach on a regular basis.
Decide and discuss with your child and spouse what you are willing to invest in the sport. Sometimes, competitive gymnasts are asked to train up to forty hours a week. They even are sometimes asked to begin home-schooling or charter school at the gym so that they may allot most of their time to practicing.
Understand that travel will be a factor even in the lower levels of competition. As your rise in skill level so do the lengths and distances you will travel.
Beware of becoming the type of parent who wants it more than the child. This is so sad and often the case with gymnasts. The parents are pushing their child beyond their personal and emotional limits. For a growing child, this is not healthy.
Communicate with your child as to how they are feeling about the sport, the practice, and the lifestyle they have. You should always let your child know that they can tell you when they are feeling upset or discouraged because of something going on at the gym. Often there will be routines they can't nail, or certain aspects of the training they are having difficulty coping with.
Ask your child frequently if this is what they really want. A gymnast who doesn't want to be a gymnast lacks the inner motivation to succeed. This will often lead to depression and other emotional disorders.
If your gymnast has siblings, jealousy may arise, as the time and commitment your family will have to invest may make the siblings feel that your gymnast is the center of your family.
Allow and advocate for your child to have other interests beyond gymnastics. Remember, gymnastics is not a life sport; gymnasts are considered "old" once they turn 20. It is important that they have other interest and knowledge for the future.
Understand that not every child can go to the olympics and be an elite gymnast. Maybe your child does have what it takes, but that alone should be enough; only 7 girls/men make it to the olympics on team USA every 4 years. In reality, this being your only goal is simply not healthy. You never know what is going to happen; injuries, eating disorders, desire to quit, could possibly "ruin" that shot at the olympic dream.
Eating disorders are common with competitive gymnasts. Though they are more rare than injuries, the effects of EDs last well beyond the time the child stops gymnastics. Sometimes, these disorders will arise after they quit.
Gymnastics is a dangerous sport. Imagine doing blind flips on a four inch wide beam. There are serious risks involved with serious consequences.
All in all, competitive gymnastics can be a great experience for a family, and play a key role in the development and maturity of a child/teen. The decision should be thought about and discussed thoroughly before deciding to commit.