My days of gymnastics are over. So are my long hours at the gym. My nervousness and anxiety. It’s all in the past. No more ponytails woven with ribbons, no more glitter spray, no more bleacher analysis. My daughter has left the sport.
For years, Caroline competed on a gymnastics team and she adored everything about it. Four days a week, we drove the half hour back and forth to the gym so she could practice 15 hours a week, year-round. I volunteered, I chatted with the parents, I watched and learned and bit my nails. The parents became my friends, the meets became a social time.
But after four years of this schedule, her complaints began: the coaches were too hard, she had a headache, she was tired, she had too much homework. Her message read loud and clear: she was burnt out at the age of 11.
With all the attention given recently to the downside of focusing on just one sport at such a young age, it’s easy to overlook the benefits. Yes, kids miss out on the opportunity to dabble in other sports or activities. Homework is often done in the car or in the bleachers. Dinner is split into two meals: before practice and after. She frequently misses out on seeing her three siblings compete in their own activities.
Yet as we leave the world of competitive gymnastics, I’m forced to reflect on all that it has given us. We’ve heard many comments lamenting our “lost investment” or pointing out all that wasted time and money we’ve expended (and it’s been a tremendous amount, don’t get me wrong), but it’s certainly not wasted.
By focusing so singularly on a sport, she’s learned tremendous life skills, not the least of which is valuable time management skills – homework and friends must be balanced with the team schedule. Competing individually in front of judges has taught her to handle intense competition and scrutiny in a way that class presentations never could. She’s mastered stress management and developed a self-confidence that will serve her well in any type of public arena.
Her teammates have taught her about the deep bonds you develop with others who share your passion. She’s met some close friends and seen the good and the ugly side of competition. She’s learned about nutrition, hydration, caring for injuries, pacing yourself and pushing yourself.
All before the age of 12.
It’s humbling to realize how much of my version of her is wrapped up in her being a gymnast and how much of her identity involves her being a gymnast. It’s part of what defines her. This is the fine line that we must walk as parents: when to encourage them to keep going over a bump in the road, and when to guide them to another path. There are never clear street signs.
We’ve watched in amazement. And now we will watch as she walks away from what defines her the most. She’s young; there will be other time-intensive activities I’m sure. The gymnastics world will slowly fade away from our family’s routine. Life goes on. But I will be forever grateful to the sport, to any activity, that can inspire and push children to dream and grow.
Laura Amann is an Elmhurst mom.