Over the last several months, I have questioned myself more than once. Little Miss is on team for gymnastics. She was invited to be a part of a group of girls last year who wouldn’t compete but were expected to move up quickly this year when they started competing from level 3 to level 4 during the season. Last year, she was ok with it – especially since she didn’t have to compete. As time went on, that started to change.
Little Miss has always been fairly good at gymnastics. It’s the sport that she’s stuck with, and she’s enjoyed it. She always looked forward to going to gymnastics and trying new skills, but that started to change in the last year. She told me she wanted to quit gymnastics. I didn’t let her. While on the surface, that sounds like awful parenting, I didn’t let her quit because the sole reason she didn’t want to continue was that it had started to get hard and she didn’t like that she had to work at it.
Sticking with it, she started to like it again as she mastered new skills. That said, I can look at her and the other girls on her team and tell you that Little Miss will never be an elite gymnast. She likely won’t ever get a college scholarship for it. I am not banking on gymnastics being her future, and I’m ok with that. That isn’t the reason that we do gymnastics – or any sport – to begin with. It’s about the life lessons and skill you gain and the enjoyment you derive from it instead.
Life Lessons to Learn from Sports
What do I want my children to get from sports?
- Dedication to seeing their commitments through
- Learning to work well with others
- Accepting that to get better at a skill, you have to work hard
- Understanding that being the best isn’t the most important thing
- Taking pride in hard work and success
- Being happy for others’ success
- Learning to fail with grace
- Self-motivation to improve
- Honestly evaluating skill levels
When Children Fear Failure
We started to have the same issues come up with competition. She told me she flat out didn’t want to do it. As her mother who knows her extremely well, I didn’t take that at face value either. As I asked her more about it, she shared how she didn’t want to be in front of people. She didn’t want to be center of attention. She didn’t want anyone looking at her.
What happened to my outgoing child who used to fear nothing, who would do anything, try anything, and had friends following her everywhere she went? I feel like some of it is that things have been too easy for her. She has always been well liked. School has never been a challenge. She’s athletically gifted, as well. When you don’t have to work for anything, you start to fear failure, and that puts you in a terrible position.
I told her that she had to compete this year, that I would sign her up for the first three meets of the year (one of which is exhibition with no judges) and we could reevaluate after that. I couldn’t let her make competing into a huge thing in her head and let her walk away from it, never facing her fear because I know my daughter and I knew that it was all in her head. Once she faced her fears, she would be fine and hopefully that would also encourage her to face other challenges in life.
I’ve questioned this decision time and time again since starting down that path. Competitive gymnastics is somewhat painfully expensive from monthly practice fees to membership in local and national organizations to her leos and warmups that cost more than any item in my own closet, plus meet fees (which thankfully our gym believes in competing only once a month or so). I don’t want my child to be miserable, and I don’t want to throw money away for no reason.
When the coach in charge of all the teams called me to express concern over Little Miss, the doubts flowed in. Little Miss was holding back, and they weren’t sure what to do. I had her try practice with a lower level team, but she didn’t like that and expressed a desire to stay with her original team.
And that’s when things started to turn around.
She started giggling with the other girls and talking about two in particular who are her favorites to hang out with during practice. She told me about more skills that she was mastering. She started asking to stay after Friday practice to go to open gym. And most importantly, her coach pulled me aside to tell me that he could see a completely different attitude in her. She was finally starting to try.
I heaved a sigh of relief, but at the same time, it remains obvious to me that she lags behind the other girls on some skills. To this date, she refuses to do a roundoff back handspring on the floor. Since that’s a required element in her routine, I started wondering if she’d even be able to compete – and what being told she wasn’t good enough would do to her.
Yesterday was her first meet. Fortunately, it was the exhibition and was relatively casual. Even so, Little Miss was anxious. But at the same time, she seemed excited. On Saturday night, we went to open gym, and I saw her practicing her bar routine over and over again. She even did her floor routine (sans handspring) a couple times.
Parents at gymnastics meets are almost superfluous though. Once I put her hair up and drop her off, she’s pretty much on her own. I can’t reassure her with a hug or offer any words of wisdom. Instead, I can only watch and hope it goes well. And watching was hard… I could see from her body language that she wasn’t having fun.
And I doubted myself even more.
Lucky for her, bars was the first skill for her group. Unluckily for me, I didn’t realize that they’d started and thought they were just warming up and ended up with no photos. Because the couple photos I took while adjusting my camera I deleted, waiting for her actual routine. Oops. Bars went great though. She nailed every skill, and stuck her landing.
Floor was the next skill, and it was obvious that this is the least favorite. You can see that most girls in gymnastics took – or still take – dance classes based on how they move, while Little Miss was never interested. They were all solid in their routines, requiring no spots and with no major flubs. Little Miss was the only girl who had a coach on the floor to spot her flip flop. But she did it, and all the girls “earned” a medal once they finished their routines.
It was when she was presented with that medal that I finally saw her first smile. It must have sunk in that she was really doing this and succeeding. By the time they got to vault, her entire body language changed. She had her game face on, once I recognized.
As I watched the girls do their vaults, I was struck by how they all struggled with it. Everyone one of them required a coach to catch them and flip them over. If they made it that far and didn’t just face plant on the mat. Little Miss was the only one who didn’t require any assistance with her straight legged vault. After the sixth girl, the coaches lowered the vault and had all the girls go again.
I loved that the coaches saw what was happening and changed the situation to ensure that the girls succeeded. That level of caring and watching out for the team is the way I want my daughter to be treated, and I started feeling even better with my decision for force Little Miss to face her fears.
I don’t know if it was something the coaches said after her vault or whether she simply knew that she was doing well, but the look of smug pride on her face as she ran back to her team after her last vault warmed my heart.
Beam was last up, and it wasn’t easy for any of the girls. Being so high off the ground engenders a level of trepidation amongst all of them, and I can understand that. Many fell from the beam at one point or another, including Little Miss, but they all hopped right back on and continued. Their leaps were small and often shaky, but they did them.
Little Miss finished came out of the gym at the end of the meet with a hop in her step that definitely wasn’t there on the way in. She told me she had fun. She wanted to see the photos I’d taken. And she told me it was nothing like what she’d thought it was going to be. She hadn’t realized how many girls would be competing. She didn’t know that they would make mistakes. And she didn’t know that they’d all cheer for each other. Most importantly, she’s looking forward to our next meet in December.
As I walked with her to get her warmups and head home, her coach stopped me. He wanted to tell me how much of a change he’s seen in her over the last month or so. And that though he spotted her flip flip, he didn’t touch her. She did it all on her own, and both he and the other coach for their level agreed that she’s got it – and they made a point of telling her – and they’re going to push her to do her whole routine going forward. He was amazed by how rock steady she was in the competition and how her attitude at practice has turned around.
So I was right. Little Miss needed to face her fears. But I don’t feel a sense of triumph over it. This wasn’t a competition of me against my daughter. Instead, I’m relieved that it worked out well. And for all I know, we may still be done with gymnastics after the third competition in January, but I’m starting to think that won’t be the case.