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Archive for Life Lessons

This guest post by Laura Amann was originally posted a few years ago on this site, but it is worth a read again. 

disappointed gymnast

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 ½ hour back and forth to the gym so that 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.

Eventually after three years of this schedule, the 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.

So much attention has been given recently on the downside of focusing on just one sport at such a young age, that we overlook some 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.

Perhaps the biggest lesson that she’s learned is the one that amazes me the most. Because of her rigorous schedule, she’s developed a kind of discipline that some people only dream of: when she’s tired, she goes to sleep; when she’s not hungry, she doesn’t eat. And that’s a life experience worth learning.

Laura Amann is a freelance writer and the mother of four children. You can learn more at www.laura-amann.com.

Image source: Stock.xchng

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Note: The following is a guest post by Mark Folger – coach and gymnastics school owner. I have wanted to write about this very topic for some time but just never could get the words just right – Mark, however, shares many of my same thoughts and makes clear, actionable recommendations to keep our children and the good coaches safe.

It appears that the children in our society are more in danger from predators than many of us would have believed prior to the last few weeks. News of alleged inappropriate behavior toward children from coaches in college football, gymnastics and college basketball brings to the forefront the age-old questions, how do we protect our children from people who want to do them harm? How do we allow our children to reap the benefits provided by all the wonderful adults involved in youth sports while protecting them from that small percent of one percent of coaches with immoral motives?

First and foremost, our children must understand what constitutes inappropriate touching. But, if prevention is our goal (rather than reaction), we must teach our kids to recognize the signs of prepping and baiting used by adults to build relationships with children that may allow future abuse. What seems to be common to all the cases reported is that the children involved were allegedly set up for the abuse over a time frame of months or years.

Unfortunately, the things a coach tries to develop in a good relationship with athletes, trust, confidence, care and concern are the very things a pedophile tries to develop when “setting up” future victims. This forces parents, coaches and administrators to walk a very fine line between protecting our children and falsely accusing good people. But, it should also lead all of us to accept and implement certain guidelines that are set in stone and followed without exception. Doing so will go a long way toward protecting our children from that percent of one percent of coaches who want to do them harm and it will protect the nearly one hundred percent of adults involved in youth sports for the right reasons from being falsely accused of inappropriate behavior.

TEN STRATEGIES FOR PROTECTING OUR CHILDREN
(and their good coaches)

1. A coach should never be alone with a child, not before practice, not after practice, not during travel.

2. Coaches and athletes should never share hotel rooms when traveling.

3. Coaches should not provide special treatment to one or two athletes compared to the rest of the team. This could be trips to movies or ballgames, gifts, etc.

4. Team sleepovers should be supervised by multiple adults. Use common sense when considering the sex and number of adults supervising this type of activity. Make sure parents are involved.

5. Trust your child’s coach, but not blindly. Trust is something earned, not given. It must be continually earned or it should be taken away.

6. Parents should monitor their child’s relationship with his/her coaches, not in a conspiracy theory, witch-hunt way, but to simply confirm they’ve chosen good people to guide that part of their child’s life.

7. Everyone should report abuse when witnessed. Not hearsay or rumors, but if you witness abuse, REPORT IT!

8. Adults should intervene on behalf of the child when witnessing child abuse (if you can do so safely).

9. Children should understand what constitutes inappropriate touching and know to report it when they see it or experience it.

10. If you are one who is part of that percent of one percent who coach or get involved with youth activities for immoral reasons, please get help.

Note: Although these thoughts are presented in a coach/athlete mode, they can just as easily be applied to many adult/child relationships.

About the Author: Mark Folger has coached gymnastics for over 30 years and is  currently on the USA Gymnastics National Committee, and was the USA Gymnastics 2009 Junior Olympic National Coach of the Year. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in education from the University of Oklahoma and spent two years in graduate school there studying sports science (primarily youth sports motivation).

Categories : Life Lessons, Parenting
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Rally for Girls’ Sports Day Today the National Women’s Law Center is hosting Blog to Rally for Girls’ Sports Day as a way of celebrating the importance of girls in sports and the far-reaching benefits of athletics participation for girls nationwide.

For the past 26 years I have been an advocate for girls participating in sports and have (and continue to) been involved as a coach, parent and athlete. The primary reason I started Sports Girls Play was to provide a positive resource for other parents, coaches and athletes in a wide range of sports. Having coached literally hundreds (probably closer to a thousand) girls from ages 3 on up, I have seen the benefits of sports directly as these little girls have grown into successful young women. I have seen the benefits of sports in my own daughters’ lives and have chronicled quite a bit of it here.

Some of the articles that I have posted over the years that I think best represent the spirit of the Rally for Girls Sports Day include:

So, in support of Rally for Girls Sports Day, take a minute and answer the question, “What did you win by playing sports?”  in the comments below.

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