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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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Dec
07

How to Coach Your Athlete at Home

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Gymnastics Takes BalanceI read an article by Asha Forster Grebenik this week titled “How to Coach Your Gymnast at Home” – it honestly should be required reading for all sports parents – feel free to substitute your child’s sport for the gymnastics references in the post – and for that matter all parents in general! From her post…

Your gymnast does gymnastics at home. All the time. In every room. And you’ve watched enough gymnastics to know that certain things she’s doing are incorrect. So how do you make these corrections at home? You don’t. Let me repeat that. Do. Not. Coach. Your. Child. At. Home. Nothing will make your child’s coach cringe internally more than hearing that you worked on x, y, or z at home. You are not her coach. Don’t do it. Don’t even tell her to point her toes.

As sports parents most of us are guilty of “trying” to help our athlete at home – we think we are helping – we think we know what they need to hear – but guess again. As sports parents our job is to get our kids to practice, support them at meets, keep them fueled, and be their biggest fan. 

So next time you feel the urge to make a correction from the bleachers, in the car or in you own home – STOP – DON”T DO IT. Instead, give your athlete a hug and let her know you are so proud of all her hard work!

Categories : Parenting
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Note: I originally published this a few years ago but find it very helpful to revisit at this time of the year!

Our kids go back to school soon but many of our mid-west friends have kids who go back to school this week.  For us the first week of school is also the first week of practice on the fall schedule for the gymnasts I coach and my own kids go back to swim team practices this week, as well. As a coach and a parent, I know the next 3 weeks are going to be HARD! That’s because it is going to take about 3 weeks for the kids to adjust to being back in school all day and then going straight to practice a few times a week. But it’s going to be okay. Experience tells me that these first few weeks will be tough, but the kids will adapt.

As a parent, you can help make this transition time easier by:

  • Make sure your athlete is going to bed at a reasonable time. Summer sleep schedules were lax at best around my house so it is time to recalibrate the kids’ sleep schedules. I aim to have my 10 year old in bed between 9 and 9:30 on school nights. She can sleep in until 7 so that gives her plenty of time to rest. My 14 and 16 year old have to get up earlier but don’t seem to need quite as much sleep so they go to bed no later than 10 – closer to 9:30 on night’s where the homework load is light.
  • Make sure your athlete is adequately fueled. Long school days mean less opportunity for snacking but it also means that they will be hungrier when you see them after school. Start with a balanced breakfast – no a frozen waffle on its own does not count. Encourage your athlete to help pack their lunch or at least give you input so the chance of them eating it all is better.  If you are going straight from school to practice, make sure you provide a healthy mini-meal to refuel their systems (check our list of Healthy Snacks and Mini Meal Ideas). After workout try a tall glass of chocolate milk and a banana or bagel for immediate muscle recovery!
  • Communicate with teachers! If your child is still in elementary school, definitely let their teacher know what days they have sports practice. Many teachers will be willing to give homework at the beginning of the week so that you can focus on homework on off days, or at least conquer the more time intensive pieces on non-sports days. For middle school and high school students, it is a great time to learn time management skills. My kids have learned how to take advantage of in-school study halls and extra class time to get a jump on homework so they don’t have as much to deal with after school.
  • Allow for downtime. Be sure not to completely over schedule your child these first few weeks. Add activities incrementally and allow for some relaxation time. Time to read, play, enjoy family time and just chill is just as essential for kids as the sports they do!

As a coach, you can help by:

  • Being aware of the transition that your athletes are dealing with. Just acknowledging the new schedule and challenges will go a long way to helping the children relax.
  • Taking a few minutes to communicate with your athletes. When we start practice we have the girls all line up first so we can give them any pre-practice information, greet them and we usually go down the line and ask them each how their day was or some silly question. It helps the girls change gears and it helps facilitate the coach/athlete bond.
  • Stressing the importance of school. Remind your athletes that school comes first. If they need an extra 15 minutes at the beginning of practice to finish up homework, give it to them. As the year goes on they will find their stride and will learn to manage the homework/practice balance better.  Allow athletes to leave practice early on night’s where they need to study for a big test or have a larger than normal homework load.
  • Adjusting practice intensity. Know your athletes and know the signs of fatigue. The first few weeks of school you may need to adjust the intensity, number repetitions and lower your expectations a bit.

Years of experience from the coaching side and now from the parenting side have taught me that kids are resilient, they adapt and even the busiest schedule can be a positive thing – IF – parents and coaches are working together with the athletes as a TEAM.

Do you have tips for making the transition from the lazy days of summer back to the structure of balancing school and sports? If so – share them in the comments below! We can all benefit from working to support our athletes.

Categories : Coaching, Parenting
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