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The End of an Era: When a Child Abandons a Sport

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

5 Comments

1

What A fantastic article! My Daughter (7) is just beginning her gymnastics journey and sometimes I wonder if it is ‘worth it’ I’m so interested to hear your perspective. Even though your daughter has left the sport, I’m glad you say it still benefited her character!

2

Such a great post and I could not agree more with you! I’m 25 now and played soccer since the age of 7, competitively since the age of 9. The lessons I learned are worth so much. I know my parents invested tons of time and money (think the cost of sending a family of 4 to Disneyland EVERY YEAR!). I learned how to push my body and mind further than I thought possible. I learned the ups and downs of friendships and how to cooperate with people even when you’re not friends. I learned how to prioritize my time between sports, school, friends and family. The list could go on and on. I think finding the balance between competitive sports and childhood is hard, but if both parties (child & adults) listens to one another and are honest with one another, the things that can be learned are invaluable.

3

Like your daughter I spent a great deal of my youth training in the gym and I know how time consuming it can be. When I look back on my years as a gymnast I remember how much I enjoyed it and how it taught be a lot about discipline and time management. One thing that I was very grateful for is that my parents urged my to try as many sports and activities as possible before committing to just one to pursue. As we get older sports get more competitive and time consuming and even though I ultimately did not continue with gymnastics, I too believe that it helped build and shape my character.

4

Just wanted you to know how much this spoke to me. This is our life only we drive 50 minutes one way. Currently our daughter is 9, going four times a week for 3 hours. She loves it. But I dread the day that she might get burnt out. I am already seeing the things she misses out on with her friends and with her brother. But her passion for the sport so far has out weighed the things so far. I am so glad you shined some light on what these girls give up to be a gymnast. With it not being a school sport I don’t think their classmates or teachers realize how dedicated they have to be. Thanks!

5

I sit and read this with tears flowing down my cheeks- I couldnt have said it better. After 5 years of gymnastics my 13 year old announced with hesitation & through tears she wants to quit. The part about your identity of them hit like a ton of bricks. Its her hobby, her body, why then such a huge emotional struggle for me? 🙁

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