How to Parent a Competitive Gymnast

By S.R. Becker
Elite gymnasts often spend five to seven hours a day training.
Elite gymnasts often spend five to seven hours a day training.

Competitive gymnastics, especially at the elite level, requires parents to invest a significant amount of time and money. It may all seem worth it when you imagine your child winning Olympic gold, but USA Gymnastics cautions against pushing toward a goal, stressing the importance of keeping gymnastics fun. Even before their children reach the elite level, parents of competitive gymnasts may feel as if they've become nutritionists, massage therapists, cheering squads, chauffeurs, medics, coaches and psychologists.

Pay close attention to your child's health. Question any coach who asks your child to compete despite injury or return to training too soon. Take your child to the pediatrician for regular checkups and a sports medicine specialist in case of injury. Make mental health as much of a priority as physical health; competitive gymnasts face psychological issues such as eating disorders and competition-specific anxiety. Ask a trusted coach for a referral to a sports psychologist if necessary.

Advocate for your child. Although coaches have to be strict, they shouldn't be abusive. If your child is no longer having fun in gymnastics due to her coach or the gymnasts with whom she trains, look for another gym, no matter how good the reputation of the first. No medal is worth a lifetime of psychological distress.

Give supportive but honest feedback. Praise your child for what she does well while encouraging her to work on problem areas. Constant praise isn't any more helpful to a competitive gymnast than constant criticism. However, leave the coaching to the coach; don't tell your child how to perform skills.

Tell your child often that her most important competitor is herself. It doesn't matter who wins; it matters that she did better this time than last time. Even if she didn't win a medal, personal bests deserve praise. Maybe she fell off the beam last time but stayed on this time; maybe she stuck a difficult vault. Let her know that you noticed these things and are proud of her.

Encourage perspective. If you or your child become so wrapped up in competition that you're not happy unless you're winning, it's time to take a step back and reassess. Even though an elite gymnast's time is largely spoken for, find time regularly to go out together and do something that isn't gymnastics related. Remind your child (and yourself) that there's a whole world outside the gym.

About the Author

S.R. Becker is a certified yoga teacher based in Queens, N.Y. She has a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has worked as a writer and editor for more than 15 years. Becker often writes for "Yoga in Astoria," a newsletter about studios throughout New York City.