A demanding sport such as gymnastics can have positive and negative effects on a teen's behavior. Female gymnasts are especially vulnerable to eating disorders, but some males fall victim to the sport’s pressure to be thin and win. For some gymnasts, the sport sparks confidence and the desire for excellence. For others, it becomes a battle to maintain a lean body. Parents need to be aware of the benefits and dangers of the sport.
Obsession About Weight
Many gymnasts entering their teens become anxious about gaining weight and believe they are overweight even if they're not. Parents should be aware of their child’s fixation on how much she weighs. Often these athletes spend hours looking at themselves critically while obsessing about weight. Remind her that the amount of body fat, not weight, determines better performance, and a balanced diet is the key.
Upon entering puberty, a gymnast begins to realize that movements, once second nature, become more difficult to perform. Body image might then become an obsession, too. At this stage, the gymnast begins to limit calorie intake for fear of weight gain. This obsession is a symptom of anorexia nervosa, which is common in a sport that favors a lean body. Watch for symptoms such as severe weight loss, infrequent or nonexistent menstrual periods and thinning hair.
Gymnastics is a difficult sport requiring precision, strength and grace. Because it is so challenging, mastering gymnastics skills can promote confidence. Being on a team also gives gymnasts a sense of acceptance, which is always good for self-esteem. According to Sharon Johnson, executive director of the Heart of the Valley YMCA, "Psychologically, gymnastics takes discipline and competitive drive, and builds confidence and empowerment."
Desire for Excellence
Gymnastics requires accuracy and concentration. As a result, the sport creates high achievers with high expectations for themselves. USA Gymnastics National Safety Instructor Michael A.Taylor states, "Studies examining the study skills of high school and college athletes has consistently ranked gymnasts as having the highest GPAs ..." Generally, gymnasts excel in other sports and other aspects of life as well.