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Confessions of a Gymnastics Dad

Written by: Mickey Fuertes

So you just signed your kid up for gymnastics? That’s awesome!

Is my opinion influenced by the fact that I’m married to one of the co-owners of Industry Gymnastics and, by extension, the more kids that sign up for gymnastics, the closer I get to my goal of being the first “Real Househusband of New York”? Possibly.

But let’s ignore that for now! You’re here! You’re part of the “Gymnastics Parents Club” now! Congratulations and welcome!

Both my son and my daughter have been doing competitive gymnastics for the past 5 years and they love the sport and I suppose I could sit here and wax poetic about all of the benefits of doing gymnastics, outlining the multiple positive impacts the sport will have on your child’s health and fitness and overall well-being and blah blah blah.

But I’m not here to do that. Oh no, no, no!

I feel it is my civic duty to share the “inside information” I’ve learned over the past five years of being on the front lines, to detail all of the stuff that isn’t covered in the “New Parent Orientation”, to outline exactly what you just signed yourself up for.

Without any further ado, here are the “Top 10 Things I Wish I Had Known About Gymnastics Before I Signed Up My Kids”.

1. Gymnastics competitions are often hosted on either Saturdays or Sundays. That’s it. It’s that simple. It’s not even up for debate. Your weekends are no longer yours. Those previously sacred days of rest now belong to bedazzled leotards, atomic cloud-sized plumes of chalk, and hundreds of overly enthusiastic children. I fare thee well on your journey.

2. Imagine being the personal driver for a celebrity. But the “celebrity” is actually your child. And, instead of driving to and from star-studded events, you’re driving to and from gymnastics meets. Also, you aren’t getting paid. That’s your new weekend job.

3. Remember those atomic cloud-sized plumes of chalk I mentioned in Number 1? Congrats! It now lives on your clothes, in your car, on your child, in your child’s lunch box somehow, in your hair, in clothes you didn’t even wear to the competition. Chalk is everywhere, a faint essence that haunts your life and your dark colored clothing. You know that pre-game routine Lebron James does? Where he claps an excessive amount of chalk into the air? Now imagine a retinue of Lebron James clones following you around and clapping chalk clouds everywhere you go. It’s like that. (But with more chalk.)

4. Since gymnasts are genetically engineered creatures from another planet, they don’t need as much sleep as their parents. By consequence, gymnastics meets will often start at disrespectfully early times that are most often reserved for newborn infants and small birds. So plan to stop into a coffee shop on your way to the meet and order an IV drip of caffeine.

5. Gymnastics is a weird sport. The boys teams will compete in 6 events, while the girls teams will compete in 4. And while most meets last 4-5 hours, your child is only “actively competing” (i.e. performing their routine and skills on a given event) for roughly 60 seconds per event. That means that, at most, your kids are “actively competing” for 4 - 6 minutes. I’m not a mathematician, but I believe that equates to spending 0.05% of your time actively cheering for your child. And spending 328% of your time in a state of existential crisis.

6. Gymnastics is the only sport that I know where you don’t earn points. You only lose them. Here, let me explain. Gymnasts begin with a “Starting Value” of, let’s say, 10.0 points. From there, the judges spend their time looking for mistakes and, subsequently, deducting points from their “starting value”. What’s worse, is that, from where you’re sitting, it will all look arbitrary. I’ve been watching my kids compete for 5 years and I can’t tell the difference between one kid’s performance and another’s. It all looks death-defying and amazing to me. I’d give them all perfect 10s for just having the audacity to launch their bodies into the air in the various ways that they do. I know, for a fact, that I cannot do 100% of the moves that these pint-sized daredevils are doing.

Here’s a fun story: during one recent practice session, my son asked me to grab a high bar, hang straight down, arms straight above my head, and swing my body backwards and forwards. So I did exactly that. I grabbed the high bar, hung straight down, my arms straight above my head, and swung slowly, backwards and forwards, for about 10 seconds. Simple enough, right? Well, my shins hurt for the next two weeks. My shins! Why did my shins hurt?! I didn’t even use my shins! I was using my arms! What the hell did my shins have to do with anything? What black magic had this boy done to me?! Ok. I’m going off on a tangent. My point is, gymnastics is hard. The scoring is confusing. And my shins still hurt.

7. As soon as you tell any of your friends and family that you’ve signed your kid up for gymnastics, they will inevitably ask “So when are they going to the Olympics?” I know this is meant in good fun. And it’s nice, I suppose. But let me just be completely honest here: your kid probably isn’t going to the Olympics. There are 4 spots on the U.S. Women’s Olympic Team. Four. And, by my estimates, there are 3,985,456,238 gymnasts (give or take) who all want to make it to that team. Again, I’m not a mathematician, but the odds are slim that your kid will make it to the Olympics. Is it possible? Of course. But is it also possible that I can teach myself how to swing on a high bar without injuring a completely unrelated part of my body? Of course. Now, are either of these things likely? Probably not.

8. So while your child probably won’t make it to the Olympics, they will, however, have a highly valuable skill set that will suddenly expand their career horizons. Careers like gymnastics coach, circus performer, gymnastics facility owner, stunt person, Batman, professional wrestler, personal trainer, etc. The sky's the limit!

9. Leotards are the ubiquitous uniform in gymnastics, so I’m sure you’re already aware that you’ll need to purchase a few for your new gymnast to wear to practice. However, what you probably don’t know is just how frustratingly difficult it can be to fold a leo. I’ve tried a bunch of different methods. I’ve watched “How To” videos on YouTube. I even tried practicing on origami folding paper. Nothing helped. I think the next season of Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up should be entirely dedicated to leos. Until then, I’ll stick with my “haphazardly rolled burrito” method and call it a day.

10. All jokes aside, gymnastics is a truly wonderful sport. It will teach your child the value of hard work, focus, and determination as they work to master each skill. They will become stronger and healthier and will have abs before they even start caring about abs. Their teammates will become an extended family and, by consequence, your support network of parents will grow as well. We look out for one another, we treat each other’s kids as our own, and we scream and celebrate no matter who ends up on the podium. The sport will change your lives. And that’s what I really wish I had known about gymnastics before I signed up my kids. Because, if I had, I would have signed them up much sooner.


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