Written by: Coach Kelley
You’ve signed your child up for gymnastics. You and your little one arrive at your first class ready to learn all the tumbles, flips, and spins. Surely the Olympics are right around the corner and Simone Biles will retire someday, right?
But are you, the parent, ready for class? What makes a great gym parent? Should you be an active participant or sit quietly in the lobby? Do you go home and YouTube all things gymnastics or do you let your child figure it out on their own? How do you determine when to sit and when to impress your child with your best attempt at a cartwheel?
Growing up as a competitive gymnast, I was very fortunate that my mother was heavily involved with my gymnastics team. Ginger gave me and my teammates rides to practice and helped set up the competition gym for meets. She went on food runs when we had Friday night sessions and knew how to do the tightest braids in the entire state. During meet season she ran the score table at local competitions. Every ribbon handed out had the gymnasts name and score written on the back in Ginger’s perfect handwriting. What she didn’t do was hover. She didn’t question my coach or interrupt my practices. Heck, I’m pretty sure half the time she missed my routines because she was busy filling out awards.
In the gym your child should be 100% focused on their instructor. Unfortunately, some parents have dubbed themselves honorary assistant coaches. And while we know that these parents have the best of intentions and sincerely believe they’re helping their child by signing instructions through the plexiglass, it may be hindering their child’s performance.
Even if you have previously coached and or played a sport at a high level, remember, this is a time to simply be a parent. Being a previous competitive athlete doesn’t change your role. You’re still a spectator. It's tough, but understand that you're not your child’s instructor during this time, so there’s no need to coach from the sidelines.
Here's six way to be an amazing gym parent:
This isn't the zoo, so please don't tap on the glass - and maybe don’t do it at the zoo either, it stresses out the animals. Parents who tap on the glass to get their child's attention are not only distracting their child and the rest of the class, but they’re setting up a potentially dangerous situation should their child fall from the balance beam or peel off the bar because they weren’t focused on their coach. We know it's tough to let someone else instruct your child, but they'll learn so much more if you let them focus.
If you have a gym with glass or garage doors, this isn't the time to stand outside and follow every moment of their class waving and taking videos. They'll inevitably start looking in your direction instead of paying attention to what they should be focusing on in class. And when they're focused on you instead of their coach, it puts a lot of extra pressure on them. Kids are natural people pleasers and will be forced to choose which adult to please, and which adult to disappoint.
Phones away if you're in a grown up and me class! We agree that the little ones look absolutely adorable when they're walking across the beam with their diaper hanging out of their leotard, but it's so much more important to give them a hand during class. I recommend taking one video during the first class, one mid-semester, and one at the end of the session so you can see your child’s progress.
If you have questions about your child’s progress or behavior, email or speak to your child’s coach directly, but don’t have these conversations in front of your child. Just don’t do it. Remember, everyone progresses at a different rate and it’s important to let your child learn at their own pace. Comparing your child to another child will either make them feel superior (which is not attractive), inferior (which damages self-esteem), or not loved for who they are (which isn't good for your long-term relationship).
At the end of the day, gymnastics is supposed to be fun. Don’t make the sole focus be the athletic success of your child. Instead, focus on their work ethic and ability to be coachable and respectful. Research shows that when parents place an emphasize on success, the athlete is more likely to lose enjoyment, become averse to competing, and will be more likely to drop out of the sport prematurely.
Take care of yourself. As a gym parent, you spend so much time taking care of your family, that you're probably neglecting yourself. Taking care of yourself makes a happier you, a happier child, and a happier coach. So instead of watching practice, why not go grab a latte and a yummy treat at the bakery, go get a manicure, or quietly read a book at the library? Take advantage of the fact that your child is safe and having fun, and use this time for a little self-care.
So how can you best support your child? Be present. Encourage them. Smile. Put the phone away and enjoy your child’s first steps across the balance beam with your own eyes. Remember, your kids aren’t going to be doing youth sports forever, so sit back, enjoy the sport, and let the coaches worry about the coaching.