A good friend said one morning after we returned from traveling to the other side of Pennsylvania, “Well, that’s a lot of travel for gymnastics competitions and I’m not sure I’d want to do it.” Yes, I agreed, it sure is a lot. And it’s particularly awful when you have a 7:45 check-in time on the morning of spring daylight savings time change! Given where we live, this sport does require quite a bit of travel. And yes, it does get expensive.
As we talked, I wondered about when you are single parenting three boys, how do I make decisions about the limited resource of money? After all, there was a recent new roof to be put on the house. The Little Guy needed an expander for braces. And there’s other sports and activities. On top of that, these boys seem to be constantly hungry and want food!! It made me reflect a bit about whether gymnastics is worth the time and money I put into it for this Little Guy.
On the surface, I kid with people that he’s in gymnastics because if he was home those two evenings a week and on Saturday mornings, he’d be stuck on a screen. At least for seven and a half hours a week, I’m not spending a lot of negative energy trying to get him off a screen. And I joke that when people tell me, “Don’t let your kids play ice hockey – it’s too expensive,” I reply, “Have you tried competitive gymnastics?”
So for me, here’s why I sink time and money and energy into this sport.
Strength. You should see the muscles on this little man. A fellow gymnastic mother lamented the other day that her 6-year-old son’s cute little baby belly had flattened into a strong six-pack. I agreed it was surprising to see the definition form. The Little Guy’s six-pack and biceps are the envy of his 11-year-old brother and all the kids in the neighborhood. And, this physical strength has done him well. The summer after his first competition season, The Little Guy became an amazingly fast swimmer on the little community swim league. He had perfect form. His arms motored him from one end of the pool to the other without effort. His body is toned, his coordination is extraordinary, and he’s able to easily pick up other athletic skills.
Power. More than the physical strength, though, this Little Guy has developed an amazing emotional strength and confidence. Mind you, he already exuded far more confidence than you’d expect out of a tiny human being, but he has honed that into a confidence that explodes when he walks into a room. A few weeks ago, he decided to do a “dance” for the school talent show. He didn’t practice at all. He didn’t see the need. He walked onto the stage and did whatever dance moves came to him. He has developed an inner power that makes him invincible.
Determination. There’s one thing that hours and hours of practice promote and that is a strong sense of determination and independence. The gymnasts are taught a certain skill and expected to work on it on their own. They are given a routine and are expected to practice it until they have it down perfectly. They are expected to remember how many swings to do before doing a release move on the high bar. They must remember to hold their legs exactly 90 degrees straight out in front of their body while hanging perfectly still from rings suspended in the air and not forget to point their toes. Not only is their brain remembering all this, their muscles are remembering all this and their bodies are aching. At one point toward the end of last season’s competition, the Little Guy had “rips” (torn skin in the palm of his hands that start with a blister and can tear open and bleed). Nonetheless, he wrapped sports tape around his hands and competed through the pain. At the age of seven. Pushing through difficulty, showing up, controlling his impulses, representing his team, trying his best. There are tremendous life lessons that he’s working through.
The thing is, I realize that his competitions also pull at my competitive nature. I start feeling frustrated and disappointed that he’s not “doing better” or “getting a better score” or remembering to point the toes. I have to step back and remember that there’s very few…very very few….8-year-old boys who can do this at all and who are willing to make this commitment. In truth, he is utterly and entirely amazing as are all the gymnasts.
So, I try not to think of the money. I try not to be tired of driving back and forth. I try to decide what is best for my boys. For now, gymnastics is nurturing and shaping this amazing little 8-year-old. For now this hard work and learning from tough coaches is important for him. For now, the comaraderie of his teammates and the great group of parents is an important part of our family life. He might not continue after this season. We’re on break right now due to the coronavirus (and he was sad Saturday morning when I told him gymnastics was cancelled even though he’s usually begging to “skip” a practice). And he’ll take a break over the summer to give his brain and body a rest. But I sure will support him if he wants to continue. And we’ll keep using those long drives to competitions as opportunities to explore our region (visiting Gettysburg and Philadelphia have been quite fun!) and to bond as a family.
For now this sport is worth it. We all know life changes rapidly!