What It Takes To Be A Gymnastics Parent

If you have a little girl, in less than 12 months you will probably be hearing the question “Can I take gymnastics?” Of course, you may have already heard it. So, here are the ins and outs of gymnastics parenting. You may or may not decide to do it after reading this.

I am a gymnastics mom. I laugh when I hear people talk about how demanding it is to be a soccer mom. Until my daughter started gymnastics 3 years ago, I never realized how demanding children’s sports can be on children and their families. Gymnastics dominates the family schedule, takes over the family budget, and requires an almost inhuman level of endurance. On the brighter side, it develops grace and character while protecting its children from today’s teen social scene.

The gymnasts that we see on television once every 4 years are “elite” gymnasts. It takes an entire childhood of intense training to qualify to represent the USA at the Olympics. This intense training includes upwards of 25 hours per week year round. While it does require a huge sense of dedication and commitment on the part of the athlete, it also requires a great deal of sacrifice on the part of her entire family. A competitive gymnast does not go on vacation without her coach’s permission. If you plan to take your family to the beach for a few days, your daughter will most likely be staying with a teammate while you are out of town. The daily schedule is grueling once your child reaches the advanced levels of the sport.

Transporting your child between the gym, her school and home becomes the activity the rest of your day revolves around. You may be able to arrange a carpool when your child is in the beginner levels of the sport. But as she advances, her team will shrink and there will be fewer families with which to carpool. You will drive her to the gym at 6 or 7 AM. Since she is in training while the busses are running, you will have to drive her to school after her morning work out. When she gets out of school, it’s not likely that she can take a school bus back to the gym. You have to pick her up and drive her to the gym. When she finishes her afternoon training, your other children may actually already be in bed. You will have to return to the gym and pick her up. But her day is not over yet. She still has homework to do for school.

Not only is gymnastics costly in terms of time, but also in terms of cash flow. My daughter’s tuition is $355 per month. We purchased a hybrid vehicle to offset the cost of gasoline. But we estimate that we are still spending nearly $200 per month on gasoline. Each competition an athlete participates in has specific expenses associated with it. There are entrance fees and travel expenses. At level 5, these expenses are somewhat minimal since level 5 athletes only participate in meets in their own states. The coaches’ expenses are divided among the athletes. After level 5, teams tend to get smaller as athletes quit the sport. So coaches’ expenses are absorbed by fewer athletes. Also, as the teams get smaller at the higher levels, competition starts to involve more travel to out of state and sometimes even international destinations. This starts at level 8. Even clothing is a significant expense.

A girls’ gymnastics team usually looks pretty sharp entering a gym for a competition. Their uniforms can be pretty costly. My daughter’s current competition “warm up” was $200. Her competition leotard was about $100. The leotards she trains in usually cost about $50 each. Since she trains 6 days per week, we have invested in dozens of leotards. On the brighter side, we don’t spend much money on other clothing. She seldom has the opportunity to wear anything else.

As a team parent, you will be participating in frequent fund-raisers in a desperate effort to lower the cost of this sport. This will take yet more time away from the rest of your family. Fund-raisers are usually designed to benefit the entire team. The money that is raised can help offset the cost of competition and team uniforms. If your child is talented enough to make it to levels 9 and 10 and even to qualify to compete at the national championship, this event will cost thousands of dollars. Many booster clubs take a great deal of pride in sending a child from their gym to Nationals. Often, they will hold fund-raisers specifically to help alleviate the financial burden for their star athlete’s family. It can be heartbreaking for parents to have to pay to send the coach when they cannot afford to attend the event themselves to see their own child compete as one of the nation’s top athletes.

As for the athlete, what does training involve for her? If your daughter cries when she stubs her toe, this sport will either toughen her up or kill her. She is not likely to get past level five without any injuries. Last season, a young lady on my daughter’s team broke her knee cap training on vault. She finished her training session before going to the doctor and getting it x-rayed. This child was eight years old. Any gymnast would be proud to show the calluses on her hands. The tougher her hands are, the higher her scores probably are on bars. At the compulsory levels (4-6), athletes are taught to “rip” the blisters on the palms of their hands and continue to train on the open soars.

The endurance training can be grueling as well. One endurance exercise at level 5 involves hanging from the uneven bars for upwards of 10 minutes without letting go. As an athlete works her way up through the levels, her skills will become more challenging. From levels 1-4, young athletes learn skills such as walking on the balance beam and doing cartwheels on the floor. Once a child has had her 7th birthday, she is eligible to compete at level 5. At this point she can do a cartwheel on the balance beam, multiple back handsprings on the floor and a front handspring on the vault. When she progresses to level 6, she can do a back walkover on the balance beam and front and back flips (called “tucks”) on the floor. If she still likes the sport after completing the compulsory levels, she can embark on levels 7-10, the “optional” levels. This means that her parents get to spend approximately $500 for a choreographer to put her unique floor routine together. Then, she and her coach can customize her bars and beam routines to look like her floor routine. As she progresses through the optional levels, her new skills are incorporated into her existing routines, unless her parents choose to spend another $500 getting new routines for her each season.

If all of this sounds overwhelming, it is. But there are reasons parents choose to keep their daughters in gymnastics. One reason is the physical strength and grace their daughters develop through the sport. If you think that humans cannot fly, take a good look at a well trained gymnast. Another reason for continuing in the sport is the strength of character girls develop because of the level of dedication the sport requires. When other girls are “trick or treating”, these girls are training at the gym. When other girls are attending “Homecoming” or “Prom”, these girls are still training at the gym. When other girls give up on goals that are difficult to pursue, these girls have already achieved goals way beyond the reach of most people. Lastly, many parents choose to keep their daughters in gymnastics because it thwarts the influence of today’s teen scene. Girls who spend all of their time training simply do not have time for boys.