How To Decide: Letting Your Child Compete in Competive Sports
From the very beginning, our daughter Emery has been the fearless leader, the adventurer, and the daredevil. She impressed us within her first year with her amazing ability to climb anything with incredible upper body strength and flexibility. Neighbors, friends, and extended family watched with us as she grew into a tenacious, athletic and free spirited child—the joke being that when she was an Olympian we would look back on all of the home videos from her childhood, reminiscing about how she was always destined to be different. Special.
Our journey in gymnastics began just seven months ago in a beginning Tiny Tots class at an Olympic training gym. Emery had never had any prior gymnastics training (we just knew she was strong and flexible) and, within a matter of weeks, she was advanced to the next class. Three weeks after training in Tiny Tots 2, the coach advised that we try-out for the Pre-Team class, as she was quickly advancing through all of the skills. The following week, I sat and watched as Emery was challenged and pushed in the pre-team class during her try-out. She tried her best, held her head high and frequently looked back at me giving an enthusiastic thumbs up. Her journey had just begun as a member of the USA Gymnastics Association.
Fast forward five months later and Emery is now training as a Level 2 gymnast and on the TOPS (Talent Opportunity Program) team at her gym. She has yet to reach the eligible age of 5 to compete but we are grateful for the extra time she’ll have to continue to push her mind and her body to new heights. There’s definitely good weeks and bad weeks, and we’re learning a great deal about the necessity of her body and mind being in succinct to have success in the gym. Through our journey, I’ve also learned some extremely valuable lessons that I want to share. I imagine some of my insight will be valuable to anyone no matter what stage of life you or your family are in, so thank you for being here and I hope you are able to take away something from my words.
If you had the opportunity to read yesterday’s words from Erica Ward, I want to echo something that she mentioned about setting goals. One of the greatest joys from watching Emery compete at her first mock competition last week was watching her reach small goals that she had set for herself at the meet. Erica’s words were so impressionable to me that I really stopped to think about what goals I had for myself, my family, and for each of my daughter’s individually.
If Emery’s learning anything from gymnastics, she’s learning the power of what it means to have a good work ethic, how to push her mind and combat negativity and the trials she faces, and how satisfying and empowering it is to reach a goal. To those that have shamed us for pushing our daughter past the limit, my answer to them would be that we respect their opinion and, in return, ask that they respect our judgement as her parents to let her pursue a dream we know she is capable of reaching, despite the hardships physically and mentally we know she will have to endure at times. We know that these experiences will mold her to be an incredible, capable young woman, with a future filled with endless possibilities.
Why we pursue elite sports then, you ask? We believe whole-heartedly in giving our children every opportunity to excel and succeed in whatever it is brings them joy. I know one of the greatest gifts and sacrifices I can make as a parent is to let my children spread their wings and fly, to encourage and push them outside of their comfort zone, to let them find what is is they are passionate about, and to give them the tools needed to hewn those skills to develop their sense of self.
Another means in which I can help them is to support them in their passions and be their biggest advocate. Like I said, no one knows your child and believes in your child more than you, and portraying that knowledge can be more powerful than anything in helping them build and maintain their confidence. When children are at such an impressionable age, I believe confidence is KEY in their progression. I am definitely that crazy mother yelling/hollering/cheering like crazy from the sidelines. In fact, I had a conversation with my mom just yesterday about how I felt so self conscious at Emery’s meet and she re-affirmed that I should never feel ashamed for expressing how much I care about my child’s success. So don’t be afraid to build them up, to cheer, to holler! I’ll be right there with you!
One of the biggest and the best questions I am asked is how I juggle being a mother to two other daughters and how I make each of them feel equally valued, validated and special. As mentioned above, we encourage them to explore their interests and find what it is that makes them feel fulfilled, but the second part to this question is that this is an evolving answer; it’s a process that needs constant evaluation. I’m not ashamed to say that I am not perfect at juggling the needs of all of my daughters, but I am open with them, they know that I am human, and we talk together about what areas need improving, what their concerns or insecurities are, and together we work through things and get closer to being able to answer this and many other questions.
Our oldest daughter, Olivia, is very artistic and has very different interests than Emery and, even though the conversation at times is uncomfortable, we talk openly about Emery’s gymnastics and encourage her to express her feelings. I’ve seen time and time again that feelings of jealousy and hurtfulness evolve into a strengthened relationship with us and her sister, resulting in an increase in her interest and support. Just the thought of those shouts from Olivia and watching her move down to get closer so that she can take pictures at a meet makes my eyes swell with tears. These kids need each other’s support and love. Family is everything!
I understand that everyone has a different story. That pursuing sports or some activities at a higher level is unreachable. To those and all parents, I encourage you to continue to set the bar high for your children, to talk openly with them and set goals that they should be working toward each and every day. We should constantly be open and willing to change, to shift, to implement new ideas that can help our children grow, learn, overcome, and rise above! Each child has something special within them, the ability to change the world, if in the smallest way. I believe in that with every fiber of my being.