It is often easy to look back on a situation and reflect on how you would do things differently if you had the knowledge then that you now possess. We often find ourselves contemplating the ‘ifs and buts’ but usually feel we did the best we could at the time given the situation. When decisions we make as adults affect the welfare of our children it is not such a straight forward exercise, there is often an element of guilt and remorse which can be difficult to process and come to terms with.
A parent who found themselves in a situation where their daughter was in a negative sporting environment wrote a letter to their younger self as a way to gain clarity with their role in the process and to help find closure.
A letter to my former self.
One day you will get in the car after training and she will tell you she is done. This will hit like a bolt of lightening in a flash summer storm. Although you are stunned by the revelation you tell her it’s ok, it’s her decision and you support it.
Today you are waiting with her at the gym door, she bounces excitedly on her tiptoes waiting for her first class to begin. Who knows where this might lead, there are no expectations. She’s just excited to go and try. As she lets go of your hand and walks through the door you say to her ‘have fun baby’ but your words are lost as she squeals excitedly and skips into the gym.
One day she will go through those doors for the final time and you will go and sit in your car and wait out the 4 hour session praying all is going well and she is not in too much pain. Even though you know she has been struggling the past few months she has been so positive about her goals and aspirations you have no idea her journey will end today.
When she is small every event seems so important, climbing up the ladder of success one rung at a time. When she shows promise you start looking for a more competitive programme, hoping to nurture her talent and make the sacrifices worthwhile. Keep reminding yourself of the words you said that first day ‘have fun baby’. It is far too easy to be sucked into a culture where winning is everything and the means to get there are overlooked. Keep it fun, enjoy the process, be that shoulder to cry on and hug her as much as she needs it. It’s a tough sport.
I know it’s hard to picture that bubbly little 4 year old in her lilac flower leotard skipping off into the gym that first day ever experiencing an injury, but it will come. She may be encouraged to push through the pain, or return to training a bit too soon. Stand your ground, trust your instincts, if it feels wrong don’t agree to it. It may seem as if that upcoming competition is all important but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not. There will be many more opportunities to compete, take it easy, enjoy the process, keep her safe.
When times get tough, which they inevitably will, remind yourself of all the positive aspects of the sport, think of all she has experienced that will take her beyond her sporting life into adulthood. Gymnastics is just one aspect of her life that will help shape and mould who she becomes, it helps build resilience, enables her to function outside of her comfort zone and develops a strong work ethic. All important life skills.
A little adversity in life can be character building, however, be aware of the culture she is immersed in. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you feel something isn’t right, query it. Do not get caught up in a culture where parents are seen and not heard. She is your daughter, you want what is best for her, in the short, medium and long term. If you cannot challenge what you see, move on to a more supportive environment. Winning is not the ultimate goal, it is a bonus. Enjoyment, friendship and positive physical and mental health are the staples of a great sporting experience. Her enjoyment will fuel her desire to achieve.
Balance is important. Yours and hers. Try not to let her sport be all consuming. Take time out, enjoy family life, keep education in perspective. Encourage other interests, gymnastics will not always be the main focus of her life. Ensure she has an identity other than ‘gymnast’ to carry her through when she ends her career.
Enjoy the process. The highs, the lows, they will bring you closer together. Be on her side. Fight her corner. She is a child and deserves to be protected.
One day that final session will be yours to experience, do all you can to ensure it’s a positive one. Build a career you can both look back on with fondness whatever the competitive outcome. Make these years the best of her young life and enjoy the ride together.