My Experience at the 1st Annual Brown Girls Do Gymnastics Conference
The summer of 2017 I took my daughter to the 1st annual Brown Girls Do Gymnastics Conference. At the start let me say, I had a great experience. I learned a lot as a parent but what I enjoyed and appreciated the most was the experiences and lessons my daughter received from former collegiate athletes that looked like her. Although I didn’t attend the second day(major bummer) due to prior obligations, in this blog I will talk about my experiences from the first day.
Based on a diversity study performed by USAG in 2007 the population of African American girls in gymnastics was 6.6 percent. Although I think that number has grown since Gabby Douglas, and Simone Biles became Olympic Champions, I still think the percentage is tiny. Needless to say outside of my daughter’s gym there are not many girls who look like her on the circuit. When a parent notified me of this conference, I viewed it as a perfect opportunity to get my daughter exposed to experiences that she would be able to file away mentally and look back on for support down the line.
The first couple hours was mainly meet and greet. During that time the gymnast spent time creating leotards for a future HBCU gymnastics team. They also spent time participating in a “who’s who” in gymnastics contest. It was funny to see that outside of Sophina DeJesus these girls didn’t know anyone! Although, I can’t talk because outside of Dominique Dawes I knew very little. I was also surprised to realize that there were no HBCUs that offered gymnastics as a sport. One of the former gymnasts explained that she was in the process of presenting proposals to several HBCU in the hopes of changing that dynamic.
The next couple hours were spent listening to former college gymnasts tell their stories about life as a college gymnast. They talked about injuries, education, and life after gymnastics. They described what life was like being a college gymnast and the day to day grind that comes with being a collegiate athlete. They described juggling classes, practice and how important it is to maintain a social life.
In regards to pre-collegiate gymnastics, my impression from all the gymnasts is that their biggest regret was sacrificing being a teenager in high school. They impressed upon the gymnast the importance of experiencing the fun that comes with being a teenager. Missing a practice periodically to see a high-school football game or just hang out with friends won’t be the determining factor in earning or not earning a college scholarship. They help put in perspective what gymnastics in college was designed to do. Doing gymnastics collegiately albeit fun is merely a way to help pay for a college education.
One of the gymnasts described her struggle managing both the nursing program and gymnastics. She explained how she was told several times that doing both gymnastics and the nursing program would be too complicated. She talked about how through all her struggles she relied on a poem given to her by her grandfather called “It Couldn’t Be Done by Edgar Albert Guest.”
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.
We heard from another gymnast that had been severely injured in college and could not compete anymore. She explained the emotional struggle of having to deal with life after gymnastics. She told the girls that she had to learn that gymnastics was not her whole existence but just a part of who she was. This train of thought resonated with me because any gymnast is a pass, a flip or a tumble away from injury so parent’s need to ensure we keep the role that gymnastic plays in the overall scheme of things in perspective when dealing with our gymnasts.
While the gymnast went to train, the parents got an opportunity to talk with a dad of a collegiate gymnast. The information he provided was invaluable. He spoke of the value of dads involvement with their kids’ gymnastics. He said when gymnasts look up in the stands they are looking for dad because daughters view their dads as a security blanket when there is insecurity around her. His statement resonated with me because as a coach I think it is imperative for parents to understand their lane when it comes to youth sports.
When athletes screw up, they typically know they screwed up. They are told by their coaches they screwed up, they are told by their teammates about the screw-up, and their score is typically indicative of the screw-up. Getting in the car and reiterating what has already been said by three other groups serves no other purpose than to make the parents feel better(but I digress). The dad also talked about fathers having to swallow their pride when it comes to dealing with college coaches. Keep in mind when your child enters college they are considered an adult. Although, a gymnast may be daddy’s little girl, to a college coach who livelihood is dependent on winning they are adults and treated accordingly.
Honestly, my daughter didn’t enjoy the conference to any great extent, but that was fine. The goal wasn’t necessarily her enjoyment but her exposure. I am trying to lay the foundation for her future and exposure to people who have already been there is a great learning opportunity. She was eight, and I am sure she would have much more preferred being at home creating slime or watching youtube. Although she may not have enjoyed it as much as I would have liked in the long run when things get rough, I will be able to say to her “you have met several ladies that look like you and they made it so you can make it to.”
The gymnastic drills they had the girls doing was okay. It was difficult for my daughter to commit and embrace the training because she was accustomed to being trained by a few select coaches her whole life.
Overall, it was a great conference, and I look forward to attending there this year. My only regret is that I didn’t participate on Sunday because that is when an African American gymnastics judge was speaking, and it would have been interesting to get her insight on the current standing of the sport and the politics that exist with gymnastics from a judge’s perspective.
In my opinion, Brown Girls Do Gymnastics and similar organizations are critical for African American gymnast to participate in. Learning from other people who have already “been there and done that” helps to reduce the learning curve for future gymnasts if leveraged correctly.
To learn more about Brown Girls Do Gymnastics visit : browngirlsdogymnastics.com