Parent’s Guide to Surviving a Competition
One of the common questions I always get asked from parents is what coping mechanisms can they use to stay calm during competition. Outside of the obvious answer of lots and lots of booze(just kidding), the answer varies much on the person. For me personally, the answer resides in the coping tools I have acquired from years of coaching. After years and coaching and experiencing plenty of highs and lows I have developed a tough skin when it comes to competition regardless of the sport. As a coach I have had the displeasure of being on the receiving end of disqualifications, falls, injuries and mid-race “brain farts” from my athletes. On the flip side. I have had the pleasure of watching many of my athletes do amazing things on the track. I have experienced just about everything there is to experience as a coached which has prepared me well to deal with the pressures of watching my own child compete. I try to use many of the techniques I have learned from coaching to benefit me as a parent, and they work, generally. There are times when the crazy parent in me takes over, and all bets are off. My cool, calm and collect persona goes running to the hills and is replaced by the “whose dat dude” persona who thinks “WTF judges” when a less than desirable score pops up and the “meet me outside, how bout that” when the start value isn’t right (noticed I said “think” and not say). By in large, I am pretty reserved when it comes to my daughter competing. In this blog, I am going to explain some of my coping skills, and hopefully, they will benefit you.
For this first coping mechanism if you have read any of my previous blogs, it might sound like I am beating a dead horse because I am. The first way to keep your sanity on competition day is to eliminate as many surprises as possible. Surprises are pleasant, except when they suck! As a coach, I have learned to despise surprises when it comes to competition because I usually end up on the wrong side of them. I hate surprises so much I actually watch movies in reverse(just kidding). No athlete should be surprised they won a match if they are then they weren’t ready to compete anyway.
On the other hand, athletes are always amazed that they lost a competition. As a parent, I have adopted the same philosophy of hating surprises because just like coaching I am typically on the wrong side of a surprise. In order not to be surprised I try to attend as many practices as possible. Being at practice allows me to see in advance what my daughter’s weaknesses are. For example, all through Level 4 my daughter struggled with the full turn consistently. When we would go to competitions, sure enough, she would fall off the beam, but I was cool because I was fully aware of her struggles and that she and her coaches were aggressively addressing them. Coming to practice consistently will allow parents to set realistic expectations
Avoiding the Race To The Bottom mentality
One of the most significant factors that drive parents bonkers is when they develop what I like to call the “Race To The Bottom”(R2R) mentality. The R2R mentality is when parents become fixated with beating one particular athlete on their team. (Let us pause for a second as parents hide their face in shame). The reason why I call it the R2R mentality is because in many cases the athlete they are trying to beat may not be the one that is best on the team. (pausing for shaming) It is just an athlete that may be similar to their gymnast in age, the time they started the sport, or some other random reason (pausing for shaming). The problem with having the R2R mentality outside of the fact it is ineffective and detrimental for building team cohesiveness is two things. First, if beating a particular person is your main focus, and that person is not a top competitor than very often an athlete can develop a false sense of success when it comes to winning. Secondly, if you are looking at gymnastics from a long view standpoint, a gymnast’s true competition for a college scholarship is not standing next to them, but training in another gym hundreds if not thousands of miles away. Beating one of your teammates very rarely offer any long-lasting benefits unless your teammate is Simone Biles or the like. I understand many parents feel that by beating the best person at your level in your gym is simply a gauge of progress which is true. My only caution is ensuring it doesn’t extend beyond just a “friendly” competition.
It is all just a Social Media Post.
In many cases, depending on the level of the gymnast a win at a competition is only good for a bunch of likes, hearts, and thumbs-up emojis. Outside of emojis and the “future Olympian” or “can I get your autograph before you blow up” comment, wins are good for a social post, but that is about it. Unless you are in the upper levels, no college scholarships will be given out at the meet. You’re child’s 5 minutes of fame will be lost to internet oblivion as soon as you share that meme about going to work or the meme about losing weight (don’t act like you don’t know). Now, this isn’t to devalue winning because I love winning more than anyone but parents have to keep winning (and losing) in perspective. If a person focuses on winning as an opportunity for growth and not the “end all be all,” then it is much easier to accept and compartmentalize the results.
There are only 2(maybe 3) competitions the rest is practice.
Losing sucks, but winning and losing also has to be strategic. I always tell my runners that champions know how to win when they need to win not necessarily when they want to win. Since I am a track guy, I am going to use Usain Bolt as an example. Usain Bolt, a nine-time Olympic gold medalist, Bolt won the 100 m, 200 m and 4X100 m relay at three consecutive Olympic Games. Now, many people will talk about Usain losing but what most don’t realize or care to admit is that those losses were only in non-Olympic years. Following this same chain of thought, early in the season, a coach may opt to focus on developing a particular skill versus getting the “W.” If you have a coach like this then, you might have lucked up and gotten a very smart coach. This approach to training quite often drives parents crazy because it is painful to sit and watch an athlete intentionally lose. To keep your sanity assume that every competition outside of qualifiers is just a more expensive version of practice. Staying in communication with the coach and understanding a coach’s long term goals for your athlete will also help to ease the jitters. Notice I said to understand and not necessarily agree with a coach’s approach because often a parent won’t agree with a coach’s approach and that is where trust comes in.
It is what it is
Some say that food is good for the soul, that is true and so is a “gud ole fashion” beat down! The reality is sometimes a good ass kicking is a good option for growth. Getting the breaks beat off you every once and a while helps to keep an athlete grounded and hungry. At the start of a competition, every athlete wants to win. No one goes to a competition thinking, “you know what, I think I will just take a beating today.” The real question is, has the athlete done what is necessary to deserve to win. As a parent, you have to ask yourself, and your athlete, have we done what is necessary while in practice to deserve to win. If that answer to that question is “no” then the reality is you probably won’t win. Even if you have done all the preparations to earn the “w,” sometimes, the truth is their better may be better than your better.
Lastly, gymnastics just like any other sport is recreation and just like most recreation, gymnastics is supposed to be fun. Youth sports is a rollercoaster ride, there will be highs and lows and just like a roller coaster we will look up, and the trip will be over. Soon our babies will be out the house and going off to college so just like a roller coaster strap in, make sure your valuables are secure and enjoy the ride.
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Until next time, peace and soul….