Creating community through competitive sports
In my career, I have seen bonds of friendship created at Knightdale Gymnastics that have spanned decades. Yes, I am old. Girls have been in each other's weddings as bridesmaids. They have been godparents to each others' children. These friendships began in the gym but they overflowed into competitions, team outings, pit cleanout days, sleepovers, camps, play dates and all kinds of other activities. It's easy to create these bonds with the gymnasts; they are here ALOT. But it's not so easy to create the same bonds with the parents. Especially since we don't encourage our parents to attend practice. (That's a whole other blog post...)
So, as parents how do we do it?
Most importantly, if you have the opportunity to participate - do it. Be involved in any capacity you can. Pit cleanout day? Be there. Chaperone the sleepover? Be there. Team trip? GO. If there is something the gym or the team is doing and parents are allowed to attend, then attend. There are few better ways to get to know someone than to be slinging pit cubes out of the pit for 4 hours.
Be helpful. If the coaches ask for help, be willing. Personally, my favorite parents are the ones I know I can count on when I need help. Also, the parents who are always helping are the ones who create relationships with each other and with the coaches.
Then, there is the role that you will play as a parent of a gymnast. How you react to others in that role can be a determining factor in what types of relationships you create and how those relationships will affect your child.
Be a supporter of your team, coaches, support staff and program. If you are constantly criticizing the program your child is in, or the coaches who work with your child, you are fostering a negative relationship right from the start. Not only for you and the coaches, but for other parents. Parents who support a program will not take kindly to other parents criticizing it. And FYI, they always rat you out.
Be a positive energy. Every day, people feed off each others' energy. Have you ever had that friend you enjoyed being around? The one that after you've spent time with you feel better about yourself and life? Be that person for your coaches, your child and the other athletes and parents. Being positive is contagious. Unfortunately, so is being negative. I am a firm believer that even if you aren't saying how you feel with your words, your energy says it all. Your body language and facial expressions can tell a whole story. And our children are perceptive body language readers. Even if they don't know exactly what it is, they will pick up on and begin to exhibit your feelings about certain issues. If you have trust issues with your child's coach, they will too. If you don't like a certain gymnast or her parent, your child will start to have issues with that gymnast as well. Even if you never say a thing to them. Trust me on this. It does happen. Our children are also master spies. If you are having what you think is a private conversation with your spouse, another parent or a friend, and your child is ANYWHERE in the vicinity, I guarantee they will tune in. So, always be positive in your conversations about them, their gymnastics, their teammates and their coaches. Use the golden rule: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.
By supporting your child's coaches you are fostering relationships with them that will be filled with positive energy for them and for your gymnast. But by engaging and supporting other gymnasts and parents, you are creating a community to lean on and being part of a community of parents and athletes allows you a place to ask questions, get advice or learn from those who came before you. During your child's long gymnastics journey, she is going to have happy moments and not so happy ones. You are going to be confused about scores or skills or levels. She is going to have a bad meet. She may get injured. If you have taken the time to create relationships with other parents and athletes, you have a great support network for those not so great moments or for the moments you just don't understand what is going on.