Love the Battle

Gymnastics is, arguably, the hardest sport in the world. Okay, I’ll give you that it’s one of the hardest sports in the world, but I will take on any middle-aged, football obsessed man when he argues otherwise. And my reasoning is simple: gymnastics only gets harder.

I recently saw one of those inspirational fitness posts on pinterest that said, “It doesn’t get easier, you just get better.” While that may be true for soccer, or football, or baseball, or basketball, gymnasts get no such break. Sure, a cartwheel on beam seemed impossible when you were six and it’s like sleepwalking now, but the sport simply gets harder with you. You got your round-off back handspring? Great, now add a back tuck. Mastered the tuck? Make it a layout. Layouts are easy? How about a full? Now a double full. Two-and-a-half and add a punch front out of it. Do you get my point? And that was literally the progression of one possible tumbling pass on floor.

When a basketball player masters a free throw, do they move the hoop higher? (It’s called a hoop, right? I’m basketball illiterate.) Do they make him scoot back a foot? Make him do it behind his back? No, I’m pretty sure he gets to be awesome at free throws forever. My point is this: gymnastics takes a mental tenacity that very few sports require. And at a much younger age.

I don’t want to get all “kids these days” on you (I still feel like a kid myself, if I’m honest), but allow me a moment to point out some truths. There is a lot of pressure on parents today to raise successful kids. Kids that are great at sports, maintain near perfect GPAs, have test scores to get them into their college of choice, and being varsity in a sport is pretty great, too. I’ve met Kindergarteners with Spanish tutors, and kids who have been learning sight words since they were two. We want our children to succeed so badly that we’ve forgotten how to let them fail. And then we’ve handed them smart phones so that they learn to expect instant gratification. (I’m still kind of shocked my smart phone can’t make dinner for me yet.)

What does this have to do with gymnastics? I’m glad you asked. Sports take time. Blood, sweat, and tears. The very obstacles that modern day parents are under pressure to alleviate for their children. Gymnastics, the hardest sport in the world (see how I brought that full circle?), is a sport that your child will never master. Because there is always a way to make that newly mastered skill more difficult. Then there will be skills that take your gymnast years to learn, even though they only took her teammates a few weeks or months (go ahead, ask me about my blind change on bars). The current generation’s need for instant gratification will be met with shocking resistance, and according to those in the know in the sport, it’s beginning show.

I’m sure you’re completely surprised to hear that my family often talks about gymnastics (though not as much you’d probably think). In a recent conversation with my dad, he said this:

The more I have thought about this [the changes in today’s athletes], the more I realized this is why I was ready to retire from the day-to-day coaching in my gym. It wasn’t that we lacked talented gymnasts but it was because they seemed to lack the desire to work through whatever it took to accomplish their goals — working through pain, dealing with disappointment, and being motivated by failures instead of avoiding them. As I have aged I have looked at my time differently; time is more of an investment where it used to be something I had a lot of. I was feeling more and more like the time I was investing in the girls was no longer the best use of my time. Coaching the coaches, on the other hand, has rejuvenated my love of teaching and I continue to feel inspired to do so.

That is obviously not to say that this is universal amongst every gymnast competing today, but the pace of modern life has changed things for modern athletes. There are no shortcuts in gymnastics (or any sport) and if failing at a skill after trying it will keep you from trying again, you will not succeed.

Recently, an Olympic gymnast came to our gym to spend an evening with the gymnasts and share some inspiration. She mentioned that at one point in her career as an elite she was trying to master a new skill on bars and made herself do it 50 times at every practice. 50 times! I can’t think of any skill I did 50 times in one practice. And even with that repetition, it took her a year to get it. 50 times per practice for a year before she could do a skill. Nothing could be further from instant gratification.

But take heart gymnasts, parents, and coaches, because the beauty of the sport is that gratification, though it won’t be instant, when it comes, is more satisfying than you can imagine. It’s what keeps us coming back. It’s the reason we cheer so loud when you finally stick a beam routine at a crucial meet, or finally manage that blind change on bars. The first time you get a 9.0 at a meet or go for your series on beam will be a moment that sticks with you for life. Eventually you’ll get addicted to seeing the outcome of your hard work, the satisfaction that comes from knowing how hard you worked. Success in this sport is never given, always hard fought, so as we said at my gym, “Love the battle.”

3 Comments

  1. No doubt gymnastics is hard, but it’s goofy to compare it or claim it’s harder than a team sport. In gymnastics, you’re always competing against yourself, really–trying to do something perfectly. You never have another great gymnast jump onto the beam with you and try to wreck your routine! Which is exactly what happens in baseball, hockey and football! And other team sport. In football, as a quarterback, you can absolutely perfect throwing a perfect spiral on the skinny post, but, hey, guess what? If you misread the defensive coverage, your perfect ten of a pass winds up being a horribly embarrassing interception.

    Apples and oranges.

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    • Ah, see, now you make very valid points, but this is where I maintain my statement that I would still argue gymnastics is more difficult. First, you’re assuming that because gymnastics is an individual sport, the team effort doesn’t mean much, which is just not true. Sure, no one is on the beam trying to push me off it, but I am very aware that if I wobble, the opposing teams will see an opening and aim to be better to get a higher score. Gymnasts and coaches these days are very aware of what place they are in as a team and an individual at any moment in a meet, and you better believe that they put pressure on themselves to either win the meet, or not give away the win with a few small mistakes. Second, I feel that we should clarify what makes a sport difficult. I tend to define it as a layman’s ability to participate in the sport with little or no experience. For example, let’s say you took a professional football player, basketball player, and an elite gymnast and asked them to do each other’s sport. The gymnast and basketball player could play a game of pick-up football. Not at a professional level, certainly, but they could play it. Same would go for the gymnast and football player playing a game of basketball. They may not even make a high school team’s lineup, but they could certainly play a game. Put that same football player and basketball player on pommel horse and I’d like to see them manage even the most basic skill. I’m convinced there is not one event they could manage a passable skill on except floor, and even then it would be a cartwheel or a forward roll. That, to me, is the beginning of what makes gymnastics the more difficult sport.

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  2. I am gymnast myself. I am 10 and I am in level 5. At the gym you do go through sweat, tears pain and blood but, that doesn’t mean I am going to quit, when your a gymnast, you have gone to far to quit. I am in level 5 NAND I am already working on giants by myself and back hand springs on the beam. I tumble through the floor and I do a level 8 vault sometimes at practice called pike souke. After you fail it is more then impossible then to go up and do it again.gymnastics is not the sport when you do cartwheels across the floor and you walk across the beam. Gymnastics is a sport that you can never get a A+ or in another case! a 10.0. And if you do get a 10.0 guess what! That doesn’t really mean anything. It means you were perfect once, not every time. Now, you have to work on the other skills turn that layout into a layout full, or turn that back tuck into a double. In gymnastics who have to have the courage to stay.i myself struggle a lot, what helps me is I think in my head “you can do it” then I have a greater chance
    to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

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