The other week I wrote a bit about the serious side of being a gymnastics mum and about how loving our sportswomen daughters, supporting them and encouraging them is our role. And then this post on being a rugby mum (which I already am and which I suspect I have many more years of!) by my friend Tara made me think about some of the other things I have learned and discovered in 7 years of being a gymnastics mum, none more so than this year as I’ve been part of rebuilding the Phoenix Gym Academy in Peterborough.
So here are some of the things I now know about UK gymnastics and what you need to survive it. This is from the perspective of being a club level gymnast mum; thankfully I am never likely to need to understand the worries of a national squad mum! 😉
I’m also happy to be corrected as this is what I’ve learned as I’ve gone along 😉
Where are we at?
Most kids go in at a recreational level and do an hour or so a week. If your daughter gets invited to train for several hours a week in a smallish group with reliably the same coach each session, you’ve moved up in the world. If you start to hear the words ‘elite, development, regional, national, levels and grades’ – you’ve entered the world of the WAGM (Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Mum). Gird your loins, or as my friend used to say, “strap up your nethers”.
By the way, it’s a hard fact but if no one has mentioned the possibility of the Olympics to you by the time they are 7, you can be pretty sure that isn’t going to be where your daughter ends up. The good news is, there is a VERY big space between club level and the top and plenty of opportunity to progress and be stretched in that space and British Gymnastics is getting increasingly good at keeping gymnasts in the sport. The days of being washed up by age 8 are over.
There are about 6 words for everything.
Some clubs call an upstart a kip and some call a cast a lay-away. I have no idea why (it must be a UK/US thing). There must a 20 other examples of the same thing. If you want to understand a word your daughter says as she surfs the internet looking for moves she wants to do one day, you need to pay attention and do your homework. YouTube is your friend. There are tumbles on floor with names apparently bearing no relation to what happens in them, “front sommy walkout” being a case in point; it is actually a handspring, somersault, round off tuck back. No walking involved. These days I mostly try not to look anyway because it is all too scary.
You will ruin most of them, either by washing the shine off or washing the dark colour into the silver and white bits. My personal tip is to wash them inside out, in a pillow case that is sealed with a hair bobble, with a very small amount of detergent and on a slow, short 30c cycle.
It is very important to have a sparkly leotard with matching hair scrunchie that no one else has in your club and no one can say “Oh I nearly got that one from them but I chose this one instead”. People should always need to ask where it came from in admiring tones. *straight face*
It’s a proven fact that a new leotard will make a move that has been a stumbling block for weeks come naturally. You can choose whether you apply it to the gymnast before, saying “now shut up mithering about it and do your blooming cartwheel!” or afterwards in the form of a bribe or reward.
Do not, under any circumstances, tumble dry them. Its like ripping up money.
Gymnastics coaching is approximately 20% putting hair in plaits, so pray you have a coach who is good at doing pretty things with hair. Gymnastics parenting is about 50% hair inadequacy guilt. If you have a non hair-fabulous coach, find a friend who is, learn to plait or use Pinterest or, if all else fails, apply the “small bunches in see-through bands spiderweb” technique and a lot of hairspray.
Own a lot of hairspray.
Sparkly glitter spray makes it all seem a lot better.
Girls do 4 pieces:-
Vault – used to be a horse but people kept murdering themselves on it so it changed shape and consequently changed what you can do on it. You run at it very fast and do unspeakably quick things while trying not to hit a solid object at speed or break your neck on the other side.
Bars – used to be uneven bars (think Olga and her perfect ten and the ovary breaking bar wraps) but is now made of fibre glass, and called asymmetric. Lots of the old moves are now illegal but what they do now is 10x more terrifying anyway.
Beam – thin thing you stand on and do improbable balancing on. Before moaning at your child for being scared of their cartwheel on it, trying standing on one. OH. MY. GOD.
Floor – dancing, tumbling, pretty, with music if you are a girl. Deeply impressive.
The inexplicable R&C (range and conditioning) sent to torture gymnasts and coaches. Not seen at a high level at all but used to show fitness and strength lower down. Everyone hates it. Should be banned but in National Grades, you can’t pass your grade if you don’t pass it.
But I thought you could do that move?
I particularly remember my eldest getting her “upstart” and showing it to me at the end of the session. The coach said “enjoy it because she won’t be able to do it by next session and it won’t come back for 6 weeks” – and she was right. Some moves seem to have a particular thing attached to them that makes them come and go for a bit – in particular the squat on bars, the floor flick, the upstart and the beam backwards walkover.
And then there are the ones certain gymnasts just get a mental block about. Luckily in most cases they can work round them and go on without them but annoyingly, there are a few you just HAVE TO HAVE. It’s incredibly frustrating for them, the coach and the parent and the cause of dinner table tears quite a lot. Gymnastics seems to be 60% body and 40% head and the head is the bit you have to try and sort out as a parent.
Patience, calm, sympathy, bracing discussion and an understanding that sometimes they just got taller, or grew breasts or outgrew their muscles for a while can be what is causing the problem. If it is lack of application it is pretty obvious, but when they are trying so hard and want it so much, it is painful to watch.
Being Competition Mum.
Assuming you remember to pay on time, get the leotard, have the hair sorted and remember to wake up, you’ll eventually find yourself at a competition. You may even be more nervous than them.There are a few important aims for the day:-
Your club must get the loudest cheer – it will make your gymnasts smile.
You cheer for all the gymnasts in your club as they present and clap for everyone else. It just looks good.
If a gymnast’s music fails or if they have a bad fall, you clap them and make some supportive noise. There is a little girl dying out there in front of everyone and a mum in bits in the audience. Show them you care. It’s only a game.
Win graciously, lose graciously. Congratulate the successful clubs and gymnasts, squeeze the delighted and the disappointed, thank the coaches and the judges and on no account gripe, either out loud or privately to your kid. We are learning life skills here. Nobody died, even if you think the judge did screw it up. How they do is not a reflection on your parenting. How you behave in the face of their success or defeat is a reflection on you.
And don’t forget the hairspray.
(Below is for the bothered only!)
Competitions: Levels and Grades and all the rest of it.
So, in the UK, Grades happen early in the year and Levels happen later in the year. There are, broadly, versions of each, namely compulsory, voluntary, invitational, national and regional. (And you’ll be none the wiser at the end of this paragraph anyway because it is all totally impenetrable).
Proper (national and regional) grades go downwards in number – they used to start at 14, do an odd hop in the middle and end at 1. Now they will start at 6 and go down to 1 in two streams. They can being National (top top gymnasts are the ones who end up at 1 in this group but also start at 6) or Regional for nearly everyone else. There is also such a thing as Invitational, which is where local clubs/counties do their own more inclusive versions and in our local area at least, these seem to go upwards in number. Confused? So compulsory grades will be Club 6 & 5 next year followed by either National or Regional 4,3,2,1. Invitational grades in our county seem to go from 1-9ish.
Levels also have voluntary and compulsory versions with different moves in each. They go downwards and in our area most (non ‘going to the Olympics’ kids do invitational Level 7 and 6 (but there are warm up official versions too) followed by more official versions of Levels 5-1. Which still aren’t the Compulsory, top flight ones. (See what I mean?)
You can’t do elite formal competitions below age 7, which means you occasionally see very, very good kids in informal ones – they then disappear and never compete against your own kids ever again. (Thank goodness!)
I can’t explain the elite version of all this because I haven’t had to go through it. However, there is such a thing as “in age” – this is essentially competing a grade or level at the age BG deems the most elite kids should be at at a certain age. Relatively few gymnasts compete ‘in age’ and some competitions are exclusively ‘in age’. Most people fall ‘out of age‘ pretty quickly and from then on just compete the level or grade suited to their ability.
In certain comps, where it is an official county or regional level or grade, you cannot go backwards through levels or repeat one if you score over a certain amount.
Judging is a mysterious animal. They can lose so many points for tiny things while gaining almost nothing for a big move that it is not the most dazzling routines that always win. Don’t try to understand 😉
And there it is – what did I miss?