Brian Hamilton: Get your kids into something, before they get into something
It was advice from one father to another.
“Get your kids into something, before they … get into something.”
Sage stuff for sure, and words we’ve taken to heart as parents, encouraging our girls to give anything or everything a shot and see what sticks.
For our youngest, gymnastics has clearly stuck.
It was a whole new world to me, attending her first meet several years ago. Having played, and coached our kids in, basketball and softball, my understanding of our girl’s latest love was limited to what I’d watched on Olympic broadcasts and what I’d learned in writing up local gymnasts as a sports writer.
And I was concerned.
I was aware of the physical pounding and toll gymnastics takes (as many sports do) on the bones, joints and muscles of the pint-sized youngsters tumbling across the mat, flying through the air and sticking the landing. But it was the psychological aspect of a sport based on being perfect that really had me worried for our daughter, often her own toughest critic.
But, of course, when she landed flat on her butt, barely catching much mat at all, my heart hurt for her on both fronts — the physical pain and psychological torture she’d put herself through — after falling on her final balance beam routine, and last event, of last year’s regional competition.
It would be nearly nine months, a whole offseason of training, until she would get back in action with a chance at redemption.
And I was certain she’d have a hard time shaking it off. That’s how I’d handled it (Not that I’d actually dare such a stunt myself, at least without water beneath my feet). Replaying that back-flip dismount gone wrong over and over again in my mind would serve as just the self-flagellation I needed to work toward that next chance to get it right.
But that’s not how our girl and her teammates roll. Their coaches don’t allow them to go there. Sure, shed some tears and feel the disappointment, but there’s no time to feel sorry for yourself — because now it’s your teammate’s turn and she needs all the support she can get. She’s the one alongside you for mile after mile of conditioning, gutting out yet another set of V-ups or giving you a shout-out as you get back on the beam and practice your routine again, and again, and again.
She’s your teammate. She’s been there for you. Now you’re there for her.
After all, it’s not all about you.
And that’s the side to this sport I hadn’t known, when I was so worried how our girl would handle it. But how could I? I drop them off at the door — chauffeur or pack mule, my lot in life — or pick them up. I’m not on hand for the four-hour practices (would you believe sometimes five days a week?), where they learn a whole lot more than roundoff back handsprings.
They learn about life. They learn to work with teammates, how to deal with disappointment and that, in the long run, hard work does pay off.
And sometimes that all comes together at once, when you’re not happy with your own score but your teammate just landed a great routine and deserves a high-five and hug from you. That bond between these girls, regardless of age or level of competition, is their own and only known through the shared sweat equity they’ve put into all those practices together.
Of course, now several years into this sport that did stick with our kid, we do understand.
Any concern over our daughter’s desire to be “perfect” has gone by the wayside in realizing it’s not about measuring up to a perfect 10, or even the other gymnasts in competition, for that matter.
It’s about doing your best, having fun and making memories that will last a lifetime — much the same as any other sport I’ve known.
To that end, our daughter no doubt will long remember her trip to Salt Lake City late last month, when she competed with the Northern California team against the top Xcel gymnasts in her division from Arizona, Nevada, Southern California and Utah. Her team took second place, and she posted personal-best scores in all of her events — including the balance beam, her final routine at last year’s regional and her first this time around.
So as I sat there, white-knuckling my way through her routine, I couldn’t help but think back to how it had ended 12 months earlier. For her, though, it had to be the furthest thing from her mind. No time to look back, when you’re focused on keeping your feet on the floor — or beam, for that matter — and your chin up, so that you’re ready for that next opportunity.
And she was ready. Ana Hamilton took first place on the beam.
But soon after she’d tucked her medals away and exchanged hugs with family and friends, she shifted her attention to what really mattered most in that moment: celebrating with her teammates and coaches who have supported her in such a positive and healthy way.
That scene served as proof to her parents, after all these years, that our kid is truly getting something out of getting into something, before … well … she got into something.
Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4249.
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