I guess most people love the smell of vanilla, lavender, or roses. But my favorite smell in the entire world is the one that smacks you in the face when you walk into a gymnastics facility. It's almost like a mixture of chalk dust, mats, and sweat. It's the smell of being home for me. It instantly takes me back to my childhood, where I spent most of my time. The gym was literally like my second home.
The smell of lingering chalk particles in the air remind me of the bloody rips I'd get on my hands from perfecting bar routines over and over again. The smell of the mats always brings me back to falling over and over again trying to get the skills right. The smell of the spring floor reminds me of the sweat dripping off our bodies when we did conditioning exercises for hours at a time. Every single time I walk into a gym, I take a deep breath and just let it consume my senses. I love it so much.
Growing up, I lived an hour away from the gym I trained in. So that meant I'd go straight from school, drive an hour away, spend 4 hours training, and then drive the hour home. Four days a week. Then I'd go on Saturday mornings. I lived and breathed gymnastics for all of elementary and junior high. I kept good grades even though I can't even remember how I did homework. But yet, I absolutely loved the chaos of it. Maybe it was what I needed to prepare me for this crazy life I call my own now.
I traveled all over the eastern United States competing with my teammates in competitions. I got to check so many states and cities off of my list because of the opportunities gymnastics gave me. I feel so blessed to have had the experience I did with the sport. I'm so thankful my parents were so supportive.
I craved the challenge of being perfect. I obsessed over the number of pushups I could do that nobody else in my class at school could. I loved showing off my 10 back-hand-springs in a row after we scored in soccer. I loved that I was only one of a handful of people at my school that could do these crazy tricks. I knew once I had kids that I wanted them to at least try this sport I grew up loving. Gymnastics is so much more than just a sport. I mean, I guess all sports are more than just a sport. Sports in general teach you so much more than how to actually play them.
But gymnastics is different.
We all have certainly heard about the horrific case within the last two years or so involving USA Gymnastics and their team doctor, Larry Nassar. I grew up in Michigan where most of this case took place. One of the gyms involved was very close to where I grew up and I even had friends who attended that gym.
To be honest, the whole situation put a really bad taste in my mouth in regards to the sport. I struggled a lot with whether or not I should even let my kids continue to participate in it. You know you can't protect your kids from everything, but how can a doctor that parents entrusted with their children be so vile?
To be honest, I pulled my kids out for a little bit after that. It just hit way too close to home for me. I really didn't want to even chance it with my girls. I figured they would just find something else to participate in.
But something inside of me kept pulling me back.
Some people have asked me why I let my kids do such a dangerous sport. Why I would allow them to participate in something that is so scary?
The short answer is that gymnastics isn't scary, in the terms of what you initially think. Yes, what the olympic gymnasts are doing is extremely dangerous to a regular ole person. But you have to realize that it takes YEARS and YEARS for those girls to learn how to do those skills. Most of those skills they do just become second nature. The muscle memory your body establishes makes most of what these athletes do, fairly routine.
Obviously injuries happen and obviously things can go wrong at any given second. Gymnastics is very hard on your body. BUT, I still believe it is the best sport you could introduce any child to. It's a fantastic foundational sport.
I knew that I wanted my kids to at least have the opportunity to experience the sport, even if they ended up hating it. But let's be real....it's not cheap. Sometimes I wonder how my parents afforded my monthly bill, let alone spending the extra money for hotels, food, and competition fees for far away meets. It's absolutely a privilege to be able to do this sport. But the reward in the end is so worth the price-tag if you can afford it.
So why is Gymnastics SO great, in my personal opinion?
1. It develops the skills you need for all sports.
That's a bold statement, huh? But gymnastics teaches you coordination from a very young age. Dribbling a basketball requires a lot of coordination and gymnasts learn how to control their arms and hands from the beginning. Jumping up to block a spike in volleyball requires you to jump really high. Gymnasts use every single muscle in their legs (and butt!) and they perfect the strength of each of those muscles day in and day out. Goalies in soccer have to be able to move and bend in all sorts of ways. Gymnastics gives you a fantastic foundation of flexibility. I just read another article that said, "There is no other sport in existence where the athlete is required to have both the explosive power of a pole vaulter and also the graceful movements of a ballerina."
If you're looking for a great foundation sport, definitely start with gymnastics. It doesn't mean your kids need to train to be the next olympian, it's just a great starting point! Start in a mommy and me class, like we did!
***For the record...Sawyer was AWFUL in the mommy and me class. But now she's the best behaved child in both school and during sports. So if it is a serious struggle to get your child to listen. Just wait until they're 4. It's usually a lot better then! Or maybe even five in some cases.
2. It teaches you to be resilient.
There's a lot of things in life that we try and then decide it's "too hard". But in gymnastics, "too hard" just means that you need to try harder. It means that you haven't trusted yourself enough to keep going. The sport forces you to step out of your comfort zone day after day to keep pushing yourself. It teaches you to come back again and again to make yourself better. This lesson alone continues to apply to my life. I think I survived our 5 kids under age 3 because of the constant reminder to "keep going" that gymnastics instilled in me so young.
3. It teaches mental toughness.
Along with resiliency, it teaches you to push past your bad moments and days. When you fall over and over again, the sport teaches you to move on from it. You can't dwell on your mistakes or it'll forever consume you. You also have to compete, solo, in front of a crowd at competitions. Complete strangers are watching your every move on a balance beam. That alone forces you to calm your nerves or else the pressure can take over and you'll fall.
You learn how to handle fear from the start. It then applies to every aspect of your own life. You gain the skills needed to calm your breath, move forward without panicking, and trust that you know what you're doing.
4. It teaches commitment and dedication.
The sport requires a TON of time and energy. If you want to even be half-way decent, you are required to spend a lot of time in the gym, performing skills over and over again. You have to be completely dedicated to what you're doing day in and day out.
I had great friends growing up, but I had to sacrifice a lot of time away from them as well. I'd spend the night at my friend's house on a Friday night just to have her mom wake me up at 6:30 Saturday morning so I could get off to the gym. This was at a time when we could all easily sleep in until 11. It took a ton of self discipline to CHOOSE to put gymnastics first. It wasn't easy to wake up that early and leave my friends. But I also knew I had things to get done in the gym as well.
Later in life, you use these skills in the real world. Doing just about anything takes a lot of dedication. If you want to be successful, you have the tools gymnastics taught you to be committed and stay committed.
5. It teaches you patience.
Nothing in gymnastics happens overnight. You train for months and months on just one element of one skill. Then you train for more months perfecting all of the other elements. Then you can finally put all of those elements into one complete motion to be able to properly do the skill. All of that takes a lot of patience. It takes a long time to see your hard work pay off. But once it does, the satisfaction is huge!
5. You gain a strong muscle foundation.
Seriously, I still have tricep muscles from being a gymnast. I also have very wide shoulders which took a little while to finally accept as a young woman. My core strength is absolutely due to my hours and hours of sit ups, candlestick jumps, and hollow rocks. I think it gave me a slight advantage in carrying and birthing my children as well.
6. You gain lifelong friends.
Sure, you spend a lot of time with your friends in school growing up. But there's nothing like training hard skills right next to your teammates day in and day out for years on end. These people become more like your family. You also travel together, cheer on each other during competitions, and spend almost all of your extra time with one another. I mean so much of your childhood is spent with these people. The connections are so much deeper than "hanging out".
I am friends on social media with lots of my old teammates and it's so fun to see how much all of us have grown and what we've done with our lives. We are still cheering each other on.
7. You have the greatest love for the Olympics.
The Olympics for us gymnasts is our Super Bowl, our World Series, our Stanley Cup. We only get it every 4 years and we are glued to the TV during it. I've even converted my husband over to watching it and obsessing over it with me. He even knows the athletes all by name. He gets so invested in all of their accomplishments and truly roots for them while they're performing.
And just because it's awesome - 8. You can do things normal Joe Schmo's can't.
I used to love that I could do a ton of more pushups in my class than the boys. I thought it was amazing that I could do 10 back handsprings in a row after we scored a goal in soccer. I could show off my press handstands to my class knowing that they'd watch with amazement. At recess I'd swing on the bars on the playground and do fly-away's off of it. Everyone always thought my tricks were so fun to watch. And I loved showing them off. It made me feel like my work in the gym was paying off when everyone else thought the skills were so cool.
There's a ton of other things gymnastics is great for, but these are the ones that are the most important to me.
Here's some more throw backs of me as a young gymnast :)
Here's some throwbacks of the kids, too!
Happy gymnastics practicing!