I am a gym mom. In fact, I am a double gym mom. I have two daughters who spend as much time upside down as they do right side up. They currently put in a combined total of 18 hours a week at practice, not counting all the time they spend at home practicing what they practiced at practice that day.
We’ve been in the world of gymnastics for several years now, and I’ve had to have many mom-coaching conversations with them as they experience tears and triumphs and disappointments along the way. Somewhere in the midst of that, I realized how almost everything I’ve said to them about what happens in the gym, is true outside the gym as well. Gymnastics, as is true of any sport, can teach my daughters much about the rest of life.
So, even though my daughters don’t read my blog, here are a few things I’d like them to learn from this crazy ride we’re on.
1. Daughter, it does you no good whatsoever, and does you a world of hurt, to compare yourself with the girl next to you. Unfortunately, there will always be someone who will get the skill earlier, do the routine cleaner, score higher. If that steals your joy, you have the wrong motivation. If your goal is to beat someone else, you have the wrong goal. And there will always be someone that struggles longer than you, isn’t quite as tight, scores a little lower. If that boosts your opinion of yourself, you have the wrong focus. If it gives you satisfaction to know that you did better than her again, then we need to quit working on your bar routine and begin working on your heart. And I have to learn this too, because sometimes I’m tempted to be jealous of the other girls for you, or glad when you were the one who did better. But, we both have to remember that another girl’s performance has no bearing on yours. Your accomplishments can never be taken away, no matter who accomplishes more, or faster. When your teammate hits a skill you’ve been trying and trying to hit, be happy for her. She’s been working hard too, and feels just as excited and proud as you will when you finally do hit it. Her success does not mean your failure. And when a teammate falls in the middle of a routine, be compassionate and sympathetic. Her failure does not mean your success. If you learn this now, daughter, you will be ahead of the game in the future. You will be so tempted to compare yourself to other wives, other moms, other women in general. If you give in to that, you will always swing back and forth from feeling like a failure next to women who appear successful, and patting yourself on the back next to women you judge as inferior to yourself. Both of these are wrong attitudes. Learn now that one person’s victories are not a threat to you. Learn now that one person’s struggles do not mean you are a better person. Learn now that comparing yourself to others never does anything good for your heart. Because, after all, let’s remember that the standard to which we are required to compare ourselves is not the girl next to us or the mom next to us. It’s Christ, and you will never measure up, and neither will the people you are using to judge your own performance. Through His grace, He offers His perfection to all who believe. When we truly understand this, we can live free from the temptation to compare, realizing that we are all in the same boat, we all need Christ, and His grace is free for all who believe.
2. Next, please remember to keep the little things little. Not everything will be fair. Not everything will work out the way you thought it would or should. When this happens, breathe deeply and cling to your perspective. Will this moment that has you so upset matter in ten years? Next year? Next week? Maybe you did ten perfect shoot-throughs but your coach only saw the one when you fell, and you got extra conditioning. Maybe the girl who cheats on conditioning and makes whispered comments about being better than you gets rewarded because she performs well when the coach is watching. Maybe you gave everything you had, performed the routine of your life, and still didn’t make the podium. Maybe promises were made but not kept. Whatever it is, it will not always be fair. When it’s not, you will have a choice. You can choose to get ugly, complain, badmouth your teammates or coaches, cause a stink. You could do that, and you might even get your way. I could do it for you, fight for my daughter, and I might get your way for you. But is that who we want to be? Is getting what you think is fair right now really going to have an effect on your future in gymnastics, or in life? Will it reinforce your words when you claim to be living for Christ? Is it worth giving yourself a reputation as one who throws a fit? Let’s both remember, in the gym and in real life, to keep things in perspective. Does this matter as much as we are making it matter? Let’s be classy when things don’t go our way. Let’s be more concerned with being kind and loving and seeing others as Christ sees them, than being treated fairly. Let’s focus more on how people will remember us, and more importantly, what they will think of Christ whom we claim to serve, than on getting our way. And let’s remember to be gracious; the person who is acting in a way we think is unfair, is most likely not doing it on purpose and may not even be aware, or–shockingly enough–may be completely in the right and we may be the ones who are wrong. There are two sides to every story. Looking at every situation through the eyes of grace helps us remember all the times we have treated others unfairly, intentionally or unintentionally. Looking through the eyes of grace gives the other person the benefit of the doubt, gives us a chance to show love to them even we think they have wronged us, just as Jesus showed love when He was wronged.
3. Gymnastics has taught me, daughter, that you are capable of so much more than the average person would credit to a child of your age. Your dad and I have always believed this, which is why we teach catechisms to 4-yr-olds, Latin to 8-yr-olds, and have our 7-yr-old learning how to do laundry. But I never realized how much this is true physically until I saw you this past summer. You can rope-climb two stories in a minute. You routinely do conditioning regimens of 150 push-ups and 150 lunges plus other exercises, and do them well. You work your tail off for a three hour practice and then go home and play gymnastics. And you inspire me. I never would have dreamed I could run more than two miles without stopping, but I saw you beasting out your conditioning when it seemed like too much, getting back on the beam to try the dismount again after falling 32 times in a row, and I realized I could do it too. I think about you while I’m running, when I just want to give up. And I remember that you placed bottom three in almost every event at every meet for two years before finally standing on the podium. And you didn’t give up. You are strong when you work hard. Our society has set the bar for children extremely low, believing you capable of nothing more than playing video games and giggling over boys. Prove them wrong. Shoot for excellence in the gym. Discipline your body, make it strong. Then take it out of the gym where it matters even more. Discipline yourself for godliness, which is profitable not only in this life but also that life to come. Discipline your mind. Strive for excellence in school. Discipline your habits. Practice self-control, killing your sin through His grace and strength. Discipline your hobbies. Strive for holiness in your choice of pleasures, the way you spend your free time. Don’t settle for being the typical American kid. You were made for so much more than that. Do everything, even gymnastics, to the glory of God. Press on toward the goal, not just of first-place all-around, but toward the prize of the crown of life promised to the faithful. Don’t waste your life being mediocre. Be excellent at what is good. Don’t shy away from things just because they’re hard.
There are many lessons to be learned from gymnastics. These are only a few. I don’t know what the future holds for you in gymnastics. I’m realistic enough to keep my dreams in check, but idealistic enough to tell you to keep dreaming. But whatever medals you bring home, whatever level you achieve, remember these things:
Doing your best all the time might still not be enough for first place. Do your best anyway.
Maybe no one will notice you going all out on your conditioning when the other girls skipped half. Go all out anyway.
Being kind and encouraging to your teammates may not guarantee that they become your best friends. Be kind anyway.
Being gracious when wronged or overlooked may mean that your rights never get realized. Be gracious anyway.
You may strive through blood, sweat, and tears for excellence, and never achieve your goal. Strive for excellence anyway.
And daughter, following Christ may mean doing gymnastics through high school and college to His glory, but it may mean walking away from the gym to follow a different path He will show you. Follow Christ anyway.
Do this in the gym. But more importantly, do it everywhere else, too.
Then, you will truly be a champion.