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Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Jerk Culture of Gymnastics

Hey remember when your friend was like 35 and had never exercised in her life and then decided to start going to the Y to work out? Remember when you were like, "Don't even try, Wendy, what's the point of starting something new this late in life?"

Wait, you don't remember that, because you are not a jerk.

Hey runner, remember when your running buddy decided that marathon training was just too time consuming and exhausting? Remember when you were like, "There's just no point in running anything less than a marathon, so just stop altogether. You're a marathon runner and if you're not going to run marathons, just quit. Don't bother trying to run with me, I only run with marathoners."

No, runner person, you did not say that, because you are not a jerk.

Hey personal trainer, remember when you turned away the guy who couldn't bench press a hundred pounds, because you were embarrassed by his skill level? Remember when you told him that he wasn't good enough to be associated with your gym?

No personal trainer, you wouldn't do that, because you are not a jerk.

And also, this is your job, and that's how you make a living.

The sport of gymnastics is filled with jerks. Just look at the message we send to kids. "Are you 9 years old? Are you--gasp--double digits? TEN? Sorry, we don't have beginners classes for OLDER kids." Is there ANY other activity or sport that considers 10 to be OLD? Can you imagine if every Crossfit gym turned away everyone over 23? Do you think the Crossfit brand would be as successful as it is if they refused to work with someone who was 33?

How many gymnasts do you lose to cheerleading? I don't for a minute believe that every girl that transitions from gymnastics to cheer does so because she has always dreamed of being a cheerleader. Gymnasts become cheerleaders because we have failed to give them what they need. What they need are fewer hours in the gym. They need to be appreciated by their coaches and peers. They need to be told how great they're doing NOW, not how great they WOULD be if they could just manage to get up to the next level. They need to be retained in the sport they love, not pushed out the door into an alternative they don't even enjoy as much.

Ever since a bunch of desperate people in 1970s Eastern Bloc countries realized they could harness the malleability of small children to create tiny, muscular automatons, we've created our own ridiculous standard to stroke our own jerk egos. The human body hasn't magically evolved over a few decades to accommodate gymnastics, our standards have just increased. Kips are not any easier now than they were in 1970. Demanding coaches are just less impressed with them.

How powerful is the gymnastics coach ego? So strong that coaches are willing to PUSH children we love and income we need right out the door.

The gymnastics ego is so strong that it forgets that the 13 and 14 year old Gold level gymnasts who can "only" do back handsprings or back tucks, who coaches have given up on, are still the strongest athletes in their grade.

It is completely insane that we in gymnastics have such astronomically higher athletic standards for children than we do for adults. Next time you're coaching, pretend it's your mother up there on that beam doing a wobbly but stuck full turn. Wouldn't you think, "Holy crap, Mom, that was fricking fantastic?" Pretend your English professor ran out there and nailed a cartwheel. "Dang, Dr. Hoppenwasser, I didn't know you had it in you!"

The values of fitness that adults pride themselves on--trying your hardest, just showing up, participating for the love of it, good sportsmanship, admiration for everyone's effort--are being completely left out of children's gymnastics. Your actions and policies and coaching are probably telling them that gymnastics is only worthwhile if you perform at an advanced level. And I guarantee you wouldn't tell an adult that about their favorite pursuit.

If you want to grow the sport, if you want to improve your business, if you want to produce happy gymnasts, if you want to be a better person, stop being a jerk.

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