5 Things Gymnastics Taught Me (and How it Relates to France!)

“Gymnastics tells you, ‘No’ all day long. It mocks you over, and over again, telling you, ‘You’re an idiot’– that you’re crazy. [ ]. If you like falling, then gymnastics is the sport for you. You get to fall on your face, your ass, your back, your knees, and your pride. (Good thing I didn’t like falling… I LOVED IT!” – Stick It

A little known fact about me if we didn’t attend high school together: I was a gymnast for 14 years. And seven years ago today, my high school team won state for the third consecutive year. Even today, I remember that moment of winning being the first time I had cried uncontrollable tears of joy.

As a child, had very little coordination (or interest) when it came to throwing, kicking, or passing balls around a field, but I’ve always enjoyed running, throwing and flipping myself through the air and on trampolines. I remember my first exposure to gymnastics at a grade school birthday party. Two hours of tumbling on the tumble track, climbing the rope, and swinging on the bars left me obsessed; I joined a class the following session and never looked back.

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Being small and fearless, I had natural flexibility and was brave enough to try just about anything. My coaches saw my potential, and I was eventually able to join the competitive team. While most kids had soccer games every Saturday, I spent approximately 3-4 days (and about 12 hours) at the gym every week, vigorously practicing vault, bars, beam, floor, and dance. As I got older and joined the high school team, weight lifting and cardio also became part of the regime. Many Saturdays when we didn’t have competitions, my teammates and I chose to spend our free afternoons practicing at the gym.

Gymnastics was huge, essential part of my identity for my entire childhood and adolescence (and heck, it still is– even my bio mentions that I am now a retired gymnast.) Analyzing myself today, it’s evident that my time as a gymnast has shaped a large part of my personality, and even plays a part to where I currently am in life today. So, without further ado, here are five things that the sport of gymnastics has either given or taught me.

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All these years later, I still got it in Morocco

1. How to Set, Work Towards, and Achieve Realistic Goals

Gymnastics is both an individual and team sport, which is something I absolutely love. As a team, you can make a team goal to achieve a “team stick” (meaning that no one falls off the balance beam during the meet!) or to improve the overall team score to X, for example. Achieving a team goal requires the effort and commitment from ALL its members, and that is such an important thing for a young person to learn– without all members giving 100%, the goal will not be achieved!

At the same time, gymnastics is a very individual sport, especially as you get older. As a teen, I began to recognize my strengths and weaknesses on each of the four apparatuses. I was able to set “skill goals” or “score goals” which matched MY individual abilities and interests. For example, on the floor exercise, I knew that I didn’t have the skill capabilities to achieve a forward twisting layout, so I focused on back twisting layouts instead, as well as improving my confidence when it came to my dance skills. On the balance beam, I knew that a standing back tuck was not something I could achieve in just a summer, so I instead focused on increasing the score value of my dismounts (standing back handspring back tuck, anyone!?) Vault was one of my stronger apparatuses, and made the goal of learning a tuck tsuk by the end of the summer. I was able to measure and determine the appropriate realistic steps and time frames for learning and perfecting my tsuk by the first meet in November (improve my block, then flip into pit cubes, then landing on mats in the pit cubes, to finally landing on a matt on the floor, with and without spots.) SUCCESS! I achieved my goal of learning a tsuk and was given a competition spot for my last two years of high school.

Learning how to set and achieve goals during my time as a competitive gymnast has without a doubt continued into my adult life– I definitely wouldn’t be teaching in France without setting my goals!

2. Teamwork

As I stated above, gymnastics is both an individual and team sport. However, I would have never been a successful gymnast if it hadn’t been for the “team” aspect of the sport, especially as a member of our high school team. It was because of gymnastics I learned how to work towards something bigger than myself. It was because of the individual effort and commitment from each and every member of our high school team (including varsity, junior varsity, parents and coaches) that we won our state competition for three consecutive years. We (nonchalantly) decided to try to win state, and then we committed to improving our individual and team skill difficulties and scores as the season progressed. Additionally, we all committed to daily, 3-hour practices, and took time out of our summers to continue training during the off-season. If we were injured, we did what we could to support the team as well as get better. If you needed to unexpectedly fill a spot, you were expected to be ready to step up. And, we did it. Today as a teacher, teamwork is a crucial skill to have. I wouldn’t be a successful young educator without the teamwork skills I learned as a competitive gymnast.

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3. Commitment and Time Management 

As a teen, I spent a TON of hours at the gym. I loved what I did and it made me feel good, but I remember having to make a lot of social sacrifices; I missed parties and homecoming games for practices, team dinners, and competitions. I had to learn to balance school work and make decent grades while juggling 3-hour per day practices. This only became increasingly difficult as school work became more demanding and university became more of a reality. The time management skills I learned as a gymnast were a huge benefit as I transitioned to university, part-time work, and sorority leadership positions.

4. How to Push Myself & Take Risks

There is no doubt about it, gymnastics is a dangerous sport. From swinging from uneven parallel bars, to tumbling across a 4-inch raised flat surface, to flipping an infinite amount of times through the air across various surfaces, I would be willing to argue it is the hardest sport in existence.

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“Elite gymnastics is like the Navy Seals, only harder. There are like, 2,000 Navy Seals but there are only, like, 200 elite gymnasts. I guess that’s because most kids would rather have a life than spend 6 hours a day training tricks that could kill you. Look, don’t be fooled by the leotards people! The things gymnasts do make Navy Seals look like wusses, and we do them without a gun!”

You need to be brave to be a gymnast. You need to be willing to try new things. You need to be willing to make a fool out of yourself. You need to be willing to fail, and to try again. You need to learn to be embarrassed and to laugh at yourself. You need to learn to overcome fear, and perform in front of crowds. You learn what it means to have other people counting on you. I learned ALL of these things during my years at the gym. It’s because of gymnastics that I am as outgoing and committed as I am today, that I travel to new places, taste new food, take risks, and moved abroad to teach English.

5. How to Treat, Motivate and Coach Young People and Teammates

During my time as a gymnast, I had some amazing coaches and some not so amazing coaches. They both stick out. Effective teaching methods, trust, motivational and inspirational words, and positive encouragement and recognition is what makes a great coach. Yelling, authoritative management skills, condescending comments, and playing favorites is what makes a bad coach. These aspects are also what makes a good and bad teacher, and I keep my experiences with my vast array of coaches in mind as I teach my students and progress in my career.

During my years of gymnastics, I had some great teammates who were great friends. I also had some teammates who were not great friends. Learning to work successfully alongside people whom you don’t like, or whom don’t like you, or whom are just down right mean, is a humbling experience to learn, especially as a teen. But, it’s a skill that I’ve been able to put into practice throughout other parts of my life.

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Has a significant part of your childhood or adolescence significantly shaped your adult life? I’d love to hear your story.

Bisous,

Dana

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