Parents, Think Hard Before You Put Your Kid In Gymnastics

Parents, Think Hard Before You Put Your Kid In Gymnastics

Are there any downsides of participating in competitive gymnastics for a young child? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Kristen Michelle Leccese, former competitive gymnast:

This is a topic I feel quite strongly about because of my own experience. I competed in gymnastics as a kid, and later as I grew up and evolved, I got to thinking about how insane the sport really is. I am not saying that I have any regrets. Gymnastics is incredible, and those years of training shaped the person I am today. But as far as downsides, there are many. Before I go off on a tangent, let me give you a rough outline.

Injuries. Your kid will get injured. It's not really a question of "if" they will get injured -- there is nothing to stop this in our sport. Right now, I am in my 20s and sitting here with pain in my back from a fracture that happened 15 years ago, a huge scar from a surgery you don't want the details on, and hips that make a noise no body part should ever make. It's hard to deal with for a kid, and harder to watch as a parent. There's no way around it.

Fear. I think some gymnasts are very good at blocking out the mechanics of what they are actually doing. I was not. When you break it down -- simply put, this sport is insane. For some time I was a very good gymnast. But as I grew into my preteen years and started simply thinking too much, the fear was insurmountable. There is just no way to throw an acro series on beam if you consider the fact that you are about to turn upside down at lightning speed on a four inch wide block of wood. This fear can become pretty deeply embedded. Fear ultimately ended my career in the sport, and it took a very long time to filter that fear out of the rest of my life and learn to channel it the right way.

No life. If you do gymnastics the right way -- and unless you're a very young child in rec class, there's only one right way -- it consumes everything. Gymnastics is your life. There's no half assing it in this world. Your kid will spend every day after school at the gym and every weekend at competitions. There's no time for hanging out, other activities, or anything, really. It's all or nothing.

Warped perspective. I think Alex Liáng hit the nail on the head here: "The problem with the situation was that as a child (and teenager), I felt I needed to win or else I was worthless. When I won, I didn't feel joy - I only felt relief, like 'woah, thank goodness I didn't get the silver medal'."

I was the same way, and I think almost all gymnasts are. When you're competing, the atmosphere is so cutthroat that there is just no room for anything less than perfect. For quite some time, this attitude carried into my later life -- as in, if you can't do something perfectly, just don't do it. I'm happy I got past thinking that way, and now I use that drive for perfection to simply get as close to it as I can. But it definitely takes a toll.

Honestly, I could go on for a century about this. I don't want to scare you from the sport -- it is beautiful, it is amazing, and it is unlike any other sport in the world. It's an art, really. As long as you are aware of the risks and you remain supportive of your child, the rewards are vast.

On an everyday basis, though, it's pretty much like this.