We all want to be the best parents we can be — to protect our children from harm, to create and defend safe spaces for them to embrace their authentic selves, and of course, to make sure they get to run and flip around enough to get their wiggles out, stay fit, and experience the joy and satisfaction in mastering new physical skills.
We’re all learning as we go, and thankfully we have family, friends, support groups, and expert resources to consult for advice. If you’re interested in going deeper on the subject of acting as a supportive sports parent, we recommend a look into Positive Coaching Alliance’s Resource Guide for Parents* We love their concept of being a Second-Goal Parent in youth sports, focusing of the big picture of what lessons our kids take away from their experience in sport, rather than the nuts and bolts of performance and scoring.
Thank you for sharing your story, Anna!
Hi, I’m Anna, and I am a former bad gym parent.
That’s right. I was blind to this and in fact, I believed myself to be of the best gym parents out there! I was present at every practice and I watched everything. I rewarded new skills and would say “when you finally get that double back handspring, you can get (something) for it.”
I videoed everything. I “reminded” her to practice something at home — which really was me asking her to do things at home on equipment we had. When we drove to practice, I “coached” her on everything I saw her struggle on. When practice ended, we went over the good and the bad. She has high functioning autism, ADHD, low muscle tone, and coordination disorder. I believed I had to stay on top of her and give her all the extra help. Remember, I was the one of the best gym parents out there!
Reality is humbling and as I came to find out — I was the worst gym parent out there. I was the crazy gymnastics mom. The over-involved, unintended-pressure-placing, fake coach, kind of mom. Ouch.
So what happened for this sudden realization? COVID and the gym shutting down. I began stressing out and contacted the team director, Coach Ernest Cheatham. I explained how my kid would lose her muscle fast and needed to know what else to do. It was through tough love and guidance that my eyes began opening. I wasn’t benefiting my daughter, at all. I soon realized by saying “great job, I’m proud of you for getting your (insert skill here)” but never complimented her for showing up and training 16 hours a week — that I was essentially telling her she was only good when she got skills.
From that, I learned to say “I am sure you’re proud of your hard work.” I’ve stopped “coaching” and stopped watching practice every time. I watch it one time a week. I ask if she had fun after practice and now she willingly talks about how it went. I’ve stopped worrying about levels, repeating, medals, or the like. I only care that she shows up, puts her best effort in, and is kind and respectful. To be free from my toxic gym persona helped not only my daughter but myself, too. As parents, we mean well and oh, how I love her and meant well. I also accepted I needed to change once my eyes began to open. So, cheers to a new season of happiness and less stress. It will be so nice to only worry about parking, hotels, and if I have cash on me for those meet entrance fees!
*Positive Coaching Alliance is national non-profit developing Better Athletes, Better People through youth and high school sports, with resources and programs for Athletes, Parents, Coaches, Administrators and Leaders, and is not formally affiliated with Destira. As parents, we’ve drawn on some of their resources and principals for our kiddos' participation in sport, and we’re happy that they are here to guide and advise us! Check them out at https://positivecoach.org/.
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