Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Individual Noncompetitive Sports

by Anne Zelenka
Anna went to her second gymnastics class today, reluctantly. She told me she would only watch. I'm a pro at handling shy/anxious kids after raising Henry to age nine so I told her, "that's fine, we'll go and watch and if it looks like fun, you can give it a try." In the second half of class, she decided to join in for the balance beam. I know it was scary for her but she was exhilarated when she was finished. I love watching kids working through their fears. The only thing that marred it was her otherwise very nice coach saying as she gave Anna a sticker, "next time you need to work the whole time so you can EARN a sticker."

I think Anna did earn a sticker--it was a major achievement to get out there despite her anxiety. It's not like the sticker is an "A" grade or something allegedly based on merit.

Anyway, I love watching the various gymnastics class that take place while Anna's four and five-year-old group has their class. There's the three-year-olds--not too interesting. The older kids interest me. There's a group of four to five teenagers each week, a few girls and one boy. I noticed a heavier girl for the first time this week and wondered how she'd do. She was great! She had excellent form and did all the tricks--back flips, back handsprings--unlike some leaner kids in the class. She made me realize I don't need to lose ten pounds before I can do a handstand in yoga. Darn, I was counting on that excuse.

Then there were the elementary school age boys. One was kind of heavy; another so skinny he looked like he had no muscle mass at all. The thin one had coke-bottle glasses too. But they all gamely completed their versions of round-offs and cartwheels and even back handsprings, with a lot of help from the coach. There was no making fun of each other, just a lot of hard work, even though some of the kids were struggling awkwardly.

In most of the gymnastics classes, the point is not to become a world-famous gymnast. Of course there are children who are talented and driven and working towards something like that. But most of them are just there having fun and challenging themselves, not competing with anyone.

I'm a real fan of individual sports, especially of the just-for-fun not-for-competition variety. I know team sports have their place--they develop the ability to work with other people for a common goal and involve more socializing. And I know competitive individual sports have their merits. But I'm happy enough to have my kids stick with casual gymnastics and karate and the like for the rest of their childhoods.


Blogger dgm said...

my daughter actually seems to prefer the individual sports at this age, and she adamantly has no interest in team sports, even though her friends all play soccer or softball.every season we ask if she wants to try soccer, but she always says "no." and that is just fine.

there is time enough and there are other ways to learn to work with others. my DH and i both participated in the individualized sports (he, a competitive swimmer and i did gymnastics and track) but we do not push our daughter either way. i'm happy that she is learning to use and challenge her body, learning about physics and balance and gravity, and enjoying when she accomplishes new feats. to me, that is the most important aspect of youth sports, especially for girls.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Marjorie said...

Good for Anna for participating in her own good time. Screw the teacher's attitude -- how does one EARN a sticker, really? I'm death on rewards, anyway, call me Alfie.

I'll chime in agreement on the individual sports theme. I think there is competition aplenty in the world and we don't need to thrust it on our kids. If they want to play on a team, they'll let you know. Its not like being highly competitive at 5 will give you an edge when you're 15 -- I think all it does is make the kids more stressed -- but I'm all for hugs and kisses as long as the kids will let you, then they can gut each other or whatever it is that the competition is supposed to prepare them for.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I did gymnastics as a child, and although it was fun, I'd exercise caution with it for a daughter.

I know its a long way ahead, but once you get to around age 10, if you're doing anything slightly serious (not elite, but training twice a week say) there is a lot of body identity stuff that seems to go with it automatically.

Mind you, probably better than ballet in that respect.

4:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anna did indeed earn her sticker...and I'm glad to hear that people still snjoy watching gymntics classes...that's what the sport is supposed to be...it's supposed to look amazing to watch. And although ona certain level gymnastics is an individual sport...it is also very much a team sport...pretty much the best of both worlds. There's also the issus of body indentity that was adressed. From coaching experience, it doesn't take coming intot he gym twice a week to develop this identity, even preschoolers, age 3, point out how different their body types are...and all too often they do this is a negative manner. But...let's face it...in gynastics the girls prace around in leotards and the guys wear jerseys and form pants of short...there's nowhere to hide that extra but of fat...everything shows. End of story. Yet gymnastics gives kids a sense of accomplishment in most structured classes...gyms aren't usually out to sell cartwheels...but to sell values such as self esteem, confidence and self worth. Gymnastics is Great....for the mind and the body.

11:09 PM  

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