By Kyle Shewfelt
My daughter, Nora, is 3 years old. Many people ask me if she will be an Olympic gymnast. My answer is always, “Sure, if she wants to be”.
Yes, I own a gymnastics centre and my daughter has spent a significant amount of time bouncing on the trampoline while her Daddy answers emails on his laptop. And yes, gymnastics is my greatest passion, but that doesn’t mean it will be hers. If pursuing an Olympic dream is the path she chooses, then I will support her 100%, but just because I wanted it doesn’t mean she will too.
Looking back at my childhood, I don’t think my parents really knew what gymnastics was until I started cartwheeling through the kitchen. My dad was a hockey player and taught my brother and I to skate when we were two years old. But even with that early skating start, I didn’t find a passion for the game of hockey like he did. Gymnastics was the sport that spoke to me.
My biggest hope for Nora is that she finds the thing that makes her heart sing. If it’s not gymnastics, I am totally okay with that. I do, however, have a requirement that she takes gymnastics classes in her youth because of the strong foundation it will build for her future.
Here are some of the reasons why I put my daughter into gymnastics:
I want Nora to have positive and upbeat role models. I want her to look around and see people working hard and having fun while they are working hard. Gymnastics coaches embody this. They aren’t afraid to get physical and they spend the majority of their time moving around and spotting. They bring big energy and are in constant communication with their students and their parents. These are things I want her to observe and absorb.
I also want my daughter to have strong female role models. Many gymnastics coaches are female and I love that she can look around and see strong women leading, teaching and radiating confidence.
My coaches were some of the most influential people in my life. I want Nora to develop strong relationships with her coaches. Through gymnastics, she can build trust and learn how to communicate with adults.
Listening and Focusing Skills
While she’s in the gym, Nora is learning to listen, follow directions and focus on the task at hand. Like all three year olds, she has her challenging days, but there is a lot of evidence that she is absorbing through her experiences. One of her favourite games to play at home is “Coach Nora”. We play this in our living room where she tells me to put on my watching goggles and take the bananas out of my listening ears as she explains the “circuit”. She is like a sponge.
Focus is also a critical skill she is learning. I want her to be present and focused on the task at hand. Distraction is everywhere these days so each time she maintains focus while navigating through a circuit, it is a victory.
In gymnastics, she is building confidence in herself and her abilities. When we head to the park, she isn’t afraid to climb high or to jump off of something into a “safety” landing. She will also sometimes go up to a new friend, introduce herself and start playing. She doesn’t have siblings and she doesn’t go to daycare, so I give gymnastics credit with helping her build some of these social skills.
Good Citizen Skills
Gymnastics is teaching her to be a good citizen. Being courteous is important. She is learning to wait for her turn on the equipment and to be patient with others. A few weeks ago, her coach told me that Nora said “Good job” to one of her classmates when he did a forward roll. My heart melted a little bit *proud dad moment*
At the end of class, we make it a habit to say Thank You to our coach and we try to give a classmates or two a fist bump.
Nothing makes a parent smile more than seeing their child have fun. It’s so difficult to put the feeling into words, but it’s almost as if you can feel their joy inside of you. I love seeing the glee radiate from my daughters face when she jumps on the trampoline or soars into the foam pit. I want to fill her life with as many of these happy moments as possible.
I put my daughter in gymnastics because I want her to feel a sense of community. I want her to feel like she is a part of something and that she plays a role. I see her little face light up every time her coach calls her by her name. It feels good to belong.
If my daughter could watch Paw Patrol on endless repeat, she would. In today’s screen time focused world, it is critical to create experiences where she moves her body. I want her to enjoy being physical. I want her to see a sweaty forehead as a reward, not a punishment. If I can expose her to this and speak positively about it when she is young, it has a better chance of sticking as a lifestyle choice for her later on.
You’ve probably heard this buzz word, but you may not fully understand what it means. Think of it this way – when a child is learning to read, they have to be able to identify the letters and then the sounds of each letter. Slowly, they can combine them into words, then sentences and ultimately they end up being able to read a novel.
Well, physical movement is the same and gymnastics is the letters. In every sport and physical activity, you will encounter one of the following movement patterns: static movements (balances), locomotions (moving fast and slow, reaching high and low, etc), swings, springs (jumping), rotations (cartwheels, rolls, etc) and landings.
When these patterns are ingrained early in life, they stay with us. Thus, we have more confidence to try new things and we can pick up new sports and activities with more ease. Gymnastics provides the broadest physical foundation available.
*Note: I strongly believe that learning how to swim is also essential because it can save your life.
Gymnastics was Nora’s first un-parented activity. I was nervous about how she would do on that first day when she walked away from us and into her class alone – would she notice we weren’t by her side anymore and have a meltdown? Nope. She walked right in and didn’t even look back. A part of me was sad that our parented experiences were over, but another part of me felt really proud that she was building her path to independence.
Safety and Respect
My two big guiding parenting pillars are Safety and Respect. I made some silly choices in my life like dying my hair blue and piercing my eyebrow and I know she will make some silly choices too. I’m totally cool with it…as long as her choices are safe and respectful.
Through gymnastics, I want her to learn how to show respect towards her coach and her classmates. I want her to learn to respect the equipment and the facility. I want her to learn how to respect herself and her limits.
I also want her to encounter scenarios where she may be afraid, but has a safe place to stretch those limits. I feel like the gym is a great place to learn and expand some of these boundaries.
My biggest priority as a parent is to help my daughter build a strong foundation for her future. And that is exactly why I put her into gymnastics.