Welcome to the world of competitive gymnastics! Your child has recently moved toward the next stage if their exciting gymnastics career and will be sticking his or her routine in a real gymnastics meet rather than in your living room. You’ve nurtured and supported their growth as a gymnast since you took your son to a gym to save your furniture and your sanity and now it is time to go and watch him shine in his first competition.
How do you shine as a new gymnastics parent when you really don’t know what to expect? After all, you’ve never been to a gymnastics meet either. Here are some of the basics that can help you be the best gymnastics parent you can be while supporting your athlete to be the best gymnasts they can be. While your child is balancing on his head or she’s balancing on a beam, you need to learn some basics to help balance your roles as a new gymnastics parent: understanding the meet schedule, being supportive, what it takes to be a good spectator, and keeping score for your first meet.
Schedule: Most gymnastics meets are divided into sessions by the level of competition. Generally kids in the beginning levels get the early morning sessions and those who are more experienced get the luxury of sleeping in and having more relaxed start times. As a new gymnastics parent, plan to be up and at it early in the morning since this is your child’s first gymnastics meet. Your coaches or the meet website will give you important information such as the time the gym opens, when open stretch occurs, warm-up times, and when competition is scheduled to start and approximately when it should conclude and award ceremonies will begin.
Plan to arrive about 10 minutes before the gym opens if you are in the first session. Definitely arrive before the Open Stretch is scheduled to begin. Being early helps your gymnast get a sense of the competition arena, lets the coaches know you are there, and helps you get the best parking spot! Check out if the timed warm up is short of long: that will give you a clue about the format of this particular gymnastics meet. Little or no timed warm-up suggests that the meet is a Capital Cup format in which the athletes warm up an event just before they compete it. A long warm-up time suggest a Traditional format in which athletes warm up all their events prior to the actual competition. (New gymnastics parents soon learn that experienced parents use traditional warm-up time to find the closest coffee shop before returning for the actual competition).
Once things are off and running, your job is to cheer, video-record, and write down scores with the other parents from your team until the meet is over. Then you get to collect the gym bags and send the kids back out on the floor for the awards ceremony (which can sometimes take almost as long as the meet itself). Plan to make a day of it and enjoy the experience of a competitive gymnastics meet.
Supporter: Your primary role at the meet is to be head cheerleader for your child (and ideally all the kids on your team). In your support role, you will need to make sure they have all the pieces of their uniforms, a healthy (but not sticky snack) and a bottle of water with a tight seal in their gym bag. (Many a new gymnastics parent has learned the hard way not to include a colored sports drink that when spilled can ruin an expensive uniform). After you have arrived and found a great place to plop during the meet, give your child a hug and remind him or her that whatever happens during the competition, you are proud of them and their accomplishments. Remind them to have fun! Then send them on their way to their coaches.
Once they have made the transition from you to coach, your support includes cheering, keeping track of their scores, and recording the meet to share with others. Remember that you are not the child’s coach or judge, but their biggest fan so cheer, praise, and record away, but don’t try to tell them what to do or divide their attention between trying to pay attention to you and to their coaches or routine. You may also want to post pictures or short videos of your child’s first gymnastics meet for all to see on Facebook or other social media.
Spectator: As a new gymnastics parent and spectator at your first gymnastics meet, there are a few rules you need to be prepared to follow. First, turn off the flash on your camera or cell phone. Flash photography is not allowed for the safety of the gymnasts. Second, you are not allowed in the competition area. Don’t cross the boundaries between spectator and competitor or coach. While it’s not a rule, you may want to get a program and record the scores of your athlete. The program will likely tell you your gymnast’s competition number and the order in which they will compete.
Boy’s Olympic order is Floor, Pommel, Rings, Vault, Parallel Bars and High Bar. Girl’s Olympic Order is Vault, Bars, Beam and Floor. You will see gymnasts competing on all 6 or 4 events at the same time, so knowing where yours is going next is helpful to follow the competition. If you can watch and record the event at the same time, go for it, but if not, see if someone else can record the events while you watch them so that you can replay them later. Often the recordings of a new gymnastics parent are as bouncy as their children’s tumbling, but you will get better in time just as your child improves her or his gymnastics. Remember that your video camera may also have a “flash” so be sure to turn that off as well. Whether your child falls or is fabulous, cheer as loudly as possible when he or she is done with each event. Cheer for other kids on your team as well as the other kids in the meet. You will earn an early reputation as an encouraging parent who understands sportsmanship as well as being supportive of their child.
Score Keeper: Scores are important to gymnasts, and often a mystery to new gymnastics parents and spectators. Girls events are scored out of a 10.0 and boys scores use a modification of the FIG (Federation of International Gymnastics) scoring system that includes 10.0 for execution plus a difficulty score based on what skills the athletes actually do. Once the athlete has completed his or her routine, a score will be “flashed” either on cards at the scoring table, or on an electronic score board. Often you will see several sets of numbers.
Typically the first is the start value (what the routine was worth if perfect). The second is the execution score (how many points were lost in execution). Finally, there is the overall score. The scores on each event determine their placement on that given apparatus in comparison with other athletes in their level and age division. Scores are totaled to determine an athlete’s All Around score. Team scores are determined by taking the top three scores on each event from all the team members in a given level (regardless of age) and adding them together. In all cases, the highest score wins. Your kids will want to know their scores, so do your best to record them as they come up.
It helps if you team up with other parents in your group in case you miss one while watching something else. Many parents find it helpful to download a gymnastics meet tracker app for their smart phone and record scores over the course of the season to help see the progress an athlete makes during the course of the season. While scores at the first meet are nice to know, the ones at the end of the season are more important in the grand scheme of things. And ultimately, it is not the scores that matters most, but the child’s love of the sport.
As new gymnastics parents become more familiar with the four S’s of understanding a gymnastics schedule, learning to support your gymnast in as many ways as possible, be a good gymnastics spectator, and gradually come to appreciate the complexity of scoring in the world of gymnastics, you too will begin to shine at your child’s gymnastics meet. You may even feel like you can “stick it” almost as often as your young athlete. Remember however, that even if you don’t do as well as you’d like in one of these skill sets, you can improve over the course of the season just as your gymnast will. By the state championships your All Around gymnastics parenting can shine as brightly as the medals your athlete works so hard to earn. By then, you’ll be the seasoned veteran and will be ready to pass on the 4 S’s of a gymnastics meet to the next set of new gymnastics parents in your gym.