Midway through my daughter’s gymnastics career I was waiting with the other moms for her practice to finish. One of the mothers asked me a question about the upcoming meet. Before I could answer, her 6 year old son piped up, “Mom, what are you asking her for? You said she never knows anything!” Gasp. The other moms stopped talking. Some were stiffling a giggle. But who could blame him? or her? It was true.
When my daughter was trying out for another team – a much more competitive team with coaches from Russia and practices 4 hours a day, 4-5 days a week in a gym one hour from our home – another mother at the try-out introduced herself to me. We chatted for a while and then she asked, “Does she have her kip?” I asked, “What’s a kip?” She smiled with satisfaction - convinced my daughter would never make it. Then she asked me to point her out. I did. They were on the uneven bars and evidently, my daughter had her kip. I watched the mom’s face fall.
I used to be a competitive swimmer. And then I coached competitive swimming. I’ve dealt with many a pushy parent. Armchair coaches, we called them. The ones that saw a few races on television during the Olympics, but never swam a day in their life and thought they knew everything. I prayed that my daughter would chose a sport that wasn’t competitive swimming. I wanted her to choose a sport I knew absolutely nothing about.
And she did.
I was thrilled. And she turned out to be pretty good. Then, at the top of her game, she quit.
Off to another sport I knew nothing about. Rowing. I love the water but I knew absolutely nothing of this sport. And the kind of boats? I just had to look up on Wikipedia what kind she raced. K-1 and K-2. But it was so much fun to watch.
And then she discovered a sport I didn’t even know was a sport. Competitive Cheerleading. I had to do everything in my power to keep a poker face when she told me she wanted to try out for the squad. Cheerleading? A sport? Whoop-de-doo. Learn a few chants. Let someone stand on your shoulders. Do a few cartwheels. That’s hardly a sport.
Boy, was I in for an education!
Not only is it a sport, it’s a very dangerous sport. Sixty-five percent of all catastrophic injuries to young women in high school involves cheerleading. You better believe once I heard this statistic I educated myself about this sport. Back in my day doing a cartwheel or a round-off got you on the squad. Now? At my daughter’s school it’s required that you have a standing back tuck. On top of that you need: round off back handspring front layout, round off back handspring full, strength training, dance skills and the ability to stunt. I was thrilled that when she made the squad her position was a base. I did not want her to be a flyer (that’s the one that gets tossed 30 feet in the air.) When we went for her physical her doctor asked what position she was. When I expressed my relief that she wasn’t a flyer the doctor smiled and told me she sees more injuries from the other positions (broken noses, broken clavicles, dislocated elbows and shoulders). What has she gotten into?
Before I signed anything (and you better believe there are release forms for this sport!) I spoke with the coach. She’s a former gymnast and competitive cheerleader, certified, trained and educated. They go to another gym for tumbling where again, they are certified. I breathed a tiny sigh of relief. She’s in her third year and so far, so good.
But beyond me checking out the safety of her coaches, gym and squad I still know very little about the sport. We just returned from the state championships and they made it to finals. A couple of the moms and I were sitting with the coaches at lunch after sectionals. I asked a question. Evidently, a bit of a dumb question. I saw those knowing glances all over again between the moms as the head coach patiently answered me.
I will never be one of those moms that sits in the stands with her pen and schedule, making notes on the other squads, counting how many fell, how many stepped off the mat, how many didn’t complete a stunt. I have no idea how to rank them, how many points are deducted for a fall or what the judges are looking for. I had to ask my daughter a few moments ago to tell me the names of the things she does during her tumbling run. She gave me that look, too.
But that’s ok. I will be my daughter’s cheerleader. I will watch diligently from the stands with eyes on her praying she doesn’t get hurt. I still know less than half of the girl’s names on her squad. I know she gets annoyed whenever I ask, “Now, who is Chelsea?” for the 50th time. But that’s ok. I’m there for her. I’m so proud of the hard work she puts into this sport. It’s a team sport that still showcases her amazing gymnastics ability. Her work ethic is fantastic. She performs in front of thousands of people. She is a consistent athlete. And she loves her teammates. I can’t ask for anything more.
(Not our squad but an example of what a competitive squad does from last year’s championships)