Recently, ABC Family television network added a show called “Make it or Break It“. It chronicles the soap opera lives of a team of gymnasts, their morally challenged coach and their bizarre and obsessive parents. There have only been 2 episodes to air (the third is tonight) but as you would expect, I have a few thoughts on the matter.
I have long been a champion of the sport and activity of gymnastics. I believe that it is the one activity that a child can do, either follow a competitive track or a recreational track and see HUGE physical, Social and cognitive benefits in both. Kids can chase the dreams of being a champion gymnast and end up somewhere as a notable athlete in gymnastics, or by merely participating in recreational gymnastics become fit and healthy as well as build a solid foundation for excelling at any other sport. But gymnastics has it’s quirks as well, everything does. Unfortunately ABCF’s portrayal of gym life plays on every weakness and poor stereotype out there.
The parents: The characters run the gamut of the ditzy mom, the obsessive and manipulative dad, the rich overbearing parents and the ones that we are supposed to identify with. At Gymfinity we have 99% of the “ones you can identify with”. Granted that we do not have an Elite program (training at the Olympic level) but we do have some higher level kids. Our “Olympic” moms and dads, as we call them never really last long in our program. We just don’t stand for it. But the average parent, our 99%, just wants a good, safe, healthy, fair place to train that will care for their child and teach them skills along the way. Most gyms we have seen, probably 99%, will provide that to a parent and child and the up-bringing is healthy and positive. But the media and the gossip mongers would rather talk about the 1%. There are nutty parents, I’ve seen some and I could tell you stories that wouldn’t make it onto Make it or Break it for being too fantastical. But I would rather focus on the great and supportive parents. They are the unsung heroes of a successful gymnast (and a happy coach).
The Coach: this guy is really something. He carries around a clip board but we never see him coach anything. He’s a former Olympian who has trained many girls to Olympic level but apparently cannot control his libido with the parents, maybe that’s why they’re crazy. He does demonstrate one thing accurately; he cares so much about the athletes he trains that he sacrifices many much of himself to guarantee the kids success. I would say that trait is found in 100% of good coaches. They give, time, patience, and energy (and in my case; hair) to their teams. They think about them when they are away from the gym and they focus on them when they are at the gym. That part, MIOBI got right.
The kids: Good golly. If these kids were on my team the first order of business would be a good spanking. I have trained teen-agers and younger as well as college women and I have never seen such drama. Again, a large percentage of kids in this sport have the day to day dramas that they have to resolve; school, schedules, friends, parents, siblings, and personal growth; that is normal. I have seen kids with abusive parents, cheating parents, health issues, poor grades, social abuse, disordered eating, and jerky boyfriends. I even had a gymnast who secretly worked as a stripper (c’mon she was in college). But most of the kids I know don’t deal with any of that. Most kids come from healthy homes and stable lives. 99% of my team are on the honor roll at school, have great parents, eat right, have great friends who understand the gymnast’s dedication and have boyfriends that are OK. Boyfriends have to interview with me and undergo a FBI background check before dating one of my girls. Not really, but they do have an extra male’s approval aside from dad’s to contend with.
The fact that the show displays, ultra competitive girls who sabatage their own teammates to get ahead. Girls who vomit up lunch in the bathroom of the gym and girls who have after hours flings with boy gymnasts is unfortunate. As I said, occasionally there is some drama in a kid’s life, but this is not even close. A healthy team (99% of all teams) works together, praise each other, understand each other and support each other. So glorifying the 1% is just not realistic or fair.
My biggest problem with MIOBI, is that it ruins gymnastics for 2 different groups; kids who do gymnastics and kids who don’t. Kids who do gymnastics are lumped in with these “winners” on the show, they will be seen as members of a fictional status quo and that is unfortunate for real kids who work hard, play right and fair and have good, loving and supportive families. The kids who don’t do gymnastics will probably never be given the chance to experience it, because of the fear of crazy parents, over-bearing coaches and irresponsible team mates. Thankfully that image is false, or I would have become a cab driver a long time ago.
Thanks ABCFamily for putting gymnastics in the spotlight, for that I am grateful. But with the storyline that ABCF is writing, and if you don’t mind, could you turn the light off. I would rather see a reality show about kids who train and dedicate themselves to sports and recreational pursuits, like dance or theatre. That would be a good show, probably low in drama thoough and so therefore, probably never produced. That leaves us with this unreality show; and I will probably continue to TiVo Make It Or Break It and watch it after my son goes to bed, mostly because when you really know gymnastics, their drama is pretty funny.