I won’t be there on Tuesday.

What could my little gymnast be missing if she misses a few training sessions? I have always lived by the motto that “7 days without gymnastics makes one weak.” This sport is unique in its training as well as its benefits and so has some unique considerations. Most parents who ask this question are planning on having their gymnast skip the workout regardless because they feel that the event they are missing for is more important than the event they are missing. Fine. Let’s examine the response that I give when this is asked of me. I will take it from the perspective of the 6 Pillars of Character that we have posted in the gym:
Trustworthy: I stopped arguing years ago that it is imperative that every gymnast attend every session. I allowed absences for school projects, family events or sickness but that was pretty much it. I found that kids were having science fairs, violin concerts, or illnesses more than should be expected. Realizing that I was encouraging the lying to facilitate the absences I changed my policy. “So you want to go to your neighbor’s birthday party instead of practice? OK. Go.” I now have an increase in honesty and that is important to my relationship with parents and children and it reinforces the pillar of trustworthiness, as does the rest of the response.
Yes there is more to the response than “OK, Go.”
Respect: Kids also are choosing to put themselves outside the loop. The happenings at the gym, the teammate interaction and the insider information are all affected by her not being there. The coach is there every night. The rest of the team is there every night. It is disrespectful to remove yourself from that commitment but still expect the benefit the commitment provides.
Responsibility: Keep in mind that you asked to be here. You joined the team knowing about the commitment it required. It was your choice to accept the position and so it is your choice to maintain the commitment to it. Should we determine that the commitment is not there, and then it becomes the coaches’ choice as to what your position should be.
Fairness: Being absent de-prioritizes her training. Because the coach must train the largest group and keep them on pace, any advancement of the group she trains with might be at risk. By falling behind it will require the coach to take their focus away from the group to help one individual catch back up. This slows the group’s progress and the team suffers as a whole.
Caring: Physically she will lose strength or gain less than her peers, the same can be said for flexibility. She will forget specific mental cues that have been working and progressing her skills forward. Her confidence level will lower a bit because she knows that she did not do everything she could have to train her skills and routines.
Citizenship: I usually end with an explanation of the change that must occur in the child and the parent’s expectations. Because gymnastics trains skill patterns, those patterns must be reinforced as frequently as possible. Missing training means that the “body” has a chance to mutate or forget those patterns we worked so long on attaining. There is a clear If/than relationship: If she misses practices than you (parent and gymnast) are not allowed the luxury of high expectations. She will perform at the level reflective of her effort. Period.
Then I ask “Will this set a precedent? Is this recurring or a onetime thing?” If so then we will need to re-prioritize her goals and direction. This is possible but being done more than once can make the child confused and de-motivated.
Is all this really a factor if she misses one night? The answer is no. Sometimes I will even tell a gymnast to take the night off for a mental break, or for recovery after an event. But after a few days or a pattern of missing days these changes are very evident. The worry is that if a pattern develops, there will be great losses and often they cannot be recovered from. Most people, when confronted with these factors, make a good decision.

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