Recently, a young girl who is naturally and unusually limber was encouraged by a teacher to give gymnastics a try. Her mother responded that she would be doing dance instead because “gymnastics isn’t something you can do your whole life.” The 90 year-old gymnast in viral videos recently disproves this theory, but the mother raises an important question: how can you make gymnastics serve you throughout life?
Spending time on the tumbling mats or balance beam does a lot for a young person that often isn’t recognized years down the road when, perhaps, the sport itself has been discontinued. Gymnastics requires more than being limber; it requires focus, determination, resilience in the face of failure, respectful conduct, and the willingness to learn, even when you’ve achieved a degree of mastery. Where in the world would those qualities not be valued?
When a child’s first attempt at a spotted back handspring on an incline mat results in a supreme failure, a good coach encourages the child to get up, refocus, breathe deeply, and concentrate not on what just happened, but on the task at hand – trying again. After dozens of attempts, eventually the child pulls off what can be described as an almost legitimate back handspring. The praise and encouragement of coach, teammates, and parents combined with the feeling of success is better than any high. The child goes on to master the back handspring and to attempt, repeatedly, many more skills that will someday result in a successful gymnastics routine, perhaps even garnering a competitive win.
Now picture that young child on the incline mat, except 30 years down the road, handed a task at work that seems insurmountable. That child, now an adult, knows a few things, whether he or she realizes they were learned in gymnastics or not. First, a coach is accessible. He or she just needs to be found. Perhaps it’s a co-worker or a boss, or even a friend. Because everyone needs support and direction, no matter how old we are. Second, even if the first attempt at the task fails and must be redone, the former tumbler knows it can be done. So another attempt is made, this time resulting in success. With that under his or her belt, the next task won’t seem as daunting. And perhaps, just down the road, he or she is promoted to a position with greater responsibility as a reward for their hard work.
Gymnastics teaches skills well beyond the years of forward rolls on the tumbling mat and walkovers on the balance beam. If one is truly exceptional, you may well be doing routines into your 90s, but even if that doesn’t come to fruition, you will still be using gymnastics and the life lessons gymnastics taught you for the rest of your life.