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Should I Allow/Encourage My Little Boy To Compete In Gymnastics?

WhatapainthisisWhatapainthisis Posts: 373Registered User Member
edited January 2008 in Parent Cafe
By way of background, as an infant/toddler, my son had physical problems: always sick and underweight for his height. He was diagnosed with a mild heart valve defect and he had a lot of allergies. In Kindergarten, we had a lot of problems because he still physically needed a nap and they did not allow it. We also had to supplement him with Pediasure at times because he'd get sick and practically skeletal. Despite his stature, he had quite a temper. We'd joke that his arms looked like flying spaghetti.

Anyhow, when he entered the first grade, we enrolled him in gymnastics one day a week. We felt that it was important for him to have some physical activity and we felt that gymnastics was a good choice given his stature.

A lot of times he'd give us a hard time about going, but he always seems to have fun when he gets there. The complaints revolved around "I'm too tired to go" or "It takes my video game/tv time". He has only been taking gymnastics on Saturdays for an hour a week for the past 3 years.

Anyhow, since starting gymnastics in the first grade, my son has physically become healthier. We don't know if it is the gymnastics. But while he's still on the small side (we are not tall people), his weight and height are now proportioned and he rarely gets sick.

In the 2nd grade, after watching Riverdance, my son started tapping around the house last year, and I asked him if he'd like to try dancing. He said yes, but it was too late in the year. But this September, we enrolled him dance lessons. He takes Tap, and he also agreed to give Ballet a try, with the understanding that he would not get shoes if he did not stick it out for a month. Well, he begged us for the shoes, we caved, and now he often complains that he doesn't want to go. But he gets there and enjoys himself.

And at home, he puts his shoes on and taps around. And when the school had auditions for a performance, we were not going to take him. We had enough of arguing with him to go to the lessons, we weren't about to have him sign up for the performance and give us a hard time about it. But the day of the audition, he cried and begged, so we took him. Now our son is going to be in this performance.

We have noticed a definite difference in his muscle tone in his legs since taking these dance lessons, although I do think that ballet and tap (2 hrs) on a school night might be tough. If he continues, I'd probably not do them on the same night again.

Anyhow, this past Saturday, his gymnastics teacher asked if we had considered gymnastics competitions for our son. He said that our son stands out in his class as strong and flexible. I was kind of surprised, because he has always been in the "Level 1" boys class for the past 3 years and strength was an issue. Apparently something has changed.

Anyhow, my son complains at times that his back hurts. This has happened a few times. Even though he did not have any physical activities this week, tonight he complained that his leg hurts. Sometimes he complains that his legs hurt the day after dancing.

I realize that aches and pains are a part of sports, but should I be concerned about the back complaints?

Does anyone feel that I am doing the wrong thing by sending my son to these activities when he doesn't want to go, even though his health has improved, and he seems to enjoy them once he's there (and actually cries if I make the choice to withhold the activity)?

Should I encourage my son to compete in gymnastics or just be grateful that he goes and cooperates when he's there? Should I be concerned that his aches/pains are a sign that he is being hurt in gymnastics? That perhaps they have begun to push my son beyond his abilities to test him out before they asked us about competition?

This isn't just a matter of letting him pick something else. My son says that he hates exercise (unless we decide to withhold it). We have emphasized to him the importance of physical activity because of his heart. We have been told that if he makes it through the growth spurt of puberty, that he will likely be "home free", but he will always have to be conscious of his health because of the narrowing of his pulmonary valve. We want to instill in him the need for exercise while he is young.
Post edited by Whatapainthisis on
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Replies to: Should I Allow/Encourage My Little Boy To Compete In Gymnastics?

  • Muffy333Muffy333 Posts: 2,060Registered User Senior Member
    That's so cute!!!! If he likes it, let him. Did you take him to the dr. to see if there is a real health concern? I'd clear it with a health professional. Ballet and tap are really great for overall coordination and guys always get a lot of encouragement.
  • 3bm1033bm103 Posts: 3,537Registered User Senior Member
    All three of my sons took gymnastics. It is great for flexibility, strength and coordination. I would certainly encourage it, but not force. I would follow his lead as to wether he wants to compete or not.
  • -Allmusic--Allmusic- Posts: 6,350Registered User Senior Member
    My D has done gymnastics, including teams, since she was a toddler.

    You just have to be careful when you start a kid in "competitions" or team gymnastics. One gym wanted my then 6 yr old daughter for three afternoons of practice a week and four hours PER DAY in the summer. Usually by age 8 the kids are expected to be practicing 8 hours a week, and by age 10, 10 hours a week. She didn't even enjoy the pressure,a nd I thought the time commitment precluded all other activities.

    We said adios and forget it to that one, and she has been on a recreational team since, where her skill development is slower but she is having more fun. Also, even if she had wanted to do all those practices, we wouldn't have let her. Nearly all the girls on her original team have suffered serious injuries, including ones to the growth plate in their feet; two have had surgery. Gymnastics is a wonderful sport, but too much, like too much of anything else, is a lot of stress on a growing body.
  • ebeeeeeebeeeee Posts: 5,199Registered User Senior Member
    I don't think you are doing the wrong thing to send him to the activity even when he doesn't want to go. Haven't you been home and not wanted to motivate to go somewhere? As long as he enjoys it once he is there, I would persist. As far as whether they are pushing him and that is the cause for the aches and pains, can you watch a practice or class? Do they have observation weeks?
    Now for the question about competition. Like the above poster, we were faced with that choice years ago with a different sport. It was clear that the child's choice was not be go the competitive route. I would only go there if the child is pushing for it, if you as a family are willing to take all that on, and if you understand what you are sacrificing by making that choice. There will be sacrifices. Kids I know who are competitive in any sport travel every weekend, eat in the car on a daily basis, have parents who are split up on weekends as one is traveling with the team, etc.
    There are dance teachers and then there are DANCE teachers. Same goes for gymnastics....choose the adults he is around in these programs carefully. If your "goal" is lifetime exercise and fun, make sure he is attending a program where that is their goal.
  • zoosermomzoosermom Posts: 23,601Registered User Senior Member
    I would require him to do something physical each week and allow him to choose the activity.

    We had a similar situation with our son. He was very, very thin (still is, that's just our kids), but we felt he needed some exercise and some interaction with boys (he has two sisters), so he joined little league. It was an unmitigated disaster. He wouldn't pay attention, dug in the dirt. So he quit but we told him he had to pick something else. He chose karate and has been going twice a week for over two years and is now a blue belt. It's one of the best things we've ever done as parents and has helped him grow in so many ways.

    THe point being that if your son is (like mine) a kid who enjoys tv and video games, you've got to make physical activity a priority.
  • doubleplaydoubleplay Posts: 3,550Registered User Senior Member
    I agree with the idea of letting him choose, but emphasizing getting out and doing something. My kids did LL, and enjoyed it, but there were kids there who didn't but were forced to participate by parents. For us, I didn't care if it was going outside and playing basketball in the driveway, pingpong, skateboarding, surfing, racquetball... none of those were organized activities but provide hours of enjoyment and exercise (and involve motor skill development). I think sometimes parents get wrapped up in the organized sports arena and forget that unorganized, athletic activities are just as fun and healthy.
  • WhatapainthisisWhatapainthisis Posts: 373Registered User Member
    Reading some of these responses, it sounds like allowing him to compete would not be a good idea at this time. I definitely see that kind of time commitment as being a problem, especially if it is not "his idea". I think that he is at a point that he needs to try a variety of things and it sounds as if competitive gymnastics would consume all of his time.

    We really like his dance studio. It is run by a woman who also runs the youth ballet company in our area, and she is also a University professor of dance. We originally called the place because they advertised that they have had "boys only" classes and it was close by. We have a studio closer to us, but when I visited, there were no pictures of boys in any of the recital photos, a girls only dressing room, etc..

    While he is not the only boy in his dance school, this year they did not get sufficient interest for a boys only class, but his tap teacher is male. We then noticed that they had ballet in the class right before the tap, and the director teaches that. He agreed to try. She is very nurturing, her own child is in his classes. She also has a "boys" dressing room. The first day of ballet, a girl said "Why is there a boy here?" to the teacher, and he was very angry on the way home and I insisted that this was why I would not be buying the ballet shoes until he stuck it out for a month. We made some jokes that perhaps he ought to remind these girls that in another 8 years, he would be the one lifting them, and that it would be terrible if his arms suddenly gave out because he did not practice. (of course he didn't say it, we just giggled about it).

    He ultimately did beg us to get the shoes after that, and he has now been in both classes for several months. I don't think that the director/ballet teacher is pushy at all, but I also think that he may go far with her because she is his only boy in her class right now. She actually seems to cut him some slack that he probably doesn't deserve. For example, they are supposed to write french words at the end of class, and he has at times not really done so, and she just waves it off. It may just be her nature though. They actually end their classes with the children hugging the teacher and assistant, and they get a little sticker or piece of candy.

    If my son were to seriously pursue dance, we do have a conservatory around here that is run by a husband/wife team, and they do have all boys classes. We saw some pictures, it is clear from the posture that those little boys are very serious. However, it is very expensive, and like with the gymnastics, I think that the commitment might turn him off at this stage of his life, even though he might enjoy the company of the other boys.

    About the little league poster-- we also had our son in T-ball the past two summers. The first year, a kid got hit with the ball almost every game. And our son would sit in his carseat with his arms stubbornly crossed refusing to get out. Like everything, once he got out, he played cooperatively. But we got a lot of "I don't want to go" with that too.

    The only thing that I don't think he really complained too much about was swim lessons this past summer, and I actually opted to pay for private instruction because he'd been through a couple of cycles of group classes with no progress. He actually did very well privately and did not object to going. I think part of it too was the fact that I'd sit poolside and then we'd have lunch together right after.

    About the TV/Video games. Aside from his comments of "Gymnastics takes my video game time", his school teacher had some issues with his performance in school. She accused him of being distracted, taking too long to get things done, and we had a lot of problems getting him to handle his own homework. After his last teacher conference, about a month ago, I immediately went home and removed his personal tv from his room and disconnected his video games in the living room. He is no longer allowed to watch tv/play video games at all during the school week and we cut his bedtime back an hour. He is now allowed to play until 7, and then has to do homework/read/study until 8:30. The first day, he cried. But actually, he ended up getting out this 3-D puzzle meant for ages 12+ and started erecting that and actually managed to complete it this past week. He has still avoided homework in favor of doing the puzzle/playing, but I noticed that he actually does not object anymore to the loss of tv. Additionally, one day we accidentally set the alarm clock wrong, and my son woke up on his own, but it was after 12 hours of sleep. So that is apparently what he needs.
  • WhatapainthisisWhatapainthisis Posts: 373Registered User Member
    Also, wanted to mention that I agree about the free form playing. But we have no other small children in our family, so the organized activities are the only guaranteed way of meeting other children. We've taken him to the park at times where he is the only child there. We also live in freezing NY. When I was a kid, there was a lot of snow, and I'd play in it. But over the years, sometimes it is just darned bitter cold. I've made friends with another and we had one "playdate" at our local gym. It was interesting because the way my son's teacher was talking, I was beginning to question his ability to learn. But when we had the playdate, both children understood that they had to do homework first. I sat shocked while my son whipped off reading a book with no trouble until his friend arrived. I asked him what the deal was, that he seems to move like molasses when we are sitting together reading, and he said "he wanted to get it over with". Then again, he also just got glasses in September, so he may still see reading as unpleasant.
  • WhatapainthisisWhatapainthisis Posts: 373Registered User Member
    About choosing the activity -- we have discussed the possibility of soccer. But we are pretty sure that contact sports are not a good choice for him. He is smaller than the other boys as it is. We are concerned about a sport that would cause him to get hit in the chest with his narrowed valve. And he showed us in T-ball that the idea of being hit with a ball is enough to send him the other way, I don't think that he'd receive getting hit by an actual kid very well. So we have started with the gymnastics/T-ball/dance, but there are a host of other sports that he could try. Tennis, track, fencing, maybe lacrosse (is that violent?). He also is willing to do yoga at home with us (we all do that). My husband is a power lifter, so I anticipate that when he is about 12, he may begin to weight lift at the gym.
  • cartera45cartera45 Posts: 12,133Registered User Senior Member
    Just be sure to clear these activities with his cardiologist. I know that with aortic stenosis, lifting is limited and contact sports are not recommended. However, mild pulmonary stenosis is different and may not be as limiting.
  • WhatapainthisisWhatapainthisis Posts: 373Registered User Member
    My son has pulmonary stenosis, which as of this past summer, is still considered to be "mild". His cardiologist was pleased about the gymnastics and stated that he has no physical limits at this time. We were told that usually problems develop before age 5, that at age 8 he is doing well, and we just need to be on watch during puberty to see if his valve will keep pace with his growth. We hadn't started the dancing yet.

    What I meant to add when I discussed the dancing place-- my son has complained in the past about a gymnastics teacher. Last year, he complained that his teacher hit the kids hands. We thought that maybe he was objecting to "high fives", but my son said that he hit there hand when the messed up. He also said that he really wanted his "old gymnastics teacher back". My husband did look through the observation window, and he noted that the teacher tapped their hands when they are on the bars, but it seems as if it is a signal to let go of the bar. He did note high fives as well. My husband's impression was that the teacher was not trying to be abusive. He now has a different teacher and does not complain about him. But I have been reading lately about abuse in gymnastics, and not being trained ourselves, we would not necessarily know if these tactics are normal or not.
  • UCDAlum82UCDAlum82 Posts: 1,065Registered User Senior Member
    I absolutely agree that you shouldn't put kids on competitive teams until they ask to be on the competitive teams. They should have a say in that type of committment.

    I had a daughter whose a dancer, and her school had a few boys at it, including some on the competive teams. I saw a few that like ballet, a few that were willing to put up with ballet to take the higher level jazz classes and compete, and a few that were drug through the classes by their moms. If it comes to that, I'd let him drop ballet. It's really not worth it. Tap, on the other hand, is great aerobic exercise, does wonderful things for the strength of your legs, especially ankles and knees, and is really good for your balance. And can be very masculine, especially with the guy teachers.

    If you are considering tennis, 7 or 8 isn't too young.
  • anxiousmomanxiousmom Posts: 5,251Registered User Senior Member
    Tap is GREAT, and fun. Very few injuries, as opposed to gymnastics - and very little competition. It's an entry into theater and other social things. :)
  • missypiemissypie Posts: 16,783Registered User Senior Member
    I have one competitive dancer and one competitive gymnast. If your son can get good at dance, he is golden. Our studio would LOVE to have boys on the competitive teams but we don't have any. The studios who win nationals all seem to have boys on their teams.

    There aren't a lot of boys competitive gymnastics teams. There also aren't very many mens' college teams (victim of Title IX).

    Just to give you an idea of what the schedule might be like in the future, DD15-the dancer-rehearses 7.5 hours a week for her dance company. DD12-the gymnast-practices 15 hours a week and that just puts her behind lots of girls who do 20-30 hours a week.

    I think that a dancer can do other things but a gymnast has to commit to just that.

    And as for them pushing the gymnasts to put in a lot of hours at a very young age-there's a good reason for that: To get them as far as they can before they are scared to death of it! DD12 is freaked out by the back handspring on the beam....it's a very rational fear, but the younger kids aren't as afraid.
  • NotMamaRoseNotMamaRose Posts: 4,090Registered User Senior Member
    Weighing in here on the side of having the OP's son further explore dance, particularly ballet, for the fun/exercise and art of it, without the pressure of competition. I have friends who have had kids in both competitive gymnastics and dance, and they both have told me "It's not an activity; it's a lifestyle!" Most of their kids' non-school time is taken up in classes and rehearsals.
    I should disclose here that my younger daughter started dance for fun at age 7 and now, at 13, dances about 12 hours a week in classes (no competitions. Her dance studio is part of a university's prep division and they don't do competitions.) One thing that I have noticed as my D has moved along in dance, however, is that there are very few boys in her classes, so if your son is talented and likes dance, well, let him do it! :)
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