Parents should do everything for their children. They should sacrifice their own lives and happiness if it means making their kids happy. And if one of your kids is more talented than the rest, put all your eggs in that basket.
That’s a part of the still being written story of Gabby Douglas, one of the gold medal winning gymnasts from the Olympics. Gabby is an interesting case and many topics can be discussed in the context of her story. Most notably her meteoric rise winning team and all-around gold only to crater in the individual events days later. One can reasonably assume that the sudden media attention became a distraction. That doesn’t mean she enjoys it, just that it was distracting.
But that’s not the focus here today. Gymnastics is about the only elite sport in the world where the athletes peak at an age where they can barely drive, and can’t vote. And it’s not a peak with a long build up period and slow decline. Perhaps the best gymnasts can maybe stretch their career to two Olympics, if their aging lines up right. But it’s not like basketball. An elite basketball player can stretch a career 15 years and rack up a few medals along the way. Gymnasts don’t have that luxury and must use a tight window to maximize their celebrity.
One could argue that the elite gymnasts are also not so elite. We like to believe they are the best of the best, and that’s certainly true. But NBC can’t help but share stories about the sacrifice these kids make to get to the Olympics. The biggest sacrifice being cost. Of all the sports in existence gymnastics is one of the few that sees children moving across the country to train with certain coaches. And the same coaches usually send gymnasts to the games. So is the talent really in the gymnast or the coach? If it’s the coach then getting to the Olympics is really just a pay-to-play scheme. The parents willing to throw the most money at a coach get the attention needed to cultivate a talented child.
Such is the case for Gabby Douglas, whose mother is getting divorced, filed for bankruptcy, and collects social security disability. All the while she has 3 other children and one wonders if there’s enough to put food on the table after paying for Gabby’s gymnastics. So when Gabby’s story talked about her wanting to quit, I wasn’t surprised she got back into the game. Her family had literally bet the farm at the expense of everyone else. Assuming she gets her million dollar contract was it all worth it?
Gymnastics is not so special that it needs elite private coaches. If the progression were similar to other sports that have peak athletes in their 20s and 30s the infrastructure is in place to support it. Gymnastics exists at the high school and college level, with individual private clubs supporting further development but not replacing a system the allows for a balanced transition to adulthood. Most other sports that lead to far great fame and fortune don’t take nearly the same sacrifice.
I don’t mean to pick on gymnastics as I’m sure other sports have similar problems. But there’s none more relevant than gymnastics today. But for the parents I plea: ask yourself if it’s all really worth it. Was it worth it for Gabby? What about for the 50 other girls with the same sacrifice but no return on investment?