Every sport drill has its defining characteristics for players. Baseball players chew gum (or other things); football players repeat underwear from successful games; soccer players often wear their hair out of their face off the field. Habits are picked up like second nature in sports –– and for gymnastics it's no exception. I spent 12 years as a gymnast, and while I will admit I wasn’t particularly astounding, I did pick up on a few habits that refuse to leave me, to this day.
1. “Yes, Sir/Ma’am; No, Sir/Ma’am.
Gymnast/coach relations are not to be trifled with. Yes, we had great times in practice joking around with our coaches and pulling pranks, but there was always a very high level of respect for the coaches and unless asked to call them by a preferred name, you referred to your coach as sir or ma’am –– always. So naturally, the habit sticks with you through the years. It’s polite to southerners, charming to northerners, and just plain respectful.
2. Sprinting on your toes.
Have you ever watched a gymnast run? Typically, it begins with a sort of hop on a pointed toe and a launch into a thrilling speed before the stunt. Gymnasts make it a habit of running on their toes; it’s lighter and increases forward momentum. Whenever I find myself doing sprints, I literally jump into the same habit of running on my toes. It looks weird to people, but then again those people are usually behind me –– you see my point.
3. Raising your hand "like a gymnast."
I got made fun of this so bad in grade school. Different sports involving dance-type routines do different things with their hands. Girl gymnasts face their hands outward and make what I always called “pretty hands.” Whenever I would raise my hand in grade school, habit would kick in and there would be my little gymnast hand sticking out from the rest.
4. Strange workout routines.
Gymnasts do some weird conditioning – things people have never even heard of. For us, it was like second nature, we were used to the weirdness. For people at the gym, it's somewhat of a spectacle. I’ll find myself doing a workout routine and I’ll look up to at least six pairs of curious eyes wondering what the heck compelled me to do such a weird workout. I honestly take pride in it; it’s nice to know that you do the things you do because of a positive influence in the past.
5. Standing up to the people who say gymnastics is not a sport.
This is the pet peeve of all gymnasts, mark my words. Just because it looks easy on the television does not mean it is easy in reality. Ice skating looks easy, so does dancing and cheerleading. Why? Because people work their butts of perfecting their skills to look free-flowing and precise. Gymnastics is easily one of the hardest sports out there.
6. Straight legs during a workout.
Another workout example, typical. Whenever I find myself doing ab exercises, I always straighten my legs on the leg portion of the exercise. I went through too many years of coaches slapping my knees and making me do conditioning for bad form to not straighten my knees every chance I get.
7. An appreciation for independence.
Gymnastics is an independent sport. Yes, you practice with a team, but essentially you’re competing against your team, and when it comes down to competition, it’s only you on that event. All of the years I spent performing on my own taught me to love the thing that always intimidated me most about the sport – myself. I am comfortable on my own; I am self-reliant, headstrong and determined because my sport taught me the value of independence.
8. Immense appreciation for our parents.
God bless gymnastics parents. They spent heaven knows how many dollars putting their children through gymnastics: the training, the private training, the leotards, the competitions, the extras like grips and braces, personal equipment for training at home, the list goes on and on. Not to mention the huge sacrifice of their time to take us to and from practice almost every day until we could drive. Some parents even stood by the window and watched their child practice every day. Some would get involved in fundraisers and transportation to competitions and special events.
Gymnastics requires a huge sacrifice on the parents’ part and I am so so so grateful to my parents for doing everything they could to put me through my years as a gymnast. Their sacrifice really taught me what it means to do things for the people you love: selfless, encouraging, and without a peep of complaints.
Gymnasts essentially strive for one thing: perfection. The skill takes you part of the way, the passion and determination take you the rest. Getting a perfect score is extremely difficult to do. I never saw one in my days from myself or a teammate; it is a rare, beautiful experience both to witness and to achieve. The habit of striving for perfection sticks with you long after your days as a gymnast are over. We know that perfection is hard to achieve, but that doesn’t mean we don’t strive for it, in any and everything that we do.
Gymnasts spend so much of their lives seeing the same people every day. Practice was five days a week for five hours a day; you’d have to be one antisocial person not to become family with your team. When I eventually quit the sport, leaving was the hardest thing I ever had to do until that point. I looked around at my gymnastics family and memories continually flooded my mind until tears rolled down my cheeks like waterfalls. I had spent 12 years getting to know the people I was saying goodbye to. I grew up with them.
The coaches were like parents and my teammates were like sisters (and even the guys team was like family, too). That appreciation for the people who saw you grow up never goes away. Every so often I return back to the gym I trained at and spend a while with the remaining few family members left. Those years will never leave me, and neither will those people.
Gymnastics is an experience to say the least. It taught me more than I ever imagined; still to this day I am realizing small notions that I learned from my years as a gymnast.