My daughter was 6 years old and I had enrolled her in a summer diving program. The class met for an hour twice a week for three months. It was fairly inexpensive but as a gymnastics teacher, mother, and person who thought I knew everything about sports, I felt the need to make sure that every minute of the class was spent learning. My daughter was very athletic, talented, and she loved diving, or so I thought.
After about two weeks of my baby learning the names, body positions, and basics of the dives, her coach let her start flipping off the low diving board. She did front dives, back dives, inward dives, and even did a front 1 ½. I was so proud. My 6 year old was learning dives that the coach was training the girls on her competitive team. Everyone came up to me and told me how cute and talented my daughter was. I was glowing with pride and saw my dreams of my daughter making the Olympics coming to life. I quickly realized that I needed to make sure that my daughter didn’t let her chances of making the Olympics slip away. So I made sure that I was constantly pushing her to be her best.
I made sure that she wasn’t fooling around during practice and that she listened to her coach. So when I saw her fooling around I would yell across the pool “stop fooling around and listen to your coach”. (Yelling at my daughter from across the pool did NOT make her listen to her coach, it made her turn her attention to me and wonder what the heck I was trying to tell her). She of course couldn’t hear me, so I moved my chair close to the diving boards. One month later my daughter was improving at an accelerated rate. She moved her dives up to a higher diving board. My daughter walked right up to the 10 ft. diving board and got in position. She did an amazing front dive. I could feel myself fill up with pride. That was MY daughter. Every dive she did seemed perfect to me and she kept proving to me that she had a chance of making an Olympic team. I was in a cloud. She made me feel like I was a better mom. I wasn’t just a mom; I was a mom of a child prodigy. I created that, I was a supermom. I checked into more diving classes, I talked to her coach about future plans, and I bought her new swimsuits without ruffles. It was time to get serious.
During the next month I sat my chair right next to the diving board. I made sure that my daughter knew that she was there to work hard and not fool around. I made sure I pointed out things that I thought she was doing wrong. I would tell her corrections like to keep her legs together and point her toes. I made sure that every dive was one step closer to my Olympic dreams for her. She was improving quickly and I was sure my involvement was the reason. I continued to push her and yell at her when I thought she needed to work harder. Then one day it was time for her to go up to the 10ft. board and try her front 1 ½. She stood up on the board and stared at the water. I encouraged her at first and yelled comments like “you can do it” and “you got this”. But she still would not go. Time after time of me trying to encourage her, I decided to force her to go. My comments were more like “if you don’t go, you are grounded” or “go, I am paying for this” and “you are wasting my time”. My daughter didn’t budge. She looked at the coach and the coach told her to just do a straddle jump into the water. A straddle jump, I was furious. “I can do a straddle jump” I yelled to my daughter. “I can do a front 1 ½” I tried taunting her. At this point I was so mad at her that I made her stay after practice until she decided to throw her front 1 ½. She stood up on the board crying, and the more she cried the angrier I got. After ten minutes I was furious at my daughter and I was even more upset that I couldn’t control her. Why was she not listening to me?
She was not going to do her dive. After ten painful minutes of my daughter’s coach watching me mentally abuse my daughter, the coach walked up to me and told me that she had a parent’s team and that I was welcome to join the team. I chuckled and said “Are you kidding me?” She was serious. She said that since I was so knowledgeable about diving, she would like me to join the parent team. I laughed again and said “There is no way I am getting up on that diving board and flipping onto my head. I would hurt myself. No thank you. I am not that crazy to get up there. That is way too scary!”
The coach stood there and stared at me. And then it hit me. And I left like an idiot. I was pushing and pushing my daughter to do something that I actually thought was scary and insane. I wouldn’t get up on the high dive, but I was screaming at my daughter and in the meantime I was ruining my relationship with her because I wanted to be special. I wanted to be supermom. I didn’t realize nor care that my daughter just wanted to have fun. She had no intention of competing in diving. I looked at the coach, smiled, and said
“Well played coach, well played.”
After reading your article, I was highly frustrated in your behavior. Not only as a parent but also as a gymnastics teacher. While I am glad your child’s coach finally put you in your place, he should have never had to do so.
1. You mention in your article that you are a gymnastics teacher. Certainly you must realize that only 5-7 gymnasts every four years makes the Olympic Team and for divers the number is even lower.
2. I was shocked to hear that someone who works in a youth sport industry would not only yell across the pull, but would putll up a chair next to the diving board. I would assue that you would not allow a parent to pull up a chair and attempt to coach their own child from the balance beam area.
3. I have a young girl at my gym right now who is afraid to tumble backwards. While talking with her mother, she replied “I don’t know what the problem is, she used to be able to do 17 backhandsprings in a row.” I stopped the mother and asked when did one of my coaches ever ask her daughter to do more than three backhandsprings in a row? We have all been there.
4. I have told parents for years that gymnastics is their child’s sport. The truth is that this will be the first time in their lives that they will know more about something than they do. At six years old, your daughter has learned that Mom does not always know what she is talking about.
I am sorry to be so straight forward.
I too was highly frustrated by my behavior and that is why I wrote this piece. I learn from my mistakes and then tell my stories to help others. We are not perfect and I am sure you have done things in the past that you are not proud of, my article is all about how I got caught up in my own wishes and dreams for my child and how they got out of control. My daughter is 16 now and she has always known that I am not perfect, and we are both OK with that. I think my ability to state my flaws to my children makes them understand that when they make mistakes hopefully people won’t be highly frustrated, judgmental, and shocked, but more understanding and loving.
Unfortunately too few patents reach that “aha moment”. I appreciate your willingness to share.
Awesome story, I’ve met way too many parents like this! Sport should be fun first, especially at 6 years old … but it should always be fun cuz that’s why we got into it in the first place.
I think it’s great that you realized how hard you were being on her. No one is perfect. I tell my kids that all the time as I screw up. How could you not see her potential considering your background? Oh, and to Tom: I’m sure she knows how many gymnasts go to the Olympics, considering she was one of them in 1992.