Props to you, Coach!

The other day, as I walked across the gym from coaching uneven bars to the vault area, I heard the following exchange:

6-year-old boy: “Why does that have to be my nickname?”

Coach: “If you act like a boy, I’ll give you a manly nickname. Otherwise, you get a girly nickname. So you have to be tough, and strong, and not complain if you wanted to be nicknamed “Superman” or “Muscleman” or “Tiger.” If you’re weak, and scared, and whine a lot, you’ll keep being called “Princess” or “Fairy.”

First of all, really!? Way to reinforce stereotypical gender roles. Props to you, Coach! Teach ’em young.

Second, as a women’s gymnastics coach, I take offense. My girls are not weak, they are incredibly brave, and they don’t whine anymore than any kid would when required to do things that are painful and difficult.

On the “weak” note, I have an idea. First, we line the boys and girls team up from oldest to youngest, facing each other, as if at a square dance. Then we pair each kid with the opposite-sexed kid facing them and send then off on a leg lift, press handstand, and rope climb contest. My girls will kick the boys’ asses.

On the topic of “girls are scared,” I don’t think my students are any more scared than they should be. Gymnastics is a risky sport. Most of my kids who have been at the competitive level for more than a few years have broken some bone or have some sort of injury that requires constant attention (tendinitis, Osgood-Schlatter’s “disease,” or lower back pain). Like all athletes, my gymnasts sometimes encounter mental blocks they must overcome. For the the most part, however, they their coaches’ judgment. When I tell a kid she is ready to do her back-handspring, back-tuck on the high beam or flip from the high bar to the low part without a mat, they apprehensively proceed. Fear is good. Fear informs us of limits. Fear keeps us from doing stupid things. The coach above should realize the difference between natural and helpful fear and pointlessly being a scaredy-cat.

Finally, kids (both boys and girls) whine when they have to do something they don’t want. If I was eight, and my coach told me to do a hundred sit-ups, you bet I’d whine. But then, I’d do it, because I’d know it was good for me. As my gymnasts get older and more advanced in the sport, they cease to complain because they internalize that challenges and occasional discomfort are inherent in the path they’ve chosen.  It shouldn’t be surprising that a six-year-old boy would say, “Ugh, Coach, I don’t want to do my push-ups!” or “This hurts. Why do we have to do it’?” That doesn’t mean you need to rename him  “Fairy Princess.”

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