When we began our competitive gymnastics journey with Sugarplum last summer, I had no idea what we were in for. The past almost year has been a roller coaster of big ups (she placed third on her team at her first ever competition!) and major downs (she placed dead last out of her entire level at her competition in November!)
I’ve worked really hard to not project my feelings and emotions about situations on to her, other than letting her know how super, duper proud I am of her hard work. I’ve let her lead the way, even when my soul was crushed by her last place finish.
But she has been working her cute little butt off in the gym since November and has slowly been working her scores back up to where they were when she started in October. But it wasn’t until about a month ago when she came out of competition and walked over to me, with her head hung low and tears dripping down her cheeks. Despite scoring higher than she had in the previous two competitions, she was disappointed to yet again watch another team-mate take home the big team trophy (the girl with the highest overall score who hasn’t taken the team trophy home yet gets to take it home for the night.)
I reassured her I was so proud of her and she was getting better but those tears broke my heart. And that is when I took action, I had been able to stay on the sidelines as long as she was happy and excited about competing but the second she started feeling down about it, I knew we had to do something.
My mind raced with questions: why were her scores going down? what is it about her performances that were scoring low even though she is a very competent gymnast and didn’t have any falls or bumbles? why were her team mates who she had been on par with at the beginning on the season passing her by?
These were the questions I took to one of her coaches and the big question: what do we need to do from here!?
Her coach was very reassuring and confirmed my own suspicions: my extremely bendy girl who can do all the big skills is just too wiggly (the exact reason we enrolled her in gymnastics to begin with!) Apparently at her level, the judges are looking for body control. The big moves don’t matter so much, it’s all the in between wiggles that effect the scores.
So we began working on it. Sugarplum, Honeybun and I would head to backyard regularly and go over her routines. I didn’t correct her form, I’d simply count her wiggles and she’d get excited when it was only a few and demand to do it again so she could be better if it was a lot. Sometimes I would do the routine and she would count my wiggles (luckily it’s pretty basic gymnastics at this level!)
Then, I introduced her to the power of the F-Word and how she could use it to her advantage. I’d tell her before she practiced “Sugarplum, remember your F-Word!” and she’d giggle or nod confidently. We even had a special signal I could give her through the gym windows from the lobby to signal “think about the F-Word!” The F-Word became a sort of mantra for us to help remind her of one thing:
In some of the videos from past competition, you can see Sugarplum’s little eyes darting from here to there while competing, not paying attention to her task at hand but rather watching what others were doing. And I see it in practice, too, she’s constantly watching the other girls and classes rather than focusing in on her body and routines.
Her coach had explained to me during our chat that when Sugarplum focuses on the end of the beam during her routine, she always does much better but when she’s distracted, that’s when the wiggles creep in.
So before this last competition, I gave her a little pep-talk “remember your F-Word. Focus on what you’re doing, picture that big trophy at the end of the beam, in front of you on the floor, on the top bar and at the end of the vault. Focus on what you are doing and don’t worry about anything else!”
Amazingly, it worked. At competition this weekend, she scored third highest on her team again (even with the team having almost doubled in size from the fall) and her overall score was 11th highest out of 83 girls competing at her level despite being one of the youngest. She also got her first super blue ribbon, which denotes a score of 9.5 or higher, for her vault performance which tied for the highest vault score of all competitors in her level that day!
She didn’t get that big trophy but I’m confident she will in one of her upcoming competitions and while I’m not worried about the trophies, I’m happy to use it to continue to motivate her to be her best if that’s what works for her.
I know our journey will have many more ups and downs and I know there will be more tears streaking my little girl’s face but I’m just happy in this moment to know we have a powerful tool to continue propelling her forward: the F-Word.