Today, my oldest daughter (12-years-old) is taking her first real gymnastics class, and I’m a little anxious to see how things go.
It’s not as if she is about to enter a totally-unknown world. We have already spent many hours a week in this gym with her little sister (our 6-year-old). I know the coaches and what they expect. Because of that, I also know how young most of the “beginners” are and how quickly they go from beginner to developmental to team gymnasts.
Unlike my little one, though, my 12-year-old doesn’t harbor any dreams of being a team gymnast. (That’s probably good, because from what I can tell, if you’re just learning gymnastics at 12 years old, you are several years behind most of the competitive gymnasts out there.) Instead, she is taking her first class in an effort to improve her tumbling skills before cheerleading tryouts at her school next year.
I admire my middle schooler’s desire to set a long-term goal and work toward it. All three of my girls are consistently involved with extracurricular sports or activities. My 9-year-old tends to focus on team sports, and my youngest was bitten hard by the gymnastics bug a couple of years ago. But my oldest, while always into something, tends to flit from one activity or sport to another. That never really concerned me until now.
In the past, we have encouraged each of our girls to try a wide variety of different sports; see what they liked. We didn’t want them to feel like they had to do soccer or softball or dance for the rest of their childhood just because that’s the first activity they chose. If they expressed interest in tennis, we signed them up for lessons. If after a while, they wanted to try basketball, that was fine too.
While I still think that’s a good idea in theory, I have begun to look around at my daughter’s friends – most of whom have found an interest somewhere along the line and stuck with it. Cheerleading is a prime example. At 12 years old, most of the girls who are trying out for the middle school squad have been cheering for years on parks and rec or even competition leagues. It doesn’t mean that beginners like my daughter have no chance of making the squad, but it does put them at a big disadvantage.
That brings me to this morning’s gymnastics. I am anxious, because I realize my daughter could well be the oldest girl in the beginner’s class (it’s for girls 8 and up). I don’t know if she will feel self-conscious being as much as four years older than her classmates; if she will be discouraged; or what. I hope she will realize everyone has to begin somewhere, and that this is a first step toward reaching her personal goal. Deep down, however, I also hope there’s another 12-year-old in the class.
Did your children focus on a particular sport or activity early on? If so, did it make a difference in their ability to fully participate or even excel? Did they (or do they) ever regret missing the opportunity to explore other activities? Do you worry they might burn out on the sport?
If your child didn’t zero-in on an interest early on, have they found it difficult to make it in school sports or other organized sports because they came late to the game? Are there particular sports or activities that are especially difficult to begin at a later age? Are there sports to which kids typically don’t focus on until middle or high school?
At what age should a child begin to focus on one particular interest or activity over all of the others?