How many parents have said that they want their child to be an Elite athlete, to go to the Olympics?
On TV, we see the amazing tumbling passes on floor, sky high release skills on bars, beautiful dance on beam, and huge vaults.
And don’t forget the bejeweled and bedazzled leotards.
But how much do you really know about what goes on behind the scenes; at home or at the gym?
We sat down with Lyn Ferrer, the mom of former Jr. Elite and now soon to be LSU Tiger Bailey Ferrer, to find out what it was like to raise an Elite gymnast.
Part 1 discusses –
- How the decision was made to go elite
- Advice for picking an Elite gym/coach
- Boundaries between coach, parent, athlete
- Sacrifices an Elite family makes
- Time devoted to the sport
Part 2 discusses –
- The age factor
- Financial impact
- Medical Issues
- Lessons learned
PART 1 –
GBC: How do you know, as a parent, that your kid is good enough to go Elite?
LF: I was a competitive gymnast and I have coached on and off for 30 years at all levels. I can recognize the “extra” that is needed to pursue this endeavor that Bailey asked for.
GBC: How was the decision made for Bailey and your family to go Elite?
LF: The decision was made for Bailey to go Elite, after realizing by age 5 she was without fear and putting that special mindset into actual optional skills. Skills she learned after watching older gymnasts at Level 10 and multiple videos of past Olympians for hours on end. It was not what she expressed verbally but instead how she performed in the gym and having to drag her out. By age 8 her special gift was obvious in the physical aspect, it was her quick twitch. Mentally there was a determination and focus that was above her maturity level that no one could explain. For two years, we would as a family have numerous talks about relocating out of state for her and her desires to have the opportunity as an Elite.
Crazy to see how far i’ve come throughout the years! This is by far my favorite edit i’ve ever gotten❤️ pic.twitter.com/cQmPCeyV21
— Bailey Ferrer (@baileyf37) May 17, 2018
GBC: What advice can you give to parents who have children heading into the Elite world?
LF: The advice I would give parents who have a young child heading in the direction of the Elite world of gymnastics is to ask yourself some very important questions:
- Have you done your research thoroughly on the coach or coaches your child desires?
- Do you have family support and a very strong marriage?
- Do you have monies or a sponsor?
- Is your child ready to relocate and give up their childhood?
- Are you as a parent willing to give up ALL your time to one child? I say this is case you have other children. This means your other children will sacrifice their wants and desires in their own lives for your gymnast.
If a family can agree to the above then a long, expensive, hard, lonely, happy, sad journey with multiple injuries, disappointments, and great accomplishments will follow. Hang on for the ride.
GBC: If a child is going to train at the Elite level, what should go into picking the “right” gym/coach?
LF: If your gymnast has in fact been recognized by coaches around the USA, and they have expressed a desire to take your child to the Elite level and feel confident they can go through the qualifying process and pass with “the score”, then it’s time to choose.
Get the phone numbers of other Elite parents in the gym you are leaning towards and call them. Ask to meet with them and ask questions such as; How many injuries has your child dealt with? What is the overall mood of the coach when coaching his gymnast and when the gymnast is having a bad training day? How many hours a day is training? How does the coach handle injuries as they occur at that exact moment? Does the coach communicate with the Elite parent when happy or disappoint occurs during training?
But prior to all of this, go quietly to the gym of your child’s desires and sit and watch. Do not speak to anyone. A parent needs to watch carefully, even the lower level coaches and their demeanor among the girls. Rule #1- What sits at the top as a head coach trickles to the bottom.
Listen to your gut and think of your daughter’s overall personality. How strong is she really? This is a make it or break it question in the world of Elite gymnastics. This is a tough sport mentally for your child, and it will only increase with intense pressure as the coach develops them into what he sees as successful. Not every Elite gymnast fit’s one mold.
GBC: As an Elite family how much of your time is dedicated to gymnastics?
LF: Bailey’s grandfather lived 1 hour from the gym/coach that would start her Elite career. Not including the drive, we were at the gym at 5 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. for the first practice of the day. Then we were back again for her second practice at 12:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. School was fit in between practices which was held at the gym.
I spent many days putting together what would be Bailey’s team of doctors. PT began immediately, 1 or 2 times a week before or after the second practice.
This was our routine 5 to 6 days a week.
Oh, dinner was in the car traveling back to my fathers.
Did I mention Bailey’s dad, my husband, did not move with us. He had to find work in FL first before he could move down. Bailey and I were on our own for 11 months.
GBC: What types of sacrifices have you, Bailey, and/or your family made for her gymnastics training?
LF: Sacrifices that are made for our daughter’s passion is not something most could ever comprehend. It truly has people in disbelief. All Elite families go through this. For families who have spent years supporting our athletes is nothing but sacrifices made daily.
We moved out of state, we lived with my father for a short time, we lived with other team members that were near the gym as training got more intense, we moved into a small apartment for a 1 ½ in a dangerous area so we could be 3 min. from the gym.
Family vacations were to not even be thought about.
Life with an Elite gymnast is just that, Gymnastics!
GBC: What role does the parent play in the training/competition world?
LF: We as Bailey’s parents are constantly put in the position of “damage control”. When Bailey has bad days in the gym it drastically changed her mood. Sometimes, the minute she got into the car the tears would start. We would sit and talk it out and I played good cop.
I found ways for her to ignore the harsh words being screamed at her from the very man she was with day in and day out. The coach that you find telling your kid to trust. We would, at the start of practice, say out loud in the car prayers asking God to put her coach in a good mood and for Bailey to have a solid practice.
As a parent, no matter the situation, we were there to make her feel better and remind her of her God given talent. To tell her every night at bedtime to keep her eye on the goal at hand. WE were there to pick up the pieces, even if it meant leaving our jobs early due to an injury and calling the doctor to be on standby.
She was, and still is our main priority, some would say to the extreme.
GBC: Who establishes any boundaries, and what are they, between the parent, the coach, the gym, and the training process?
LF: We can say as Bailey’s parents, when she was an Elite for 5 years, from age 11-16, we found ourselves having to watch over Bailey much more than we do now. I did coach at her former Elite gym and I am thankful I could be on the floor to keep an eye on the day.
I was there to meet her in the bathroom when things were out of hand between the coach and Bailey.
Did her father and I have concerns? Yes, and we never hesitated to call a meeting. I feel it’s important that an Elite parent be present in keeping an eye on how training is progressing.
When an injury occurred, it was not favored to see a doctor and we were also told physical therapy was ridiculous and a waste of time. Any therapy needed for Bailey, the coach would handle inside the gym and on his time frame. I would have to argue for Bailey if in fact she was sick with a fever and vomiting as to why I would not send her to training.
Unfortunately, there were threats clearly made by the coach to be there with vomit in hand, or no upcoming Elite competition would be granted that she qualified for and not to mention worked extremely hard for.
Even as Bailey’s parents, we would lose the battle and Bailey would insist on showing up sick out of anger that her coach would actually make threats regarding her being sick and that she better show up. So, I would drive her in and watch closely and most of the time I would pull her out within an hour of arriving in that condition. As much as we were verbally told from the coach of his boundaries as it leaned in favor of our gymnast, it was to appease us…the parent when in fact it was what he wanted.
GBC: From your experiences, should parents be more involved in their child’s training? If yes, why and how?
LF: I would recommend at least a couple times a week a parent observe closely their daughters practice. As a parent ask your gymnast question. Ask everyday how they feel about their training and how their body feels.
Unfortunately fear sets in at this high-level of training and the gymnast will not verbalize to anyone that she is hurt or injured. Your gymnast will not tell the coach or parent what she is feeling. Your gymnast is so conditioned to work through pain that it could be serious and needing medical assistance.
Bailey is to date wrapping up her Level 10 club training, she has dropped back to Level 10, and has changed gyms. She currently trains at ACE Gymnastics in Long Wood, FL under Ray Gnat. Life now, for us as a family, has been less stressful in a much different way. With making her decision to let the Elite training go, she feels her body will go further in her goals as an LSU collegiate gymnast.
GBC: How does the “mental game” come into play when your athlete is injured?
LF: To be honest, it’s a bit more intense and complicated if she is competing Elite vs. JO.
As an Elite, you have more at risk in all areas. Your body, your goals, your coach’s expectations not only for you the gymnast but him or her as the coach. This is where the ego of a high-level coach really shows his or her ugly self. You as a parent at this point are spending unbelievable amounts of money on the best of Physical therapy.
From Cryo chamber, Hiva Mat, Epson salt bathes, Chiropractor, laser, and the sports massages weekly, the list goes on. Hundreds of dollars weekly in hopes your gymnast will survive the extra-long practices, up to 39 hours a week.
As a parent, you ask how can my kid’s body handle all this? Is it worth watching all the money fly out the door? Having your gymnast in pain 24/7?
The answers should always come from your daughter. Not you!
A parent’s battle is your child’s body vs. her mind. It’s a hard one, when to know and guide your gymnast so not to cause more injury going back to training to soon. So, her dad and I become her biggest cheerleaders, 24/7 and basically you do anything to make her feel confident and not lose that self-worth as the gymnast she so dreamed of becoming.
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