Competition season is right around the corner!
Your athlete has received her competition leotard (about which she is of course ecstatic), learned her routines, and is thrilled to finally go to one of those “meets” the big girls are always talking about.
Yet, neither you nor your athlete has been to a meet before. Amidst the sea of excitement, you feel a twinge of nerves. Sure, you have met with the coaches at length to discuss the upcoming meet. You may have even spoken with parents of older gymnasts or maybe even the older gymnasts themselves. Nevertheless, you aren’t exactly sure what to expect.
You worry about your child — whether they are terrified, just a little bit nervous, or totally ready to flip around that gymnastics bar and land a perfect ten.
If this sounds familiar, you are in the right place. However, before delving into the ins and outs of gymnastics meets, it’s important to note that boys’ and girls’ competitions are very different.
Here, the focus will be on girls’ competitions.
It can be stressful before a meet. But there are steps you can take that can help put your mind at ease. Here are a few things you can do to prepare for the meet.
First and foremost, be sure your gymnast is dressed and prepared for the meet.
This means she is wearing her competition leotard and warm-up, and that her hair is pulled back tightly out of her face.
Be sure to check with your coach about any specific hairstyles they prefer.
Many gyms have no preference as long as her hair is up and neat. However, others may require their gymnasts style their hair in a certain manner or that a specific scrunchie or bow is used. Make sure to find out this information beforehand, as to avoid any unnecessary surprises and adding to any nerves you child (or you) may already have.
Be sure she has a bag packed with anything she will need for the competition. This can include anything from equipment and extra clothing to healthy snacks — for your gymnast as well as for you and your other children in attendance (who of course will suddenly be starving right before your athlete is next to perform).
Your child’s equipment may include her grips, any braces or wrist guards she may use, and a water bottle.
Again, if your daughter uses grips, please don’t forget them! It can seriously impede her ability to compete at her best. Even if she finds someone else’s to borrow, they will not be broken in the way her own are and will likely feel different or awkward for her.
Most (if not all) meets will charge an admission fee and many accept cash only. Thus, it is wise to bring some cash for admission. You can also use this cash to purchase snacks or beverages from the concession stands. Be mindful though that these are typically not appropriate snacks for your gymnast.
Also, the default seating at most competitions is bleacher seating or metal folding chairs, which can get uncomfortable after a few hours. So if you have a cushion or chair you would like to bring with you, many competitions will permit you to bring them in.
Nothing stresses an athlete out like being late for a meet. They will come in flustered and feel rushed throughout warm up. Spare your child this experience and be sure to arrive at least 15 minutes early. This will give you both time to familiarize yourself with the gym and calm any pre-competition nerves that may have started brewing on the ride over.
When you get to the meet, you will need to take your child to a table or stand designated as “Gymnast Check-In.” After signing her in, help her find her coach. Once she is with her coach, grab yourself a seat. From this point on, it is best to limit your interactions with your gymnast. This will allow her to focus and follow instructions provided by her coach.
Once your gymnast is with her team, they will wait for open stretch to begin. Once it does, all the teams will be out on the floor warming up and stretching. An announcement will be made that “Timed Warm-Up” is about to begin. What will happen next depends on whether the meet is following a Capital Cup format or a Traditional format. If your daughter is in compulsory (Levels 1 through 5), they will likely follow the traditional format. This means that they will warm up all four events and then compete all four events. In contrast, the Capital Cup format means they will warm up one event and then compete that event before rotating to the next event. For example, if they start on vault, they will warm-up vault and then compete it. They will then rotate to bars where they will warm-up and then compete their bar routine. This is almost always the format adopted for higher levels due to the difficulty of the skills being performed.
This is most likely unnecessary to say, but I’ll mention it anyways: As you sit in the stands, be sure to mind your words. The people sitting around you are the parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and friends of other athletes who are also competing. You may think a slight comment to your friend sitting with you is harmless, but if overheard, if may offend the people sitting around you. Remember that you do not know the struggles, challenges, and fears other gymnasts have overcome. Just as your daughter had to work through issues of her own, those other gymnasts likely have as well.
In the same vein as the previous reminder, it’s important to remember that one of the most important rules at gymnastics meets is to turn your flash off. Feel free to take all of the pictures you would like, but be sure you do so without a flash. The sudden burst of light may cause a gymnast to make an error that could not only jeopardize their score, but more importantly, it may threaten their safety.
As a spectator, you can (and should) cheer for your athlete! They have worked hard to get to this point and they are probably quite nervous — especially if it’s their first meet. Hearing their family and friends cheer them on may help them ease their nerves and feel more confident about their routines. However, when they are in the midst of a tough skill, it is usually best to wait until they have finished before you let your cheers roar. Otherwise, you may risk distracting them and causing them to make an error.
After each gymnast has competed all four events, the coaches will send the athletes out to their parents. It is important that the gymnasts stay on the floor until every gymnast has finished. Although it may be tempting to pull your child out so you can congratulate them, it is incredibly disrespectful to those that are still competing. Imagine for a moment that your child is performing amazing acrobatics around the mat, but her floor routine is last, and because of this there is a commotion in the gym of athletes walking all around the gym. This would be incredibly distracting — for you and your child — and this distraction could cause her to make an error that she otherwise would not have.
Typically, awards will be held in a different space so the next meet session will be able to begin. The athletes are usually broken into different age groups and awards are given within each age group. Some meets go out all of the way, while others only give the top 50%. It is important to remember that just because an athlete earned a high score, does not mean they will place first or second. Sometimes, judges see a lot of really great routines so many athletes score high 9s. No matter how well your child places, remember to celebrate her accomplishments. She may have competed a new skill or overcame a fear that has been troubling her for some time. Sure, placing first is great, but gymnastics isn’t all about the medals. It is about teaching your child to work hard, pursue her goals, and always give it everything she has.