Are You Sure She Should Be On the Team?

We do not have team tryouts as such. We are constantly looking for gymnastics talent among our class and training team programs and are well aware of which gymnasts are ready for the challenges of the team experience. In the spring, we invite a number of gymnasts to “tryout” for the team and induct them into the program. The parents are invited to the affair so they can celebrate with their gymnast on making the team.

We have always been exceptionally successful in making good choices as to who will do well on the team and in competition and we have always been confident in our abilities in that area. So I was surprised when both the father and mother of one of our new inductees came over to me and asked me if I was sure that Marley should be on the team.

Marley was not a prototype gymnast. She was 11 years old, normally perhaps a little old to start on team. She was strong, but taller than average and still somewhat gangly on dance on floor and beam. Her best events were vault and bars and like all of the girls on our team she was a strong tumbler. She did not easily pick up dance, but she worked extra hard on that and was certainly acceptable in that area.

In point of fact, she was a hard worker in every aspect of the sport and was especially attentive to what her coaches told her. This was one of the keys to her being invited to be on the team by our group of coaches. It was obvious she wanted to be on the team and she was willing to do whatever work was necessary and was very coachable.

So I was surprised. Often coaches have parents complain that their child was not invited to be on the team, but this was a first. Her parents were asking if I was sure she should be on the team.

Her dad haltingly explained that Marley was in a special class at school because she was well below average in school, had a low IQ and did not learn easily.

Without thinking and without hesitation, I said, “Well, she is not below average in gymnastics and she is not below average on this team. As far as we are concerned, she is team material.”

I will never forget the look of surprise, happiness, joy and pride that her parents had on their face at the moment that I said that. The father shook my hand and we went on with our ceremonies.

Later, after everyone had gone, I went back and took a look at her file. Nowhere was there any indication about her being in a slow class at school. We didn’t have a space on the registration form asking that question, so it never came up. While we had noticed that she did not learn dance particularly easily, it was certainly not a real problem or something that we had not seen in other girls.

I put the folder away and never said a word about it to anyone, not her coaches and certainly not her teammates, although I know some of them knew her from school and were aware of her situation. Thankfully, none of them ever mentioned this either.

Marley became a successful gymnast. She scored team points for us. She won medals. She won medals at States in vault and bars. She was on the team for a long time. In fact she was on the team, longer than I was. I moved away and began coaching at another gym, but when I checked up on my old team she was a team member well into her teens and continued to be successful. Her parents, while I was there, were among the staunchest supporters of the team and continued to be so after I left.

I often wondered that if I had known, if the other coaches had known of her situation, if we would have made the same decision to put her on the team. I wondered if I had spent more time thinking of my response to her parents that day, if I would have shown some of the hesitancy or indecision that they were expecting. I hope I wouldn’t have.

Because her labeling in school really did not in fact have any effect on her gymnastics career. Like I believe all children do, she had at least one area of her life where she was supremely talented. By not knowing, we made the right decision to put her on the team, where she rightfully belonged and it made her life fuller and happier and gave her and her parents something they could truly be proud of. Thank God we made the right decision and weren’t influenced by her school’s evaluation of her.

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