Only three days remain before DeWitt gymnast Jordyn Wieber begins her much-anticipated medal quest at the 2012 Olympics.
Long before her daughter’s Olympic potential was clear, Rita Wieber wanted to write a book to help guide other gymnastics parents with what she learned. That part of the Wiebers’ journey can be explored in the new book, “Gym Mom: Surviving Your Daughter's Gymnastics Career.”
MARK BASHORE: Rita Wieber calls her book the one she wishes she could have read before Jordyn’s career took off. The book explores dozens of practical considerations in competitive youth gymnastics, from coaches to travel to how to execute the perfect bun. I asked what her most valuable piece of advice might be.
RITA WIEBER: I think that the gym parent needs to let the child, the gymnast, guide their way through the sport. If they feel like they want to quit or take time off, you know, that should be fine. If they want to do it, they should, you know….because it’s expensive and it’s time consuming and I know there were times when I was kind of wishing Jordyn even wasn’t doing it. But I let her heart kind of guide where we were going. So I would say just be there for support and let your gymnast decide their path.
BASHORE: What was the most valuable unexpected or surprising lesson you learned in this odyssey?
WIEBER: The most unexpected lesson that I learned through this whole journey was that Jordyn didn’t necessarily want me to be involved in her gymnastics training. She wanted me to be in the role of a mom. I was really surprised at how she was ok with just doing her own thing. She wanted this to be her world and her coach was leading the (way) and my role as the mom, I learned, was not to stay at practice and watch all the time and try to figure out if I thought her routines were what they should be or if she was getting enough attention or whatever. My role was just to support her at home--keep her happy, keep her balanced, keep her fed. All of that. The older she got, the less she wanted me to be in on her gymnastics world when it came down to specifics of her training.
BASHORE: I think every parent has witnessed really unfortunate, sometimes destructive behavior by some parents of athletes. Are you more often encouraged or discouraged by the behavior of parents of teen-aged gymnasts?
WIEBER: Well, when I hear stories or even witness examples of punishment or what I think would be (an) inappropriate response to a kid’s performance by a parent, it really disheartens me because I don’t believe in that at all. I’ve never done that. So it’s discouraging to see that and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to write the book. I mean I know some children do respond to punishment by the coach. I don’t necessarily think it needs to be done by the parent in the world of gymnastics. At least I didn’t believe in it for my daughter.
The gymnasts that I’ve seen that have been the most successful are the ones where the parents have been more positive and recognize that their kids are trying their very best. No one is going out there and trying to fall or trying to lose. And so it makes me sad if I know that someone got reprimanded for a poor performance.
BASHORE: You write about rewards and punishments and the roles they play. You’re not an advocate of punishment, I want to make that clear. But you are of incentives. Can you talk about that?
WIEBER: Yeah, I always thought that incentives were ok. I didn’t look at it as a bribe because Jordyn was the type of girl that was going to try her best whether she was going to get a prize or not. But I thought ‘why not offer an incentive for reaching certain goals?’ Because that’s how we function in our world. You work hard at work, you get a paycheck and sometimes you get a bonus, depending on what kind of job you have. We’re motivated by rewards. And I thought it was ok for me to give her little rewards like that especially because she really didn’t have the time to go get a job and make her own money or babysit or anything and buy some of the little frilly things she wanted. So we just made them rewards. And she had a lot of fun earning those. And then when she was about 15, she was like ‘you know, you don’t have to do that anymore, Mom. I’ll just save my money and get what I need.’ So then I just listened to her.