A bigger fish in a smaller pond

Kara gym competition beam

Is it better to be a big fish in a small pond or a smaller fish in a bigger pond? That’s what we’ve been pondering with Kara’s gymnastics recently.

Kara has been doing gym for nearly four years now. She started off going for an hour every Saturday morning. Then she was asked to join the development squad, and worked her way up to the elite group last year.

And then she got demoted.

Good, but not good enough?

Was this the right decision? Who am I to argue? I wouldn’t pretend for one minute to know better than the coaches do – my expertise in gymnastics extends only to watching the Olympics every four years – but I can see why it might have happened. Kara’s generally been the youngest in her set. She’s scarily strong but she isn’t as powerful as many of the others. Combined with her tall height, she struggles more on tumbles and somersaults. There’s a lot of body to flip over, and basic physics dictates that a longer body means more rotational energy to stop on landing. Added to that, she has generally struggled to put it all together in a competition setting. Every time, she goes to a comp with high hopes of a podium finish; every time, she comes home empty-handed and disappointed with a set of minor placings.

It’s not that she’s a bad gymnast at all. Far from it. This is a girl who can stick a backwards walk-over on the beam and turns one-handed cartwheels down the street for fun. She has a genuine six-pack while I just drink them. And I’m pretty sure that if she ever joined me on a Saturday morning for Parkrun, I wouldn’t see her for dust. She bounces like a rubber ball in much the same way I bounce like a brick. I’m pretty fit these days but I get tired just watching her warm-ups.

However, in a field of exceptional gymnasts, she has struggled to keep up.

Kara gym competition

Best of the rest

So while my obvious and immediate reaction to the news of her moving down a level was one of disappointment – how dare you say my daughter’s not good enough? – I’ve come to recognise the upside.

For starters, she doesn’t have to spend quite as many hours at the gym. She’s still training three times a week – plus an associated ballet session – but the hours aren’t quite as long, the pressure not quite as intense. Her regular end-of-week meltdowns born of sheer tiredness are fewer now. And she’s enjoying it just as much as ever. She may be training to a lower standard, but she’s now at the top rather than bottom of her group.

Competition time

With external competitions coming up over the next couple of months, her gym staged a mock event last weekend to prepare the girls, complete with judges. Heather always takes Kara to comps so this was a rare chance for me to see her perform her full routines on bar, beam, floor, vault and R&C (range and conditioning, or ‘showing off how strong and bendy you are’).

I watched her with pride and a tinge of sadness. Sadness because I could see her routines were significantly less technical than what I’ve watched her practise previously. But I was proud because I could see how well she performed them. Where her long limbs work against her when attempting the more difficult tumbles, at this level she glides through the more dance-y moves of her simpler routines with mesmerising grace.

I’ve watched Kara set off for her gymnastics competitions in the past fretting and lacking in her usual bubbly confidence. But here I could see she was completely at ease between her routines, and focussed and assured during them.

I didn’t need to know the judges’ scores. I could tell from her smile at the end of the competition that she was pleased with her performances. And this was borne out when the results were published the following day and she was top of her group. It was lovely to be able to celebrate rather than commiserate for once.

What’s next?

For now, Kara is performing at a level below what we know she’s capable of. But that’s no bad thing. Hopefully it will translate into medals when she heads into the real competitions to come and that will build up her confidence again.

Maybe she’ll regain her place in the elite squad. Or maybe she won’t. But if she can continue to have fun doing gymnastics and add some tangible achievements, then where’s the harm in splashing about in the smaller pond?


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