Tales of a gymnast – ‘take defeat with dignity and victory with humility’, says student Valentina Servera

We see so many amazing Olympic athletes and talented football stars, but we never see what it took to build them – the years of hard work and training, and of blood, sweat and tears.

Reflecting on my own 14-year gymnastics career, which I’d like to consider successful, I now realise how much I had to sacrifice of my childhood for hours of training and competitions. All the hours of travel and the headaches about the new leotards, makeup and hairstyles, yet I never made it to the Olympics or made a profession out of it.

In terms of what I know, in gymnastics you start when you’re around three, and when you start competing you spend more time in that sports centre that at home. From such a tender age you spend most of your day with your teammates and coaches. In my case, I had to go to high school until 3 o’clock and then go straight to training, as I had to travel 90 minutes to get there. We trained for four hours, then travelled another 90 minutes home. By the time I got home it would be almost midnight by the time I sat down to dinner, before cramming in homework for the next day, waking up at 7am again.

I would barely spend any time with my parents, but I was lucky as I had such amazing teammates who made me want to make best of myself, and an amazing coach who passed on her passion she had for the sport to me. She made all the pain, the hours of training and the tears all worth it.

But there are other young athletes who have to live and train in special training centres, where you eat, breathe and think of the sport 24/7.

When you’re just 11 or 12 and you have to move away from home without your parents, without your friends to start working towards a future career as an elite sports professional, having a good coach is vital. There are a lot of people out there who can send you in the wrong direction and ruin what that sport meant to you.

It’s so important, I think, to remember that that sport is your passion, you’re doing it, at the end of the day, for fun.

Teaching a good philosophy of fair game, and values in sport is so important, but sometimes coaches completely lose sight of that.

We always teach kids that they have to learn how to lose, but we forget to teach them how to win.

Yes, you might have been the best on the field or the track today, but while you’re celebrating your victory, somebody else is already back out there working hard to take that away from you. You should always be humble, and always congratulate your rivals, because they go through the same as you, train the same or even more as you, and nobody else is going to understand better what you’re living than them.

If we don’t want arrogant athletes like Cristiano Ronaldo, and we want team players, we have to teach these kids that talent without hard work means nothing, and even then sometimes is not enough. So take defeat with dignity and victory with humility because you don’t know where you might be tomorrow.

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