Don't go to The Little Gym expecting to polish the skills of your future Olympian. The franchise aims to create quality kids, not athletes.
"In general I believe that competitive sports start too young," said Slater Crosby, owner and lead teacher at The Little Gym in Edina/St. Louis Park. "I don't believe people think through it and I was right there with them. Yes, my daughter has skills, and people want her on the team — that's good enough, is it not? Basically what starts to happen is a child's schedule dictates the family schedule and before you know it, Father's Day, Mother's Day, grandpa's birthday, etc., are all on the back burner."
It's been 40 years since Crosby played in a peewee hockey championship game before an empty arena. "In the semifinals game, the parents got in such a brawl that no parents were allowed to attend the finals," he said. "I can't even remember if we won, I just remember it was completely silent the entire game." But the impetus for this business occurred while Crosby was watching his daughter. He was recently named franchise owner of the year.
I'm attaching my video from being at The Little Gym with Kerris and her mom, Fox 9's Shayne Wells, now expecting Baby No. 2 (tinyurl.com/ly294vb).
Q: What motivated you to open this kind of gym?
A: Thirteen years ago I listened to a mom at soccer yell for her kid to "Go get her," the "her" being my child. My daughter was 8 and only trying to dribble the ball toward the net to score. It was at that very moment that I felt as a society we all could do better than yelling at 8-year-olds to "go get" other 8-year-olds. Teaching kids to compete against each other before they are taught to play with each other is like teaching a toddler to walk before they learn to crawl. Once kids start competing they do not go back to "playing." I always joke that the next traveling soccer team will be for pregnant moms — if you aren't running those routes with your child in the womb now, they will be way behind when they are born.
Q: Why have gyms taken the place of telling kids to "Go outside and play?"
A: I think parents have become more comfortable with kids playing in a supervised environment rather than an unsupervised environment. Parents see the value in programs that take place in a fun, safe environment that also teach their children fundamental skills. For example, teaching a child to tuck their heads in a forward roll can be applied to any sport.
Q: Let's pretend I am a parent who is pushing my kid too hard at The Little Gym, because I think he's an Olympian. What do you say to that parent?
A: Educate the parent and help them understand that what a child is hearing is, "I want you to be different right now," and how that gentle push can be easily taken as rejection by the child. All of the kids in our programs are under the age of 12 and 50 percent are under 3 so we see very little of parents pushing their kids too hard.
Q: Have you seen kids at your franchise who look like they are Olympians?
A: We certainly have had a number of coordinated kids with Olympic-size confidence. The gymnastics we teach provides kids with a base of skills including coordination, balance, endurance and a love for movement they can apply to any sport. Our The Little Gym alumni include back-to-back NCAA snowboard champions, Division I soccer players and top-notch alpine skiers, to name a few.
Q: How do you clean the equipment?
A: We love our Norwex supplies. The musical egg shaker instruments kids tend to shake and lick — while singing "The Hello Song" — are cleaned before every class. The gym gets cleaned nightly and a deep clean happens weekly. Your child is more likely to get sick at Target or Cub before getting sick at The Little Gym!
Q: What do you say that requires parents to get off their phones and pay attention to their kids?
A: I usually look at the mom or dad and read their face. If it's a serious call, I ask if I can help by entertaining their child for a moment. If it's not a serious call, and we exchange eye contact, they either take the call in the lobby or hang up. Our classes are more fun than most phone calls after all, the parents are in the class to spend one-on-one time with their child.
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9's "Jason Show." E-mailers, please state a subject; "Hello" does not count.