Emily Smith understands commitment. The 11-year-old spends more than 25 hours a week in a neighborhood gym honing the skills that recently vaulted her – quite literally – onto the TOPS National Team.
Emily, along with Metroplex Gymnastics teammates Michelle Brough, 8, and Laura Norman, 9, was among 88 girls chosen from more than 5,000 aspirants by the Talent Opportunity Program, a national gymnastics organization, for their exceptional potential in the sport.
As members of the TOPS team, the girls and their coaches train with the country’s top coaches at camps designed to help them mature in their sport. The girls benefit not only from the expertise offered through the program and the opportunity to meet other talented gymnasts, says Metroplex coach Bryan Streeter, but because their coaches learn from the best how to work with them.
For years, Metroplex Gymnastics has turned out competitive gymnasts. The team currently boasts five Elite level gymnasts – the level from which Olympians are chosen – and a number of the program’s alumni have attended colleges and universities on gymnastics scholarships.
Although the competitive program is now limited to girls, at one time the gym was home to the third-ranked boys’ team in the country.
What makes Metroplex unusual is not that it produces top caliber athletes – Streeter says more than a dozen other gyms in the Dallas-Fort Worth area compete at a similar level – but that it does so without placing extreme pressure on the girls to perform.
The girls work hard, and even younger ones like 8-year-old Michelle put in 15 hours each week, says coach Julie Lipscomb.
“To be competitive in Texas, you have to work out that much.”
However, the coaches also strive to understand and respect the girls’ capabilities. Laura, who moved to Metroplex from another gym, explains the difference.
At her former gym, “the coaches were just rude. They made you do things you weren’t comfortable with.”
And at Metroplex?
“The coaches talk you through it,” she says. “They calm you down.”
That attitude fits the philosophy of owner Sandy Streeter, who opened the gym in 1975 to enable children to see fitness in a positive light.
“Gymnastics is a tool to promote self-esteem,” she says. “We teach children gymnastics, not gymnastics to children.”
In fact, Metroplex’s main focus is on non-competitive programs that encourage children to have fun being active. Preschool classes, non-competitive gymnastics, and day camps in the summer draw 1,500 students.