The Life and Times of a Gymnast

I flip.
I jump.
Sometimes I fly.
What am I? A gymnast.

By definition a gymnast is a person trained in exercises developing or displaying physical agility and coordination. So how long did they train? How did they start? Well, some gymnasts’ stories begin as early as 2 years old, at least that’s what Amy Van Deusen of ThoughtCo. says.

According to Deusen, gymnastics classes can be offered to children when they become two years old, but coaches often say a child shouldn’t start until they are 5 or 6. Introductory classes usually focus on developing body awareness and a love for the sport, Deusen says. For children 3 and under, parent-child classes are held to focus on physical coordination and self-confidence through climbing, crawling, and jumping. Around ages 3-5, basic gymnastic moves are introduced, which include somersaults, cartwheels, and backward rolls. Balancing activities on a low beam are also introduced. Once mastered, the child moves on to the more serious introductory classes around age 6.

Though it may seem beneficial to start a child’s training early, it doesn’t mean they’ll be ahead of the curve. Sure, the longer you wait to start their training, the further behind they’ll be when it comes to competing against others in their age group, but world champion Daiane dos Santos started training when she was 12. According to Deusen, some coaches believe it’s the early starters who are disadvantaged.

“The risk of starting advanced gymnastics at a young age is potential burnout as a pre-teen,” Deusen says, quoting veteran gymnastics coach Rick McCharles.

Along with burning out early, serious gymnastics training can lead to health issues and life-long injuries including wrist and knee injuries. It’s times like this when parents have to weigh their child’s chances of becoming a champion versus serious injuries, but that’s the same with any sport.

This is not to say that gymnastics is a dangerous sport to avoid, but to say that you need to find a happy medium with your child. In other words: balance.

According to Cari Oleskewicz from Chron, the University of Minnesota reports that the average age of a gymnast on the U.S. women’s team is 16. Deusen says in her own article that being a gymnast is a young person’s sport. So, if you want your child to become a professional gymnast, they’ll have to start young, but when is the perfect time to start? The answer: Gear it toward your child.

Oleskewicz said that the desire to learn and experience the sport is more important than age. This is one of the factors in burning out before their pre-teen years. If it seems to the child that you’re forcing them to participate in the sport, their interest will go down, so here’s what you should do: Wait until they’re around 4 or 5 and introduce the sport to them. Explain to them what you do in the sport and perhaps show them how it’s performed. Make sure that when you explain it to them, it’s not a textbook definition. Explain it to them in a way that plays upon their interests. Then, gauge their interest and ask if they want to do it. If they say no, let it go. If they say yes, go for it, but always remember to push gently and never force.

Another thing about being a gymnast that ties into their interest in the sport is becoming an Olympic gymnast. Going to the Olympics requires devotion to training, typically 20-30 hours every week. Beyond that is the pressure and physical stress that comes with competing. If the young gymnast doesn’t have a desire to go that far, then it’s not meant for them. Mental stress and physical stress, like wrist and knee injuries, can hurt the gymnast in the long run.

On the other hand, if the gymnast wants to be an Olympian, encourage and push them to be that. Don’t let them quit. If they don’t have that support system, they may quit and feel regret for their decision, which may lead to depression down the line. If they want to go for the glory, stick with them and help them get there.

Gymnastics Moves For Beginners

Forward Roll: The starting body position is upright, hands reaching toward the ceiling. Gymnasts reach for the floor, tuck their chin, roll on the floor, and come back up to a standing position.

Backward Roll: This move starts with a tall stance. Gymnasts then squat down on their heels, sit on the mat, roll backward, push off the ground, and elevate into a standing position.

Back Bend With Kick Over: The starting position is standing with arms straight up by the head. Gymnasts look at their hands and bend backward in a “U” shape until their hands touch the ground. Once this is mastered, they can kick their legs over their head and land on their feet in the lunge position.

Bridge: The bridge starting position is on the back, hands next to the head with fingertips pointing toward the toes. Gymnasts bend their legs, place their feet on the floor, and push with their arms and legs. They get their arms straight and their head off the ground.

Written by: Bryce Ethridge

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