Written by: Coach Kelley
“How did you get started in gymnastics?” As a lifelong gym rat, I get asked this question all the time. Was I driving my mother crazy vaulting out of my crib? Did a coach pluck me from my kindergarten class? Did I dream of the Olympics as a child? None of the above - well, maybe the Olympics!
The truth? One day my mother’s coworker, who was babysitting me while my mom was working a 12-hour nursing shift, took me with her to the YMCA to pick up her daughter Jill from gymnastics practice. Jill was a few years older than me and could do cartwheels and back handsprings. While we waited for her daughter to finish workout, I made my way over to the preschool bars and started swinging around, showing off my best self-taught moves perfected on my backyard swing set. Within a few minutes I had attracted the attention of the head coach and was signed up for 'Advanced Little Gymmers' which started the next day. When my mother picked me up later that evening, I was wearing a borrowed leotard two sizes too big, ready for class the next day.
So, why gymnastics?
Every four years the world comes down with Olympic fever. Fans are glued to their screens waiting to see who’s going to appear on the next Wheaties box. UCLA’s viral floor routines, combined with the team atmosphere of college gymnastics, has fueled a massive increase in the number of spectators for what was once considered a second-tier sport. Utah broke their own record this year with an incredible 15,558 spectators for a dual meet with Florida! While watching the super human feats of these world class athletes, it’s easy to forget that they too were once wide-eyed, bouncy toddlers turning their first cartwheels. Since most of us can only dream of tumbling that high, what are the benefits of gymnastics for the average kid?
The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that partaking in organized sports provides a chance for young people to increase their activity and develop socially and physically. Gymnastics incorporates strength, flexibility, speed, balance, coordination, power and discipline. It's more than just another sport. It is a total mind/body activity that offers something different to each participant - an active child bouncing off the walls has a positive outlet for their energy, while a child with special needs is challenged by learning skills that are suited just for them.
Gymnastics also teaches a wide range of skills that are important in all aspects of life. It helps:
· Physical development
Foster lifelong friendships
So when should kids start gymnastics? ANYTIME!
The good news is, it’s never too early to or too late to sign up for a gymnastics class. Gymnastics is defined as a sport involving the performance of exercises requiring physical strength, flexibility, power, agility, coordination, and balance - meaning gymnastics is for EVERYONE! For babies, it’s a great opportunity for the caregiver and child to explore crawling, walking, jumping, swinging and socializing together. Preschoolers will engage in a fun activity that develops listening skills, the ability to follow directions, and take turns. They will also learn to respect others and make new friends. Grade school children will benefit from the satisfaction of learning new skills and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, while adults can finally fulfill that dream of learning a cartwheel or flipping into a foam pit.
An often-overlooked aspect of gymnastics is the camaraderie and life-long friendships inspired by the sport. I always look forward to seeing how many former teammates and coworkers I’m going to run into at meets each season. Gymnasts often spend more hours with their teammates than their own families. You share your successes as well as your failures. Your bond with your gymnastics friends is fo’ life!
The answer to the question why gymnastics is simple. It’s a great sport that challenges both mind and body. So, the next time you’re watching Simone Biles soar through the air, remember that gymnastics is a sport that can be enjoyed at all stages of life.