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Gymnastic Dreams
Training for Gold Leads to Healthier Kids

kid gymnastIs your child is the next Shawn Johnson or Paul Hamm? Does spending hours doing handstands or turning cartwheels describe how your little gymnast loves to spend the day? Is the amazing gymnastic talent you see really special enough to develop into Olympic gold?

What are some key factors in determining whether your child's love of gymnastics will develop into Olympic gymnastics level skills? Is there training that can be worked on at home to help enhance your child's natural athletic ability? There are so many factors involved in the making of a gymnastic Olympian...

Gymnastics teaches kids to excel

Gymnastics is a natural sport for most kids. Many children have the desire to jump and tumble. Infants explore their early athletic skills by rolling across the floor. Quite a few toddlers, who are still exploring how to walk, discover amazing gymnastic abilities by doing simple somersaults when they accidentally flip head over heels.... or skillfully climb out of their cribs! Older kids practice simple gymnastic routines by swinging from the strangest objects, like door frames and construction scaffolding. They also love to climb, jump and swing from playground equipment designed to help them develop their skills as gymnasts in a safer environment.

Training those first movements into the stunning walkovers, flips, bar exercises and beam routines that you see in the Olympics is a matter of practice and training. Gymnastics is a sport that virtually anyone can try. This is a sport where both girls and boys can not only participate but excel.

Some children begin formal training with a gymnastics coach at two or three years old. Others don't start real classes at a gym until much later. Jeb Tolley, Director of Gymstrada Gymnastics School in Virginia Beach, Virginia advises, "There is not any particular age to begin gymnastic training. The key factor is the child's desire."

If you think your child wants to start gymnastics, and after the first fifteen minutes of the first class the child is ready to go home, maybe it is not the right time to begin.

A composite photo of a gymnastic walkover.

Learning individual tumbling skills

In gymnastics, not only is every child part of helping the team succeed, each child also gets individual recognition as their skills get better. It is a boost for even the youngest athletes to know that they are not just part of the team, but great gymnasts on their own merit as well!

Unlike many other sports, gymnastics is suited for any young child. Working on individual skills and moving up in levels to more demanding moves doesn't take extreme strength or speed. The youngest gymnasts don't enter competitions, they work on developing the tumbling, balance and coordination skills that they will need later when they are old enough to challenge others in their age group. In gymnastics, no one sits on the bench while the best get to play!

Gymnastics leads to healthy bodies and self esteem

For the littlest gymnasts the tumbling and jumping is just plain fun. Without pressure, gymnastics offers kids of any age various benefits. The gross motor skills — learning control of the big muscles in the arms, legs and body — are vital to growing young bodies. The discipline, poise and self confidence gymnasts develop are important to kids at any age. Training in gymnastics provides all of this wrapped in a fun package that they really enjoy!

What other sport allows children to feel a sense of pride and self esteem at mastering just one small part of the skills they need?

What Little League baseball player feels a sense of achievement if she can catch a line drive, but can't throw it to first base? Which young footballer thinks he's doing great if he can kick the ball, but not pass to his teammates or score a goal?

Watch a beginning gymnast master a walkover or headstand for the first time and you'd think they just won an Olympic gold medal! There are so many different skills involved in gymnastics and so many levels of each skill, that most kids can do at least one thing really well.

Some kids starting gymnastics training have better balance, some have more strength and some are more flexible. It's very likely that your child will be able to find a niche where they are clearly very good... and the rest will come with practice.

Serious gymnastics training is not for everyone

If your child has been taking gymnastics classes and decides to stop and switch to another sport or focus on another talent, pay attention.

Encourage communication to make sure that difficulty with learning a new skill or moving up a level to compete with older children is not causing panic.

If your child is just in need of a bit of encouragement and support, a few words may correct the problem and return the fun to their gymnastics classes.

Keep in mind that some very talented gymnasts do decide to move on to other activities.

As a parent, it may be difficult to back away and let your child express not wanting to continue with the Olympic dream. But the desire to be an Olympic gymnast must come from your child, not you. The skills to compete in regional, national and international gymnastics meets come with years of steady, focused training and, understandably, not every child wants to make that commitment.

Gymnastics can be the basis for success

Even if your child does not continue in gymnastics, the time and money spent on training was not wasted. Often, the ability to do well in other sports or with other skills... as well as success in school and later in life, is supported by the original foundation that gymnastics training provided. Many children who wanted to become gymnastic sports stars, move on to other sports after trying gymnastics — or while still involved in gymnastics.

Sasha Cohen, the Olympic skater, trained in gymnastics before turning to figure skating at age 12. Hillary Swank, the Oscar and Golden Globe winning actress, competed in the Junior Olympics and eventually ranked fifth in the state of Washington in all-around gymnastics before moving on to a career in films.

Every area of your child's life is improved by developing the discipline, flexibility, stamina, persistence, and quite possibly the most important — self esteem — that they learn while practicing gymnastics skills.

What gymnastics training can you do at home?

If your child is bouncing off of anything in sight or cart wheeling down the street whenever you go somewhere, chances are you are raising someone who would enjoy gymnastics. If enrolling in classes at a local gym is not an option, you can still start early gymnastics training at home.

little gymnast stretching exerciseA little research, creativity and plenty of support can make any room into a gymnastics training area. Make sure that the floor is not hard enough to cause damage if a tumble or headstand ends badly. A gym mat, carpeting, or even a few old sofa cushions can provide a soft landing for a beginning athlete. Make sure that there are no pieces of furniture or hard surfaces in the area where your novice gymnast will practice and avoid any moves that might strain young muscles or joints.

Stressing the bones of young children can cause serious injuries, so be sure your future gymnastics star keeps to an easy training regimen and very slowly increase the difficulty as the muscles get strong enough to do the work.

Here are some helpful tips for getting started:

1. Make two lines on the floor, twelve inches wide and ten feet long with tape. Let your child do tumbling within those lines. When that skill is mastered, shorten the width, an inch at a time, until the lines are only six inches apart! If your child is cartwheeling already, you can try adding that gymnastics skill to the mix.

2. Another home gymnastics training idea is to let your young gymnast use two chairs placed at shoulder width apart to raise themselves up. This helps to build arm strength. Make sure you support the chairs to avoid any injuries. Start with letting him lift himself about an inch and gradually let them build up the height as they strengthen muscles in shoulders, elbows and wrists.

3. Stand within arm's length of your child while she practices pressing up into a handstand — a standard beginning level gymnastics skill. Gently catching an off-balance move can stop her hitting the floor. Again, don't overdo to prevent straining growing bones and joints.

Once you start, you'll find yourself coming up with lots of ideas for fun, injury free home gymnastics practice sessions.

Gymnastics training is about support, not pressure

Don't push for more than your child is comfortable with and don't allow any gymnastics moves that you feel are not safe for your child's skill level. If your aspiring Olympic gymnast gets beyond the simple, easy steps that your coaching can handle, it's time to get a professional gymnastics coach — who knows about the physiology of tiny bodies — to take over the training sessions.

If your child is dreaming of the Olympics, nurture that dream. The odds may be long, but every one of the gymnasts in the Olympics is someone's child. None of those parents knew whether their young child's gymnastic ambitions and dreams would become reality.

Gymnastics is a great training tool to teach about working towards a goal. Training your child's body and mind is healthy, whether mastering the skills on the floor and other apparatus stays a serious passion or just a hobby.

If somewhere along the way the Olympics stop being your child's goal, gymnastics can still be just good, healthy fun... and if the dream doesn't fade, it just may be possible that your little gymnast really will be the next Olympics super star.

About the Author...
Katrina Cramer-Diaz is a working mom with a background in education and plenty of experience in parenting. She lives in Virginia with her four children (one is a competitive gymnast).

More children's gymnastics resources around the web...

Young Gymnast's Coloring Pages & Activities

How to Support a Young Gymnast



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