A Guide to Competitive Gymnastics
What is Competitive Gymnastics?
Its hard to believe that just a year ago, I had my evenings and weekends to spend at home and the rest of my family. Now that my daughter is on a team, competitive gymnastics takes between 12 and 36 hours per week. And this is just the beginning!
Gymnastics is a wonderful sport for your child (or yourself) to gain strength and flexibility, while having a ton of fun. When you move from recreational to competitive gymnastics, your skills can then performed at gym meets before judges.
Depending on level and scores, your gymnast may earn ribbons, medals, trophies... and perhaps one day a scholarship or trip to the Olympic Games!
But first, let's go over the fundamentals of gymnastics. The sport remains one of the most popular events at the Olympics. In fact, it has been part of the games since their inception many years ago.
Gymnastics originated in Greece; the original gymnasts trained in a special arena in which they would also receive instruction on the arts, literature and philosophy. The word "gymnastics" comes from the Greek word, "gymnos," which means naked. Of course, today's athletes train and compete in form-fitting attire.
Of the three categories of gymnastics (artistic, rhythmic and trampoline), the one with which most people are most familiar is "artistic gymnastics."
Girls Gymnastics Primer
Being on a Gymnastics Team
If your child is interested in being on a gymnastics team, be ready for two things: (1) time and (2) expense. Depending on age and level, weekly practices can range from 10-20 hours per week.
Depending on your gym and level of your child, tuition may range from $150-800 a month. This does not include USAG registration, leotards, warmups and meet fees. Once you advance to optional levels (7-10), expect to pay extra for choreography, as well. Gymnasts at all levels may be required to, or may wish to invest in private lessons and/or ballet, too.
At the age of 6, my daughter already practices 3 times per week, with each practice lasting 3.5 hours. She is a "Level 4," which means that she competes several times a month in the fall and spring seasons.
At practice, children will work on a number of skills. Generally speaking, you can expect gymnastics practices to involve the following:
1. Strength training
3. Core strength
While gymnasts may start at a very young age, the minimum age for competitive gymnastics in the U.S. is 6. Let me tell you that even then, that still seems young. But you'll be surprised the number of 1st graders that can really tumble and show off the perfected routines.
At our gym, the coaches work very hard to help the girls connect. Although gymnastics is a team sport, it truly feels more of an individual event. Overall scores help your team, but each score on each event is a competition with yourself. And, only you can advance to sectionals or state. That is, each gymnast's score is a unique opportunity to qualify for more competitive events.
In most areas of the U.S., girls compete by performing compulsory routines in Levels 4-6. This means that the skills demonstrated on each of the events: floor, bars, beam and vault, are exactly the same.
Only on the floor exercise is music played. And the music is the same for every competitor. The routines are also exactly the same on beam and bars. Vault is also consistent.
When gymnasts move into levels 7 and above, they are free to compose their own routines, which means they can use their own selection of music. At these levels, the skills are more complex and dangerous, from twisting flips to daring uneven bars releases.
As a parent and/or spectator, it is very exciting to watch your child progress through the USGA levels of competition.
For levels 1-6, there are helpful books that describe not only the compulsory routines, but standard deductions. On a scale of 1-10, most gymnasts score at least a 6 and the most successful competitors can consistently score an 8.5 or better on each event.
Gabby Douglas 2012 All-Around Women's Artistic Gymanstics Gold Medalist
The dream of many young gymnasts is to qualify for the Olympic Team. Of course, the games only occur once every 4 years. The minimum age for competition is 15. There is no maximum age, although many consider that to be 18-20 years old.
Many years ago, I was a gymnast. I watched Nadia Comanchi in the 1976 Olympics. I wanted to be her! The sport is graceful and strong, yet the talented athletes make it look a lot easier than it actually is. Many sacrifices are made along the way for both parent and child.
By the time you are an Olympic Athlete, you are spending the majority of your waking hours of each day practicing and training. No wonder so many of these children are home schooled!
Support Your Child in Competitive Gymnastics
As with any sports or other interest, your child will flourish with your support and interest. They will look to you to make sure that they get to practices and meets in the proper attire. You will need to help them rest and practice per their coaches' instructions. Perhaps most importantly, you should help them balance gymnastics with their other interests and school work.
The skills and discipline learned as a gymnast will last an entire lifetime. At over age 40, I cannot do a back flip any longer. Yet, I am tenacious as ever. Is that just my personality, or the result of 8 years of gymnastics years ago?
Kerri Strug's 1996 Gold Medal Vault
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