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Does My Daughter Have What it Takes to Be a Competitive Gymnast?

Updated on July 3, 2014
krsharp05 profile image

Kristi has been a competitive gymnastics coach for 25+ years, coached levels 3-10 to state, regional, western and national titles.

┬ęcopyright ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2014

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Could My Daughter be an Olympian?

After coaching gymnastics from levels 4-10 for nearly 25 years and meeting with hundreds of parents who asked me this very question, I determined that honesty is always the best policy. That said, I have comprised a list of what I believe will help you determine whether or not competitive gymnastics will be a good fit for your child. If you go through the list and still have questions, feel free to ask. I'm happy to answer.

Keep in mind that in this hub I am discussing competitive gymnastics, not recreational. It is my opinion that recreational gymnastics will benefit all children in some way because it is an "all body" sport which develops fine motor skills, gross motor skills, kinesthetic awareness, depth perception and 26 multiple intelligences all at one time.

Now that your daughter has been in a recreational gymnastics program and has been asked to move into a competitive program you're worried that the commitment will be too much, the training will be too difficult and how do you know if she will make it? The truth is, you don't know. There is not one factor that coaches see in athletes which determines a "sure thing". This hub should help you determine if competitive gymnastics is for your daughter, your family and for you.

Competitive Gymnastics Prerequisites

  • First and foremost athletes have to love gymnastics. If your daughter is doing cartwheels in the living room, flipping on your furniture and making her own gym out of every surface in your house, down the isles of the supermarket and out in the yard, that's indicative of a child who has some innate gymnastics ability. They are self teaching by mirroring what they have seen somewhere else and their desire to flip or be upside down is natural. Some kiddos cannot tolerate being upside down but some prefer to constantly be cartwheeling, we call them gymnasts.
  • Competitive gymnasts require a "mental toughness" because gymnasts have to be able to take constructive criticism without taking it personally. The best thing a coach can do for an athlete is be honest. A great coach will be honest in a positive way but the truth is, there are coaches who are coarse in their delivery and short on patience - who also create Olympic athletes. If an athlete responds to corrections with tears and sadness or pouting as opposed to fixing the problem, it is highly likely that the gymnast will not advance but will feel ostracized and eventually quit. If you prefer that the coach tell your child she is doing everything perfectly all the time regardless of how she performs, competitive gymnastics is not for you. What will happen is that your daughter will attend a gymnastics meet, most likely score low because her skills are incorrect or sloppy, and will sit in the crowd watching others receive awards feeling awful. Winning is fun. Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
  • In addition to being mentally strong, it's important for kids to be physically resilient. It's inevitable that kids will get hurt from time to time but in nearly all cases, it's not serious. Kiddos who are able to brush it off and keep working will be more successful in competitive gymnastics.

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  • Children who have good problem solving skills will do well in competitive gymnastics. When going through each routine and skill, if a child can recognize what she does well and where she is making mistakes, she will be able to fix those mistakes.
  • Competitive gymnasts who cannot tolerate frustration may find that it is detrimental to their progress. They tend to turn the frustration inward and be very hard on themselves. I've always said that gymnastics is a "rise over time" sport and progress should be steady and strong. Children who cannot control their emotions when they don't do something well or perfectly will struggle.
  • It's important for kids to be able to work as a team and independently. Since every child develops and learns at a different pace, athletes who are ahead or behind may have a different assignment which means that coaches cannot possible keep their eyes on every child at all times. The ability to stay focused while working independently is critical at times.

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  • If your daughter is entertaining the idea of becoming a competitive gymnast, she will undoubtedly have to give up other things such as time with friends, school activities, cheerleading and dance team. As she graduates to higher levels, she will spend more time at the gym. Learning how to be a superior organizer in order to get homework done and be on time to gymnastics will be important. Most upper level coaches (7-10) have a low or zero tolerance policy on missing practice. The purpose of policies like this is because when an athlete is expected to perform difficult skills in her routines, she needs to practice them on a regular basis in order to perform them safely. It's not safe to take two weeks off and then compete in a gymnastics meet.
  • Strength and flexibility are two significant characteristics of competitive gymnasts. It is not uncommon for conditioning programs to run anywhere from 30-60 minutes in length and be nonstop. It's may also be required for your daughter to do additional work at home to maintain and improve flexibility.
  • When girls make the move from recreational gymnastics to competitive gymnastics it can be a shock to her system. It's not uncommon for new competitive gymnasts to have an "adjustment" period. They might be grouchy, tearful, soar, soar and very soar. If the gym you are at doesn't require conditioning and flexibility at the recreational stages of development, the transition into competitive gymnastics will be more difficult.

  • Kids who have separation issues may not be good candidates for competitive gymnastics because when an athlete arrives to a meet she needs to be totally focused on the competition and an active member of the team at all times. This is true for athletes of all ages because even the beginners need to learn how to compete. Often times coaches will have a protocol that once the athlete arrives, her parents wish her good luck and will be allowed to speak to her again after awards are finished.

In conclusion, these are not the only factors to consider but they will give you a considerable head start. If you have more questions feel free to inquire and I will be happy to answer them for you or guide you in the right direction.

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    • krsharp05 profile image
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      krsharp05 16 months ago from 18th and Vine

      Missie, Thanks for reading and commenting. I would first get clarity on what they mean. Then I might consider trying out at an Elite gym. Do your homework before you do your tryouts. Best of luck! -K

    • krsharp05 profile image
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      krsharp05 16 months ago from 18th and Vine

      frustrated in IL, Thanks for reading and commenting. Honestly, I would consider another gym. Kids should be happy in gymnastics. I have been coaching for 28 years now and my kiddos do not cry. They work their little buns off but they don't cry. I want my athletes to believe that they can conquer the world and fly because if they believe they are amazing, they will be. I would start looking for another place to call gym-home. Best of luck. -K

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      frustrated in IL 19 months ago

      I wish I had read this article 2 years ago because I might be at another gym. I do have a question and I hope your still monitoring this feed. In this article you mentioned " A great coach will be honest in a positive way but the truth is, there are coaches who are coarse in their delivery and short on patience - who also create Olympic athletes." At the gym my daughter attends most of the coaches fall into the coarse and mean in their delivery and are hardly ever positive.

      So at this point my daughter is not only doubting her skills as a gymnast but wants to go but doesn't want to go because she's tired of being yelled at. I mean there's not one day that I'm at the gym watching that I don't see at least one girl in tears and I'm talking level 4 and up.

      In your professional opinion is this just the nature of the sport and might be common at another gym? Any suggestion or advice would be immensely appreciated.

      Frustrated in Illinois

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      Missie 2 years ago

      If you have been told your daughter has potential to go far in gymnastics would you move somewhere that has a gym that has been know to produce elite gymnast?

    • krsharp05 profile image
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      krsharp05 2 years ago from 18th and Vine

      Ihorn, thanks for reading and writing. I apologize that I haven't seen this sooner. Keep in mind your daughter is 4 and has the mind and personality of a four-year old. Don't push her at all. If the coaches aren't forcing her to pay attention or giving her a reason to pay attention (by making it fun or challenging) then don't worry about it. Your job is to be her biggest fan and best support. It's not uncommon for kiddos to want to watch what's going on in the gym. If she starts to miss turns, not hear directions or gets into trouble with the coach, address that. It sounds like she is loving what she's doing and she will mature into gymnastics. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask or email me directly. Best of luck, -K

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      Alyssa 2 years ago

      Thank you for sharing! My daughter is a competitive gymnastics and is in level 3 this year I think she does well with all of these things!!!

    • lhorn profile image

      lhorn 3 years ago from Southern California

      I have a question that I would really like answered if you don't mind. My daughter is 4 and a half and has been in gymnastics since she was 18 months old. She is very good. Always been the top student and moved up early to each level. She is in the main gym now with girls twice her age and gets distracted a lot watching the big girls but isn't performing to what I know she is capable of and not doing skills properly that she did when she was 3. I tell her to not be paying attention to what the older girls are doing because they are doing it wrong and she has been in gymnastics longer than them. I guess my main question is how much should I push? I don't want to burn her out but I also don't want her to be spinning her tires at practice. I read your article on how to tell if your child is a good candidate for competitive gymnastics and she hits on every point but I don't want to mess up on my end. Some advice would be great. Thank you.

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      Brent Duran 3 years ago

      Hi Kristi - I tried emailing you through HubPages. I'm kind of new to this site, so hopefully it worked. If not, please let me know. Thanks!

    • krsharp05 profile image
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      krsharp05 3 years ago from 18th and Vine

      Brent Duran, I am in the Kansas City area and I'm familiar with the region 3 and 4 gyms. If your daughter enjoys gymnastics and is in a program that will provide her with the opportunities to pursue a college scholarship then it is likely she will still earn one.

      There are several factors to consider, the most important being whether or not your team coaches can effectively help athletes put together a recruiting packet/video for scholarship benefits. I am happy to answer any questions you have or help in any way I can. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. If you would prefer to email me, that might be easier and more private. -Kristi

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      Brent Duran 3 years ago

      Great article, and timely - I hope you're still monitoring this article because I have a question that I'd value your input on. My daughter is 12-years-old, and is a level 8 gymnast. Up to this year she'd always placed in the top 3 at state, but this year she fell on both her vaults, and placed 5th, and just barely qualified for the Region 3 championship. Then, at the Region 3 championship, she fell on her cast-to-handstand. With an AA score of 37.0, her placing was: Vault 6, Bars 45, Beam 28, Floor 34, and AA 26. Doing a little financial math, at this level when one considers tuition, travel for meets, etc., this is costing our family about $10,000 per year. So, here's my question: based on your experience, what is your honest opinion about the probability of a gymnast with my daughter’s scores receiving a college gymnastics scholarship? I ask because we're not an ultra-wealthy family, and if we were to take her out of gymnastics, we could apply the $10,000 over the next 5 years toward her college tuition. Said another way, if we leave her in gymnastics through her senior year in high school, and she doesn't get a gymnastics scholarship, and we have to pay it ourselves, then we've effectively increased the cost of her college tuition by $50,000. We're really struggling whether we're chasing a fools dream and would prefer some straight talk. Thank you in advance for your time.

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      Shanbar 4 years ago

      Thanks so much for the response! Good to know we have two years - today her coach said really the main thing holding her back is her ability to focus, which I'm hoping cows with age. And school!

      All that aside, she did climb onto a friend's armoire and front flip to a sofa. But then we put her in time out because clearly that was unsafe!

    • krsharp05 profile image
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      krsharp05 4 years ago from 18th and Vine

      Shanbar, Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Legally, according to USA Gymnastics, she has to be 6 to compete in the age-group program. That said, the fact that she is doing gymnastics everywhere is typically indicative of being a gymnast. As far as you knowing when she is "ready" as a little girl, for the big world of competitive gymnastics, typically kids will see the other girls who are competitive and they will aspire to be like them. If your gym does fun meets and she participates, it's a great way to know if competition is for her. I wish you the best and her the best of luck. Feel free to write again if you have any questions. PS. I would keep her in dance unless her gym incorporates dance into their competitive program. Thanks again. :) -K

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      Shanbar 4 years ago

      I'm just finding this article as my 4-year old, who has been in gymnastics for the past year, has only recently become obsessed. She was flagged by her coaches as having the potential to have potential, and she does gymnastics everywhere including the music room of Vacation Bible School. She takes lessons twice a week and will resume her dance lessons in the fall. My question I guess is how and when do we know competition is right?

    • krsharp05 profile image
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      krsharp05 5 years ago from 18th and Vine

      Om, thank you for reading and for your prasie. I agree that this could carry over into pretty much any sport. When you devote your life and your passion to something - even a hobby, it sort of moves into your soul and takes up residence - know that I mean? It's there for the rest of your life. Nevertheless, I appreciate you being here. Best of luck in July HA team. -K

    • Om Paramapoonya profile image

      Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your insight, krsharp. This is such a great hub. I think lots of these traits are also necessary for young athletes in other competitive sports as well. Rated up!