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