Why Kids Flip Over Gymnastics!

December 13th, 2013 | By Marjie No Comments

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The summer we were 10 years old, my next door neighbor Cindy and I spent hours every day perfecting our gymnastic routines in my front yard.  We did cartwheels and roundoffs, ‘performing’ for the people driving by on our street.  By the end of the summer, there was a well-worn patch of dirt in the center of the yard, and we were certain that our next performance venue would be an Olympic arena.

Yes, from our first steps from infancy into toddlerhood, we move quickly from tottering unsteadily to running, jumping, twirling, somersaulting, tucking, rolling, and balancing our way through childhood.  Is it any wonder, then, that gymnastics is one of the country’s most popular sports for young children?

The benefits and fun of gymnastics may seem obvious (and many are).  To get experienced, expert information, though, we talked with the leadership of Georgia Elite and of Oconee Gymnastics and Cheer.  They provided some great insight into how and why gymnastics is always gaining in popularity.

So, what makes gymnastics a great sport for kids, and what are some of the key benefits?  Oconee Gymnastics and Cheer executive director Katina Rotsides answers with, “Gymnastics is great for kids at every age.  It builds overall body strength, balance and coordination, plus self-esteem and body spatial awareness, and it’s a strong base for every sport.”  Pete Arenas, owner and head coach for Georgia Elite, feels the same way.  “Even at the beginning stages,” says Arenas, “gymnastics teaches strength, flexibility, agility, coordination, discipline and balance – all integral parts of the human body’s development.”

Clearly, gymnastics is a sport that you can begin at any point in your life.  Depending on the type of program you’re looking for, there is probably an option for you right in Athens, including classes for:

  • New parents and their babies, with a focus on hand-eye coordination, rolls, and songs that involve body positions and stretching
  • Toddlers, with an emphasis on development of the muscular and skeletal systems, and on teaching coordination and structure
  • Adults, whether you’re a beginner or an accomplished gymnast
  • Teenagers, with a focus on flexibility, strength, and balance
  • Everyone, whether your goal is to compete on a team or simply gain skill and have fun … or all of the above!

Bear in mind that for children who would like to be on a team one day, the younger they are when they enroll in classes the better.  Top level gymnasts all begin this sport at an early age because, unlike most sports, elite level gymnasts peak at the young age range of 14-17, with a large part of advanced skill development happening from ages 12-15.

 

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In fact, there are some interesting ‘levels’ of competition and skill that are unique to gymnastics.  For instance, for recreation and beginning level gymnasts, each program has a specific structure designed to introduce certain skills, and athletes move up according to their own age and/or ability.  In competitive gymnastics, there are compulsory levels governed by USA Gymnastics.  When you’re watching a gymnastics competition and you hear someone referred to as a “Level 5” or “Level 10” or “Elite” gymnast, you know where they are in the development and progression of skills.  In all cases, with every level, the skills are increasingly difficult and the practice time increases.

Gymnastics is a great sport for boys and girls alike.  “For all children, it is great to work on core and overall strength, plus flexibility,” states Rotsides, “This sport can also increase their attention span and provide discipline.  The skills and focus used in gymnastics are the bases used in all sports.”

Arenas adds, “Flexibility and muscle development are a must in all sports for injury prevention, which is heavily emphasized in the gymnastics world.  We also teach agility and balance.  All these are required in virtually every other sport, so both boys and girls benefit from them.”

Both Arenas and Rotsides stress that finding the ‘right’ coach is essential to a child’s success in and enjoyment of gymnastics.  Says Arenas, “A good gymnastics coach understands that the first job is to create success for every gymnast, not just the talented few.  To accomplish this, a coach has to know each gymnast well enough to challenge them within their ability to succeed.  Since many classes have students of different ability levels, a coach should be skillful enough to individualize challenges while keeping learning fun and following a structured curriculum with specific goals for each child.”

Rotsides adds, “Coaches must be good with kids and have quality, comprehensive training.  They needn’t be a former gymnast to be good coaches, but they must be well-trained, constantly learning, and certified.  They need to teach proper basics and to be able to have fun with kids.  And they absolutely must have a great knowledge of gymnastics as well as the psychology of children.”

If you and your children are interested in finding a gymnastics program, take a look at the options available right here in Athens.  Here are a few things to keep in mind during your search:

  • Talk with the coach that your children will actually work with.  Be sure you and your children’s goals are aligned with that coach’s (and that program’s) goals.
  • Look for a no-risk guarantee, just in case you learn quickly that gymnastics is not a good ‘fit’ with your kids … or ask for at least two or three trial classes before you must commit to a season-long program.
  • Ask about the equipment that will be used, and what the facility’s safety procedures are.
  • Check the progression of skills and lessons … be sure they are starting with the basics and moving at a pace you’re comfortable with.
  • Confirm that parents are part of the program, welcome and involved.
  • Ask how (and how often) your children’s progress will be evaluated.
  • Most important … talk with parents and children who are already in each program.  Find out what their experience has been.  Then you can make an informed decision with and for your own children.

Gymnastics is an exciting, universally-known sport that kids of all ages can have fun learning.  It’s also one of those activities that is more fun as you gain skill.  Here in Athens, there are programs at the recreation level all the way up to highly competitive level.  Check out www.georgiaelitegymnastics.com and www.oconeegymnastics.com for information about the programs and coaches mentioned in this article.

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