Getting “serious” in the gym

Question I got the other day: When should my kid start serious gymnastics training?

My Answer: The first thing I said was “never.” In my opinion, a child should always be having fun, and shouldn’t have to consider starting  “serious” training. Once a child stops enjoying the sport, it’s only a matter of time before s/he quits altogether.

Two side notes: 1. I love my job. If it ever became like “Work” I would have to consider something else. It goes the same way with children  participating in sports. 2. My team kids (training up to 15 hours per week) when asked why they do gymnastics, answered each in turn “because it’s fun.” Now these girls have had days of blood, sweat and tears but to chase those dreams of someday hearing their name announced at the awards ceremony of a competition, the context of the B.S and T days is always one of fun. Them pushing themselves to attain higher goals is the most fun game ever, to them.

But I understand what parents are really asking when this question comes up. Most see their daughter or son in a preschool gymnastics class and wonder when it should be more actual gymnastics and less play.

I talked to several coaches, and the general opinion seems to be that most kids should be about five or  six when they start a “real” gymnastics class. Before that, the focus of any class should be on developing body awareness, fitness and a love for the sport, even if it’s more “play” and less “real gymnastics.”

Kids that start more “applied” (I prefer that term over “serious”) training very young don’t seem to have a leg up on kids that start a bit later — and it may even be to the child’s disadvantage to start early. “The risk of starting advanced gymnastics at a young age is potential burnout as a pre-teen,” says veteran coach Rick McCharles of Altadore Gymnastics Club in Calgary.  And I couldn’t agree more. I personally have seen kids at other gyms, pushed hard to get “serious” at early ages and most of them burn out by age 12. Sadly, many of the drop outs leave with a bad taste in their mouth. Many years ago I had a girl named Mikaela, she started when she was 13 and advanced to pretty high levels in the sport. She didn’t continue in college but there were several college teams looking at her for a scholarship.  I started at age 12 as well. I went on to compete in college and obviously loved the sport so much that I made it my life. Both pretty positive stories wouldn’t you say?

Gymfinity runs both a Tykes class for general fitness, movement experience and playing at basic skills and a “Mighty Tykes” program in which kids age four to six work on strength, very basic skill attainment and having fun in a pre-competitive way. Then, when the time is right, they can either begin low level competition or continue learning skills and building a foundation for sports and fitness outside of competition.

So, if your son or daughter is having a blast in a preschool program, don’t worry that you’re hindering her chances at becoming the next Shawn Johnson or Paul Hamm. A kid who loves gymnastics will pick it up very quickly at any age. Gymfinity has many choices for children too; Fitness, Developmental Gymnastics or Tumble and Trampoline; it’s all fun and it’s all progressive in learning skills. Letting the kids dictate their amount of “seriousness” is the best idea.

When Kids have no say in their decisions weird things happen. We’ve had parents ask for private lessons for their 2 and 3 years old, (I don’t know why either). One from a few years back was refused since its just not something we would do (and it seemed contraindicated for the girls best interest). When we said no they took her to another gym and now 3 years later we still have never seen that girl at a competition. When I asked about her, the coach from that gym told me she quit to do basketball when she was 5. Clearly the idea was that the mom wanted her daughter to do gymnastics, hard core.  (as I mentioned I think very rarely is “Hard Core” a good idea, ever). But the little girl, at 3, just wanted to bounce and play. Now I’m sure that she became a good B-baller but I have to wonder if she had not been pushed, if she was allowed to be 3, 4 and 5 years old would she still be doing gymnastics? Would she be amazing? Would she love it? I guess none of us will ever know.

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