Coaches Talking about China Vs. the U.S.

I recently got a very interesting e-mail from a blog friend that compares China’s to the Canadian system (He’s Canadian). I found his observations, provided from another friend, were very interesting; so I sent them to all of Gymfinity’s team coaches. One coach responded. She is an amazing student of the sport and her knowledge about gymnastics past, present and future is worthy of high respect. I attached her notes too.

The best bars video I saw in 2008 was edited by Michel Arsenault of Champions Gymnastics in Canada.It’s a DVD with lengthy accompanying notes called:

2006 Gymnastics Study Tour of China

Michel was partly funded to travel to China by Gymnastics Alberta and Alberta Lotteries (Above and Beyond program).

Visiting gyms in Beijing, KunMing and ZhengZhou, Michel wrote a report of what he saw. Here are just a few note I took while reading the document:

  • unwavering commitment to extreme quality and basics
  • children are allowed to quit gymnastics at any time
  • at some schools parents must pay a small fee for training. The governments pay most costs, however.
  • exacting training begins at a very young age
  • all gymnasts train twice / day
  • compulsory routines until age-11. The entire document for coaches and judges is simple and only 11-pages-long! For comparison, here’s just a tiny portion of the over-complicated Gymnastics Canada regulations posted on a gym wall:

(Canadian rules are the most complex, the most frequently revised, and the most poorly understood in the world, so far as I know. It certainly does a disservice to athletes, coaches and judges.)

  • very few girls wear handguards (none at all at the Beijing Provincial Training Centre)
  • when a coach speaks to a gymnast they must stand motionless listening to the coach intently. That said, the coaches are quite quiet. Gymnasts work independently from 6 to 8-yrs-old.
  • very few drills are done with high repetitions
  • coaches are paid $3000 – $4000 / yr. Average annual salary in Beijing is about $1500 / yr.
  • training gymnasts did not all have “a perfect body type”
  • Michel concluded that the good results in China are as much a result of the coaching “system” as talent identification
  • very specific technique on the descending and ascending swings of free hip
  • high priority on hitting a balanced handstand – for pirouettes

(Thanks to Rick McCharles)

The response to his post was from Gaylynn Whitson from here at Gymfinity

Similar philosophies are followed here in the US. Several coaches believe in different aspects of these bullets.

Leonard Isaacs believes most kids should not compete until the age of 9 years. With basics being the primary focus. His idea of basics are a little different from the typical idea.

When I went to Scamps and watched workouts I noticed very few drills but lots of repetitions. I later spoke with a coach that worked for him at one time who was frustrated by the lack of use of drills. 
Funny thing was that same coach decided to coach in Canada because he believed their system was better because they focused on very precise gymnastics. This coach had a doctorate in Bio-mechanics. He later returned to the US and quit coaching because he found they were not developing kids to be spatially aware at an early age.

He had his faults in beliefs too. He watched several videos of a level 6 gymnast from TN and claimed she should not be moved to optionals because she did not have perfect form at level 6. She moved on to TOPS A Team that year and went on to HOPES and is now competing Elite and is on track to be one of Marta’s hopefuls. Her name is Dare Maxwell. Exact same situation for Kennedy Baker now competing for Texas Dreams. Both gymmies came out of a small gym in Memphis that was not about perfect form at a young age. But now both compete for gyms that are about perfect form and tons of reps.

BTW the owner of the Memphis gym was very passionate about his work but has filed bankruptcy 3 times and reopened his gym in a different location under a different name each time.

Many gyms run a double track to team for financial reasons. The one is the philosophy that “all can compete” and the other is the “train for the future.”

In the US we want to have athletic children with fitness and life long character building skills at the same time we want our athletes to have the opportunity to perform to their ultimate ability. Most gyms however have a hard time financially doing this. It takes passion for gym owners to make it happen both ways. Most of our gym owners use the gym income as their main source of income. Therefore they have to adjust their personal passions to keep surviving.

This brings up several questions. Would the Chinese system work here? Why not? I feel that many gyms really already do this to a point. The only difference is funding.

When we put our gymmies into TOPS and HOPES and send them to the Karoyli camp aren’t we essentially following the same paradigm?  Other than we have a free-market society?

Any thoughts?


It’s great to see how coaches compare notes and get feedback from each other. I have long felt that a rising tide lifts all ships when it comes to coaches education. The more we share and discuss the better the state of gymnastics becomes. Thanks to Rick and Gaylynn for starting the discussion.

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