I have made my life coaching and teaching gymnastics. I have always seen this sport as a vehicle to, not only help children develop into healthy adults, but teach young girls that they have strength inside that they can build upon. Strength that society my not validate. I often tell “my girls” that there is nothing they cannot do with hard work. We celebrate together when they report doing the most pull-ups or sit-ups in their school. Because they earned it. The other day, Emma told me how she beat all the boys (not in her grade but in her whole school) doing push ups. Awesome. I got to thinking about how gymnastics empowers all kids and I jotted down a few thoughts.
- Obviously there is the physical benefit. Gymnastics is a great form of physical education that can be enjoyed at a very young age. Strength, flexibility, coordination, power and speed are all natural byproducts of being a kid in gymnastics.
- Participation in gymnastics also delivers greater attention span, social skills, problem solving, responsibility, respect and also builds a child’s healthy self-esteem. I say healthy self-esteem because it is not the everyone-gets-a-trophy self-esteem. It is more about feeling competent and being able to respect one’s self for the products of their own effort.
- All kids have an innate ability to move. Practicing skills that move through all 3 planes* of movement enhances a child’s abilities. In fact, other than diving, gymnastics is one of the only sports that moves all three ways. This development in a young child is beneficial when applied in all sports. A child that chooses to pursue something after gymnastics is usually light-years ahead of other children that do not have the same experience.
- Doing gymnastics allows a child a healthy alternative to sitting and spending time on computer screens. I know. Any physical activity can give a child a healthy choice, but I just wanted to point out that kids should do SOMETHING! And I think it should be gymnastics. No bias there right?
- Kids in gymnastics use both sides of their brain, often together. Gymnastics employs technical skill development to be sure. Kids learn how to do sequences and skills that contain many steps. This is very Left-Brained. The activity also allows kids self expression to create movement, incorporate dance, or create their own routines. This allows the Right–Brain to flex it’s muscle too.
- Since we are talking brain development; we know that children learn better cognitively when they are allowed physical movement. This is the very concept that caused German educators or the 18th century to conceive of Recess, and Kindergarten.
- Doing gymnastics requires that kids concentrate on what they are doing. This, in conjunction with utilizing both hemispheres of the brain, develops the skill of applied concentration or focus. This enhances their educational efforts by lifting reading skills, coloring skills, writing skills, math interpretation, and perception skills to new levels.
So, I imagine you can see why I love gymnastics and feel that it is the best developmental tool a child can experience. Gymnasts are not only stronger, but smarter, and justifiably feel better about themselves. These are all skills that they can carry with them through life ensuring success and happiness along the way. 41 years ago, when I started teaching gymnastics, I did it because it was fun. As time went on I was shown time and again the benefits that I wrote about above. I saw the kids I coach become doctors, lawyers, mothers, politicians, engineers, counselors, teachers and more. Every one happy, Every one a success. And every day since my decision to teach gymnastics back in 1980, my mission has been validated.
*3 planes of movement are: Sagittal (seen in flipping or rolling), Frontal or Coronal (seen in cartwheeling), and Transverse (seen in spinning, twisting, or turning).