It happens many times a day all across the country. A parent will call their local gymnastics club and ask questions about the program. The parents often say something like, “I don’t really want my child to be a gymnast but it would be nice if they could learn a cartwheel; I just think it would be really good for them.” The questions these parents have about the gymnastics program are typically, “How much does it cost?” “When are the classes?” and “What will they learn?” Answering these questions can be an involved process. The cost per lesson is a few dollars. Classes are held at certain times on certain days. What a child learns in gymnastics can take more time to explain. Sure those gymnastics teachers are helping their young athletes learn cartwheels and back handsprings. Coaches are spotting giants and full twists but what else is being learned?
The parent who states that they think “…gymnastics would probably be good for their child” might be surprised to know just how good it is. With pediatric obesity at an epidemic level of 13% of children and adolescents in the United States, getting children away from the television or computer games and into the gym is a terrific first step toward a healthy lifestyle. The researchers at the Centers for Disease Control report that youth who undertake lifestyle exercise programs that increase physical activity, reduce the intake of high-caloric foods and involve parents have the best chance of preventing and reducing obesity over the long-term. Gymnastics is perhaps one of the most comprehensive “lifestyle exercise programs” available to children, incorporating strength, flexibility, speed, balance, coordination, power and discipline.
- Studies show that children learn cognitive skills more effectively in an environment that includes the body as well as the mind (Barrett, 1998). Gymnastics and early childhood movement education is directly attributed to developing neurological pathways in students and promoting reading readiness. While the preschool gymnastics teacher runs about and plays with the little kids in her class, she is preparing her students for successful experiences in school; children who have participated in movement education activities have longer attention spans, increased communication skills, general problem solving skills and improved self-esteem.
- Researchers at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School found a relationship between physical activity and children’s self-esteem. The more time children ages 10 to 16 spent being active, the higher their self-efficacy and self-esteem were to reported to be (Strauss RS, Rodzilsky D, Burack G, Colin M., 2001).
“From the Office” USECA Newsletter, July 2003
- European researchers found that physical fitness in children related to a reduced risk of developing asthma during adolescence (Rasmussen, Lambrechsten, Siersted, Hansen & Hansen, 2000).
- Physical activity is instrumental in preventing certain cancers; from colon cancer and breast cancer to prostate cancer (Merrett, Theis & Ashbury, 2000). Increased exercise helped reduce the risk of developing diabetes by 58% (Yale University School of Medicine, 2001). Beginning a physical activity such as gymnastics at an early age is no guarantee but active children are more likely to grow up to be active and healthy adults.
- In a study of school-aged youth, researchers found that the risk of substance abuse by adolescents is decreased by physical training programs that incorporate life skills. Better school attendance, lower anxiety and depression, and decreased use of tobacco and alcohol were all reported after a twelve week physical training program (Collingwood, Sunderlin, Reynolds & Kohl, 2000). Recreational sports activities, including gymnastics is a key to balanced human development and has been proven to be a significant factor in reducing alcohol and drug use (Williams, 1994).
- The gymnastics team coach is directly responsible for reducing the crime rate in the city; statistics show that children actively engaged in organized “positive choice” extra-curricular activities such as youth sports are less likely to be involved in self-destructive and anti-social behavior and juvenile crime (Soenstrom, 1986).
- Physical activity has been proven to delay the development of high blood pressure and helps reduce blood pressure in adolescents with hypertension (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1999).
- Many studies have reported the benefits of moderate impact activities such as gymnastics has on the development of bone density and the prevention of osteoporosis. Plyometric exercises (also known as jump training) like tumbling and vaulting have been determined by the American College of Sports Medicine to be a safe, beneficial and fun activity for children.
- Healthy activities like gymnastics keep our kids off the couch and engaged in a healthy lifestyle. That intermediate gymnastics class teacher is contributing to lower health care costs in the United States; active children are more likely to grow to become active and healthier adults, reducing the burden on the health care system. Sedentary lifestyles have been linked to the development of coronary heart disease, diabetes mellitus and numerous other chronic ailments. Nurturing the enjoyment of movement and motor skill development at an early age will help to promote continued participation in physical activity. Long range, these active and therefore healthier adults are more likely to be more productive at work, take less sick days, and have fewer “on the job” accidents (Paffenbarger, 1986).
Gymnastics can endow children with great physical benefits. From muscle strength and balance to healthy bones and flexibility, gymnastics provides an exciting option for parents who know the value of a full body workout
- Muscle Strength: Gaining Muscle strength through tumbling, jumping, static flexing, and holding one’s own body weight in various positions help children develop strong and powerful bodies. Muscle is built through resistance training, which allows children to use their body’s resistance as their own personal weight machine! Over time, these gymnasts get stronger, which aids in the development of lean, toned muscles, improved balance and perhaps even improvements in posture.
- Healthy Bones: These same types of movements assist children with developing strong healthy bones since gymnastics is a weight-bearing activity. Weight-bearing activities, according to the CDC, are activities in which the child’s body works against gravity, meaning that a child’s legs, feet or arms are actually supporting or carrying his or her own body weight.
- Flexibility: A by-product of gymnastics, flexibility is, simply put, the ability to move the muscles through their full range of motion.
Because gymnasts aim to achieve a variety of positions to perform skills on each apparatus, flexibility is important in everyday life it reduces tension, helps coordination, develops body awareness and promotes circulation.Because gymnastics provides fun skills that children can practice at home, they will be more likely to engage in physical activity even between gymnastics classes. The more we can get children up off the couch and moving, the healthier they will become.
Great gymnastics clubs (like American Allstars) that provide stimulating, age-appropriate curriculum and terrific instructor’s who care about their students, can help children yield other important non-physical benefits from gymnastics. Cognitive, social, and psychosocial benefits might not be as obvious as a toned muscle, but there is no question that they are there.
- Cognitive Benefits: When children are engaging in gymnastics, they are exercising their brains as well as their bodies. New research suggests a strong correlation between physically fit children and academic achievement. Every time you send your child to gymnastics class, he/she is engaging in physical exercise that encourages healthy brain function. Nerve cells multiply and connections in the brain are strengthened. It is not surprising that children who are engaging in consistent physical activity like gymnastics are more likely to get better grades than their inactive peers.
- Social Skills: Children can also benefit socially from engaging in gymnastics. Aside from simply interacting with other children in the class, some gymnastics clubs also encourage teamwork and partner drills in their classes. The more children can interact with different types of children both in school and in after-school programming, the more they will learn how to handle conflict and positively relate to others.
- Reduced Risky Behavior: Gymnastics clubs can provide a stable, reliable physical activity source for both children and teens. Young people who are consistently physically active are much less likely to engage in using tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs. When children can find positive, active ways to keep busy in a place that you can trust, they will not have to make up ways to occupy their time that could lead to poor or risky choices.
- Confidence: Instructors at gymnastics clubs using a supportive, mastery oriented approach can help their budding athletes develop a wonderful sense of confidence. While physical activity tends to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, the right instructors help children develop an “I can” attitude that can give them that intangible high of knowing they can count on themselves to succeed.
- Character: Some gymnastics clubs are now incorporating formalized, age-appropriate character education programs into their curriculums so children learn to be better citizens, not just better gymnasts. Clubs that integrate powerful monthly lessons on respect, self control, responsibility, confidence, sportsmanship and other character-based concepts can help children strive to become their very best both within the gymnastics club and out in the community.
Gymnastics can be a wonderful activity for children to enjoy and benefits young people in several ways.
Fortunately, American Allstars Gymnastics Academy offers something for everyone!
What’s So Great About Gymnastics?
Study after study confirm that kids involved in sports, including gymnastics, are more likely to stay away from drugs, score higher on achievement tests, stay in school, have greater self-esteem and live a healthier lifestyle. Show me a child in a healthy athletic environment and I’ll show you a child learning motor development, interpersonal relationship skills, perseverance, discipline, commitment, humor, perspective, teamwork, humility and leadership. And the kids think they’re just having fun!
No doubt about it, sport enhances life. And for those with a penchant for variety and challenge, the local gymnastics club might be a great place to hang out. Following are the five most important reasons why learning a cartwheel is a valuable investment.
1. Gymnastics is a multifaceted sport.
This is a sport that develops physical strength, speed, agility, nerves of steel, and competitive prowess. Additionally, women must wrap that package of athleticism in grace and personality. Not many sports draw upon such a wide range of ability. Within the three main gymnastics disciplines (Men’s and Women’s Artistic and Rhythmic), there are as many as 15 different individual events, each with unique challenges and thrills. Add General Gymnastics and Trampoline and Tumbling, and opportunities in the sport are endless.
2. Gymnastics is a challenging sport.
Walking, let alone flipping, is hard to do on a four-inch balance beam. It takes more than a few push-ups to master an iron cross on the rings. Leaping through a moving hoop is not a cake walk. Gymnastics is “difficult.” But the very qualities it takes to master these skills – courage, perseverance, risk, determination, vision – are the qualities that foster excellence in any endeavor. Dealing with the “difficulties” will translate into valuable life skills and strength of character. Bolstered by unconditional love from parents and skilled guidance from coaches, gymnasts are better prepared to handle the “difficulties” of life because of the challenges faced in the gym.
3. Gymnastics is a socially interactive sport.
The unique social environment in the gym provides for healthy growth. In gymnastics, a nine-year old trains with older and younger athletes. Self-esteem is boosted by camaraderie with older teammates. Maturity and perspective is nurtured as she then turns to relate to the younger athletes on the team. Few sports provide the opportunity for kids to work so closely with teammates of different ages. The social maturity gained within the sport is far healthier than the “social immaturity” forced on kids spending aimless afternoons at the mall or watching television.
4. Gymnastics teaches individual responsibility and courage.
Though there is a team element, gymnastics is an individual sport. When practice is over and the green flag is raised, the athlete faces the apparatus alone. To execute a routine successfully, under the scrutiny of judges, coaches and spectators, it takes concentration, determination, endurance, and often courage. Confidence to call upon these qualities is nurtured every time a child attempts another routine. Life requires us to take personal responsibility for the choices we make. Courage to take that responsibility and make right choices is developed with each mount and dismount.
5. Gymnastics enriches childhood.
After my Olympic experience, I was often asked if I felt like I had sacrificed a normal childhood for my athletic dreams. I was always a bit confused by this question. I did gymnastics because I wanted to. Sports was not a sacrifice, it was a choice. Granted, that choice meant sometimes I was also choosing to forego other activities. But thanks to guidance from my parents and coaches, gymnastics opened doors and enriched my life. Victories, defeats, travel, relationships and much more combined to teach me the joys, difficulties and realities of our world.
And I’m not alone. Traveling the country to develop the Athlete Wellness Program for USA Gymnastics, I’ve had the privilege of meeting former gymnasts who now have careers in counseling, medicine, advertising, law, youth ministry, coaching, emergency response, environmental engineering and parenting, to name a few. All agree their gymnastics training better prepared them to tackle the challenges of the adult world.
It takes wise coaches and parents to translate gym lessons into life lessons. But most gymnastics clubs are founded on the belief that the sport has the potential to be a health-enhancing experience for all who participate. If anyone is looking for fertile soil in which to grow life’s champions, you might start at your local gymnastics club.
Nancy Thies Marshall is a 1972 Olympian, five-time national team member, former national Vault and Balance Beam champion, and collegiate All-American. She is currently the developer and manager of USA Gymnastics Athlete Wellness Program and a freelance journalist. Nancy and her husband have three children and live in Salem, Oregon.
Start Your Child in Gymnastics
From Amy Van Deusen, Amy Van Deusen has extensive experience as a competitive gymnast, team and recreational coach, and writer for the sport of gymnastics. Gymnastics is an incredibly fun sport whether you’re a participant, Parent of a gymnast, or a spectator. My goal is to improve your experience in gymnastics — whatever it may be!
Gymnastics is a wonderful sport for kids, and can help them develop coordination, strength, balance, flexibility and so much more. It can also build self-esteem, and improve skills such as self-discipline and concentration. Plus, being a gymnast is a lot of fun!
The Right Age
Children can start in gymnastics as young as 18 months in a “Mommy and Me” class with a parent. If your child is older (usually around age three or four), s/he is ready to be enrolled in a beginner gymnastics class. Gymnastics clubs vary, but usually classes are grouped by age, and as your child progresses in the sport, s/he will later be grouped by ability level.
Finding a Gym
First, find a local gymnastics club in your area. Find one that is a member of USA Gymnastics,
(American Allstars is a member of the USA Gymnastics) the national governing body for gymnastics in theUnited States. Clubs that are members of USAG have to meet minimum requirements for liability insurance and coaching expertise.
You may want to pick a few gymnastics clubs in your area and go in for a visit. (American Allstars suggest you visit our gym and others before you choose) Gyms vary significantly in the facilities they have — some are enormous buildings with all sorts of equipment and mats, while others are much smaller. Oftentimes, beginner gymnasts have a lot of fun on some of the “extra” equipment such as climbing structures, and trampolines. Visiting a few gyms may help you decide what’s important to you and your child. Be sure to look for:
A visitors’ viewing area where you can see your child during his/her class (American Allstars offers 3,000 sq ft of parent viewing with stadium seating tables and padded chairs along with areas for siblings to do home work and wireless internet connection)
An office manager and office hours (American Allstars offers office hours 6 days per week) that will help you with administrative items (registration, payment, assistance with any questions that you may have)
A gymnast-instructor ratio that seems appropriate. (American Allstars has small student to coach ratio’s)(there is no magic number, but the children should look as though they are being monitored at all times by an instructor)