EVERY child can benefit from gymnastics.
Children who are a little weaker, a little overweight and/or a little less flexible can all find success with caring gymnastics teachers.
Gymnastics classes are offered for children as young as 18 months in a “Someone Special and Me” class with an adult. Around age three or four they are ready to be enrolled in a beginner gymnastics class. Classes are grouped by age; as children progress they are grouped by ability level.
Most importantly, no one is ever too old to try something new and many gyms provide beginner classes for all ages and all abilities, including adults.
When you think of gymnastics most think of “Artistic gymnastics”. In Artistic gymnastics girls perform on four events: Vault, Uneven Bars, Balance Beam, and Floor Exercise. Boys perform in six events: Floor Exercise, Pommel Horse, Still Rings, Vault, Parallel Bars, and High Bar.
All athletes start the session warming up and stretching. This is true for both boys and girls of all levels and ages.
Young children start by warming up and stretching in a circle while singing songs. Afterwards children are taken through an age appropriate obstacle course. Additionally, small stuff animals are placed on low beams to step and eventually hop over. If you ask them what the highlights of the class are they will most likely say “jumping” . . . on trampolines, into foam pits and in the occasional bounce house. In the under 5 classes boys and girls are usually together in class. These classes focus on general body movements and skills that are applicable to both boy and girl events.
Older children stretch and warm up together and are then typically split by sex, age and ability. Girls and boys both rotate onto all the apparatus. It is common for a class to not practice all events in a day spending more time on one event or skill. Older children will end their class with additional stretching / strength training.
As children get older and more advanced, the time spent before and after class exercising become more and more important. A child cannot achieve new skills without building the necessary muscles. For example you cannot hope to do a handstand if your arms are not strong enough to support your own body weight.
All gyms are not the same. In fact the philosophy of gyms can be as different as night and day. Choosing a gymnastics school, like most decisions made for our children, can be very confusing and stressful. If it’s your child’s first exposure to the sport you want it to be fun and safe. As your child’s interest and ability grows you want a gym that will encourage and inspire, not yell and judge. As they spend more time in the gym it becomes a second home. Should your child choose to grow in the sport, you want a gym that is capable of coaching more advance skills.
Gymnastics benefit every child regardless of talent and ability. Gymnastics programs are not solely about creating gymnasts. There are so many more important areas to consider.
A child will be a much more mature, well prepared young adult because of their involvement in gymnastics instruction. Gymnastics incorporates strength, flexibility, speed, balance, coordination, power, and discipline. Many of the benefits of gymnastics are NOT related to learning gymnastics skills, but more important developmental areas that will help your child become a better student and young adult. It can also build self-esteem, and improve skills such as self-discipline and concentration. Plus, being a gymnast is a lot of fun! Whether they are involved in recreational gymnastics or with a team, skills learned in gymnastics can benefit a child’s overall development.
Gymnasts that compete can choose between the USAG and the USAIGC. Many gyms offer teams in both organizations. When choosing between the two organizations it is important to discuss the options and benefits of both with your child’s coach.
The USAG is the governing national organization. The USAG competitive program uses a level system ranging from Level 1 to Level 10. Levels 1 through 5 compete using compulsory routines, meaning all gymnasts from around the United States compete with the same routines. When the gymnast reaches Level 6 they choose their own routines and music, these are commonly referred to “optional”. Each level 6-10 has a list of skills to choose from that must be included in the routines. The USAG program, by design, is very competitive. There are minimum age requirements for all levels. The minimum age at a USAG sanctioned event is 6 years old to compete.
The USAIGC is a competitive program using the following levels: copper, bronze, silver, gold and premier. All levels are optional allowing athletes of all levels more flexibility and individuality in their routines. If a gymnast excels at an event they can compete up to 2 events at the next level up. The USAIGC program with lower recommended practice hours is designed to give children an opportunity to compete that do not have a lot of time or resources due to school or other sport activities. The minimum age to compete in the USAIGC is 5 years old at the copper level.
*Want more information about being a team parent? We recommend the Parent’s Guide To Competitive Gymnastics