You may have seen a viral video of a little girl playing with her dad. He lifts and twirls her into gymnastic poses. It’s adorable. Or you may have seen any of the hundreds of videos, from a little girl watching Simone Biles on TV and mimicking her routine, to the little boys doing hand stands and back flips. You might even have your own memories of watching lithe athletes in sparkly uniforms, dancing and spinning with ribbons, ropes, and shimmering balls.
These gymnasts usually have petite, highly muscled bodies, and most are in their teens. Even the older ones seem youthful, because of their size and flexibility. It’s easy to see how kids would be drawn to this sport. But as the adult in their lives, you’re probably worried. You see this small-bodied wonders performing the types of jumps and flips that could break their limbs, backs, and necks. You watch them contort their bodies into seemingly inhuman positions. You don’t want to think of your precious little one risking their lives and health that way.
And yet, gymnastics has tons of benefits to your children’s bodies, minds, and sense of self. Let’s start with the basics. Depending on who you ask, there are between three and seven types of gymnastics:
1. Artistic (for women) – this includes four categories / events: vault, floor, uneven bars, and balance beam.
2. Artistic (for men) – this covers six events: parallel bars, horizontal/high bar, vault, floor, pommel horse, and still rings.
3. Rhythmic (for women) – these are floor exercises like spinning, twisting, and twirling, but they’re accompanied with rope, ribbons, hoops, balls, and clubs.
4. Trampoline – this involves competitive jumps, flips, and spins on a trampoline.
5. Tumbling – this kind of floor exercise is done on an extra springy floor, and it involves a running start followed by a succession of twists, spins, and flips.
Some classifications merge these categories, while others add acrobatic gymnastics (think of an acrobat troupe at a street show or circus), and group gymnastics, which uses regular gymnastic routines, but performs them as a team or unit. Rhythmic and artistic gymnastics can both include music and dance moves. They comprise complex routines of up to two minutes.
Tumbling can only be done in two passes, where one pass is running and flipping/twisting from one side of the floor to the other. At Olympic level, rhythmic gymnastics is only performed by female athletes, though male gymnasts are gradually signing up, notably in Spain and Japan. Gymnastics as a sport requires balance, strength, coordination, and agility.
The mental component
More than physical attributes, gymnastics needs psychological toughness. The intense physical push, the repetitive routines, and the ability to push their bodies past perceived limits – these all start in the mind. In this way, joining a gymnastic club in Sydney can help young boys and girls develop discipline and focus. Some parents worry the competitive nature of the sport can be harmful. But knowing they can do things with their bodies that their playmates can’t … that’s a major confidence boost and greatly helps their self-esteem.
This can be especially helpful for teenagers. Their bodies are growing changing, and shifting in ways they don’t fully understand. An intensely present sport like gymnastics helps them use their bodies more comprehensively, acutely working each muscle, stretching every ligament, and getting comfortable with how they move and what they can do. Giving them bodily grace and control can be a tremendous gift to the typical gangly adolescent.
Gymnastics is also playful by nature – at least before the kids get into competitive circuits. And they don’t have to get their sport to that level, not if they don’t want to. Just watch your kids in public the next time you go out. See how they look up to playmates that can hand-stand, crab-walk, or cart-wheel. These are entry-level gymnastic techniques. So imagine how much happier your kids would be if they could make these moves themselves, using their own bodies.
The social element
Individual and team events are both key parts of competitive gymnastics. Whichever category they opt for, boys and girls train communally, allowing them to develop social skills. Whether they’re spotting for each other, cheering each other’s routines, chilling in the locker room, or car-pooling home, there are lots of opportunities for cordial interaction.
Kids practice together and can form healthy, strong, positive bonds with their gym-mates. As a bonus, gymnasts learn how to charm their audiences. Yes, they look intense and focused during their routines, but they also need to connect with the crowd and judges, so they learn how to be personable and inviting. They also learn presentation and performance, abilities that will help their everyday lives as well. So take a trip to your local gym and sign up.