Saturday, April 30, 2011

The benefits of kids' recreational gymnastics

Having been both a gymnast and a recreational gymnastics coach, I've been able to see the multitude of benefits that children's rec gymnastics programs provide. I'm going to deviate a bit from my usual Junior Olympic posts to let you know why I am such a huge advocate of gymnastics for kids and why I think it's a great idea to add an hour of gym time into your kids' weekly schedules.

Obviously, kids need to have balance in their lives. Too many activities can be exhausting. But if your kids are eager to try new things (or if you want them to learn to enjoy trying new things) and if they have a lot of energy, gymnastics could be a great addition to their schedules. Here's why:

1) Team and individual progress. Gymnastics is one of the only sports that can be described as both a team and an individual sport. In the upper levels, gymnasts compete for individual rankings as well as team rankings, and this structure is also somewhat present at the recreational level. Kids learn to focus on their own progress but also to cheer on their friends and teammates. It provides the focus that you get with individual music or art lessons and the team-building aspect of a sport like soccer or basketball. In general, it is a great social outlet for kids, but at the same time they will receive a lot of individual attention from coaches.

2) Listening skills. The ability to listen carefully is developed in gymnastics, since it's so important for kids to listen in order to perform a skill safely. As a coach, I will not allow kids to participate until I see that they can pay attention to instructions. Since they are eager to participate, they develop listening skills quickly. They learn to take direction that will help them improve their gymnastics skills, which leads to...

3) Building confidence. It's so exciting as a coach to see a gymnast get a new skill after working so hard at it, primarily because you can see the joy in their face and you can tell that they're proud of what they've accomplished. There are small victories achieved every day in gymnastics class, and every recreational coach I've ever known has been so good about celebrating those victories with lots of high fives. It makes kids feel like they can do anything.

4) Physical fitness. Gymnastics is such great, well-rounded exercise. A lot of sports focus on only one aspect of physical fitness, but gymnastics teaches body control and awareness, agility, coordination, power, and strength all at the same time. For kids who have tons and tons of energy, gymnastics is a fun way for them to get it all out (this is also incredibly beneficial for parents who want a little bit of down time).

5) Work ethic and self motivation. These two go together. One thing I find coaching gymnastics is that the vast majority of kids in my classes really love to do gymnastics. Their love for the sport compels them to work hard during class. Kids develop a sense of intrinsic motivation and gain a strong work ethic, and they associate these characteristics with something they really enjoy. They are not being forced to work, but they want to, and this serves them well in school and in other areas of their life in the future.

6) Something for everyone. Gymnastics really can be for everybody. The gym I coach at accommodates kids as young as 4 months in parent-child classes, and many of these 4-month-olds stay in the program until they're teenagers. Gymnastics is such a fun sport with so many different types of skills and events, and there's always something new to learn, so everybody can find something they enjoy.

The list really could go on for miles. And the benefits that gymnastics provides aren't just for the kids. Parents often really enjoy socializing with other parents and watching their kids practice. Plus, the fact that gymnastics tires kids out is usually a plus! There are tons of recreational gyms out there and many of them offer free trial classes, so it definitely wouldn't hurt to test it out and see if it's something your kids will enjoy!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Gymnasts - When is the right time to buy grips?

Parents are often unsure about whether or not it is an appropriate time to buy their gymnast their first pair of grips. A gymnast's coach should be able to provide some insight on this issue, but here are some general tips for gymnasts and gym parents.

  1. Grips can be expensive. A pair of Reisport dowel grips (which I used throughout my gymnastics career and highly recommend) goes for about $45, and other types of grips will cost at least $35. Since gymnasts are primarily young girls and young girls grow quickly, grips will need to be replaced every so often to fit the gymnast's hands. The longer you can hold off on grips, the better in terms of the amount of money that will have to be spent.
  2. It is not entirely uncommon to see gymnasts from China and Russia competing on the uneven bars without using grips - even in the Olympics. Grips are not absolutely necessary. It is possible to get by without them.
  3. That being said, grips do help a little bit with preventing big rips on the gymnast's palms (some girls do have trouble with the grips rubbing their wrists the wrong way and causing rips there instead, but in general, grips should help reduce the number of rips). Grips are not a solution to rips but can be one factor in helping to prevent them.
  4. In general, I would say that the majority of gymnasts do not buy a pair of grips until USAG level 6 or 7. I got mine in level 7 and really did not feel that I needed them in level 6. There are some girls who get them in level 5 and others who don't get them at all. It is a matter of preference - usually the coach's preference, but also the gymnast's and the gymnast's parents. There are no rules that say you need a pair of grips by the time you reach a certain level.
  5. The uneven bars skill that causes the most friction on the hands is probably giants, in addition to other circling moves. Front hip circles, back hip circles, and baby giants are part of the level 5 and 6 routines, but they usually don't constitute the majority of practice time. From level 7 on, gymnasts are going to be spending a lot more practice time on giants and connections with circling skills. Grips are going to help reduce the friction on these types of skills.
  6. The primary function of grips is... Well, it's in the name. Grips help gymnasts grip the bar. This function is the most helpful when it comes to giants. Before then, the gripping function is much less needed.
Post on different types and brands of grips should be coming soon!

Doninique Dawes Biography

Dominique Dawes

November 20, 1976

Country Represented: USA

Coach: Kelli Hill

Best Event: Dominique is one of those gymnasts whose numerous medals are actually quite evenly spread across all four events, so I can't say that she has a "best" apparatus. She is known for being very dynamic on all events and fun to watch on floor.

Best Known For: Dominique Dawes has participated in three Olympic games: Barcelona, Atlanta, and Sydney. She is probably best known for her role in the 1996 Magnificent 7 team win at Atlanta. She is also the first African American female gymnast to earn an Olympic medal for an individual event.

Currently: In recent years, Dawes has been pursuing a career in acting and modeling, appearing in multiple music videos ("Betcha by Golly Wow" by Prince, "We Run This" by Missy Elliot). She also served as president of the Women's Sports Foundation from 2004 to 2006.
Interesting Fact: Dawes was a spokesperson for the "Uniquely Me" campaign, started by the Girl Scouts of America to promote self-esteem.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

USA Gymnastics TOPs Program

TOPs (Talent Opportunity Program) is a program for female gymnasts between the ages of 7 and 11 who show great strength and agility. Its goal is to identify young gymnasts who have aptitude and natural athletic ability, and to offer them the resources needed to achieve the elite or international elite level. Gymnasts are given various tests to evaluate their level of physical fitness. Those who qualify at a national meet are invited to attend a national training camp.

Who can train for TOPs?

-Gymnasts must have a USA Gymnastics membership.
-Must be 7-11 years old at any point during the testing year.
-They must not be an elite gymnast.
-They must have completed medical forms to show that they are healthy.

What are the girls tested on?

-Handstand hold
  • Maximum time for 7-8 year olds: 30 seconds
  • Maximum time for 9-11 year olds: 60 seconds
  • Deductions are taken for problems with body alignment, shoulder alignment, bent arms, and bent or separated legs
  • No walking
-20 meter sprint
  • Test is usually conducted on the vault runway
  • Gymnast gets two attempts, and the best best time is taken
  • Time is recorded to hundredths of a second
-Cast handstand
  • Gymnast performs multiple cast to handstands on the low bar of a regular competition set of bars
  • 5 attempts are given
  • Gymnast is allowed one fall, but after the second fall, the test is over
  • No more than 2 seconds pause is allowed between casts
  • 7-8 year olds are awarded 2 points for each of the 5 attempts that successfully reaches at least 45 degrees
  • 9-11 year olds are awarded 2 points for each successful cast to handstand, within 15 degrees of vertical
-Rope climb
  • Gymnasts start by sitting on the ground in a pike with both hands on the rope
  • 7-8 year olds must climb in the pike position until they reach the 6 foot mark
  • 9-11 year olds must climb in the pike position until they reach the 12 foot mark
  • Failure to reach the required mark or use of legs results in a score of 0
  • Gymnast is timed, with extra seconds being added to her time for errors in form
-Vertical jump
  • Gymnast stands next to a padded wall and marks with chalk the place where her arm and hand are fully extended
  • The distance between this point and the point where her hand hits the wall on the jump is recorded in inches
  • Two attempts are given and the best attempt goes toward the final score
-Press handstand
  • Gymnast begins in a straddle position and presses to handstand with good form, then presses back down to the original straddle position with only her hands touching the ground
  • 7-8 year olds can repeat the press handstand a maximum of 5 times
  • 9-11 year olds can repeat the press handstand a maximum of 10 times
  • No more than 2 seconds of resting time are allowed in any one position
-Leg flexibility (splits)
  • Two regulation spring boards are placed together with the low ends touching
  • Gymnast places herself in a split position on the boards, with her upper body directly in line with the place where the two boards meet
  • Gymnast is not allowed to touch her hands to the ground during the test
  • Deductions are taken based on height off the board, squared hips, squared shoulders, posture, and leg form
  • Gymnast pushes up into a bridge position with arms and legs straight
  • A total of 5 points are awarded based on shoulder flexibility, form of legs and feet, and form of arms and hands.
-Leg lift
  • Gymnast hangs in a straight body position from a leg lift bar with hands in over grip
  • Legs must be brought to the bar or pass under the bar
  • After the first leg lift, legs must return to horizontal
  • A maximum of 20 leg lifts can be attempted
  • Lift will not count if the gymnast has bent legs, fails to touch or pass under the bar, or fails to return to horizontal position

I hope Nica's mom doesn't mind me using her video. Nica had some great TOPs tests, so hopefully this will help you get an idea of what a test looks like.

For more information, visit the USAG website.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Questions and Comments

As always, please post your questions, comments, updates, and especially TOPIC REQUESTS here. :) Happy April!