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!

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