What uses the mind, body and emotions more to teach us about ourselves than gymnastics? Our body is the best teaching tool we have. A gymnast learns to take step-by-step progressive instructions, add a dose of fear to overcome and an enthusiasm to conquer it, mix in a strong, flexible body to accomplish this and you have the art of gymnastics.
The first thing to look for in a gymnastic program is its ability to suit your needs and goals for your child. Do you just want a safe environment for them to be active, move around alot and learn a few motor skills, with a few tumbling moves tossed in? You should always know what it is you want for your child.
Many kids are not suited to be pushed to learn alot of tumbling and gymnastic tricks, but they love to flip around. Gymnastic classes teach alot more than just gymnastics. They teach how to follow directions, understand anatomy of the body and how to experiment with movement. They also teach competitiveness. I love the way gymnastics taught me to be competitive within myself. It pushed me with the desire to conquer the bars, stay on the beam, learn a new flip, etc.
There are alot of great gymnastic programs out there but, there are also alot of not-so-good ones. What to look for?
Safety- Make sure all surfaces are padded where kids enter and exit equipment. When stepping off platforms or from padded surfaces to carpet, it should be clearly indicated with colored tape or paint. Also carpet should be taped down if it’s not anchored down. Signs should be clear and concise in the areas where kids, parents and the general public are going to and from in the gym. Gymnasts should be properly spotted on all equipment above floor level until they are extremely comfortable with the skills they are doing.
Supervision-Proper supervision by trained coaches. You should always know who’s responsible for the training of coaches. Has your instructor been certified or have they gone through in-house training and safety classes? Many gyms use their older gymnasts to teach the recreation classes, especially the classes with younger kids. Inquire as to how that instructor is being trained to teach classes. This is really a hard one. I have used student teachers to assist me but, it took a year or two of teaching with me before I would feel comfortable with them teaching on their own. However, I have had that exceptional teenage gymnast who was really good teaching kids and I would have no problem with him or her having their own small group of kids to teach. Many times, kids are more receptive to listening to the younger teachers. I suggest keeping a close eye on a class conducted by a teenage gymnast and don’t hesitate to give them and the gym owner your input to help him or her become a better teacher.
Communication- The gym and coaches should be able to communicate with parents and gymnasts in a clear and professional way. Notice the language of the coaches when communicating with the gymnast. Words are very powerful. As a coach, I always try to keep it positive and constructive. When students seem to be stuck or frustrated, pep talks and a voice of understanding and encouragement should always be used by coaches. A good coach doesn’t criticize and walk away from a student to make them figure it out on their own or make them feel rejected. Leave that gym fast!
Injuries- There are always injuries in a gym. However, if there seem to be alot of injured gymnasts around, keep a closer eye on what’s going on. I had a friend of mine who was at an elite gym. Her kids and other gymnasts were plagued with injuries. If a gym has a strong strength and conditioning program with proper rest days, especially for upper level competitive gymnasts, injuries should be limited. If you do have an upper level gymnast, look for a gym that has re-hab and therapeutic programming available. If it’s not available, at the very least these gyms should have recommendations of doctors and physical therapists that they’re associated with and that they encourage you to use. If you have an advanced gymnast whose coach contradicts medical advice, leave that gym! Your child has to live with their body way after their gymnastic career.
I love gymnastics! I can testify to you that it has given me my love for movement and fitness. It has served me by giving me a strong physical foundation. There have been very few physical activities that I have had a hard time picking up just because of the mind body connection that was created by doing gymnastics. I strongly encourage you to find a gymnastic program for your child, especially because our school PE programs have been reduced so much. If not gymnastics, then some form of mind body activity like dance, martial arts, skating, etc. By doing this, you are giving your child the gift of coordination and confidence as they learn to become a master of their body.