When you hear the word gymnastics, do you conjure up images of recent superstars like Simone Biles and Morgan Hamm, or classic champions such as Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton? Perhaps your mind associates gymnastics with hours upon hours of harsh training, powder flinging off taped—up hard—working hands, or the collective gasp as you wonder if he'll "stick the landing."
Your tumbling toddlers and pouncing preschoolers don't have to commit to being the next Olympic champion to enjoy, and benefit from, the skill sets and strengths achieved by playing and participating in gymnastics. Gymnastics provides a great foundation for ALL children, no matter what they want to be—an Olympic gymnast, a baseball player, or an astronaut! As American gymnast Nastia Liukin quotes: "Even if kids don't love gymnastics, they can learn so many different things—they can build a lot of character, strength, flexibility, and courage. Hopefully, they can also develop a sense of fearlessness."
We spoke with Kim F., a gymnastics coach in central Virginia who trains, teaches, and coaches girls and boys of all ages and abilities, to find out just why gymnastics is such a great fit for kids, and why she loves the challenge of coaching:
Q: Why is gymnastics so good for kids?
A: “Anytime you're trying to coordinate movement between the hands, feet, and brain, you're developing gross motor skills. Even at the youngest ages, even just in playing, kids are developing strength, speed, and coordination.”Q: What other areas in life can be positively influenced by gymnastics?
A: “Kids learn body awareness when participating in gymnastics, which helps in any other sport—so you're developing and creating an athlete! They will be able to pick up anything they play because they're developing the core attributes of a well—rounded athlete. Body awareness, dynamics, muscle, balance...you'll need all these in other sports”.Q: What's the best age for a child to start gymnastics?
A: “The earlier, the better. We get kids that have never been in an organized situation, preschoolers who don't even know how to make a line. The practice of gymnastics prepares kids for school because of the structure, and because the play is specific and with purpose.”Q: What's the most challenging thing about coaching gymnastics?
A: “Everyone comes in from different backgrounds and abilities. It's challenging trying to make sure that you're meeting each kid individually. Being equipped to handle all the differences (physical or emotional) that come from kids with different backgrounds or levels, and making sure you're providing something for everyone is the biggest challenge. But success is measured on a relative scale—for some kids, all they want to do is learn to do a cartwheel.”
From crawling to college, kids of all ages score big in every area of life when they choose to play and participate in gymnastics. What are those benefits?
1. Improves & maintains overall physical health: With regular practice, children develop excellent physical strength and maintain good overall physical health, which better prepares the body to fight off all sorts of health issues. Being a weight-bearing sport, the tumbling and pouncing exercises in gymnastics increases bone density. It also builds the foundation for muscle strength, endurance, and power.
2. Develops cognitive skills: Today, 15-20% of children suffer from learning delays, and many live sedentary lives sitting in front of screens, and participating in virtual learning. Enter purposeful play! When learning and practicing gymnastics routines, the left and right brain have to work in concert—this focus helps kids connect what the brain is saying with what the body is doing. When kids explore their environment through play and physical movement, they're developing motor, communication, and sensory skills. It sets up our children for SUCCESS in life!
3. Improves flexibility, coordination, and balance: Flexibility and coordination promote alignment skills and proper posture—an important "backbone" for a healthy adult life. Those well—stretched muscles (such as those that are developed when performing the stretching exercises involved with gymnastics) more easily achieve a full range of motion—improving athletic performance and balance, and preventing injuries. Gymnastics also develops children's proprioception sense (that's the fancy way of saying—to know where a body part is without looking), which is so important for all other sports and everyday activities. Jumping on trampolines, walking on balance beams, swinging on a bar, and even just rolling on the floor all help children become aware of their body’s movements.
4. Teaches discipline and the value of hard work: To see success, gymnasts have to put into work and practice, every day, the physical movements necessary to perform certain feats. Through this discipline, they learn the process of focus, determination, and hard work, traits that kids will use every day in life. Very early on, children learn that "practice makes perfect"—a key life skill!
5. Builds confidence and helps them set goals: Learning to set goals and working continuously to achieve them is another necessary life skill. In the process of setting goals, occasionally "failing", and getting back up to try again—children learn how to manage stress and stay calm under pressure. The sense of accomplishment they gain from mastering those challenging feats builds confidence and self-esteem. As they advance, they learn to tackle more difficult challenges head—on, face their fears, and keep striving to achieve their goals.
6. Foundational for other sports and activities: Gymnastics lays down a foundation for all athletics and everyday activities, both physically and psychologically. It builds strength and flexibility on the physical level, and also instills mental toughness—a must—have for all athletes...for that matter, for everyone!
7. It's just plain FUN! Isn’t that the most important benefit of all for our children? This type of physical, active play keeps our kids' spirits high by releasing those natural feel-good chemicals called endorphins. Gymnastics leverages the way kids naturally love to play (tumbling, jumping, climbing, swinging), leading to JOYFUL, POSITIVE kids!
Folding Gymnastics Tumbling Mat with thick foam cushioning is the perfect place to practice gymnastics, martial arts, or even cheerleading skills.
Build balance and confidence at a safe, low-to-the-ground distance with our 4-Foot Gymnastics Balance Beam.
The 5-Foot Stretchy Sensory Yoga Swing is a 2-in-1 calming and active space, where kids can increase flexibility, core strength, balance, and overall movement while relieving stress and tension.
Great for beginners and intermediate gymnasts, the 2-in-1 Adjustable Bar and Ring Set adjusts to five different heights and features removable gymnastics rings.