When you think about gymnastics, do you think about young athletes performing amazing and difficult routines?
While gymnastics is one of the most popular and anticipated events at the Olympics, it is much, much more than that! These Olympic athletes are just a small part of the large gymnastics family.
All of gymnastics’ disciplines (artistic, trampoline, rhythmic, acrobatic and aerobic) offer opportunities for fun, participation, learning and competition for everyone, regardless of age, gender or ability.
In B.C. alone, over 93 percent of our gymnasts come to a club for an hour of recreational classes once or twice per week. There they learn the basic body movement patterns that are part of physical literacy. Only a small percentage of Gymnastics BC’s 36,000 gymnasts will ever take part in a competition, at any level.
Gymnastics for babies and toddlers
Do you remember watching the amazing performance of Canada’s gymnasts at the Olympics? Seeing them perform was amazing and thinking that one wrong step or slip could lead to a fall and possibly broken bones?
Watching these gymnasts makes it pretty hard for most parents to imagine their baby or toddler in gymnastics. But gymnastics is one of the best activities for contributing to the overall development of a child as it provides the foundation for participation and success in all other athletic activities. (1) It also develops
- fundamental movement skills
- physical and motor abilities
- social, mental and emotional abilities
- performance skills
All of these skills and abilities carry over into all aspects of life, as a child, youth and adult.
Each and every child needs to be active from their earliest days.
This develops physical literacy, and enables them to enjoy healthy, active lifestyles and a variety of activities.
Some will continue to enjoy doing gymnastics, some will go to the Olympics and all of them will be well equipped to pursue other sports and activities.
The gymnasts you see on television represent only a very small percentage of gymnasts in B.C. They train many hours a week in a controlled environment to learn and train their difficult skills and routines.
What can babies and toddlers do in a gymnastics class?
A typical preschool gymnastics class for kids under 4 years old is 45 minutes once a week. This is a parent participation class. Could you imagine 1 coach with six 2 year olds?
The class would be taking part in a variety of games and fun activities using the gymnastics equipment.
The classes are designed to enhance gross motor development through stimulating the senses, using music, colors and a learning environment for parent/child bonding.
- Running, jumping, climbing, rolling, twisting, kicking, throwing, catching
- Agility, balance and coordination
- Strength and flexibility
- Spatial awareness
- Creative moment and make-believe
- Exposure to music and dance activities
- Group social skills
- Safety skills such as being able fall safely and without injury (perfect for those toddlers taking their first steps!).
Then there is recreational gymnastics for children 4 and up
Children in today’s world have hundreds of new activities available for their enjoyment. The list ranges from video games, sports and music activities. Unfortunately, the benefits are not always proportionate to the amount of time kids spend on their favorite activities.
As an after-school activity, gymnastics has been growing dramatically in popularity each year, and with good reason.
Parents are becoming increasingly more aware of the sport’s health and educational value, while children just want to keep up with an activity that helps them feel good about themselves, both physically and emotionally.
Gymnastics is more than just another sport.
It is an activity that offers something different to each participant.
In gymnastics, the highly active child has a positive outlet for their energy while the less-physically-motivated child is thrilled by learning a skill suited just for them.
The roots of Gymnastics and, the roots of almost every other sport, originate from several fundamental movement patterns. Every skill in gymnastics comes from one or more of these movement patterns:
- Stationary positions
- Object manipulation
When a child learns these skills early in life, they will:
- Enhance sport participation and enjoyment
- Contribute to a healthy, active lifestyle
- Provide basic physical and motor capabilities that we can draw on for a lifetime
- Allow those with the interest and ability to achieve success in the competitive or recreational level.
All Gymnastics BC clubs are safely teaching children the most used fundamental movement pattern. Landings.
Falls are the leading cause of hospitalizations from unintentional injury (33 percent) among BC children and youth, and at least 29,000 children younger than 15 years of age receive treatment for playground injuries in hospital emergency rooms each year in Canada with children five to nine years of age having the highest risk of injury. (2)
Many of these falls happen while children are playing, whether at home, school or the playground.
So should we stop children from playing or be there 24/7 to catch them if they fall?
No! We should teach them HOW to land safely. Because they will stumble and they will fall, but they can do it safely.
In gymnastics there is a saying that “we have no right to put a child up onto any height until we have taught them how to come down and land safely”.
Children are taught the proper way to land on their feet forwards, backwards and sideways.
A common term during landings is “motorcycle landing” – children land with their ankles, knees and hips bent to absorb the landing with their arms in front at chest height. When done properly, they look like they are riding a motorcycle.
This type of landing helps to prevent hyper-extension of the knee, improves balance and reduces ankle rolling – all common causes of injury.
Other ways of landing safely are landing forward on your hands, landing backwards on your hands and landings while twisting
Safe landings for life
If you think gymnastics is just for children, consider this:
- One in three older British Columbians experiences a fall each year.
- Falls account for the largest proportion of all injury related deaths and hospitalizations among older persons in BC.
- Injuries from falls account for 85% of all injuries to older persons.
- And (as of 2005) cost the province $151 million annually in health costs
- By teaching your children how to fall properly now, not only can they PLAY safer, but this lifelong skill may save them from hospital visits later.
What are the benefits for my child?
According to Dr. Robyn Silveman, PhD., “research suggests that there is a strong correlation between physically fit children and academic achievement. This means that every time you send your child to gymnastics class, they’re getting an opportunity to engage in physical exercise that encourages healthy brain function” (3).
So next time you see a gymnastics competition on television, remember that these athletes all started in a recreational program. And they represent only a small percentage of gymnasts.
Three reasons why gymnastics helps children PLAY in other sports
There’s Hockey, soccer and football … just to name a few
A child may live and breathe hockey – on the ice a few days a week, watching the games on TV whenever possible, and playing street hockey, or basement/living room hockey. And that love of a sport is great thing! But sometimes that child missing something.
1. Improved motor skills, coordination and balance
Gymnastics is the perfect cross training activity for children. Why? Because all sports require a variety of movement skills and “gymnastics helps children build a range of motor and coordination skills, and assists in developing a good sense of body awareness.” (1)
Through gymnastics children can improve these skills in a way that just practicing within their sport cannot.
According to Olympic gold-medalist Kyle Shewfelt, “every little boy should be put in gymnastics, regardless of size.” (2)
He adds that “it is the best place to teach kids what they need to exceed at other sports because they learn how their body works”. (3)
The 2nd reason why gymnastics helps children play is to Keep the passion for “their sport”
Young athletes who participate in more than one sport may also have a greater passion training for their ‘favourite’ sport. They are less likely to feel burnt out and will come to practice with greater enthusiasm and motivation.
“I think it’s good for kids to participate in all sports.” says hockey great Wayne Gretzky. He adds that “too often, young hockey players can get burned out by the pressure and the time commitment.” (4)
It’s important for young athletes to try new things and experience excitement about the start of soccer or hockey season.
The 3rd reason is Strength building
Gymnasts are known to have excellent strength-to-weight ratio. In fact when Gymnastics BC clubs challenge other sports such as junior hockey teams, the young gymnasts are often found to be stronger!
We had a challenge at our gym many many years ago where the firemen challenged the young gymnasts – and guess who was able to climb the 20 foot rope to the top!
According to the International Gymnastics School, gymnasts get stronger through regular training, which aids in the development of lean, toned muscles, improved balance, and better posture.
Gymnastics: not just for girls!
If you are thinking about putting your son in an extra power skating class to improve his quickness and agility, or an extra soccer or football skills practice…you may want to consider a gymnastics class instead! It will give your son a break from a sport they always do, improve their strength, balance and ultimately help their performance in a renewed way!
Can gymnastics help with PLAY? Yes!
It seems simple enough, children go out and PLAY. How can gymnastics make that better?
Tag: you’re it!
Think about a great game of tag. Children trying to evade “IT” by jumping over logs, landing without falling, dodging, deking, manipulating run speed, swinging from a tree branch and even climbing a tree(!) are all skills improved by taking a gymnastics class!
Just like teachers are trained to teach academic skills, gymnastics coaches are trained to teach the fundamental movement skills. The skills are taught in a safe, fun, and supportive environment, with qualified and experienced coaches.
Not only will your child’s physical literacy improve; teamwork, problem-solving and communication skills are also taught. Plus recreational gymnastics classes give children the perfect opportunity to develop and use their imaginations!
Mastering these skills are a huge confidence booster and encourage children to PLAY even more!
And playing more has its benefits! According to ParticipAction “science has shown that when children increase their daily physical activity, they decrease their chances of developing many diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes and are generally healthier and happier.” (2)
Unfortunately, “63% of Canadian kids’ free time after school and on weekends is spent being sedentary. We need to get our kids moving…” (3).
There are many benefits of organized activities (like gymnastics classes). At the same time, kids need time to just PLAY. This lets them master the skills they’ve learned.
Having a solid foundation of fundamental movement skills isn’t limited to helping a child be better at just TAG. It will help with all your favourite neighbourhood games such as hide and seek, red rover, hopscotch, dodgeball and capture the flag! As ParticipACTION puts it ‘Bring Back PLAY!’
To read about 20 reasons - Why Gymnastics? Click Here