Subject: 4 year old with potential
Gymnastics Level: pre-team
Hi! I chuckle at my subject line because don’t we all just feel like our child has so much talent and potential when in actually so few will ever “go all the way”!! I’m hoping you might have some advice for me regarding my 4 year old who seems to have a fair amount of potential in gymnastics, and my questions regarding the right path to place her on.
Back story – I was a competitive gymnast – level 10. I absolutely loved everything about gymnastics and couldn’t possibly spend too much time in the gym – even with 30+ hours working out each week, I would have gladly lived there and done nothing else ever – but my parents felt that my attachment to the sport was unhealthy and decided in middle school I needed to quit cold turkey and start getting more involved socially with my peers.
Obviously, with that background, and how devastating it was to me to be pulled from the sport against my will, I want to give my daughter every opportunity I can to go as far as she wants with gymnastics.
My daughter is 4 and currently at the pre-competitive level – she’s at a gym that does not produce Elite gymnasts, but has several high level 10s – college scholarships, etc. I really like her coach right now, and my daughter absolutely LOVES her so she works very hard for her. Her coach actually was one of my coaches growing up (not under the same head coach when I was on the team), and I know she is teaching her well, but since I’ve read a lot of your advice that the best indicator of producing an elite gymnast is having done so in the past, I’m not 100% sure she will be able to get her where she may want to go. She is very focused on strength and flexibility for Jane, and she routinely works with her on TOPs testing skills (or drills whatever you’d call them). Jane spends most of her private lesson time conditioning and stretching – she currently has all 3 over-splits, and is very strong by all indicators I can tell. She is also naturally small and extremely lean. The gym we are currently at is VERY affordable – she attends a class that meets twice a week for 1.5 hours at a time, and she currently does 2 45 minute private lessons each week (her favorite) with her coach. I can afford this at her gym – it’s only costing me $315 for all of this right now, but we may not be able to afford quite as much one-on-one time or just gym time at this point at a larger gym (like WOGA).
When Jane is not at the gym, she truly spends every single moment doing something gymnastics related – whether it’s working on our trampoline, practicing as many cartwheels as she can down the hallway, doing pull ups on my husband’s pull up bar in our home gym, etc – she wants to be in gymnastics all the time. I’m aware of not wanting her to burn out for sure, but I also want to fuel her fire for it.
I see your advice a lot of the time is to get your gymnast into a program that produces elite gymnasts as early as possible in her career. I have the ability to do that as I am in Dallas and obviously WOGA is here as well as at least 2 other highly competitive gyms that I know of. However, I’m wondering in our case if it might be better to keep Jane with her current coach and gym a little longer to really get her the 1 on 1 attention that she craves and is getting now. I am not the expert at all, but it seems that she might progress better/faster with her current set up as opposed to getting into their system so early and possibly overlooked. Does that make any sense?
And, if we were to stay where we are, what do you think the critical age for her to get to a more elite gym would be? If we stayed with her current coach for now, what would be the most important things to focus on and conversations to have with her? I’m not ruling out staying with her for the long run, as watching Jane happy in gym and progressing to a high level that way would be great – but, I also wouldn’t do that at the expense of her being able to compete at her full potential should an Elite path be her desire.
I really appreciate your insight and any advice you have for us! Sorry to be so long-winded!
Thanks for your interesting story and for your trust and compliments. Let me see if I can give you any advice about anything that you have not already figured out by yourself. First, from your ability to laugh out loud at yourself, your insight into what is going on with your daughter and what she may or may not need, my first bit of advice is to trust your own judgement a little more. You seem be have a good grasp of what is going on and what is needed.
Some Change is Inevitable and Often Change is Beneficial
From your own experience of being ripped out of the sport, I am sure you can understand the ramifications of switching gyms, leaving her gym friends and starting out in a strange new gym will be like for your daughter. One of the reasons for my normal recommendation to switch to the best gym as early as possible is based on these facts. Still, as much as your daughter and normal humans resist change, change is inevitable in life and accepting (even embracing) it, is a better strategy.
Gymnastics is a Series of Automated Physical Habits, Which Must Be Good Habits
The other reason for switching to the “best” gym early is that gymnastics is a series of habits (actually habits based on habits) and if bad habits are ingrained early, then subsequent training habits end up built on a poor base, which never turns out well or ends up being a good basis for Elite gymnastics. Good gymnastics basics is necessary for future success. Bad early habits limit the upper end of a gymnast’s career. That said, from your description, your daughter is apparently getting good basics, a good strength and flexibility base and has an excellent coach for her at this level.
The Actual Coach a Gymnast Has is More Important Than the Overall Gym Reputation
One of the caveats to the advice about switching to and Elite gym early is that the specific coach that a gymnast has is more important the the reputation of the gym at the highest level. Neither Valeri or Evgeni will likely be working with your daughter at WOGA for quite some time. All of the lower level coaches at WOGA (or any other Elite gym) may or may not be the best coaches for gymnasts at that specific level. Your daughter’s current coach could very well be better than the WOGA coach she would have at this level.
Learn Who Your Daughter’s Best Coaches (and Teachers) Could Be
While it does not make your job any easier (or you any more popular with gyms and coaches), you should keep track of who coaches at your daughter’s current level at your current gym and whatever other Elite gyms you are considering. Make sure you know who you think is the best coach for your daughter’s current level. When that coach is at the Elite gym you have ultimately decided to choose for the long run, then that would be the most logical time to switch gyms.
Change When the Coaching Will be Better at the Level Your Daughter Is At
So, to summarize, you should do like many parents do in the educational system. They monitor and keep track of who the best teachers are at each grade level and do whatever is necessary to make sure their child gets a good teacher each year. I don’t really recommend making more than one gym change (although there are certainly individual situations that might change that advice). but the important thing is that your daughter is getting the best training at every level of her career.
Good luck and let me know how your daughter is doing or if you have any more questions.