Finding a Gym in a Rural Area

Subject: Finding the Right Type of Program for an older beginner

Sex: female
Age: 8
Gymnastics Level: Unknown

Dear Coach,

We live in a very rural area of Southern Ohio with not many options in the way of gymnastics training. My daughter, currently 8, has taken tumbling off and on for several years and enjoyed it but never stuck with it.

This year, she began again with a stronger interest than she has ever shown before. She is currently at a gym that focuses only on tumbling skills as they relate to cheerleading. She has no desire to cheer or to dress up for recitals like the other tumbling/dance schools in the area offer.

Her current 1-hour class consists of stretch and warm-up, cartwheel and round off practice and then probably 50% of the rest of the class is focuses on supported back handspring practice. She has yet to learn to do a backbend or walkover on her own or a handstand even.

She also has a very flexible back and can touch her toes to the back of her head easily. When she does try a handstand, she sways into her back with her ribs sticking out.

I worry that by focusing on the handspring so early, that she is missing out on a progression in gymnastics that would make her stronger.

She is very slight (currently 50 pounds at 8-years) and just 50 inches tall. Her torso is long and I can see improvements in strength and skill each week.

I have no desire for her to aspire to train as an elite athlete, but would like her to explore all options of the sport while she is still young enough and before she gets set in her ways or learns improper technique.

My question is, what do I even look for in a program at her age? There are several gyms that teach gymnastics and not just tumbling that are within an hour drive of here. Should we visit them, let them see her skill level and make recommendations for her?

I have searched other articles on-line and cannot find one written towards someone with very little experience with a beginner.

Thank you for your time.

Becky

You have good instincts and have, in essence, answered your own questions. You should investigate all of the gymnastics opportunities that are close to you and see what they have to offer your daughter. You are right to worry about bad habits and improper technique, that are learned early, being a problem.

Gymnasts Need Shoulder Flexibility and Strength as Well

Your daughter is already apparently, extremely flexible in her back. You should make sure she also has good shoulder flexibility, so that skills, like walkovers, are not using only her lower back flexibility. Strength is such an important part of good, rapid gymnastics progress, so while you are seeing improvements, you will be looking for a program that emphasizes strength first.

Spotting is Great, but Progressions are First

While spotting back handsprings is an important and time-tested back handspring teaching technique, you are correct to assume that a gymnastics gym will be teaching her other skills and skill progressions (in addition to other events). It is certainly almost always a mistake to try to teach a back handspring (in some ways, could be defined as a jump to an handstand) to an athlete before actually testing, teaching and doing a significant number of handstands.

Check out All of the Possibilities

I definitely recommend you try out the gymnastics gyms in your area and let them see your daughter and find out what they can do for her.  Shopping around for the best program is never a waste of time.  Many gyms will let your daughter try out a class for free.

You are Close to Some of the Best Programs and Facilities in the Country

While they are certainly too far away for regular classes, you might also want to keep an eye on the web sites of Mary Lee Tracy’s Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy, one of the few Elite level gymnastics programs in the country, and Jeff Metzger’s Kids First Sports complex, one of the largest gymnastics facilities in the country.  They both offer gymnastics camps, clinics, mini-camps and other special gymnastics events during the year.  They are both about two hours away from you and should give your daughter the opportunity for some very special gymnastics experiences, in addition to regular local gymnastics classes.

Good Luck!

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