Grouping of students is one of the primary and regular points of contention in a gymnastics program. Everyone is familiar with the stereotypical pushy mother who wants her child moved up to the next higher group. Maybe not everyone knows the almost sure result of giving in to such pressure. Within the year, the child will be out of the program. Why? Because they will perceive themselves as unsuccessful in the sport, regardless of their progress, when they compare themselves to the other older or more experienced students in the class. They will be emotionally and psychologically unable be convinced of rational reasons why the other students are better or progress more rapidly and will become program drop-outs.
Group by Age First and Then By Ability
We recommend placing preschool gymnastics students in similar ability and age groupings in order to avoid such threats to children’s self-esteem. In a class with a wide range of abilities, peer comparisons will most often lead to comparative failure or a sense of inadequacy. There is some research to suggest that children below age ten rely on feelings of general competence, unaffected by any real sense of movement and skill competence. Without question, it certainly is easier for an instructor to work with homogenous ability groups. It is easier for coaches to teach homogenous ability groups. It is better for the students. It is economically more sensible and will keep students in the program longer. There should be no hesitation about moving students up beyond their natural level. The answer is a resounding “No!” with and explanation that the child is too valuable to risk burning out early before their prime.
Smaller Programs May Be Forced To Make Some Concessions
There are some drawbacks to homogeneous grouping. Many small gymnastics programs lack the resources, coaches, program size, population base or facility time and space to offer all the classes necessary to facilitate such grouping. Parents may not want or be able to accommodate restrictive scheduling. Children often exhibit greater persistence if allowed to progress with their peers, regardless of their innate ability. Homogeneous grouping may lead to greater efficiency, it is not necessarily developmentally appropriate. These are problems of degree, however, that may be solved by innovative organization.
Split Classes into Sub-Groups
Heterogeneous classes may be split into homogeneous sub-groups. Careful scheduling may accommodate any age or level student on any particular program day within an hour or two in separate classes or groups. Children expressing a desire to remain with their peer group can be accommodated. Careful planning and programming and effective instruction can maintain children’s interest, and encourage continued participation.
Plan and Work Hard To Ensure Every Student’s Success
The competence, or specifically the lack of competence, of individual students can be a serious problem in either type of grouping, but exaggerated by heterogeneous or co-ed grouping. Students lacking in skill, self-confidence, competence or self-esteem are faced with an undesirable situation. They don’t wish to demonstrate their lack of skill through public mistakes. They develop strategies and a capacity for appearing to be active participants. They keep their place in line, but avoid taking their turn. Teachers must be vigilant in recognizing individual differences and such behavior and deal with it by individualizing activities and adapting to the individual needs of the students.
Plan for Vertical and Horizontal Progress
An appropriate gymnastics developmental program (such as the 10.0 Gymnastics Program) is progressive in nature, from easier to more difficult. They allow both horizontal and vertical progression. An adapted progression may be as simple as asking students to perform a skill with a different body shape, at a different speed, or maybe with a partner. Vertical progressions are the most well-known. After learning round-offs, the vertical progression is for gymnasts to learn round-off back handspring. There is a considerable variance in the readiness length of time necessary for gymnasts to take this next vertical step. In the meantime, there are an infinite variety of skills that may be done out of a round-off (tuck jump, straddle jump, Â½ turn jumps, etc.) to make horizontal progress and improve the round-off skill easing the learning of the back handspring.
One Step At A Time
Technical and aesthetic refinements can focus a student’s attention on particular aspects of the task. These refinements should be presented individually, selectively and progressively to different students as they master the skill. There is no more common error, even at the highest coaching levels than to overload the feedback process. Teachers tend to present a lot of feedback all at once. Humans have a “one-track mind.” They are only capable of keeping one thought in mind at a time. At best, students can attend to only two or three comments in rapid succession while actually performing a skill.
One Focus at A Time
Effective teachers present students with only the most important feedback and only one cue at a time. The choice should be made as to which feedback has the best potential of increasing the safety or improving the skill the most. This means limiting the teacher to one comment before each practice attempt. Selectively choosing feedback requires the teacher to prioritize the most important and effective considerations and in what order should they be presented. Typically, the choice should progress from gross motor to fine motor movements and from safety to technical to aesthetic refinements.
Ever Onward and Upward
Further levels of difficulty may be individually applied in regards to skill consistency associated with a number or time – “Can you do ten in a row?” “How many can you do in the next 60 seconds?” The idea is to challenge the student into performing a task at a higher level of intensity, performance difficulty and consistency.
Success Everyday at Every Level
Allow children to choose a level of participation at which they are comfortable. 99% of the time children will choose their own level of safe but challenging tasks at which they can be successful. In gymnastics, this can mean offering students a choice different body shapes (tuck, pike, layout), or from different heights (squat, handstand, dive). Acknowledge each child’s accomplishments and execution and there should be little fallout about negative peer comparisons.
Children Love Learning Above All
Children gain immense satisfaction from accomplishing tasks on their own. If the instructor presents reasonable challenges to each individual student and acknowledges the varying accomplishments of children equally, then all children can be stars at their own highest level of ability without a sense of inadequacy.
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