Hi, my daughter is 5 (will be 6 in 4 months) and in a pre-team program at a USAG member gym. According to her gym’s team schedule, she will still be on the pre-team next year and then level 4 for a year (they call it training team). She is already practicing 5 hours/week and this summer, the programs moves to 3 hours 3 times per week (9 hours). This feels like a significant jump, especially for a 6 year old who is 2 years away from Level 5. Any advice?
There are definitely two sides to this question and the answer may ultimately rest with your daughter.
Training Hours Usually Jump in the Summer
The jump in hours is most likely because it will be summer. Summer is the best training time of the year. Gymnasts can work out without the long days mandated by attending both school and gym. School is already a full-time job and gym practice can make for a long workday for a child. In the summer, gymnasts donâ€™t have to attend school and have the time and energy to train efficiently.
Regular Practice is Most Efficient Method of Learning
Daily practice (which reinforces prior training best) is the ideal training method, but asking parents to come everyday for an hour or 1 & Â½ hours requires families to do too much driving, so gym practices are often scheduled for fewer days and longer hours. This is not the best answer, but often the only practice schedule parents will agree to and can deal with. Gyms are forced to get their hours of training by having longer practices on fewer days. Realistically, the schedules you are talking about are not uncommon at all around the country.
Fun Training Is Never a Problem
On the other hand, your daughter is still somewhat on the young side for team level practice schedules. Gymnasts are required by USA Gymnastics to be at least 6 years old to be a Level 4 and age 7 to be a Level 5. Many gymnasts do not begin team until they are 7 or 8 years old. The primary danger we would wish to avoid with your daughter would be burn-out.
You Have Lots of Time (But There’s Lots to Learn)
Burn-out often occurs in gymnasts that have trained too much, too soon and causes them to quit the sport before they reach their potential. Remember that Olympic gymnasts must be 16 years old. For your daughter, that means she will be in the sport for 10 more years before she is even old enough to be a top gymnast. We want to make sure she is still in the sport ten years from now.
Learning is Naturally Fun – Coaches Shouldn’t Ruin That
To make sure of that, coaching at this young an age must be FUN and have enough variety in practices to remain very interesting. If practices at her age are boring and repetitive, if there is too much pressure to compete and perform or if fun is not an integral part of the program, it is highly unlikely that she will still be in the sport ten years from now.
No Fun, No Jump in Hours
If the gym program for some reason is not a fun experience on a daily basis, then you might logically slow the amount of practice time down. If it is a fun program and practices are never the same, then your daughter is more likely to stay with the sport until an age when she can compete at a high level or earn a college scholarship.
Love of the Sport is a Treasure To Be Preserved
To some degree, the observed talent level of your daughter is also somewhat of a factor. The fact that she has been picked out to be in the team training programs is a good indication that the coaches see potential in her that can be developed over the years. It is a common coaching error to push the most talented young gymnasts the most and thus they are often the ones who later burn-out and quit the sport. The more talented your daughter, the more vigilant you need to be to keep her from being overworked too soon and at too young an age.
Look To and Look At Your Daughter for Your Answer
You should look to your daughter for some of the answers. If she is reticent to go to practice or complains practices are too long, then you will have to rethink the situation. If she is having fun and looks forward to going to every practice, then that is part of the answer. Gymnasts, at this young age, are not the best judge of how much time they should spend in the gym and often if you let them spend as much time in the gym as they want, they would burn themselves out.
Feel Free To Take Breaks at This age
You should certainly not feel like you have to skip any other family, social or other types of activities at this age in order to go to practice. Other activities can be a buffer against burn-out and help limit practice time as well.
In general, if your daughter is having fun and wants to follow the prescribed gym path, then it likely is alright, but you should be vigilant for signs in your daughter and the program that indicate she may burn-out in the future.
Go With Her Heart
We are sorry that we have no hard and fast rules for you in this situation. Recommendations and coaching practice schedules vary widely. If it were us, we might rather see her do fewer hours per day and more days of practice but scheduling the gym and coaches with what parents will tolerate is not easy either.
We hope we have shed at least some light on the subject. Feel free to contact us if you have any further questions and good luck to you and your daughter.
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