The Old Chinese Gymnastics Developmental Training System

My personal information about the Chinese developmental training system is quite old, coming from a gymnastics summer tour in the late 1980’s. Gymnastics and the Chinese training systems are surely different now, but it is likely interesting and helpful to some coaches and gymnasts to hear how the Chinese got to where they are now.

Old Men’s System = Today’s Women’s System Ages

The men’s system, which was at the time, different from the women’s program is the one I am going to describe, because it now more matches the current age changes to the women’s side of the sport.

4 Main Stages of Training

The Chinese developmental training system had four stages – an initial stage, an intermediate stage, a middle-intermediate stage and an advanced stage. Gymnasts in the initial stage were ranked as Second Class. Gymnasts in the intermediate stage were ranked as First Class. Gymnasts in the middle-intermediate stage were ranked as Pre-Master of Sport. Gymnasts in the advanced stage were ranked as Master of Sport.

System Stage Age Ranges

The initial stage was for ages 6-9, the intermediate stage was for ages 10-12, the middle-intermediate stage was for ages 13 – 15 and the advanced stage was for ages 16+.

Length of Stages

The initial stage lasted for 4 years, the intermediate stage lasted for 3 years, the middle-intermediate stage lasted for 3 years and the advanced stage was lasted for 2 years.  That means the Chinese gymnasts all had 10 years of training and 8,235 – 10,800 before they were 16 years old and theoretically eligible to compete.

Number of Classes and Training Hours per Week

The number of classes per week and the total weekly practice hours in the initial stage was 6 classes per week and 12 – 18 hours total training hours per week. In the intermediate stage, there were 6 – 8 classes per week and 18 – 24 total training hours per week. In the middle-intermediate stage, there were 7 – 9 classes per week and 27 – 32 total training hours per week. In the advanced stage, there were 9+ classes per week and 32 – 36 total training hours per week.

Weeks per Year of Training

The an initial stage, the intermediate stage and the middle-intermediate stage were for 45 weeks per year and the advanced stage was for 49 weeks per year.

Gymnast to Coach Ratios

The gymnast/coach ratios for the initial stage were 8/10 gymnasts:1 coach. The gymnast/coach ratios for the intermediate stage were 6/8 gymnasts:1 coach. The gymnast/coach ratios for the middle-intermediate stage were 4/6 gymnasts:1 coach. The gymnast/coach ratios for the advance stage were 4/5 gymnasts:1 coach.

Obvious Trends

Note that the gymnast to coach ratio decreases as gymnasts move to the higher levels. The number of classes per week and the total weekly training time go up as gymnasts get older and move up through the levels.

Stage Skill Checklists

There were checklists of skills which had to be accomplished at each stage. Gymnasts did not move up to the next level without both learning and showing proficiency in the skills on the lists.

Free Training

The training was free and gymnasts got clothes, room and board, travel expenses to competitions and a small amount of money for training. Gymnasts were provided with some education as well, scheduled around their training. While what gymnasts got was not financially significant, it was better than many non-athletes would fare.

China Systems Today

The developmental training system China uses today is different. It seems to start at younger ages and the divisions are different. They are likely getting 10,000 hours of training done now before they are age 13 – 14.  And the skills checklists have been updated to keep not just up with, but ahead of the requirements and designed to produce routines of sufficient difficulty to win upcoming World Championships and Olympic gold medals.   But you can see how the organization of their program started and get an idea of how they have modified it to adapt to the new rules, age minimums (Did they really adapt this at all?) and skill levels.

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