As our school year winds down, our coaches and students have been preparing for our annual end-of-year show, All Star Week, where they will be able to show off all they've learned this year. And while our recreational students (taught by myself, Lauren, Cari, and Elyse) have been working very hard on learning routines that will encompass much of what they have learned, it's important to recognize what exactly they have accomplished.
Gymnastics is not just about handstands and cartwheels. And I know that my opinion is incredibly biased (I have spent 18 years of my life with the sport, after all), however, I think every child should participate in recreational gymnastics at some point in their life. Why? Because it is my (regrettably biased) opinion that there is no other sport out there that can top gymnastics as far as physical, cognitive, and psychological benefits. I'm not a scientist and I don't pretend to be. My evidence is purely experience-based, but here are a few things your recreational gymnast has learned in their participation in gymnastics.
One of my athletic trainers in college once said to me, "Sarah, I've worked with a lot of sports, but gymnasts hands down have the best spatial awareness. It's amazing to me how, in a fraction of a second, you guys can sense being off by less than a centimeter while you're jumping and flipping on the balance beam, and can either correct it or land safely because of it." And she was right. It was something I'd never thought of before because it was always second nature to me.
Gymnastics explores all kinds of movements and through jumping on things, jumping off things, running, going upside down, moving through uneven surfaces, and balancing, a child will learn the very important skill of spatial awareness. I see a huge change in spatial awareness from when my rec students first begin gymnastics for the first time to when they finish my class. The transformation is amazing. Knowing where their body is relative to the space around them is something that should not go unnoticed.
Our recreational students stretch as part of their warm up every week, and every year, we see students improve flexibility after just taking one gymnastics class for one hour per week. Why is flexibility important? It prevents injury and increases the body's range of motion. Flexibility is important for all sports, and the introduction of flexibility through recreational gymnastics will enhance other sports and activities the child might do later in life. I think everyone should work on flexibility. Yes parents, even you! You'd be surprised the difference some light stretching every day will make.
Gymnasts are the strongest athletes, pound-for-pound, in the world. If you don't believe me, watch men's gymnastics or look at a picture of an elite gymnast, and then you might change your mind. Gymnastics uses muscles all over the body. I can firmly attest to this, because once every few months, I decide to throw my grips on and swing some bars, and the day after, my entire body aches. Gymnastics requires leg strength, core strength, and upper body strength. Specifically in our recreational classes, we target the lower body with safety landings, which engage the leg muscles. We target the upper body by work on uneven bars (holding your chin to a bar taller than you is not easy!), handstands, bridges, etc. We target the core on balance beam, trampoline, and basic bar and floor skills. In addition, cardiovascular exercises like running, jumping, and the constant movement in our gymnastics classes are all central to fitness, health, and overall well-being.
Safety is something we emphasize a lot in our classes. Our students learn how to land and move safely, and these skills and habits are things they take with them to the playground. By having your child in gymnastics, they will learn valuable safety tips that will make them safe while they play on the playground or jump on the neighbor's trampoline. In addition, the spatial awareness and strength acquired from their gymnastics class makes those monkey bars a breeze!
Our recreational program is designed for our students to learn and feel good about themselves, regardless of ability. We believe that a positive atmosphere is beneficial to learning, and we believe in building our students' confidence and self-esteem through gymnastics. While in a gymnastics class, our students learn how to perform a skill or routine by themselves, and they learn how to respect and support classmates. Following directions, and listening to classmates and teachers are also central in gymnastics.
I could sing the praises of gymnastics all day long, and really, the benefits of gymnastics are numerous and are not limited to those listed above. Gymnastics taught me about courage, sportsmanship, goal-setting, perseverance, time-management, and so much more. I can 100% credit gymnastics for turning me into the person I am today.
Even if your recreational gymnast has not perfected their cartwheel yet, don't discount everything else they have learned this year, because some of what they learned might not be so blatant and obvious. We're very proud of all of our students, and we hope you are too!
Peace, love, and gymnastics,
Spectrum Gymnastics Academy
26 Buttrick Rd
About the Author
Coach Sarah is a former Rhode Island College gymnast, NCGA National qualifier, All-American, current gymnastics coach and judge, and contributor for the gymnastics news source, The Gymternet. Find out what's going on at Spectrum and learn more about the incredible sport of gymnastics!