Thursday, May 21, 2015

When should I put my child in gymnastics?

I have had my parents in town visiting for the past week.  As part of their visit, they have stopped by to see me work.  After watching one of my classes, my mom made a comment along the lines of "Wow!  You really have those kids down to a routine and they follow directions and behave so well!"

It really made me think.  I often get the question of what age should my child start gymnastics or why would I put my child in a gymnastics class so young?  My answer to what age: As soon as you can get them enrolled in a quality program!  Wait until you have the right teacher and gym to fit your family, but then take them as soon as possible.  Try some places.  See what works.  

I've started classes with as young as 15 months where we start with activities as simple as ones like this:

They become accustomed to being outside the home, away from mom/dad and starting to explore the fun things a gymnastics facility has to offer.  They overcome fears and try new things while building manipulative skills.  I also work with beginner kids from junior high (I have even done classes with beginner adults!) who greatly benefit not only from the exercise, but the confidence building, and friends they make in class.  Whatever the age, get them started!

NOW.  The big one.  I am friends with a lot of young moms.  My siblings and in-laws  all have little kids.  There are lots of young moms at my church.  "My child is too young for a sport, especially gymnastics.  They won't really do anything.  It's a waste of money and time."  Why oh why should you put your child in gymnastics class when they are 16 months....18 months...2 years....3 years...?  

1.  Sociality.  I made up the word, but I think you can catch my drift.  They learn to play nice with kids, how to wait their turn, how to listen to a coach, how to stand in line, etc.
2.  A non-family adult role model for your child.  "Coach Annie would be so sad to hear that you didn't eat your vegetables at dinner.....Coach Annie wants you to go to bed so you can wake up and play with her tomorrow...."  It works.  Sometimes having that outside family figure is just what it takes to reinforce good behavior.
3.  Manipulative skills!  Gymnastics leads to betting reading skills, specifically due to the manipulative skills we teach in classes.  Eye tracking teaching body awareness and trains the mind in a way most schools can't.
4.  How to set goals, 
5.  Build self esteem.
And my favorite:
6.  How to do gymnastics safely.  They start with rolls, hanging on the bar, walking on a beam and jumping on a trampoline and before you know it, they are tumbling, flipping on the bars, leaping on the beams and sticking their landing on the vault.  The little drills lead to the big skills when done in a safe progressive manner.  (Again, finding the right gym with the right coach)

Most gyms will offer a free trial class.  Find a certified USAG club near you through  See you at the gym :)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

HELP! I can't breathe!

Have you ever wondered why this is all the student will do??  

Or they pull this lovely one?? (please please please if you are taking your child to a gymnastics facility, take them to a USA Gymnastics certified gym with certified coaches!)

I've even seen older kids do it.  I mean, we've all seen it.  The coach or parent just putting/forcing their kid through the motions.  There's this fancy term called tonic neck reflex, which all humans have.  It is a primitive reflex, which occurs because the baby's head is large and their neck is small.

Forcing a child to tuck their head under, will make them naturally snap their head back up.  Why? Because it cuts off their airway!  Wouldn't that freak you out too!  It's not natural to want to do that.  

So when they are ready, they will start to investigate.  Show them the steps, but don't force.  Look at my previous post for my quick steps to a proper somersault.  :)

Friday, May 8, 2015

8 steps to start your flipping

Here's a first skill tutorial!  
Somersaults (also known as forward rolls) are the core of ALL gymnastics.  They teach all the basic movements that lead to those bigger and fancier skills.  

Please understand this image is not perfect, and I would teach it slightly different, but it breaks it down into more steps than most, which I like.

1)  Start in a stretch position.  I always start teaching them on an incline like these ones.  They stand at the top of the incline facing down.  Really any size works.  I use the tiny ones for my older students too.  

2) Hands down slightly in front of feet.  (This is where pike position flexibility is important!)  Little kids are easiest to teach pike position to start.  If it is too challenging, I have the athletes start with their knees slightly bent.  This gets their hands in the right place!  Too many beginners try to learn them with their hands way too far out.

3)  THEN, I want them to bend their legs down so they can put their head towards the floor, but not on the floor!  I just tell them to look at their belly and they tend to naturally bend their legs to do that (I guess to get a better view ;))

This is where I come in to spot beginners.  I spot naturally on the left side, so I will explain it from that side, but feel free to switch if that feels more natural.  For smaller kids, I place my left hand on their upper back/neck area and place my right hand through their middle.  My right hand then controls the speed of the rotation, while my left can help round their back and protect their neck if they decide to do something crazy.  I have seen lots of people spot by holding onto the athlete's hips, but I don't love that as you will see in the next blog post.  It does work that way with older athletes though who already understand the tucked head concept.

4)  Rotating hips to initiate roll.

5)  Rounding back throughout!  Keep looking at that tummy!

6)  Plant feet (together ideally) on the floor with hands reaching out forward in front (athletes will want to put their hands down by their bottoms to help them stand up.  I do lots of drills on how to teach them to reach up.  My favorite is just placing myself at the bottom of the incline and making them jump up to give me a high five at the end.)

7)  Rise to stand with arms up by ears.  I do a drill for this one where they sit on the edge of a block (height of the athlete's knees to begin, working lower as they get more advanced) and hold their arms straight up.  Then, I make it a race where I say go and they have to stand up and jump as fast as they can with their arms still glued to their ears.  

8)  Yell TA-DA!  Everyone likes to feel accomplished.  :)

Make it trickier and start challenging the athlete by having them do the skill with legs together and pointed toes. Then have them try it in a straddle through the whole skill (even the stand up!), or a pike to make it even more difficult (I have many a team athlete who still have trouble with that one)

Final tidbit for the day:
I tend to use a little saying that my kids can remember:  Hands up, hands down, touch the ground, tuck your head and roll.  Stand up high and touch the sky and finish with TA-DA!  I know I know, it doesn't follow any real poem format.  But kids remember it.  It works.