There are two types of athletes in the youth sports industry: Recreational and Competitive. Each have their own set of rules and regulations within their program structure and they couldn’t be more different. Both programs work hand-in-hand and one certainly compliments the other. In the gymnastics industry, both programs are important to the success of the gym. With that said, a successful recreational program is vital to the health and sustainability of the overall business. In this discussion, I will share my thoughts on this subject and how it relates to my own program structure.
Having a large and successful competitive program brings notoriety and awareness to the gym and community. The most successful programs have a great national reputation and draws in athletes from all over the country. Many times it takes just one extremely successful athlete in a program to catapult it to national recognition. But where does this success usually start? In most cases, the gyms recreational program. This program is not just the “bread and butter” financially for the gym because of its large numbers, but it is the feeder program to a successful competitive program.
I have worked as a team coach training students from level 4 through Elite for many years and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. However, I have noticed there was a lack of attention and professionalism in the rec program. Far too many recreational class instructors lack experience and the technical knowledge necessary to teach skills in a safe progressive manner, and inexperienced instructors are a safety concern.
I decided years ago that I was going to develop a program that focuses on the rec program and develop students from the beginning so they will acquire the necessary skills and technique to carry them to higher levels if they choose.
In developing this special rec program, I recognized that I did not need a large space to run classes. I did not need high balance beams, uneven bars, or even a vaulting table. Most of gymnastics is related to skills learned through beginning tumbling training, so this was my major focus. Along with floor beams, single rails, spring board, and multiple mat shapes, I was able to fulfill the needs for developmental training. In addition, I recognized after a short period of time, that many of my students did not have an initial desire to become a competitive gymnast. Thus, I developed a training program to teach students basic tumbling and gymnastics skills. I found that this specialized training system develops a well-rounded athlete that is beneficial in any sports environment, including cheerleading, dance, martial arts, parkour, and more.
As I discussed in a previous post, Tumbling for Sport, there is a large market in the community that needs a system that professionally and safely trains tumbling skills. Many All-Star cheer gyms have experienced tumbling coaches, however, the community programs like Pop Warner, middle and high schools, do not usually have the capability to train tumbling to their athletes. In addition, the dance and martial arts industries are having an increased need to incorporate tumbling skills. All of these athletes do not need to learn these skills based on the compulsory requirements (for example, a back roll with straight arms) but there is a proper technique aspect in all skill training that needs to be recognized and followed. I have had students grow out of our program and become a strong competitive gymnast. In fact, most of the students who started with my rec program have usually qualified immediately to a gymnastics team because they have developed the proper technique in basic tumbling and gymnastics elements. We teach it correct the first time, so bad habits are not an issue.
In developing a training program, I have always believed in consistency. As mentioned before, gymnastics and tumbling is a very difficult and complex sport. Students must acquire strength, flexibility, speed, full body coordination, and confidence in order to be successful. Students need to learn and become confident in going upside down and going backwards (which is an unnatural movement). It takes time to learn all the necessary elements, especially if a student only attends a one hour class once a week. While repetition can be boring, it’s a necessity in tumbling. Like any motor skill, tumbling skills are all about timing and executing the mechanics of the skill correctly the same way every time. For this specific reason, we follow the same class curriculum for each level every week. We will throw in something different once in a while for the students to explore something new, but we stick to the curriculum as designed. If the curriculum is extensive where all the skills cannot be worked in the class time allowed, the students may only get to work a particular skill once or twice a month, thus extending the amount of time it takes to accomplish the skill.
For our beginner students (excluding preschool), we focus on developing floor skills such as forward and backward rolls, straddle rolls, cartwheels, handstands, and bridge kick-overs. We use a variety of basic drills and mat shapes for training all skills. The bars and beam work are also very basic, focusing on strength and balance movements. Most importantly, we are very hands-on and communicate consistently while working with the students (Coaching: The Communication Factor). Sticking with a consistent schedule, the students will be able to understand and accomplish the skill in a shorter period of time. I hear often, parents making the comment “my child has learned more in one class with your staff than they have in 3 months at another gym program”. It’s not that our staff performs magic, they are just well-trained and is a testament to the structure of our program.
Our intermediate and more advanced students have a curriculum that can enhance not only those interested in a higher gymnastics but also beneficial for dancers, cheerleaders, and martial arts students. The floor curriculum entails introducing and teaching aerials, front handsprings, and back handsprings. In the dance industry, the students are more focused on learning walk-overs, aerials, and back handsprings. For the cheerleaders, the focus is based mostly on the back handspring and front handspring, although, the aerial is a nice skill to develop and is often seen in cheerleading. As you can see, the structure of our classes at this level is beneficial to students in different sports activities.
Regardless of the level of participation, whether for beginners or advanced students, all of the skills and drills are taught with proper technique. If the students do not learn the skills with proper technique, they will struggle in advancing their skill level (The Technique Controversy). For example, it is so important to learn a great cartwheel before learning a round-off. In my experience, one of the most difficult skills to learn properly, for most students, is the round-off. We spend a lot of time developing this skill and will not introduce the back handspring without having this skill accomplished- among other basic elements. When we see a student perform a round-off back handspring and busts the back handspring, it is typically a problem with the round-off, not the back handspring. This will be a subject of another post and in my future training manuals.
The recreational program is such an important part of all gym clubs and requires special attention to ensure its success. Not only is it the largest part of the gym program, but it feeds the team program. The stronger the rec program, the stronger the team program. I had a great deal of satisfaction working with team students and watching them grow into strong athletes. Now, I get as much satisfaction working with rec students and watching their excitement when they accomplish their skills.
If you have questions, do not hesitate to comment or send me a message. Also, if there are any subjects you would like me to cover, let me know and I will do my best to post my thoughts. As always, I would love to hear your comments. Please Like and Share to all you believe will benefit from the information.
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