For those of us who are familiar with the gymnastics as an activity or sport, we know that the teaching and learning curve can be very complex and complicated. It takes strength, flexibility, coordination, and confidence to progress and advance through the various skill levels. Developing biomechanical skills is a slow process and it takes years of training for an athlete to reach the higher levels of gymnastics. Over time it is truly amazing to see what these athletes are able to accomplish when they follow a designed plan. In this discussion, I will reflect on how the sport of gymnastics can create great athleticism that will benefit an athlete in any sport. This Post will benefit those parents who are contemplating what activities may be best for their children.
There are many different types of sports and each one has its own physical, technical, and mechanical demands necessary to achieve success in the sport. Some sports are very aggressive and involve physical contact such as Football, Soccer, or Martial Arts. In contrast non-contact sports like Gymnastics, Track and Field, or Swimming and Diving are individual performance related with no physical contact. Both contact and non-contact sports can be just as physically, mentally, and technically demanding all requiring speed, strength, endurance, and most importantly total body control throughout the performance. Sports such as Golf, Archery, and Bowling may be less physically demanding, but still require a sharp mental focus and body control in training and competition.
Without ever participating in a particular sport it’s difficult to fully comprehend what is required physically and mentally to compete at a high level. Good athletes make incredible feats look easy, great athletes do it without even breaking a sweat. Watching a great athlete perform on TV can be deceptive. For example, have you watched a Major League pitcher throw a 95 MPH fastball over home plate? Most people are lucky if they can just get the ball to home plate.
My own personal awakening was an eye opener for me. Sports always came easy to me, but to my disbelief when I first tried to Golf, I was not very good. As a successful athlete in gymnastics I had always thought that the sport of golf was more of an activity and should not be considered a sport. I always thought it required little physical effort and would be easy to play, until I tried it!! In 1984 the Olympic Gymnastics Trials were held in Jacksonville, FL and we were housed at The Ravines Golf and Tennis Resort. One day, the resorts golf pro invited us all to a free round of golf. This was my first attempt at this sport and I was blown away – I whiffed more times than I hit the ball. Here I was a world-class athlete in arguably the most difficult individual performance sports in the Olympic Games and I couldn’t hit a golf ball, much less make it go in the right direction. It was this experience that I gained a new appreciation for the sport of Golf – and a sport I vowed to learn to play.
The sport of gymnastics is such a complex sport that in order to be successful the athlete needs to acquire a very high level athleticism. It requires total body control where the entire body must perform in unison in order to complete each individual skill effectively and safely through a series of connected skills called a routine. It is a sport that requires speed and patience at the same time to allow continuation of energy into the next skill. It requires complete mental focus and spatial awareness to have the confidence to literally release a piece of apparatus at high-speed and know it will be there when you reach to re-grab it.
Gymnastics and acrobatic skill development provides an excellent base for almost any sport. It teaches students to run correctly (it is very common that many people run incorrectly with small strides and poor body position), learn body control and to move their bodies through many different positions. They will learn to jump correctly, and most importantly learn how to absorb shock on landings. Gymnastics teaches how to use flexibility and strength together for body control, and how to overcome fear by focusing on technique to safely complete the skill.
It is these attributes that athletes acquire in gymnastics that will benefit them in almost any sport or activity they pursue. As I discussed in my previous blog (The Coach: Creating the Successful Athlete), participation in gymnastics drops off as the skill level increases due to extreme competition requirements. Athletes who choose to pursue other sports or activities after gymnastics have a great foundation to build upon. It’s common to see these athletes rely on the strength and conditioning they learned in gymnastics to improve their performance in a new sport. I have seen former students of mine become great volleyball players, soccer players, softball or baseball players, and much more. Sports like diving are very similar to the sport of gymnastics and many former gymnasts may find success in a short period of time. One great example is 1988 Olympic Bronze Medalist, Phoebe Mills. After her gymnastics career, she participated and became successful in the sport of diving. The athleticism she learned in the sport of gymnastics was certainly a benefit in her diving career.
When a parent is exploring what activities their child should participate in, gymnastics should always be considered, especially for young children. And it is not only for the girls, which seems to be a common perception. Boys can benefit greatly from participating in the sport of gymnastics as it can enhance many attributes that almost every sport requires. I often have parents enroll their child in our gymnastics program specifically for this reason. Not only will the students acquire many physical skills, but the sport is fun and most that participate enjoy the experience.
To be successful as a competitive athlete requires a certain type of person with certain physical and emotional traits. Thus, genetics play an important part on whether an athlete will have the ability to achieve success. For example, when I was young, I played football. I loved this sport and I was pretty good. One problem, I was too small to pursue it for very long – if I wanted to live a little longer. My height eliminated the possibility of a career in the NBA, so that was out. Conversely the reverse is also true as it’s very rare to see a six-foot tall gymnast. Fortunately children tend to be short, so gymnastics is a great way to develop motor skills at a young age that will stay with them through their sports career, no matter the sport.
The sport of gymnastics is a great sport and anyone and everyone can participate. The skills they learn will certainly benefit them in any future activities they may pursue outside of gymnastics. And who knows… they may become an Olympic Champion!!
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