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Kids gymnastics is a fun, complex world. Your involvement can be as simples as weekly recreational classes or as complex as competitive gymnastics. I will be sharing everything I know about kids gymnastics so you can make the best decision for you kids.
Most parents enroll their kids in organized sports for similar reasons. We want them to make new friends, to learn new skills and to have fun by being active with their peers. Gymnastics is an excellent sport for kids for all of those reasons.
I particularly love gymnastics for kids because your child’s progress in this sport is based on their own skills versus the skills of the team as a whole. As your child masters each new step they can progress to the next level of classes to continue learning and advancing. This does not mean your child is on their own! The friendships they build in class are real and the kids truly love seeing each other succeed. It just means your child isn’t held back because of their age or because of group level skill.
What Age To Start Gymnastics?
One of the main questions parents ask about gymnastics is when to start. The answer is whenever they’re ready! Kids can be enrolled in gymnastics starting at 18 months (check for local mommy & me programs) all the way up to their teenage years. Starting really depends on what types of classes are available in your community. Our gymnastics center has entry level classes available for ages 18 months through 12 years old. There is also an adults gymnastics class! Search through your community and you’re sure to find something that works for your family.
The earlier your child starts gymnastics, the more likely they are to master complex skills. Of course there are outliers but for most kids, this is true. Do not let this deter you from introducing gymnastics to older kids. One of my kids didn’t start beginner gymnastics classes until she was 9 years old. Now, she is 10 and competing and winning gold medals. My point? If your child is interested, the best time to start is now!
What Are The Benefits To Gymnastics?
Gymnastics is a foundational sport which means it is a great program for all athletes even if they don’t have their hearts set on Olympic gold. Skills learned in gymnastics can help kids succeed and stand out in other sports from football & wrestling to volleyball & lacrosse. This is because the definition of gymnastics is exercises designed to develop strength and coordination.
In addition to strength and coordination, kids also enhance their flexibility & endurance, build self confidence through mastery of skills and set themselves up for success in life by learning discipline, social skills and healthy habits. Phew, that was a lot of information in one sentence. Lets break it down.
Flexibility & Endurance – These two skills are built upon from the first gymnastics class. Each class starts with stretching and some form of muscle building. It may be hard to see in the beginning because it’s disguised as play so be sure to ask your coach about how this is built into your child’s class,
Self Confidence – I literally cannot promote the importance of this skill enough. Your child builds confidence as they learn something new. This confidence in themselves to master a skill translates into the real world as they grow and evolve. If you take a look at your life, you’ll notice the people who have self confidence tend to reach their goals more than those without it.
Discipline, Social Skills, Healthy Habits – All of these are skills we want our children to master. Each of these will help them succeed and live happy, healthy lives. It is never too early to learn positive skills that will help them through every stage of life.
Recreational Gymnastics Versus Competitive Gymnastics
This was my entire motivation for this post. Competitive gymnastics was SO INTIMIDATING to our family. I’m going to break this down for you so that you know exactly what options you have.
Recreational gymnastics is where most kids will start. Classes are designed to build basic skills and coordination to help them as they grow. Beginner skills are taught on each of the 4 events; Floor, Beam, Bars & Vault. These basic skills include forward rolls, balancing across a beam, jumping on a vault and hanging from bars.
As your child moves forward, they continue to learn skills that competitive gymnastics use, they just do not learn a routine. While kids in recreational gymnastics do not compete in front of crowds and judges, some gyms do host skill share events where parents are invited to see their kids show off new skills.
A lot of kids will get involved in rec gymnastics and then move to tumbling only classes. Tumbling would include cart wheels, round-offs, back handsprings, punch fronts and more. These are fun skills to learn that can be used in competitive cheerleading.
Recreational gymnastics is a highly desired sport to be in because the cost of classes is affordable and practice is typically once a week. Kids make friends, stay active and learn while leaving plenty of room for other activities.
Competitive gymnastics can be broken up into two categories; Junior Olympic and XCEL. Both of these categories allow for gymnasts to compete as individuals and as team. The biggest difference is the intensity. I explain more on this in the next section.
Junior Olympic gymnastics is a USAG program offered nation wide that consists of 10 levels ( 1 through 10). There are set skills that gymnasts need to master at each level before moving up. Competitions start from level 1 and go all the way up to level 10. Junior Olympic gymnastics are more intensive than Xcel with more practice time allowed as well as stricter skills.
The Junior Olympic program is ideal for those who have their eyes on the gold. Kids that start gymnastics early and who have the time to devote to mastering gymnastics will do best in this program. Keep in mind that practices are longer and more often as your gymnast moves up in skill levels.
XCEL gymnastics is a more flexible program for competitive gymnasts. Kids in XCEL have more time to master skills at their own pace. The practice schedule is also less demanding in this category. Because our daughter started gymnastics later in life, this program works best for her. It allows her to experience everything the JO gymnastics experience at a less intense level.
Within XCEL, there are two leagues – USAG and AAU. These leagues do not compete against one-another as they have different requirements and limitations for their gymnasts. For more information, contact your local gym to see what competitive programs they offer.
Is Competitive Gymnastics Right For Your Child?
When determining if competitive gymnastics is right for your child be sure to keep a couple things in mind.
One, the amount of time you’ll need to dedicate. Competitive gymnasts typically practice 2+ times per week for multiple hours. Is your child doing well enough in school to dedicate this time to a sport? Do you have transportation for your child to and from gymnastics? Will this interfere or prevent other kids in your home from enrolling in an after school activity? These are all questions you’ll need to address prior to committing.
Two, the costs. Be up front with your gym and let them know you need a full disclosure on what this will look like budget wise. You will be paying more for monthly classes in competitive gymnastics and when competition season arrives, you’ll need to purchase a leotard, warm ups, bag and so on in addition to paying competition fees. Another piece to keep in mind is you’ll have to travel for competitions. Sometimes its a 1.5 hour drive to compete. Other times, it’s a 4 hour drive which means you’ll need to grab a hotel for a night or two depending on the time you compete.
Do not let the investment part scare you away. Have the discussion first and then sleep on it. I was completely turned off to competing because of the cost until we actually experienced it. The experience alone is well worth the investment. There is nothing like seeing your child perform on their own in front of a crowd and then win a gold medal. The best part is seeing the pride they have in themselves. Is it expensive? Yes. Is it worth it? 100 percent.
I’m including this section because I had NO IDEA what to expect on the actual competition day. Use this as a quick guide whenever you do enter you first competition season.
Your gym will send you a list of meets for the season as well as dates to keep open for the competition. Unfortunately, the competition schedule isn’t finalized until close to your meet so you’ll need to keep the entire weekend open until you know the specific day. We’ve competed on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and even a Monday once. About 2 weeks out from your competition, you’ll receive specific information telling you what time and what day your child and their team competes.
Competitions typically last 3 hours as girls make their way through each of the 4 events. The award ceremony is held right after the competition and lasts about an hour. It’s a long day for everyone as you can imagine.
My best advice is to relax and prepare. First and foremost, find out how to purchase tickets to the meet. You may be able to pay online before it occurs or you may have to pay with cash when you arrive. Next, make sure your gymnast eats, uses the restroom and is comfortable. Comfortable meaning their hair isn’t so tight that it’s giving them a headache! If you have other children attending the meets be sure to bring snacks, screens (yes, screens!) and anything else to help them pass the time. There are typically food and drink vendors at meets so be sure to bring some cash.
All of the competitions we’ve attended so far have given medals to every girl that competes. Be sure to celebrate your child no matter how their performance goes and encourage them to keep practices and do their best. My daughter fell off the beam during her first competition and then came back and received 1st place at her second! It’s a learning experience for sure and incredibly rewarding.
That wraps up my kids gymnastics guide!
If you have any questions at all feel free to leave them in the comments below! I’m so excited for your child to get started on this new experience.