Seems every new gymnast’s dream is to be an Olympian. There’s no shortage of inspiring role models, proof that hard work, a supportive family, and a dream can get you where you want to be. But the journey begins with that first step – wait…what exactly is the first step?!
Elite athletes, almost without exception, begin training in their sport at a very young age. This doesn’t mean strength training at age two, but it does mean that a very young child must have an interest in being active (and what two year-old doesn’t?) and have a family who is interested in helping the child progress in the sport. For a child geared toward gymnastics, formal training can begin in pre-school.
Tumbling classes abound to help little gymnasts develop gross motor skills as well as balance, self-control, and even discipline. Tumbling activities also introduce the concept of group or team, which is utterly foreign to a toddler who is proficient in the “Me!” category. Participation in group classes will help the young child develop control and confidence as well as help determine the child’s level of interest in pursuing gymnastics beyond a pre-school class.
If an aptitude for gymnastics is discovered early, a child in a good program can be allowed to progress at his or her own pace with comprehensive direction from a trained gymnastics coach. You don’t need a Karolyi at this point, but a coach who is able to encourage and challenge a young child successfully is a true find. The search for this coach should be undertaken with all the seriousness one would apply to seeking a mentor or trainer for any adult vocation. A coach who has trained elite gymnasts before is likely a good candidate for an aspiring child gymnast. Be wary of programs that focus on too much competition for young children; kids need to learn to be part of a team as well as an outstanding individual gymnast and too much competition can train them to turn their focus inward. A coach who teaches the social skills of being a team member as well as training the individual is perfect for the very young but very driven gymnast.
And the rest is history. Or it could be, anyway. Your young child could make history as an Olympic gymnast, but that critical first step is up to you. Begin active play with your child from the moment they’re able to interact, embrace an active lifestyle so your child absorbs your enthusiasm, and as soon as you can, enroll the little guy or gal in a tumbling class. And as soon as you see the light in their eyes when you talk about gymnastics, find a trainer. Then take your place in the stands and be your child’s biggest fan.