You don’t know whether to be proud or terrified.
Your child the gymnast just walked up to you asking to tumble in the yard. Here’s an even scarier prospect: you catch them already in action, having never asked for your permission in the first place.
On one hand, you’re proud that they’re trying to get extra practice in––that determination is going to pay off––but on the other hand you’re scared for their safety.
Anyone can tumble the day away in the gym. There’s protective matting everywhere, the equipment is all regulation-sized and in the proper place, and there are supervising coaches and spotters watching every move.
But in the backyard, anything can happen. And studies show that 9% of practice sessions in young gymnasts lead to injury. That number often increases when practicing at home.
So how do you let your young gymnast get extra practice in the backyard without you losing sleep and them losing their perfect health?
Take these 8 steps to create the safest backyard tumbling environment possible.
1. Substitute Equipment
Your little gymnast will be tempted to turn stray logs into improvised pommel horses, and seemingly-sturdy branches into uneven bars. It’s fantastic that they see the world as one giant jumpegym when they step into the backyard. But improvised bars, beams, and other apparatus are often unstable, the wrong size, and prone to slipping. Also, there’s no guarantee that they can bear weight the same way regulation equipment can.
With all this in mind, make a strict “no improvised equipment” rule for your backyard tumbler.
2. Use a Chalk Beam
You can, however, let them practice their beam routine outside without risking life and limb, or even having a low beam. Using a yardstick as a ruler, you can draw a chalk line on the grass (never on cement) and let them practice their beam routine outside. A chalk beam is also great for practicing basic skills like:
3. Watch Out for Peer Pressure
Competitive gymnasts will naturally challenge each other to be better, and that’s great. You should encourage that healthy competition…as long as it’s in the gym. For backyard tumbling, peer pressure without the proper matting and coaches’ supervision can turn a friendly bout of showing off into a broken bone or torn ligament.
If your young gymnast wants to backyard tumble with friends, be aware of the dangers of showing off, dares, and trying moves they have not yet mastered.
In general, they shouldn't attempt any skills outside that they haven’t already mastered in the gym.
4. Get Rid of Obstructions
Whether they’re in the gym or in the backyard, your tumbler needs to work on a flat, soft, obstruction-free surface. Tumbling downhill, for example, can lead to injuries as a result of jamming into the ground, and tumbling uphill can throw off their timing on flat surfaces, which can also lead to injury.
If you do have a flat, soft patch of grass that’s good for tumbling, make sure it’s also free of:
- Sprinkler heads
- Lawn furniture
5. Prepare for Differences Back in the Gym
Gym surfaces are specifically designed to be soft and forgiving. Outdoor surfaces, on the other hand, even nice patches of grass, are harder and less forgiving than the mats in a gym.
As a result, the kinetic energy built up from a tumbling gymnast needs to be released somewhere, and when there’s no soft mat, that energy needs to be absorbed by their body. So remind your tumbler that they must make a conscious effort to bend their arms and legs more than they normally would. That way the shock of the hard outdoor surface can be absorbed by their body.
This technique will affect their timing once they get back to mats, so make sure they’re aware of the inevitable adjustment in the gym.
6. Make Sure They’re Supervised
They may fight or cheat on the other items on the list, but this one is the biggest non-negotiable. Without someone there to help with an injury, tumbling outside is simply too dangerous to be allowed. Even if that supervision is from one of their friends, they should never do it alone.
7. Yes, You Can Use a Trampoline (with Moderation)
A trampoline can be a great tool for perfecting jumps, such as:
- Straddle jumps
- Split jumps
- Pike jumps
- Tuck jumps
However, there are some considerations to make when using a trampoline. First and foremost, there are over 100,000 trampoline injuries in the US every year. And most injuries from trampolines happen from kids bouncing into each other, so enforce a strict “one at a time” rule for backyard trampoline jumping.
Also, because a trampoline does so much work for a gymnast, it may create a false sense of improvement. For example, your gymnast may practice a skill on the trampoline and build the wrong muscle memory that they may have to completely undo once they get in the gym.
Their muscles may also weaken over time, because the trampoline assists their jumping significantly.
8. Don’t Overdo it
Kids with growing muscles and bones are very pliable, but it's still easy for them to overexert themselves. Don’t let them spend too much time backyard tumbling. There are other parts of their lives to explore right now, so let their bodies and minds get a rest and do something else.
If they are a future Olympian, they will never be able to make good on that possibility if they have a serious injury now that keeps them from developing their skills for down the road.
Keep Your Young Gymnast Safe
Without mats, coaches, and proper gymnastics equipment, your backyard can never be as safe as the gym. But if you implement these 8 tips for responsible backyard gymnastics, your young gymnast will get some extra practice (and fun) without you worrying nonstop about their safety.
At US Glove, we understand how important your young gymnast’s safety is to you. That’s why we developed the premier grips and wrist supports for gymnasts, backyard tumblers and cheerleaders worldwide. When your gymnast gets out of your backyard and into the gym, you want them to do so safely.
To see our products, check out our online store.