What Every Beginning Gymnast and Parent Should Expect

Posted by Greg Larson on

gymnast expecting

 Your child wants to get into gymnastics. And why wouldn’t they? They’re precocious, they bend into pretzels, and they already treat your living room like a jungle gym. Then they saw the Olympics and said, “I want to be like Laurie Hernandez.”

That’s a beautiful inspiration for a young gymnast, but it might give them unrealistic expectations. They’ll want to walk into the gym, go to one practice, and flip out of the gym like a gold medal winner.

Not so fast...

They might be disappointed that they can’t join the Olympics immediately, but they’ll get a lot out of gymnastics until then. Gymnastics not only improves flexibility, it also enhances strength and coordination, listening skills, self-confidence, and self-image.

What’s more, is that according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under 6 are not ready for team sports, making solo gymnastics a perfect introduction into competitive athletics.

But what happens when your little one starts in gymnastics? If you don’t have other gymnasts in the family, you might be unsure of what to expect from your little one’s career.

Here are a few things to expect as a parent when you're starting on a gymnastics journey.

How to Choose a Gym

Walking into a gym for the first time can be overwhelming. Not just for your child, but also for you. There’s chalk flying, people flipping, it smells like a locker room, and there’s more equipment than a sporting goods store.

Will they be safe?
What will they learn?
Is this worth the investment of time and money?

For both of your sakes, bring your aspiring gymnast to watch a class or two before signing up. That way you both get a better idea of what real gymnastics looks like (without international audiences watching). You also get a sense of the coaches, the sport, and the space.

A dedicated gymnastics facility may charge more for classes, but they’ll likely have a full floor exercise space, more equipment, and a foam pit. On the other hand, a community center or school gym won’t have as much equipment. They may even use less durable folding mats that need to be broken down before and after every practice.

You should choose a gym (or specific class) based on the coach's philosophy and how it fits your child’s temperament. This is especially important when your gymnast is first starting out.

As you choose your gym, keep in mind that they’re not training for the Olympics just yet. Their goals in the first classes are to develop:

  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Good listening skills
  • Comfort with equipment

It doesn’t matter how far your gymnast goes in the sport. Those four things will be the foundation of any success they achieve.

How to Prepare Them for the First Class

Once you choose a gym and a coach that’s right for your young gymnast, here’s how to prepare for the first class.

  • Eat Well—Make sure they go into practice with a full belly––but not too full. Give them time to digest. You don’t want them upchucking during their first flip. Also, send them to class with a water bottle and have them go to the bathroom before class.

  • Clothing––Make sure all of their clothes are form-fitting. That way they won’t risk injury or have to worry about their shirt flipping when they’re upside-down.
For girls, proper clothing is:
  • Leotards
  • Leggings
  • Footless tights
For boys, proper clothing is:
  • Compression shirts or t-shirts they can tuck in
  • Athletic shorts or compression shorts
  • Equipment––Unless their coach says otherwise, special grips and supports aren’t necessary for little ones. If your child wears glasses, secure them with a band. If they wear jewelry, remove it all before class.
  • Tie Back Long Hair—Long hair isn’t just a distraction. It can also lead to injury. Either braid, ponytail, or use a headband to keep it all in place.
  • Prepare Them for Spotting—Gymnastics is a hands-on sport. Let your child know that their coach will be guiding them through new motions. As such, the coach will need to place their hand on their sides, stomach, back, and shoulders. Most importantly, have a conversation with your young gymnast so they know what kind of touch is appropriate and what isn’t.

What the First Gymnastics Class Will Look Like

They’ll start with warmups. Some gyms have a set routine they use to prepare for each class.  Other classes will let students take turns leading the way.
Once they’re warmed up, they’ll move into instruction (the meat of practice).

Now, your child may be excited to get onto the yurchenko and learn full-in back-outs immediately (although, they likely won’t know those terms––they’ll just want to “do flips”).

If they get antsy, remind them that they’re building the necessary foundation of skills to build up to more complex stuff.

Before they can land a back tuck, they need to learn how to do a backwards tuck roll. Before they can do an aerial, they have to master a cartwheel.

In other words, they have to start at the basics and build up.
Don’t be surprised if you see your child sitting around a lot during their first class (or subsequent classes). Gymnasts learn through:

  • Auditory commands
  • Visual demonstrations
  • Kinesthetic practices

In other words, they can’t learn by only practicing in motion. They have to see a skill performed by other people and practice it in their mind to learn it fully. That’s why gymnastics focuses so much on seated learning. They aren’t being lazy, they’re internalizing a new skill.

What Are Your Jobs as a Gymnast Parent?

  • Watching—Some gyms have designated areas to watch class. Gyms that don’t have a watching area at least allow parents to watch on specific days: often the first and last classes, which allows you to see their progress. You might enjoy watching, but to some kids your presence is a distraction. No matter what, don’t gesture to your child or step in to do the coach’s job. If you’re ever needed, the coach will ask.
  • Don’t Compare—Even if your child wants to be a gold medalist, they all learn at different paces. Some students may have spent years learning from an older sibling, others in your child’s class have prior experience. Don’t compare your child to others in the class. Just enjoy their journey.
  • Home Practice—As your child gymnast progresses, they will become even more obsessed with the sport. If they want to practice at home, make sure they follow proper safety guidelines.
  • Learn for Yourself—The more you learn about the sport, the more you’ll be able to connect with your child, other parents, and your child’s new friends.

Expect to Have a Great Time as a Gymnastics Parent

Gymnastics can be a stressful, intense sport. Don’t make it any more stressful than it has to be. As your little one gets started in gymnastics, make sure you manage everyone’s expectations.

At US Glove, we know how stressful it is to start in gymnastics. That’s why we offer all the gear you need to keep your new gymnast safe, happy, and competitive.

Need Grips and Supports? Check out our online store.

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