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Frequently Asked Questions Part 1

 

QUESTION: I want to find the perfect gymnastics coach for my daughter, but it seems that most coaches are like doctors. You can’t get a second opinion from another coach without hurting the feelings of the first coach. What’s a good way to go about this?

ANSWER: In the first place, as a concerned parent, you’re entitled to interview and check out as many coaches as possible to find the best one for your daughter. A professional coach does not adapt this prima donna attitude of taking offense at your search method. Beware of these coaches. Visit and consult with as many coaches as are available, and cross out from your list the coaches prone to being overly upset. If you’re still worried about hurting their feelings, ask the next coach to be discreet, so you will be able to tell which coach is honest and can be trusted at your next coach interview.
QUESTION: What’s the best method of casting a handstand on the uneven bars? What are the drills associated with this exercise?

ANSWER: Never ever perform drills at home without a qualified coach. If there is a qualified coach at home, ask for assistance in performing basic handstands. These build strength and confidence. Make sure you always perform the handstands on a wide cushioned mat, never on a hard wooden or tiled floor. If you’re a beginner, perform the handstand drills against a wall for support and balance. Do not perform handstands without a spotter.

QUESTION: How does one support a back-flip?

ANSWER: Never perform any drills without the presence of a qualified coach. If you have a coach with you, prepare a folded panel mat and place it at the head of an 8-inch crash mat. While doing the back-flip, your coach should keep an eye on your height and rotation by guiding you with a hand at the small of your back.

QUESTION: How long does it take to do physical conditioning exercises during training sessions of top gymnasts?

ANSWER: There are some daunting stories about top gymnasts performing conditioning exercises for 6 hours a day. But these are mostly exaggerations. Two to three hours day, six to seven days a week is a reasonable amount of time that an Olympic level gymnast may spend on conditioning exercises. However, if a level 7 gymnast tried this stunt, she would burn out within a week. There are a lot of different top levels, and depending on the gymnast’s age and USAG levels, different amounts of time are specified to devote to conditioning exercises. A beginning gymnast, say 7-years old, starting at level 1 performs conditioning exercises when she comes in for practice only once a week. Once she goes up a level, the amount of time will increase. Gymnasts in the upper levels are required to put in at least 30 to 40 minutes of conditioning exercises 5 times a week, adding strength training to their workout. It all depends on the methods and requirements of the coach. What’s certain, though, is that the conditioning exercises will involve a lot of abdominal workouts and strength-based conditioning like handstands, pull-ups and push-ups.

QUESTION: Should a gymnast use free weights or circuit training with machines as part of the strength building workout?


ANSWER: As a general rule, free weights are a better choice, especially the old-fashioned platform lifting, though many gymnasts opt not to weight train at all. A good thing about free weights is that you get to use the entire little stabilizer muscles, giving them a work-out too. The stabilizer muscles are the ones you use for control, particularly when doing the bench-press; these muscles aid in balancing of the bar to make sure it doesn’t tilt to one side or the other. Dumbbells are even better because you remove the bar connecting the hands, giving your stabilizer muscles the conditioning that they need. In contrast, exercising on machines doesn’t give you much of a challenge. Take the Universal bench machine, for instance. All you have to do is push straight up and control the weight going down. One thing about using machines, though, is that when you have an injury, they are great for controlling your range of motion. Try and incorporate platform lifting into your strength training regimen. These include dead-lifts, squats; power cleans, the clean and jerk, and snatches. They are a wonderful way to enhance strength, speed, dexterity and suppleness.

QUESTION: How do I encourage my junior gymnast to overcome his apprehensions about performing skills by himself?

ANSWER: Try and decrease the amount of spotting that you do for him to the point where you are just standing beside him while he performs the skills. Pretty soon, move further and further away until he is confident about his ability to perform on his own.

QUESTION: How do I prepare my child to be physically fit enough for gymnastics while ensuring a fun and enjoyable experience?

ANSWER: The key lies in your own question. Make sure your child continues to enjoy himself and have fun. You can still ramp up his fitness level, but as soon as you see that he is getting tired and losing interest, back up and allow him to rest.

QUESTION: How do I get my child to concentrate on her own exercises without getting distracted by what her other fellow gymnasts are up to?


ANSWER: This is a tough question. Peer pressure in gymnastics is a hard reality, and it is difficult not to be constantly aware of what your peers are doing and how well they are doing it. Encourage your child to focus on developing her own strengths and skills. Tell her that she has no control over what the other girls are doing or how well they are performing. The only thing she can control is herself. So convince her to concentrate and turn her motivation internally so she can drive herself to be better.

QUESTION: I have a five-year-old daughter who started gymnastics because it was fun. She got really good at it, but then she got hurt. Now she’s ready to quit. How can I convince her that she has a chance to heal and return to doing what she enjoys?

ANSWER: You would like to tell her about your own experiences with injury, how you coped with it, how you got well, and what you learned from it. As an example, tell her the story of Lance Armstrong who got testicular cancer, and everybody thought he wasn’t going to make it. But he persevered and won the Tour de France many times over. Explain to her that hurts and injuries are a part of life, and that if she loved doing something well enough, she would do whatever she could to heal so she could go back to doing it. Life is about taking risks and chances. Tell her that if she was scared of getting hurt again, or of taking risks, she might as well stay in bed and avoid taking a chance on all the great experiences life can give her – including injuries.

QUESTION: How can one determine whether a gym or a studio is qualified to evaluate when to push gymnasts and when to allow them to rest? Most gyms that I’ve seen are so concerned about winning competitions; they only give attention to the elite champions.

ANSWER: If this is your impression, these are probably the wrong gyms to enrol your child in. Observe the gym more closely; talk with the coaches and ask them about their qualifications. Talk to the other parents and ask if their children were pushed by the coach, and if so, how hard. Did they feel that the coach was pressuring their child too much? Above all, use your instincts. If you feel that the coach is pushing your child too hard, then he probably is.

QUESTION: What do I do to make sure my young gymnast lives a well-balanced life?

ANSWER: What a wonderful and pertinent question! All parents should be as concerned as you. What you can do is to avoid having your child centring his whole life on gymnastics. If his coach requires him to report to the gym six days a week for up to several hours; unless your child has the makings of a future Olympic champion, tell that coach “no”. Encourage your child to cultivate friendships with non-gymnasts and to take up other non-gymnastics-related activities. A well-rounded child is a happy child.

QUESTION: I am trying to teach my eleven-year-old gymnast to develop strong focus and concentration. Should I recruit the assistance of her coach?

ANSWER: Yes, this is a good idea. Part of the coach’s job is to train the gymnasts on how to build focus and concentrate on their training. This builds discipline and it’s a valuable life skill, as well. Help your child by encouraging her to train her mind to keep out distractions while building mental resiliency and alertness, in preparation for when tough situations arise.

QUESTION: When do I decide that my child needs a personal coach instead of training with the rest of her team or class?

ANSWER: You child may need a personal coach if she’s falling behind the rest of her teammates and she’s getting upset or depressed about it. You can also get a special trainer for your child if she has special needs, like a physical defect, disability, or a mental condition like mild autism.

QUESTION: How can I tell if I’m putting too much pressure on my child? How can I keep my child practicing without causing him to burn-out?

ANSWER: This is another interesting question which brings up a situation that parents should always watch out for. Close observation of your child’s behaviour will let you know what he’s feeling. If he’s acting sad, has lost interest or starts to cry and complain, back off and allow your child some slack. These are classic signs of burn-out. In adults these are manifestations of mild depression and overtraining. Don’t push your child so hard. Encourage training for enjoyment, and don’t pressure him into practicing with the use of threats or other negative forms of reinforcement. If your child has been voluntarily working himself too hard, persuade him to rest for a few days before resuming his training.

QUESTION: How old should a child be before he or she is too old to start in gymnastics?

ANSWER: If you’re aiming for competition, the age for girls would be about 10 or 11; for boys it’s 13 or 14. If you’re getting into gymnastics just for fun, there are some people who enter training at the age of 45!

QUESTION: How early should you start considering taking your child up to the training levels for elite gymnasts? Does the child have to compete in USAG meets, or are the USAIGC levels enough? Will my child be able to get into the top levels by making the TOPS national teams?

ANSWER: For girls, as early as ages 7 or 8; for boys, it’s around 10 or 11. As you know, USAG is the ruling gymnastics body in the United States www.usa-gymnastics.org. There are required levels from 1 to 6, while level 7 will take you up to the optional levels of 8 and 9. Currently, if a gymnast has a USAIGC level, she can compete for the USA by making it to the elite level. Anna Hatch, for instance, did not do USAIGC since she came to this country by way of Cuba. She did, however, qualify for the elite level. The United States Association of Independent Gymnastics Clubs, or USAIGC www.usagc.com, is doing a wonderful job of getting up to the same level as USAG. Former USA Gymnastics President, Mike Jacki and Paul Spadaro, who is in gymnastics in a big way, are currently heading the USAIGC. USAIGC allows optional competitions for all ages, but it is not compulsory.

The Talent Opportunity Program, or TOPS, forms a part of USAG and takes in girls from ages 7 to 11 for training and elite testing. TOPS concentrates on training in strength and flexibility until gymnasts turns 9, then there’s skill testing to go through with. TOPS training is considered especially tough, and if you qualify for TOPS training camp, you get to participate with other gymnasts and their coaches in training with the country’s best coaches. You can access the link to the TOPS page from the USAG website.

QUESTION: How do you help a gymnast get over his fear of throwing tucks and other tricks which do not involve the use of hands?

ANSWER: It’s best to explain the details of what goes on during a tuck or some other trick. Have the gymnast close his eyes and imagine himself executing the move. This is called visualization. Next, go through the physical part of the move with him, and help him by spotting and assisting. Continue doing this while cutting down on the number of times you spot and assist him. Pretty soon, he’ll be doing it on his own without your help.

QUESTION: How many hours a week should a level 5 gymnast practice?

ANSWER: It actually depends on the coach, but it usually is from 6 to 12 hours a week, averaging at 9 hours.

QUESTION: My daughter just got to level 4 in her gymnastics program and goes three times a week for several hours at a time. When people learn about this, they seem shocked. Am I letting my daughter train too hard? Is this too much for her physically? Is the training program keeping her from her childhood? She truly loves going, and if I’d let her, she’d go everyday.

ANSWER: It varies for every child. Most children would burn out after having to go through the training your daughter is receiving. One of gymnastics’ most decorated athletes, Shannon Miller, says that there is more than one path to childhood. She says she has enjoyed and benefited greatly from gymnastics, and if your daughter is the kind of child who thrives in and loves the kind of environment Shannon Miller excelled in, then you have nothing to worry about. The only time you should find cause for concern is if your daughter seems to lose interest or has crying spells, then you should seriously consider limiting her training time, or let her rest.

QUESTION: Can my child perform back handsprings with no mat safely at home?

ANSWER: Never have your child perform drills at home without a coach present. If you have a coach around, you can have your child begin to learn this skill using a cheese or inclined mat. Sit as you would on a normal chair, but as you feel you’re about to fall on your behind; jump hard, but without pulling the legs up over the head. Doing so will cause your child to go into pike position instead of from arch to hollow. Push off hard from your hands and keep the arms straight and rigid. Visualize it as jumping backwards into a handstand. While doing it the first few times, your child should be landing in a hollow push-up position. It’s a good idea to always have a spotter around to help her maintain that position. Some coaches prefer starting this skill with an arm swing; others favour having both arms by the head and keeping them there. Consult with your coach about the best method to use.

Even if it seems like it, arching has very little to do with back handsprings. When you eventually progress to round-off flip-flops, there should be very minimal arching of the back. Performing back handsprings while in a standing position is much harder because of the total lack of momentum involved, hence arching your back. The movement to be focused on, though, is throwing your arms back and keeping your shoulder angle open.

If you have a Port-a-Pit, practice this move - the first phase of a back handspring. Stand at one end with the Port-a-Pit behind you. Swing your arms forward then backwards, and as forcefully as you can, throw them over your head.

Simultaneously push back with your legs so you go up in the air and over the mat. You should try to generate as much power as you can to go as far backwards as possible. This move is almost identical to the initial throw into the flip-flop.
For the second phase of the back handspring, prepare a folded mat or a springboard laid flat on the floor before you. Move into handstand position onto the board or mat, then fold your knees slightly, arch a bit and push your shoulders as wide open as possible. With the aid of the muscles of your stomach, back and arms, snap your body into a hollow position while pushing off with your hands, and landing on your feet in front of the board or mat.

This may sound like a complicated move, but it’s the very same motion that’s used in the second phase of a back handspring. Remember to keep your body hollow, and push off the ground with your feet, while lifting your chest. This will make it easier to land right side up on your feet afterwards.
Keep on practicing until you master these two drills, then combine them to complete the move. It’s always important to have a spotter around the whole time. Position a folded panel mat at the head of an 8-inch crash mat. Stand on the panel mat with the crash mat behind you. Put the two moves together while having a spotter carefully monitor your height and rotation.

If you have difficulty in getting to your hands, your arm swing needs to have more force behind it. With a spotter nearby, do back handsprings on an incline mat to help you accustom yourself to going over onto your hands.
The important things to remember is not to have too much of an arch or a high back handspring…think long.

QUESTION: My 9-year-old daughter has gotten to level 6. Should I make her do double-time through this last compulsory level to make it to the optional levels earlier, or do I allow her to go through it at her own pace, which translates to one level a year?

ANSWER: The first thing you should do is to ask her what she wants. Walk her through the pros and cons of each option. If she pushes herself faster, she may make it to the next level which can prove to be more enjoyable for her. On the other hand, if she progresses at her own pace, she will have higher level 6 skills to better prepare her for the optionals. You might want to consider that she might have developed strong friendships with her fellow athletes in her current level, and might not want to go through level 6 quickly. Allow her to make her own choice, and support whatever decision she makes.

QUESTION: How can I prevent my son from burning out? He’s putting in more than twenty hours of training a week, and he’s only 9 years old.

ANSWER: A coach whose put 30 years into gymnastics once said that he has never seen a gymnast “burn-out”. Your child may not actually “burn-out”, but will lose interest once he discovers girls and other adolescent interests. Bring up your concerns with your child’s coach. No matter how much your child is excited about gymnastics in the beginning, and no matter how much time, energy and money you spend for his training, if he ends up losing interest after a few months, this is no good at all. The important thing you have to consider is the temperament of your child vis-à-vis the intensity of his training.

If his training is too intense, this may result in “overtraining”, and subsequently, to illness or injury. You can prevent your child from overtraining in order to keep him from mental and physical harm later.

QUESTION: How do I monitor bone, muscle, tissue and hormonal balance safely while training at the elite-intensity level?

ANSWER: A very good question! More parents of elite gymnasts should be as concerned about this. Bring your child for regular check-ups with a paediatrician who specializes in sports medicine. Observe your child constantly for signs of sickness or any other abnormality, and bring her to the doctor as soon as you suspect manifestations of either. If your daughter gets irregular menstrual periods, it may be a sign of overtraining, which can cause her hormones to go haywire.

QUESTION: What’s the best thing to do for someone with double jointed shoulders who finds it difficult to execute certain moves?

ANSWER: The best way is to strengthen the muscles that surround these joints. Work with a personal trainer or a physical therapist specializing in double-jointedness. Check out their references, ask about their experience and request a fitness plan. Make them aware that your child is training in gymnastics where stability is a key issue.

QUESTION: How many hours should the training of a teenage gymnast last? Will she get hurt often? How do I know she’ll stick with it? As her parent, how can I help her?

ANSWER: Her training would actually depend on her age, her level and her coach. It could last for a minimum of three hours a week for recreational training or a maximum of twenty hours a week for an elite-level gymnast.
The risk of her getting hurt will depend on several factors. One, her coach should be the kind who promotes and encourages safety and avoidance of injury. He should teach the proper form and insist on the use of spotters. Second, your daughter should have a conditioning program that will enhance her strength and flexibility. Strong and flexible muscles and joints are less liable to be injured compared to those that are weak and stiff.

Your daughter will either stick to gymnastics, or she won’t. This is something you can’t control. She motivates herself and sets her own goals, but if she loses interest, there is nothing you can do about it. What you can do, though, is to make gymnastics fun for her. Encourage without pushing and sure she knows you’re on her side. In fact, why not take her and her other gymnast friends out for pizza or ice cream to show your support?

You can help your daughter by being her staunchest supporter and her biggest fan. Let her know you’ll be there for her whether she wins or loses, gets injured or disheartened. Don’t nag her when she messes up or makes mistakes. Making mistakes is how kids learn life lessons. Ask her gently instead if she learned anything from her mistakes, then encourage her to go out and do better.
QUESTION: I have an 11-year-old child who is very flexible. How do I keep her driven and motivated enough to practice at home so she can be the best she can be? Do I push her to go into competitive gymnastics? How do I help her whenever she gets frustrated and starts saying that she can’t do it?

ANSWER: It’s not really safe to practice gymnastics moves at home. You’ll need a large empty space and a wide cushioned mat. You can ask your gym if they have “open hours” when you can come in with your daughter for practice.

Also, it isn’t really a good thing to push her to do something she doesn’t want to do. If it’s something she enjoys, she will tell you herself. If its not, forcing her to go through with it will only build resentment and damage your mother-daughter bond. You can try encouraging her and then supporting her in whatever decisions she makes.

If she does chose to stay in gymnastics and has a frustrated “I can’t do it” moment, she’s actually trying to tell you that she needs your support and understanding. Let her know that you’re there for her. Tell her you understand her frustration and let her work off steam until she gets over the worse of it. You can take a break with her and let her sleep on it, until she works up enough enthusiasm to get back in the game. Above all, don’t push, and don’t force her to stay in the programme. The decision should come from her, while your role is to support.

QUESTION: How can a parent cope with the politics involved in elite gymnastics?

ANSWER: Very carefully! It’s a dangerous world out there! The first thing you can do is to try to “de-politicize” it. Ask for a copy of the written rules, regulations and policies from the coaches and the gym. Especially take note of the team rules about the criteria for being chosen to compete at meets. Try to get them to be as objective as possible to make everything as fair as can be. You need to avoid gyms and coaches who constantly play favourites by choosing certain gymnasts to compete at meets, while ignoring the rest. There should be an objective set of criteria to be followed about who qualifies to compete in the regional’s. Like if a gymnast is able to execute a certain number of skills in a certain amount of time upon reaching a certain level, then that makes her qualified. Be courteous and diplomatic at all times. As an analogy, liken political-minded coaches and officials to hospital nurses. If you don’t treat them nicely, they’ll take it out on the patient. In like manner, if you demand too much from these coaches and officials, they’ll take it out on your child. Be civil, act in a professional manner, and be diplomatic. Make sure, like any good lawyer, to get everything in writing.

QUESTION: My child is overweight. Can she be a gymnast?

ANSWER: Your child can certainly enrol in the recreational program and train for fun. She’ll likely enjoy herself, learn valuable life lessons, and lose weight as well. Can she train competitively? Maybe not until she loses weight in a healthy way. A great and safe way to lose weight is to join the recreational programme. Afterwards, if she’s still interested in competing, she can proceed to competitive training.

QUESTION: Should I push my child? How hard? Or should I just leave that to the coaches and content myself with remaining supportive?

ANSWER: Don’t push. Never push. That’s the coach’s job. The coach doesn’t have to live everyday with a resentful child. Instead, be supportive. Be there for your child when she’s injured or discouraged, and when she triumphs in her performances. Send the message that you will share both the joy and tears with her. Let her know you’ll love her no matter what.

QUESTION: My child is very talented, but is also very tired of the repetitious drills and the long hours required to perfect a skill. How do I motivate her?

ANSWER: Maybe she’s just suffering from overtraining and needs to take a rest. Let her take a few days off and see if she still wants to come back. If she does, then she just needed a break. If she doesn’t, don’t push her. You’ll end up having a resentful child. You should know that there are certain people who have a talent for something that they hate doing. For instance, there are a lot of tall athletic men who don’t like playing basketball. What you can do to motivate her is to point out all the positive aspects of gymnastics, like how much fun it can be, and the camaraderie she shares with her fellow gymnast friends. That may just do the trick. You shouldn’t try to bribe her to continue with the program. The goals should be her own and the decision should come from her.

QUESTION: What should my child do to fix her hair for a competition?

ANSWER: Let her do whatever she wants with her hair, as long as it doesn’t get in her face or distract her from performing properly. It doesn’t really count with judges, and as long as her hairstyle makes her feel beautiful and confident, she should go with it.

QUESTION: What points are deducted in routines performed during competition?

ANSWER: This is a vast topic, and there are a great many rules that are often subject to change. Your best bet would be to look at the USA Gymnastics website for a complete set of rules and regulations. As a general rule, gymnasts lose points for executing imperfect landings (not “sticking” it), ill-placed feet, poor form, and improperly done pikes or kip, among others.

QUESTION: My daughter’s coach spends a whole lot of time on strengthening exercises, which is important, but very little time devoted to perfecting skills. What is the proper percentage of time to be spent on each?

ANSWER: Training depends on your daughter’s age, level and skill. It also has a lot to do with her temperament. Ask your coach about his training method, and why he’s focusing more on strength training. You may find that he is most likely periodizing the training. Periodizing means periodically changing the range of the work-outs to prevent the athletes from feeling over-trained and their minds from becoming stale or bored. Particularly if training has just started, your daughter’s coach may be putting a lot of stress on strength building to lay the groundwork for the more difficult and demanding routines later.

QUESTION: A 7-year-old gymnast in level 5 is able to perform all the skills and requirements of a level 6 gymnast. Should she remain in level 5 until she’s older, or should she go up a level with the gymnast’s of her calibre?

ANSWER: The answer to this question depends on the child. Does the child get along well with older children, or does she prefer interacting with kids her own age? You need to leave the decision up to your daughter. Explain to her what to expect at level 6 and bring her to where the level 6 girls practice, so she can see for herself what level 6 is all about.

QUESTION: When can you tell that your child is ready to compete?

ANSWER: Look to your child to give you the signal. When your child starts asking when he’ll be able to go to meets, that’s your sign. It takes a lot of confidence before a gymnast actually feels he is ready to compete, and when he shows his eagerness, then its time to ask his coach for an assessment of his skills and readiness. If however, your child starts saying he “has to go” to a meet, instead of wondering aloud if he’s ever going to, then it’s time to put ideas of competition on the back burner for a while.


QUESTION: In gymnastics, it seems that the most important thing that’s needed is the individual’s commitment to the sport. If a gymnast has dreams of making it to the elite level, and even beyond, this will mean a lot of sacrifice for her and her parents. She’ll have to give up traditional schooling, a normal home environment, and most of her friends. Is this really necessary to get to the top in gymnastics?

ANSWER: Unfortunately, the answer to this question, at least for aspirations toward the elite level, is “yes”. You might want to check out a book about this written by Joan Ryan entitled “Pretty Girls in Boxes” (Warner Books, 1995, ISBN 0-446-67250-5). It’s a largely controversial book and the author has received a lot of criticisms because of how much the book is biased against gymnastics. It takes a look at the uglier aspect of the sport, and there are allegations that Ms. Ryan has used the research she has gathered to promote her own agenda.

A quote from pages 36-37 goes: “Most gymnasts begin the sport so young, as toddlers, that the plague of injuries seems normal. No one tells them their body belongs to them, not to their coaches or parents. No one tells them they are disposable heroes. No one needs to. They know. They’ve seen the endless stream of girls skip through the front door and hobble out the back. They know when they’re bodies give out, there’s someone else to take their places. So they hide their sprained ankles, deny their broken toes, play down their pulled muscle.”

Looking at it from another angle, highly decorated gymnast Shannon Miller says that there are certain types of personalities that thrive in this kind of environment, just like she did. The important thing here is to know your child – her temperament, her motivations, the goals she’s set for herself – and support her in her decisions all the way.

To be fair to the sport, and to provide some balance to this answer, here is a quote from a veteran gymnastics coach:

”Yes there are some coaches that should not be coaching. But on the whole, gymnastics is a wonderful sports and not reflective of Ms. Ryan’s book.

A friend of mine that competed for the USA in many international meets including the Olympics said. “Yeah, I didn’t get to go to my prom but I got to travel all over the world and I did a handstand on the Great Wall of China.” So kids in the elite level lead different lives but not lives deprived of childhood activities. Many kids hang out on the streets smoke and drink, or get into drugs, I’d rather have mine in the gym.…I had a mother want to take her daughter out of gymnastics and the child said “No way, I’d rather quit home than gymnastics.””

QUESTION: Do gymnasts need a special kind of nutrition?

ANSWER: That’s a great question, and there’s an entire special report specifically based on that topic. To make it short, your child will require a well-balanced diet that consists of protein to help her muscles recover after a long workout, carbohydrates to increase energy levels, and a bit of fat to store for fuel. It’s best to avoid fast food as much as possible. This may be difficult as a gymnast and her parents constantly try to incorporate their lives into a demanding gymnastics schedule, and time is always of the essence. However, taking the effort to prepare nutritious home-cooked meals with a variety of meats, vegetables and starchy foods will give you a healthier child in the long run. It’s important that your child not attend practice on an empty stomach. On the other hand, don’t fill her up to the brim just before training. Have her consume a 100 to 200 calorie snack like say, an apple or a piece of string cheese, to help fuel her energy and get her through a workout. Make sure to prepare a pre-workout snack high in carbohydrates and with a bit of protein and fat thrown in. If her workouts last longer than an hour, give her a bottle of juice so she can sip it all throughout to prevent dehydration. After the workout, your young gymnast will need to rebuild her worn-out muscles with protein, restore her blood sugar levels with carbohydrates, and consume some fat to provide her with long-term fuel.

QUESTION: How do I keep my child from injuring her joints and muscles while doing stretching exercises?

ANSWER: The reason why it is so vital to have a good conditioning program is because it increases the cardiovascular fitness your child will need to get her through long the arduous workouts, it builds strength enabling stronger muscles and stable joints to withstand vigorous training, and it enhances flexibility, a must in the prevention of injuries. Make sure your coach incorporates an excellent conditioning program that will provide your child with all these elements of cardio, strength training and stretching.

QUESTION: Before we moved, my six-year-old was training only two hours a week. Now her new coach wants her in for two hours per day, three days a week. Isn’t this too much too soon for her age? Won’t my child get burned out?

ANSWER: It looks like your daughter’s new coach has a very competitive program geared for training elite-level gymnasts in-the-making. There are cases of some 6-year-old girls who train for 3 hours, 3 days a week and you may also have to consider that once a week might not have been enough for your daughter as a child her age can forget a lot in 7 days. But know that your daughter runs the risk of overtraining and incurring injuries with the kind of schedule her coach is demanding, particularly if the workouts are very monotonous. A workout must be varied and allow your daughter to practice different things. If you have some misgivings about your daughter’s new training schedule, talk to her coach about amending the time spent training to an hour, 2 to 3 days a week. If your coach refuses to give in to this compromise, consider shopping around for a new coach and a new gym.

QUESTION: My 12-year-old daughter has gone up a level and is now in training with girls older than her. She’s losing interest because she feels she doesn’t fit in. What’s the best way to motivate her to continue with the program until some of the younger girls eventually make their way to the level she’s in.

ANSWER: You might want to encourage your daughter to make friends with the older girls. You can help by hosting a sleep-over, or taking them all out for ice cream and pizza after practice, to give them a chance to bond. It’s a good idea to talk to your daughter and explain the benefits of getting along with the girls in her level. If she’s still uncomfortable about it, you can suggest that she stay solitary until the rest of the younger girls can join her.

QUESTION: How can I help my daughter hurdle those terrible times when she gets injured and has to go through physical therapy, reconditioning, and having to relearn skills?

ANSWER: The best thing is to be there for her. Keep talking to her and giving her lots of extra attention. Tell her about the injuries you’ve had when you were younger, how you felt about it, how you healed, and what you learned from the experience. Explain to her the virtues of patience and perseverance. Remember, girls her age who’ve never been injured may feel like it’s the end of the world when they do, so listen to her, sympathize with her, and above all support her during her time of pain and tribulation.

QUESTION: Is there information available about high-quality strength programs for gymnasts?

ANSWER: There are a lot of sources you look into. You have to bear in mind though, that young athletes under the age of nineteen are not advised to lift maximal weights, or the maximum amount of weight they can carry. This is because the ends of children’s bones have growth plates which do not totally harden until they reach the age of nineteen. Lifting excessively heavy weights will cause these bones to fuse, and eventually arrest the growth process.

You would want to have a strength program tailored to fit your child’s requirements. One good, although expensive, idea would be to work with a personal fitness trainer who specializes in and has experience training with kids. Another would be to let your child perform some basic sets of drills twice a week, to include 20 reps of squats, leg curls and lunges, deadlights, shrugs, bench presses, seated rows, lat pulls, overhead presses, bicep curls, triceps press, plus 3 sets of 20 crunches. Chose weight denominations that will let your child really sweat it to get to those last 5 to 10 repetitions, but with enough energy left to do 5 more. Move the weight up a bit after a week. Make sure your child does cool-down stretching afterwards and consumes a well-balanced diet with protein in it.

QUESTION: My daughter’s main problem is the vault. She gets 9.0’s in all the other routines except this one. How can she attain the push-off that she needs?

ANSWER: Your daughter will need strength, speed and technique, all of which are needed for vaulting. Some gymnasts also have this problem, so they counter it with more velocity during the run and hitting the springboard in the exact spot at the exact moment, making sure the body remains tight and the feet in a position in front of the board. The use of arm swing is equally important, as is blocking quickly and remaining tight.
QUESTION: Is a shorter gymnast a better gymnast because of a lower centre of gravity?

ANSWER: As a general rule, yes. Short thin girls and short muscular boys have the ideal body type for men’s and women’s gymnastics. If your child is tall and thin, you may want to consider getting her into basketball or long-distance running. But if she really enjoys gymnastics, don’t force her off training. After all, the idea here is letting her have fun.

QUESTION: My daughter is dead set on becoming a cheerleader, but she doesn’t have an adequate back handspring yet which is a requirement in cheerleading. What’s the fastest way she can learn to do a perfect back handspring?

ANSWER: The most expedient way would be to take your daughter to a gymnastics coach or a tumbling coach for some one-on-one instruction. Let the coach know what your daughter requires so she can learn the skill immediately. Also, there’s a special article in this site on back handsprings which you may find useful.



 

 

 

 

Nutrition

Eating Disorders Preventing Eating Disorders Proteins, Fats and Carbs Competition Diet Fast Foods Sample Diets

Frequently Asked Questions About Gymnastics

Part 1 Part 2

 

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