Gymnastics 101 (Gymnastics for Dummies)

Gymnastics 101 (Gymnastics for Dummies)

 Rebecca Marson

Crystal Coast Gymnastics

When my oldest daughter started gymnastics at 2 ½, I had very little understanding of the sport.  My only experience with gymnastics came from watching the Olympics.  I had no ability to understand how kids could get from their preschool classes to someday doing the big tricks I had seen only on TV.  Even watching the older team girls I sat and wondered how in the world they ever got to where they were.  It took me many years to even begin to decipher the complex world of gymnasts.  I am still learning to understand it.  Last month I talked about the many benefits of gymnastics.  In this issue, I will explain the events in women’s artistic gymnastics in an effort to shed some light on the sport.  At a later time I will address the men’s artistic gymnastics program.

Gymnastics has been around for about 2000 years.  Its history as a competitive sport is more recent.  It came into being as a competitive sport just over 100 years ago.  In the 1880’s the International Federation of Gymnastics (FIG) came into being as the governing body for the sport worldwide.  Gymnastics was introduced into the United States and its school systems by European immigrants in the late 1800’s.  The Amateur Athletic Union was the governing body for gymnastics in the US at that time.   Gymnastics became an Olympic Sport in the 1896 Olympics in Athens, Greece.  At this time only men participated, competing in five events—horizontal bar, parallel bars, pommel horse, rings, and vault.   The first women’s gymnastics team made their debut in the 1928 Olympics.  The United States fielded its first Women’s Gymnastics team in the 1936 Olympics.

In 1970, the United States Gymnastics Federation, now known as USA Gymnastics was formed and became the governing body for the sport in the United States.  It remains so today.

There are four events in women’s artistic gymnastics –vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise.  The vault is a test of strength and athletic ability.  A gymnast sprints down an 80 foot runway and jumps onto a springboard, launching herself into the air to land momentarily upside down on a vaulting table, only to spring back off into a series of flipping and twisting movements to land on her feet.  A beginner gymnast learn to vault by practicing running, “hurdling” onto a springboard, jumping, and “sticking” a landing.  Slowly she progresses from these early drills to more and more difficult vaults.  The process may take years to evolve.

The uneven bars are two horizontal bars at different heights above the floor.  The lower bar is usually about 5 feet off the ground; the higher is about 8 feet off the ground.  This event requires tremendous strength—both upper body and core—as well as split second timing at the higher levels.  Gymnasts perform a routine that incorporates swings, handstands, pirouettes, release moves, and flipping or twisting moves.  Beginning gymnasts start learning these skills in the form of swings and pullovers, gradually progressing to more and more difficult skills.

The balance beam is an apparatus that is 16 feet long and four inches wide.  The suede covered, padded wood beam sits roughly four feet off the ground.  A gymnast performs a routine that lasts up to 90 seconds and involves a mount, leaps, jumps, flips, turns, and a dismount.  The beam incorporates strength, balance, and coordination, as well as an awareness of body position in space as the gymnast flies over the beam and lands on the four inch wide surface.  Our beginner and preschool gymnasts start with the basics, learning basic walks and turns, gradually progressing to jumps, leaps, and finally handstands.  At the competitive level, they begin learning various tumbling skills on the beam.

The floor exercise combines power and grace as a gymnast performs a choreographed routine that involves both tumbling skills and dance elements such as leaps, turns, and poses.  The floor exercise is performed on a padded 40’x40’ floor.  The gymnast is evaluated on her athletic ability, creativity, grace, and ability to perform her routine within the prescribed boundaries.

I have explained the events of gymnastics, but now I have probably left you wondering how your child will ever get from that awkward stage of a new student to the grace and poise of a competitive team member.  The answer is simple.  With time and appropriate skill progression, all children can blossom in gymnastics.  Each will achieve her own level of success.  Children can start gymnastics as early as they can walk.  In our facility we allow them to start in a parent tot class at 18 months.  From there we progress to preschool gymnastics and then recreational classes for children 5 years and up.  Many of our children will remain in recreational classes, gaining the benefits of strength, balance, and coordination, but will elect not to go on to competitive gymnastics.  The beauty of the sport is that there is something for all levels from the very beginners to the world class athlete.  Gymnastics provides a wonderful foundation for any sport, as well as life!