What does an elite gymnast look like as a child?

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k3mom

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May 6, 2009
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Hi! I have never posted here before, but I'm needing some insight. We know our daughter is a good gymnast. What we don't know is just how good she is and how much we should be putting into this.

Let me give you a little background. She was adopted on her first birthday from another country. She was quite malnourished at that time, but she was already almost running! It is almost unheard of for orphans from this country to be walking at a year--supposedly she started walking at eight months. As a toddler, she constantly amazed everyone with her coordination and she loved to climb anything she could find. She particularly enjoyed jumping off the back of our couch.

We fiinally started her in gymnastics (just to save our furniture!) when she was about three-and-a-half. She started in a class for 3 to 5 year olds--some of whom had been in there for almost two years. On her first day, she was immediately the best one in the class. Within two months she could do everything they were teaching. The gym would not move her up until she turned five, so we moved her to a different gym. She moved up quickly at the new gym and when she turned four, they started her on the pre-team.

She competed this year as a level four because she was only six. With 104 degree fever, she placed first on beam and missed first place all around at State by 0.2 points. (I had no idea she was that sick when I handed her over to her coaches!). As she was only a level 4, she has not really been allowed to work on higher level skills, but she has managed to basically teach herself the level 5 and 6 routines on the floor and beam. She can now do two backwalk overs on the high beam and is very close to "having" her back handspring on the high beam. She has a beautiful round-off-back handspring-back tuck on the floor and a so-so layout. I don't know what all she is capable of on bars, but I know she has her kip and is very close to a nice cast handstand.

I should also say that she is completely obsessed with gymnastics. When she is not in school, she is practicing in our living room... constantly. She sometimes does conditioning for fun. She has the Olympics and the Olympic Trials on DVD and watches them over and over and over.

Her coaches tell us that she has an "unbelievable amount of potential", but we're not sure what that means. Does that mean she might get a college scholarship, or does that mean that she will probably go elite? Obviously, no one can tell me the future, but I'm just wondering if this is how most elite gymnasts were at 7.... or if she just sounds like a kid who has a little bit of talent. Her coaches now want her to start practicing 16 hours a week. The gym is an hour from our house, so this is a big deal. Plus, she just turned seven in February. It seems crazy to have a seven-year-old at the gym that much. On the other hand, she's going to practice at our house anyway; she probably should be at the gym where she stands a smaller chance of breaking her neck!

I'm sorry this is so long. I'm just hoping that someone can give me a little insight.
 
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TeamDad

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I think the most important thing is that she is doing what she loves doing. Gymnastics is a great outlet for all the energy that kids have. As an adolescent, building self confidence through accomplishment is a great benefit, and the sport of gymnastics goes a long way to this end. It builds physical strength through conditioning. It builds coordination through repeated physical movement. It builds character, discipline and lasting relationships through the spirit of team competition.

It's hard to say where she will end up in 10 years, many things can happen between now and then. Listen to her coaches and take it one year at a time. You could have a future Olympian, a college bound gymie on a free ride scholarship, or a girl who is just happy doing gymnastics. Gymnastics has many positive benefits and can provide years of positive growth. At this point, get her in the best possible situation for all involved and see where it goes.
 
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MeetDirector

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K3Mom -

I echo what TeamDad said! Let me add that there will be enough pressure coming from other sources and to not add any from the parents (voice of experience speaking here). Our coach told us several years ago that there is one critically important thing to keep in mind - the girls need to have FUN; if going to the gym becomes a chore, then all kinds of bad things can happen. Let the coaches guide you and keep seeking out advice along the way. Be there to wipe the tears and give the hugs and to celebrate the successes she will have. I have personally seen girls burn out like a shooting star as a 12 year old due to perceived parent pressure; its not a pretty sight.

One other thing, don't forget that she is a kid and sometimes she might need to be reminded of that - let her have her childhood.

Good Luck.
 

coachmolly

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It's so hard to tell at such a young age. I mean, you can tell when a kid has no talent, some talent, a good amount of talent, or an exceptional amount but that's about it. Kids who are exceptionally strong and flexible can become less so as they grow and get older, develop mental blocks that prevent them from progressing, or any other number of factors. There are just so many variables.
If she shows this much physical ability at such a young age, there is a good chance she will excel in some sport. Whether or not it's gymnastics, no one can know at this point. If she loves gymnastics then the best thing you can do is find qualified coaches who can help her get as far as she wants to.
There are lots of kids in gyms around the country who are "fast tracked" for the elite level. Some fall away quickly, others earn scholarships, and some actually make it as good elite gymnasts. I think the important thing now is to let her have fun, be successful, and use her talents to the best of her ability.
As a level 4/5 coach, I can say that while generally talented kids in her age group are a dime a dozen, talented kids who are also driven, dedicated, and work hard are much more rare. She sounds much more willing to work than pretty much any of the much older kids I'm working with right now which is a very commendable thing. It sounds like she is on the right track to being a good gymnast, but only time will tell.
 

Chalky

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It does sound like she has a lot of potential. To get to the higher levels (8,9,10), and Elite, gymnasts need to have talent, but most importantly desire. All gymnasts encounter times when training is difficult or boring - there will also be injuries and other frustrations. Often it is the kids with the most desire who can weather these storms. Look at Beth Tweddle; she doesn't have the perfect gymnast's body or the most talent, but passion and hard work have got her where she is, while other girls have quit.

I would recommend that you nuture your daughter's talent and desire, but be very careful about getting sucked in to the gymnastics funnel cloud. You know your child: fr some 7 year olds, 16 hours a week would be too much, but for others who love to be in the gym, it may be fine. I would do some research on training of young gymnasts. You need to be aware of the risks of burn-out, overuse injuries and psychological pressure. Have a good talk with the coaches and make sure that you and they are in agreement about a training plan for your daughter. When kids are young, it is good to introduce SOLID basics as well as the movement patterns for higher level skills like giants, flips, Yurchencko PROGRESSIONS, before fear sets in. However, it is very important that these higher level skills are taught through drills with soft equipment because young gymnasts are very prone to growth plate injuries esp. of the wrist.

Overall, you want your daughter to enjoy gymnastics and know that she is loved unconditionally, regardless of her sucess in sport. Many great gymnasts have Type A personalities with OCD tendancies! They are often so hard on themselves and expect so much that they forget why they enjoyed gymnastics in the first place.
 
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starmaker

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Hello and Welcome to CB!

As I read your description of your little girl it was as if I was reading about my dd. She too had amazing strength, ability, and agility from a very young age. I put her ing gymnastics at 3.5 year old too for safety issues and was on preteam by 4 years old. She just turned 6 years old last month and is training L4/5. She will hopefully compete in the fall as a L4. Last fall she competed L3 and had tons of fun. It definately sounds like your dd is quite the talented gymnast and she probally does have what it takes to be elite. However, the decision is hers to make and it the meantime as her mother provide her with all the opportunities for her to be the gymnast she can be now. As far as hours go....as long as she is having fun then I wouldn't worry about burn out. From my experience the children that burn out are the ones with poorly trainind coaches, thoses that only run routine after routine and pushy parents. Talented gymmies need to stay challenged and having fun. I know that my dd goes through periods where she seems "unmotivated" "bored" with gymnastic. Then the moment she is working on new skills the passion, motivation comes back until the next big skill. I don't know about your dd but mine is all about the big skills and doesn't want to slow down her progress to perfect old skills. Now that she is getting older she is realizing that perfecting skills is important but she still loves mastering big skills.

My dd is currently training 10.5 hours a week and in the summer will be training 14 hours. I also make sure she has a balanced life. I don't want her to miss out on her childhood. I arrange playdates, put in an art class (she loves drawing), etc. Just keep the pressure off and support her good and bad days.
 

Gymdad2

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k3mom,

Congrats to your dd. It sounds as though she does have talent for gymnastics, and it may provide another option for her in the future. I want to add that I fully agree with Team Dad's advice. It sounds like she is in 1st or 2nd grade now which means there are 10 more years of school before college or elite training or whatever she decides to do with this talent. And that assumes that she stays in gym for those 10 years, and in this sport there are only a very few who do. She certainly sounds good enough to do so, but there are so many other factors that will come into play in those years that may change her mind (or body). The point I am getting to is that you cannot plan her future now around gymnastics. It has been posted many times before in this (and other) forums, but I will repeat that her education is much more imporant that her gym skills. Getting a good education must come first because that will last a lifetime and it will open many more doors for her that will gym. As Team Dad said, take it one year at a time, let her coaches decide how to develop her skills and what level she should be at, and enjoy the experience.
 

Tim_Dad

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Nov 3, 2008
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What does an elite gymnast look like as a child?

They look short. :D

Seriously:
Elite track ins't something a parent should take lightly. That's a huge commitment on every front. Super talented or not, it effectively replaces your daughters childhood with gymnastics. Do you want gymnastics to be PART of her life -- or ALL of it?? Lot's of risks and pressures will be heaped on her little shoulders - and yours.

16 hours a week for a 7 yr old??? Speaking as a parent... I think that's just plain nutty. When do you plan on visiting your daughter? maybe Sunday?

My suggestion: Re-read what Teamdad wrote over and over and over.

Oh yes -- welcome to CB. If you have any video's we'd love to watch your daughter in action!
 
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Megley

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I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that nobody can tell you the future. Becoming an elite gymnast seems to me to be a result of a combination of talent, drive, resistance to injury, good coaching, being at the right gym and luck. It's impossible to say now, at age 7, whether all those things will come together for your dd. I can only say that, based on your description, she has a load of talent and, at least right now, has the drive.

The reason I'm posting is just to say that I think that you will find that 16 hours is not too much for a 7 year old who is passionate about the sport. My dd is also 7 and currently competing Level 5. She has been training 16 hours since she was 6 1/2 with no ill effects. She's also a conditioning nut who likes to do extra conditioning at home. So far, she's had no trouble fitting all that in while still attending 1st grade and spending plenty of time playing with friends outside of gym. I feel like she has a pretty well rounded life. All this is to say don't worry about the hours - she will thrive on it.

Meg
 

gym law mom

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Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all had crystal balls and could see the future---then again maybe not. Many other posters have given alot of good advice. Getting through the levels to train elite takes an incredible committment from the child, the parents and your credit card/bank account. Are there other children? Are you willing to commit to driving 8 hours/week(assuming 4days--4 hour practices) and leaving the rest of the family to fend for themselves? Also, all the driving time extends your dd's day when she has gym.

JMO, I think 16 hours/week for a 7yo is over the top. Plenty of time as she gets older and decides this is what she really wants to add the hours. If she's doing 16 hours at age 7, then how many will it be at age 9 or 10? Our fomer gym had some very talented kids(ok so does the current one) that they pushed. Many were gone from the sport by 13 or so---burned out, injuries, just wanted a "real" life. Lots of risk in developing growth related/overuse injury by doing too much too soon and these injuries can "smolder" for 6mos to 1 yr before causing problems.

The idea that the extra gym time offsets her "practice" at home is not an exact trade off. There is certainly more stress on her physically and mentally in the gym. She'll never get to be 7 again, so let her be a 7 yo that happens to do some gymnastics.

GL to you both.
 
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gym4life915

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Ok I'm nearly an elite and I started gym as a young child. Head coach claims that when I walk through the door they could see the talent in me. I have always been good at the sport but I've been through it all: injuries, sickness, fear, you name it. When I first started I put in many hours because just like every other little girl I wanted to go to the olympics. My parents knew that most likely the olympics would not happen because there are too many variables in the sport of gymnastics. But they still believed in me. They signed me up for dance classes to help with choreography, they helped me find that special gym, took me to meets all over the country. When I reached the TOPS, HOPES and Pre-elite programs that just made me realize how great of a gymnast I really am and I could have a shot at the next olympics, who knows? If the coaches think she has real potential, listen to them. They only want whats best for her and if they think that many hours a week are the only her the best she can be follow what they say. If your daughter really wants to make it far, I suggest you be there for her and support her. Because on those rough days when you hurt and have given up all hope it seems like your parents are the ones helping you figure out what to do.
 

eeyoretumbles

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Jul 13, 2008
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Well welcome! Your story already sounds like one of the fluffs they do on the gymnasts at trials haha. But most of the people definetly covered it already. Just make sure she's having fun, and she really enjoys it. She seems VERY talented, but also you never want to rush. Steering in the right direction will be good, but I would definetly not try to push her too hard. As long as she's enjoying herself, it seems like she'll be headed in the right direction. Training elite at 7 is pretty dang young, and I wouldn't try to, hm how would I say it, perhaps say blow it up too much where she gets all her hopes up. Gymlaw mom got it right, she can only be 7 once, make sure she is still going to be a 7 year old. Goodluck and please keep us updated :]
 

Aussie_coach

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Yes, she has awesome potential. Many elite gymnasts weren't even as good as she is now at age 7. Of course the most important thing is to keep the love of the sport alive long enough to make it to elite. But for a true elite kid, thats not too much of an issue, you have to force them to stop doing gymnastics long enough to sleep for a few hours a night.
 

Granny Smith

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OP - Just curious if your dd's current gym offers TOPs. She sounds like she would be a perfect candidate for TOPs. If she were to qualify for teams, she would get the exposure to the National Training Center and the coaches. At the tender age of 7, it really only focuses on strength and flexibility. BUT as she gets older it will also focus on skills, fairly advanced skills for the girls' age.

I've also heard many times before that although some girls get fastracked, the word elite really doesn't come up seriously until around the age 12. She could focus on Hopes at the younger age though.

GL
 
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cher062

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I think the most important thing is that she is doing what she loves doing. Gymnastics is a great outlet for all the energy that kids have. As an adolescent, building self confidence through accomplishment is a great benefit, and the sport of gymnastics goes a long way to this end. It builds physical strength through conditioning. It builds coordination through repeated physical movement. It builds character, discipline and lasting relationships through the spirit of team competition.

It's hard to say where she will end up in 10 years, many things can happen between now and then. Listen to her coaches and take it one year at a time. You could have a future Olympian, a college bound gymie on a free ride scholarship, or a girl who is just happy doing gymnastics. Gymnastics has many positive benefits and can provide years of positive growth. At this point, get her in the best possible situation for all involved and see where it goes.
I agree with Team Dad. If she is at L4 right now Elite is just so far away you don't know what will happen between now and then. I've see really talented kids that I though for sure would head down the Elite path end up quitting when they got to the optional levels because of other activities they wanted to do more (like Band at school - there's a big commitment) I think once they get to about 6th grade on (especially High School) you never know what other interest will make them want to give up gymnastics.
 

k3mom

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May 6, 2009
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Thanks for your input everyone! I enjoyed reading all the comments. I guess we'll just keep it up as long as we can. I kind of panic every time they increase her practice time or move her up a level because of the increased impact it has on the family (not to mention the checking account!) I do worry that she's spending her whole childhood in the gym, but when it comes right down to it, this is what she wants to do. We're certainly not pushing her. When I dreamed of what her life would be like, it certainly never included competitive gymnastics. I thought she would go once a week for a couple of years and then move on to something else. I have no grandiose dreams for her future, although she insists she is going to the Olympics. We'll just see what happens. I guess if it's meant to be, God will take care of the details. He has so far.

No, our gym doesn't have a TOPS program. It's a pretty small gym. We only have one level 10 at this point. It is by far the best gym in the area though. I've heard of TOPS, but haven't really done much research since it isn't offerred anywhere close to us.
 

k3mom

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May 6, 2009
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Good question! I promise I had no idea she was that sick when I handed her over to her coaches. I knew she wasn't acting quite right, but she never said anything about not feeling good and she certainly didn't have a fever. I didn't know she was really sick until after the competition was over.
 

averyd123

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Aug 13, 2011
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I'm new to the site too, but I ran across your post and was curious as to how she is now, two years later? I agree that gymnastics is about much more than just talent-- it's the passion, work ethic, and just plain luck. So many kids burn out or get injured.
I was surprised as to how many people were opposed to that much training at a young age. At my gym, there's a seven year old who started gymnastics about a year ago and who is now homeschooled so she can practice 30 hours a week during school and 36 in the summer. She is an incredible gymnast-- working layouts on floor, walkover handsprings on beam, and giants on bars. Her coach is very careful that they are safe and healthy in practice because gymnastics is so hard on developing bodies, and she hasn't had any trouble yet. She loves it more than anything else, and I've never heard her express interest in doing anything but gymnastics.
 
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