Gymnastics is a wonderful sport for kids, and can help them develop coordination, strength, balance, flexibility and so much more. It can also build self-esteem, and improve skills such as self-discipline and concentration. Plus, being a gymnast is a lot of fun!
The Right Age
Children can start in gymnastics as young as 18 months in a "Mommy and Me" class with a parent. If your child is older (usually around age three or four), s/he is ready to be enrolled in a beginner gymnastics class. Gymnastics clubs vary, but usually classes are grouped by age, and as your child progresses in the sport, s/he will later be grouped by ability level.
Finding a Gym
First, find a local gymnastics club in your area. This tool will help you find one that is a member of USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for gymnastics in the United States. Clubs that are members of USAG have to meet minimum requirements for liability insurance and coaching expertise, and must pledge to follow USAG's Code of Ethics.
You may want to pick a few gymnastics clubs in your area and go in for a visit. Gyms vary significantly in the facilities they have -- some are enormous buildings with all sorts of equipment and mats, while others are much smaller. Oftentimes, beginner gymnasts have a lot of fun on some of the "extra" equipment such as climbing structures, foam pits and trampolines. Visiting a few gyms may help you decide what's important to you and your child. Be sure to look for:
- A visitors' viewing area where you can see your child during his/her class
- A well-lit, clean facility
- An office manager who will help you with administrative items (registration, payment, assistance with any questions that you may have)
- A gymnast-instructor ratio that seems appropriate (there is no magic number, but the children should look as though they are being monitored at all times by an instructor)
- An emphasis on safety: Are instructors spotting (helping) the children? Does it seem as if there is adequate padding (mats) throughout the gym? Are there signs up describing safety procedures and rules? Also ask if the instructors are safety-certified by USA Gymnastics.
- Happy-looking gymnasts enjoying themselves and the sport
What to Wear
Once you've found a gym and enrolled your child into an introductory class, you'll want to make sure s/he has the right clothing. Most gyms have strict clothing policies for safety reasons, so you may want to check with your club to see what its particular policies are.
Typical expectations are:
- Girls wear a leotard
- Boys wear a t-shirt and athletic shorts or sweat pants. T-shirts should not be baggy, and shorts/sweat pants should not have zippers, snaps or anything else that could get caught on the gymnast, apparatus or instructor. There should also be no pockets because there is the possibility to catch and breaking a finger in them while doing activities.
- Long hair is pulled back and out of the face
- No jewelry at all
- No socks
Other EquipmentAs your child progresses in gymnastics s/he may need equipment such as:
- Handgrips: worn on the uneven bars (women), high bar and rings (men)
- Beam shoes: worn to protect female gymnasts’ feet on balance beam
- Rope, hoop, ball, clubs and ribbon: the equipment for rhythmic gymnastics. This is usually provided for beginner rhythmic gymnasts, and then purchased by the gymnast when she enters competitions.
[adapted from: A. Van Deusen]