Being an elite gymnast is something that only a handful of people will get to do in their lifetime. If you are an aspiring elite gymnast, a coach wanting to learn how to coach a gymnast to the elite level, or a parent of an elite gymnast, here are some tips for you.
Becoming an Elite Gymnast:
There are many steps that a gymnast, coaches, and even parents have to take in order for a child to work towards the elite level.
As a Gymnast:
For a gymnast to become an elite, it is ideal that it starts from the very beginning. By that, I mean that a child should start gymnastics at an early age (3-5) in hopes to eventually get to the elite level. Of course, there have been gymnasts who started later and made it to elite, but starting young gives a more reasonable time for a gymnast to become an elite.
Ideally, a gymnast who aspires to be an elite needs to be a combination of strong (mentally and physically), flexible, and self-motivated.
- Mentally Strong: Being an elite gymnast will require a great deal of mental toughness. Long hours are required, sacrifices (like formal school, other sports, and not being around friends outside of the gym), will have to be made, and the emotional effect will have to be dealt with mentally. It can get tiring trying to train for elite, and being an elite will not be for everyone. Mental toughness may be the most important aspect of being an elite gymnast.
- Physically Strong: Obviously, to be at that high of a level in gymnastics, you are going to need to be physically strong. Gymnastics can take a toll on your body if you are training skills that your body is not ready for. If becoming an elite is what you want to do in the future than you are going to have to be ready for the physical pain that will come. You know what they say; No Pain, No Gain. For elite gymnasts, that is a very true statement because the conditioning will hurt and be hard, but it will be worth it when you get to the level that you want to be.
- Flexible: Being flexible is very important for any level in gymnastics. It is important to be flexible, especially in elite, because the more flexible you are, the easier gymnastics is. In elite, there are many leaps, jumps, and skills that require a full range of motion in the body. If you cannot make a full leap, or arch enough for a back handspring on beam then doing higher-level skills will be difficult.
- Self-motivated: It is very important to be self-motivated as an elite gymnast. There will be times that you will wonder if trying to do elite was the right choice. It will get hard and it is never 100% easy, but if you have the determination and drive to do elite, that will help tremendously.
Something else that your coach might have you do to train for the elite level is TOPs. TOPs is a program by USAG that is for the best of the best in certain age groups between 7-10. TOPs is a developmental program that is only for certain gymnasts. Usually, gymnasts who are on the TOPs teams for USAG become elite gymnast in the future.
As a Coach:
Coaching elite gymnasts is different than coaching the normal Junior Olympic gymnasts. It will require more time and more patience. The days in the gym will be longer but the connection you will make with your gymnast or gymnasts will be stronger.
Coaches and elite level gymnasts spend almost every day together. Building trust with your gymnasts is something that will help them grow as an elite. It is very important to always remain positive with your gymnasts.
They will rely on you to help them through their hard times. It will not be easy either, it will get tiring and there will be frustrating times, but the good times will outweigh the bad times.
The commitment to be a coach to an elite gymnast needs to be 100%. You will be in the gym 24/7, there will be many car rides, and plane rides to meets across the country or even international but it will be an exciting experience for you and your gymnast.
Also as a coach, you have to choose what is best for the gymnasts. Skills, practice times, meets to compete at, etc. It is a full-time job coaching an elite gymnast.
As a Parent:
For a gymnast to become an elite, it is ideal that it starts from the very beginning. By that, I mean that a child should start gymnastics at an early age (3-5) in hopes to eventually get to the elite level. Of course, there have been gymnasts who started later and made it to elite, but starting young gives enough time for a gymnast to become an elite.
There will be sacrifices you will have to make as a parent. You will have to devote a lot of your time to your gymnast becoming an elite. There will be multiple meets, a lot of traveling, a ton of hours spent in the gym, but it will all be worth it to see your gymnast happy.
There are also sacrifices your gymnast will have to make that you will have to enforce. One big thing might be formal school. It is definitely possible to become an elite gymnast while still in school, but it is definitely easier to have your child homeschooled. It is important to train many hours a week as an elite.
To do so, it is easier for a gymnast to come in the morning, do school in the early afternoon, and then train at night. Now, I am not saying your gymnast has to be homeschooled in order to become an elite gymnast, I am just saying it may be an easier option.
Lastly, the most important thing you can do as a parent is to remain supportive. Let your gymnast know that they can do whatever they put their minds too. If being an elite is what they want, then encourage them through every good and bad day that this is possible if they set their minds to it.
Photo Credit: USA Today Sports