I have long believed gymnastics to be the best sport on the planet. Recently someone asked me why I think so highly of this particular sport so I decided to put it into writing. I recognize the value of all sports but gymnastics has always held a special place in my heart. Here’s why…

As with several sports, gymnasts have the pleasure of being involved with a team. Unlike typical team sports, however, one athlete’s performance does not directly affect the performance of another. Excepting the rare team competition, gymnasts compete as individuals and are directly responsible for their own performance. This allows for a different sort of connection between teammates. While there is a different sort of pressure associated with this sort of athletics, the tension that sometimes exists in team sports when a weaker athlete plays poorly and loses points for their team does not exist in the sport of gymnastics.

Competitive gymnasts don’t have to ride the bench. Weaker athletes get the same amount of “game time” as stronger athletes. Ability is not a factor in determining who will get a chance to be part of the game. Every gymnast on the team gets to compete on all the events regardless of their placement on their team.

As with all other sports, the coaches play a vital role. While I am aware that coaches can inflict as much harm as good, if a gymnast has a good coach or team of coaches, they will automatically have built-in mentors & role models. Gymnasts typically spend more time training than other athlets so the coaches in this sport have maximum impact & influence. My two coaches, Mike & Joanna, were a young married couple. I admired them as coaches but even more so as people. Because I spent so much time in the gym (15-20 hours/week), I spent a lot of time with Mike & Jo. They took interest in my life outside of gymnastics, provided a loving & safe environment in our modest little gym, and encouraged me to be a better person. The six years they coached me were undoubtedly some of the most memorable of my life as a young girl.

Perhaps more so than other youth sport, gymnastics is great for teaching children how to set short & long-term goals, which is a valuable practice outside the gym as well. Every 6-12 months when I was a gymnast, our coaches would have us make goal sheets with both short and long-term goals. Short-term goals might be to master a backhandspring on the Balance Beam by the end of the season or learn how to do a giant swing on the Uneven Bars. A long-term goal might be to qualify for the state or regional competition. This kind of goal-setting is helpful on several levels. With short-term goals, gymnasts are able to experience accomplishment and success on a regular basis. Long-terms goals give the athletes something to strive for over a long period of time. This crosses over from sports to schooling to various areas of life.

Gymnastics also sanctions self-expression in ways other sports do not. Women’s Floor Excercise is the most obvious area for this. It allows the athletes to show their personality and style through their choreography and music. But self expression is not exclusive to women’s Floor Exercise. The other events call the athletes to express themselves as well, despite the lack of music and dance. Some athletes are more powerful, some more balletic, and every athlete’s personal style shines through on all the events – for the men as well as for the women. For example, Kyle Shewfelt, the 2004 Olympic Champion on Floor Exercise from Canada, is very fluid and graceful on the floor. That’s his style. Marian Dragulescu, the runner-up to Shewfelt at the Games, is more choppy than Kyle but excels in the power department. That’s his style.

Finally, with 4 events for women (Vault, Uneven Bars, Balance Beam, Floor Exercise) and 6 for men (Floor Exercise, Pommel Horse, Still Rings, Vault, Parallel Bars, High Bar), young gymnasts have the opportunity to find their special niche. Although gymnasts participate on all the events, each athlete on a gymnastics team typically excels in one or two particular areas. When I was an athlete, I was good on the Balance Beam and was known for my ability to hold a handstand. My teammates excelled in other areas. Molly could swing a mean set of Bars. Naita had the most powerful block on Vault. We all had a special area of strength, which allowed for each of us to stand out in a different way.

As with any sport, one bad coach, one bad parent, can spoil the experience for the athletes. Anyone interested in enrolling their child in a sport of any kind should do their homework. Find out about the coaches, their coaching philosophies, the facility, etc. But with all things being equal, gymnastics might just be the best option out there.

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