For some people spending time with two feet on the floor is just a little dull. They prefer to fly through the air, balance on narrow beams, or propel themselves into an aerial tumbleturn from a vault box.
They are gymnasts, and gymnastics is, internationally, one of the most popular sports for young people. Gymnastics teaches important life and social skills, and has lifelong health benefits.
There are a number of different forms of gymnastics and the most popular and well known is artistic gymnastics. Artistic gymnasts learn standard skills on a range of gymnastic apparatus. In competition, they are graded on the level of difficulty of the skills they choose, how well they perform the skills and, on some apparatus, artistic merit.
The competition apparatus for women are the beam, uneven bars, vault and floor, of which the ten centimetre balance beam is often regarded as the most difficult. Men compete on the parallel bars, pommel horse, rings, high bar, vault and floor. Most gymnasts have their favourite apparatus and the one which is their greatest challenge!
Like many clubs, the Waverley Advanced Gymnastics Club, in Victoria, Australia, treats gymnastics as much more than just a sport. The club aims to enhance each gymnasts physical, mental and personal development through teamwork, performance in competitions, and by creating an environment that encourages personal friendships. Children can start as young as two by joining the kinder class, where they learn fine and gross motor skills, balance and movement.
Gymnastics is a weight-bearing sport as many of the skills are based on being able to support the weight of the body in difficult positions. This training develops muscular flexibility, co-ordination and endurance, and also contributes to a high bone mineral density.
Studies have shown that people who participate in weight-bearing sports, such as gymnastics, record a higher bone mineral density than those whose main sport has been non-weight-bearing, such as swimming. Bone mineral density is an important factor in preventing osteoporosis later in life.
Gymnastics also contributes to all-round body strength as it is a symmetrical sport. Most skills require the same level and strength of output from both sides of the body, avoiding unequal development which can later be the cause of skeletal and muscular problems.
Where gymnastics differs from many other sports is in its emphasis on precision. Gymnasts receive scores out of ten for performances on the apparatus and points deducted for errors. It is a sport of focus, discipline and control, and is most suitable for children who feel comfortable in, and even enjoy, a competitive environment.
As an international Olympic and World Championship sport, artistic gymnastics gives the opportunity for young gymnasts to set their sights high and to explore their athletic and creative possibilities.
Whilst not everyones dream of becoming an international competitor or winner comes true, the gymnasts journey is one which teaches the skills of friendship, teamwork, dedication, the ability to cope with disappointment and, hopefully, with success.
CJ – Fitness