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Gymnastics/Poor form

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Hi there,
I have a 7 year old gymnast who is currently in the equivalent of the US level 5 (we live in Ireland) and trains about 14 hours a week. She is very talented and part of an elite development programme where they focus less on competition and more on developing the gymnasts for the future. She is in a small group of other very gifted girls who are all 9-10 years old. She has been doing gymnastics for almost 3 years now and really enjoys it. She is very strong, she can easily do 5+ connected press handstands, full cast handstands on bars etc. and extremely flexible (big oversplits on both legs and full middle split). We are very satisfied with her training to this point, however, she lacks what the coaches call "good form".  It's not terrible but it is very frustrating to watch. She is not tight when performing skills, rarely points her toes and completely lacks rhythm in dance. She is constantly reminded, over and over the same corrections, she applies them - it looks beautiful - and then 5 minutes later she is back to square one. I am sure that it is a lack of awareness and concentration but the other girls in her group did not have this problem 2 years ago. It is also very frustrating that when she does compete (in levels far lower than she's capable of), she is being outscored by girls who have far less ability and train far less hours. This has not prevented her from learning skills well. She is a good tumbler, she can do multiple back handsprings-back tucks, front handspring-front tucks, standing back tucks, aerials. She can do back walkovers, press handstands, back handsprings on beam and kips, nearly giants on the bars. She just lacks the polish that is required in competition. Perhaps I compare her too much to the other girls in her group, who are all extremely tight, but it is quite disheartening. Is it related to age? Concentration levels? Is this going to be a difficulty for her all along as she gets older? Her coaches are not too concerned but admit that it has taken longer than expected for that awareness to set in. Surely at the end of the day it doesn't matter how talented you are or how early you learn these skills if you can't perform them perfectly in competition? Also, she has no sense of beat or rhythm when dancing in her floor routine. Sorry for the long email but I wanted to give you as much background information as possible. I would be grateful to hear another coaches point of view as hers are quite difficult to speak to. Thanks so much.

Answer
Hello Marie,
         I am very glad to help you.  Believe it or not I was the same way for a time.  Strength and better technique lends to better execution and connections.  It will come.    Also, regarding rhythms, ballet training is quite important for body lines and the strength for keeping good form.  And don’t forget awareness and poise.  All of team kids in our gym are required to take ballet.  Also, I would like to give you an example of a common trouble skill.  I see back walkovers performed weakly often because of the lack of strength in the lower back and flexibility.  The result is a back walkover with slightly bent legs or it looks like a rainbow shape.  Sometimes the only ingredient needed is being stronger than you day demands.  Also, repetition creates habits that are recognizable.  Once a habit, good or bad is identified, the gymnast can then have more ownership over the element and its connective values.  I wish your daughter the very best.  I would be optimistic and athletically patient.  I believe your daughter’s desires of gymnastics will overcome all adversities.  
Take Care – Jack Leonard

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Jack Leonard

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Former 5 time Natl. Tumbling Champ, 3 time Natl. Vaulting Champ, Natl. Floor Exercise Champ; Ass`t coach of Dominique Dawes for 6 years; Owner/Director/Head coach of Kauai Gymnastics Academy on the island of Kauai in Hawaii; Retired Physical Ed teacher; Childrens Fitness Expert; Expert Consultant for gymnastics litigation; Retired Mens & Womens HS Gymnastics coach for 32 years. National coaching honors for Men in 1981 & Women in 2001.

Experience

I value the following awards because they were given by acknowlegement through my peers: The Nissen/Grissold Award given to the outstanding Tumbling and Tramp Athlete(1972), National High School coach of the year in 1981 for men and 2001 for women, 10 time County Coach of the Year. Medal Award given at the first World Tumbling Championships in London, England for dedication to the sport. Lastly, having the opportunity to coach Wes Suter(1988 Olympian)in his intermediate years and Dominique Dawes(1992 & 1996)

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