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Gymnastics/Poor form when performing skills

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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
Hi Marie,

Does your daughter enjoy what she is doing? If so she may be achieving her most important goal. Form and rhythm, while important for performance, may not be front and center as a goal for her at this time. She is after all only 7 years old.

Do her coaches allow her to practice without proper form? There is an old saying, "Only perfect practice makes perfect." In your daughter's case, do the coaches train her and expect from her incremental improvements or do they allow her to keep practicing bad habits?

How has your daughter been made aware of the requirements for skill performance? Her internal sense of performance may be telling her she is practicing a skill correctly. Have you ever shown her video of her performance?

Is she rewarded with verbal compliments and / or pats on the back when she performs a skill correctly? If there is no incentive to perform better, what can you expect?

With all that said, I would keep in mind she is 7 years old. She sounds extremely talented for her age. Instead of making mud pies in the back yard she is performing skills that not too many years ago were considered Olympic-level. I worry about kids in the near future that don't show a propensity for levitation skills, not discounting giants on uneven bars, before they are seven years old.

Regards,

Coach Rik

Gymnastics

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Rik Feeney

Expertise

I can answer questions regarding all levels of the sport of women's gymnastics, the business of gymnastics, and the marketing of gymnastics programs.

Experience

I am the author of "Gymnastics: A Guide for Parents and Athletes" currently being published by McGraw-Hill. I am also a ghostwriter and co-author of the Gymcert series of books "Levels 1-3 Gymnastics Coaches Certifications Manuals" for recreational gymnasts, and the "Levels 4 - 6 Skills and Drills" books as well as Safety Basics for Gymnastics Instructors. I have written several other books on the sport of gymnastics for Richardson Publishing, the latest of which is titled, "Back Handsprings: The Secret Techniques." Oh, and by the way, I was a competitive gymnast through high school and college (Temple University), gymnastics club owner for 10 years, and women's gymnastics coach for 30 years working with gymnasts at all competitive levels

Organizations
USA Gymnastics National Writer's union Florida Writer's Association

Publications
USA Gymnastics magazine Technique magazine International Gymnast magazine several newspaper articles

Education/Credentials
Temple University - Health Physical Education, Recreation & Dance Norwich University - Bachelors of Arts in Writing & Literature

Awards and Honors
Several state and national level gymnastics champions in different systems of competition.

Past/Present clients
Gymnasts, coaches, and club owners nation-wide.

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