Have the school-free summer months reminded you of just how much energy your child has? You might be considering gymnastics as an outlet for them to both exercise, work on motor skills, socialize, and have fun. Participating in gymnastics doesn’t come without its own risks, however.
If you’re considering this free-wheeling back-flipping sport for your child, don’t miss this quick guide to its pro’s and con’s to help you make the decision:
Benefits of Gymnastics for Kids
When it comes to high-flying fun, few sports offer kids the exhilaration gymnastics does. Other benefits include:
- Physical fitness – like any regular physical exercise, gymnastics generates loads of health benefits for kids lowering their risk for lifestyle diseases like diabetes and obesity
- Team building – gymnastics learned in a group also equips kids with good team skills and teaches them how to work well with others in a fun, social setting
- Coordination – the tumbling, climbing, crawling, and jumping of gymnastics can bolster a child’s hand-eye coordination, balance, flexibility, and agility skills
- Self-confidence – overcoming challenges in gymnastics can help empower kids and give them a sense of achievement and pride that builds self-confidence
- Body awareness – early gymnastics classes for beginners help young kids gain a great body awareness that not just goes along with coordination, but enhances their motor skills and self-image
- Love of sports – gymnastics truly is a sport of dedication but also of enjoyment and early participation can instill a love of sports that helps keep your child active and adventurous for years to come
Risks of Gymnastics for Kids
Unfortunately, the high-impact nature of gymnastics makes it one of the more dangerous sports kids can take part in. Depending on the level of gymnastics they train too, injury risk will vary.
The journal Pediatrics reported in 2008 on a 15-year study that found over 26,000 kids are treated in emergency rooms annually for gymnastics-related injuries and that gymnastics has one of the highest injury rates (specifically for girls sports). Injury rates measured in this specific study were greater among 12 to 17-year-olds than they were 6 to 11-year-olds.
Common gymnastics injuries include:
- Stress fractures
- Shoulder, elbow, knee, wrist, and ankle dislocation
- Back strain
- Acute fractures
For less hardcore training and more recreational gymnastic activity, however, injuries are limited. A 2010 study published in the journal Pain Research and Management found that for roughly every 6 hour class of recreational gymnastics, most children were likely to experience a mild to a moderate painful incident, however, they were short-lived (less than a minute of pain) and most often responded to by the coach. Common painful experiences included bumping into equipment and temporarily hurting oneself on the floor apparatus.
As a parent, you will want to know some common injury basics like how to best implement the R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method, how to manage a sprained knee, how to recognize a sprain versus a muscle strain, and so forth. Should you choose to have your child try out gymnastics, you will also want to make sure that you understand the safety measures taken at the gym and that you know and trust the coach(es).
Researchers have illuminated some additional health risks associated with intense gymnastics training at a young age including abnormal menstrual cycles in girls, mental and emotional burnout, and delayed development associated with high stress levels, lack of sunlight exposure (from being in school or a gym all day), unhealthy dietary habits, and extreme travel.
This can be true of a variety of sports as well, however, so it really comes down to talking with your child’s coaches and doctor and weighing your child’s passion and desire to train at more demanding levels with the associated health risks.
What Age Should Children Start Gymnastics?
While it’s true that children are starting gymnastics at younger and younger ages to become more competitive, recreational gymnastics is truly accessible to kids of all ages.
Basic gymnastic moves for younger children may involve cartwheels, somersaults, backward rolls, and low balance beam practice. As they age and train they may move up to flips, more challenging apparatuses, handstands, one-handed cartwheels, trampolining, and more.
Other disciplines like ballet and activities like Ninja Warrior training also offer many of the same benefits as gymnastics and foster a dedication to practice and sense of achievement that will propel your child in life. As you look for fun activities that will help your youngster expend energy and learn new skills, keep gymnastics in mind. Just be mindful of the risks!