When Should My Kid Start Serious Gymnastics Training?

Young gymnast
© Image Source / Getty Images

The glib response to the question of when a child should  start serious gymnastics training is "never." In my opinion, your child should always be having fun, and should never be doing "serious" training. Once s/he stops enjoying the sport, it's only a matter of time before s/he gets burned out or quits altogether.(See: 6 Signs Your Gymnast Needs a Break)

But I understand what parents are really asking when this question comes up.

Most see their daughter or son in a preschool gymnastics class and wonder when it should be more actual gymnastics and less play.

What Age Should  Children Start Training Seriously?

I talked to several coaches and the general opinion seems to be that most kids should be about six when they start a "real" gymnastics class. Before that, the focus of any class should be on developing body awareness and a love for the sport, even if it's more "play" and less "real gymnastics."

What Are the Risks of Being a Child Gymnast?

Kids that start more serious training very young don't seem to have a leg up on kids that start a bit later -- and it may even be to the child's disadvantage to start early. "The risk of starting advanced gymnastics at a young age is potential burnout as a pre-teen," says veteran coach Rick McCharles of Altadore Gymnastics Club in Calgary, Canada.

Serious gymnastics training can have severe health consequences for the young.

Girls that train too hard often have issues with their menstrual cycles. Injury is not uncommon in sports like gymnastics. Parents and athletes should weigh the risks of a short career as a gymnast versus the chances of what could be a life-long injury. For those with a true passion for the sport these risks might be worth taking.

      

Altadore runs a "Mighty Mites" program in which kids age four to six work on general physical and motor fitness. Then, children progress to a "pre-competitive" training program. An interesting sidenote: McCharles has noticed a difference between boys and girls. "Girls are on average more psychologically and physically ready for structured training than boys the same age," he says. This doesn't mean your son might not be ready at a young age. It's important for you to understand what your child is capable of.

So, if your kid is having a blast in a preschool program, don't worry even a little bit that you're hindering her chances at becoming the next Gabby Douglas. A kid who loves gymnastics will pick it up very quickly at any age. One unique example: Brazilian world champion Daiane dos Santos didn't start gymnastics until she was 12.