Head over heels over gymnastics
Published: Sunday, January 22, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 5:31 p.m.
Gymnastics can be a solitary sport, but this time of year, it's a family affair as Gators gymnastics draw thousands to meets at the University of Florida's O'Connell Center.
2012 GATORS GYMNASTICS SCHEDULE
Gators women's gymnastics meets at 7 p.m. at the O'Connell Center. Tickets are $4 for adults, children 17 and under are admitted free. Available at O'Dome ticket window and Ticketmaster.
Jan. 27: vs Arkansas, Bridgeport and Maryland
Feb. 3: vs Alabama (away)
Feb. 10: vs LSU
Feb. 17: vs Auburn (away)
Feb. 24: vs Georgia
March 4: vs Nebraska (away)
March 16: vs Utah
March 24: vs Southeastern Conference Championships (away)
April 7: NCAA Regional Championships (TBA)
April 20-22: NCAA Championships (away)
AREA GYMNASTICS CLASSES
Sun Country Sports
4010 NW 27th Lane
Children 18 months to 17 years, Monday-Saturday; $82 per term plus membership.
1555 NW 23rd Ave.
Children 18 months to 13 years, Monday-Thursday, $68.90 a month membership fee.
5201 NW 34th St.
Children 18 months to 10 years, Monday-Thursday, $60-$240 per session.
24350 NW 176th Ave., High Springs
Children 3 years to 17 years, Monday-Thursday. Call for rates.
"Last year, we took a bus up there with 40 or 50 kids on Pink Night," said Michael Hamer, who runs Ocala's Balcony Gymnastics. "It's an incredible motivation to watch these college athletes. People don't realize what a high-powered sport gymnastics is here in Florida."
The sport, which combines tumbling and acrobatic skills with and without apparatus, is often a gateway activity for young children.
Gymnastics helps children in both physical and developmental ways, said Debbie Miles, whose daughter, Beth, has been involved in the sport for 10 years. At age 15, she's one of the top competitors at Gainesville's Sun Country Sports, and Miles says the involvement helps her daughter prioritize and schedule on an adult level.
"She goes to school, goes to gym, then gets home around 9 p.m. and does her homework," said Miles. "It's given her great time-management skills because she has to plan her gymnastics and school work around each other so nothing suffers."
Jodi Bennett, the director of marketing and operations at Sun Country Sports Center, says most gymnastics programs in Gainesville and Ocala start children off at the tender age of 18 months.
While that might sound early, Claudia Senesac, an assistant professor at UF's Department of Physical Therapy, says physical activity can start for children as young as one year old.
"Children are naturally active and so starting early with activity groups in those first 12 to 24 months is a good way to introduce cooperative play. Children between the ages of 3 and 5 are gaining more control over their movements, coordination, strength and body awareness and are ready to start more structured activities like tumbling," she said.
Not every child has to end up on the fast-track to the Olympics, or even stay in gymnastics for it to be beneficial to them.
"Gymnastics has the benefit of giving children body awareness," says former O2B Kids gymnastics director, Tabitha Benway. "Even if they're not good at gymnastics they still gain body skills that will help them be successful in other sports in the future."
The list of positive attributes gymnastics gives young children includes gross motor development, strength, flexibility, self-confidence, discipline and listening skills.
"It's a wonderful foundation for any sport," says Bennett, "so even children who don't want to continue with it have an athletic foundation for the activities they move on to."
Sports centers say gymnastics is one of their most popular programs because children can start at a young age, beginning activities are simple and the skill level can gradually increase. Before registering a child in a course, experts suggest parents make sure it's a right fit.
"The environment does have a tendency to become competitive rather quickly around age 5 and 6 years of age," Senesac warns. "Some children will thrive in this environment, and others will not do well. Monitoring your child's enjoyment in gymnastics and keeping track of any injuries is critical to your child's growth and development."
Meanwhile, Miles said her family soaks up the gymnastics atmosphere even when their daughter isn't participating. With UF's gymnastic season under way, the family will often go to meets together.
"When she was little, it was good for her to be able to see higher skills and set some goals," Miles said of the UF meets, "and now that she's older and has the skills, it's nice for her to see that she's at that level. It shows her how far she's come, and what she can look forward to."