Think You Know Gymnastics? Branch Out.

Somewhere around the dawn of time, I retired from competitive gymnastics, but my heart still yearned to compete. I found an alternative home in the trampoline and tumbling world.

To me, T&T is the original ‘branch’ sport (more on that ‘branch’ analogy in a second). It kept me in the gym and I found great success with it, competing in Nationals for Canada then the US and finishing second in World Age Groups.

Think of traditional artistic gymnastics as a tree trunk. From there, branches form. The tree gets bigger, expanding its reach farther and farther. Although parts of the same base, different animals begin to form new communities in different parts of the tree. Some are closer to the trunk while others sit at the very end of the highest branch.

Because I expanded my definition of what gymnastics was, I found a new home. That expansion of ideas continues today. From San Jose to Ontario, times are a changin’.

This summer, I had the privilege of traveling and speaking at different gymnastics congresses and conferences. Between presentations, I attended many sessions about sports that started with gymnastics as a foundation...then took a sharp turn, becoming a new sport/movement/community.

I’ve been involved in gymnastics for a long time and it was extremely refreshing to see a new expanded view of what our sport looks like with these new branches – some fully formed, some just sprouting.

Here are three expanded gymnastics-based sports I learned about this summer. They are all super cool and open the door to new groups of people in your gym.

Parkour

Parkour, or “freerunning”, combines crazy jumps and flips with the goal of moving in a wild, “gymnastics-y” way from point A to point B. (Think of Jason Bourne being chased through the streets of some European city).

In my opinion, Parkour is the world’s perfect sport for boys (they do, however, have a ‘Lady Parkour’ division too). What an awesome opportunity to open up the gym to a group that isn’t normally there: teenage boys.

At a conference this summer, I met the co-founders of World Freerunning Parkour Federation and USA Parkour, Victor Bevine and David Thompson. They described the awesome world wide parkour community. By world wide, I mean they just opened a group in Baghdad! Amazing!

Both co-founders have worked hard to organize the sport through USA Parkour offering insurance, instructor certification, and a database of all participating gyms. They even have a kids program called Parkidz & Ninjas which looks super cool.

Websites for more info:

www.WFPF.com

www.USAParkour.org

Gymnaestrada

To get a picture of gymnaestrada, think “performance gymnastics.” Now, add an ensemble group (a minimum of 10 in a group), make up, costumes, and any age group….and ta da! You’ve got Gymnaestrada!

This sport centers around a group performance with no aspect of competition. That's right, no competition. Just a passion for performance in this marriage between gymnastics, dance, and theatre.

The woman who presented this session for Gymnastics Ontario’s congress took up Gymnaestrada later in life and had no gymnastics experience at all. Don’t think it’s popular? It drew a crowd of 20,000 gymnasts and spectators to Helsinki last year for the World competition.

My favorite part of this style of gymnastics is the any age group part. In this community, you will find grandmothers, teenagers and little ones alike.

Check out this video from the world Gymnaestrada in Helsinki! https://youtu.be/hMNv9j9WUSc

Acro

Acro gymnastics combines partner elements, balance, and gymnastics. Think of it kind of like the pairs figure skating of the gymnastics world. It also introduces a partner or team element of performance. It reminded me a lot of Cirque du Soleil.

When I watched a demonstration, I was amazed at how the young kids could support each other in holds and lifts. This is an excellent way for older children to stay in gymnastics for a longer time!

USA Gymnastics has an active Acro community and helpful guides on how to start a program at your gym. Big news – acrogymnastics will be part of the 2018 Youth Olympic Games! Whoo hoo!

Dig in to acro gymnastics here:

https://usagym.org/pages/acro/pages/index.html

http://www.fig-gymnastics.com/site/index.php#

Open Your Gym to Non-Traditional Gymnastics Groups

Offering alternatives to the traditional gymnastics track opens doors to...everyone.

By broadening our definition of ‘gymnastics’, we allow children who would normally drop out of our sport, a safe place to land. Let's face it, by design and tradition, kids may participate in gymnastics for, say, six years? Starting preschool at age four, then dropping out of the sport by age 10?

In addition, because the ‘branch’ sports described here are much smaller communities than artistic gymnastics, it is more likely athletes will get to compete at higher levels than they would have in artistic gymnastics alone.

One program director told me her Gymnaestrada practice times were on Sunday night, a time when her gym would typically be empty. Borrow this idea and offer these classes at ‘off peak’ hours of the gym.

Different gymnastics-related programs offer a place where everyone fits, no matter her or his skill level, body style or experience. As long as they have the desire to continue with the sport, these alternative programs make a home for them.

How Do I Start a “Branch” Program in my Gym?

The best piece of advice I picked up is to have an advocate or representative in your gym who is ready to take on a brand new program.

Many people begin by offering brand new programs at discounted rates to eliminate any resistance involved with people who are brave enough to try it. Find your pioneers!

Ask for volunteers to spearhead a program and start small. Let your advocate do the research and make the plan. Work together to implement it.

Time to Grow New Branches

Now, I know the branches of our gymnastics tree don’t stop here. There are many other gymnastics based sports on the horizon. As long as we continue to expand our definition of what our sport is, we leave space for our gymnastics tree to grow and grow and grow…