Go Slow to Go Fast: The Essentials of Teaching Gym Rules

The beginning of the fall session can be a doozy. Typically, you’ve got tons of new gymnasts who are limited on experience, but bursting with excitement to get in the gym. 

Here’s the hard part: you have to balance their excitement with the very real challenge of teaching them the rules of the gym. 

The best part about preschool is that little gymnasts are excited about pretty much everything. Even lining up can be a new skill they’ve been itching to try. Balancing fun with expectations can be a challenge, but if you set the intention that the first few weeks of class are all about learning how to stay safe in the gym, it’s a great place to start. 

Basically, the main rules of any gym can be broken down into what I like to call “The Big 3” umbrella:

The Big 3 Gym Rules Are:

Staying with our coach while we’re in the gym

Keeping myself and my crew safe

Following directions

Are there more technical ‘rules’ like having your watching eyes on while coach is showing what to do? Sure. But, keeping your rules quick and manageable makes them easier for children to understand. Also, most of the more ‘little’ rules, fit under the Big 3 umbrella. For example: “Lips off of the water fountain” falls under the ‘we have to follow directions’ rule. 

Slow Down to Speed Up

The key to teaching The Big 3 is going slow to go fast. Take your time, go over these explicitly and often. Don’t be afraid to take your gymnastics skills down a notch in order for your gymnasts to understand and practice The Big 3 gym rules. 

This is the time to set high expectations for your gymnast’s behavior in the gym. If they are not behaving in a safe way, ask them to try it again. It will be downright painful for you in these first few weeks, but your hard work will pay off. Keeping a tight grip on your class management now will allow you to loosen up later. Keep this up for about six weeks, and your gymnasts will have the Big 3 down. 

A caution: if you are not consistent with teaching the rules now, you’ll still be working at ‘how to keep your body safe in the gym’ months from now! The trick is to set the foundation of The Big 3 gym rules right away, with painful consistency. If you let undesired behaviors happen now, each week will become more challenging. Use gentle but confident reminders and praise to reinforce when you see your gymnasts practicing the Big 3 gym rules.

Child Friendly Language

The reason I choose to teach “Keep myself and my crew safe” is because it sounds more appealing than “keep my hands to myself”. Using child centered language is key to making these rules appeal to your young gymnasts. For example, you can use lining up as a teaching moment by explaining that “lining up is a way we stay with our coach in the gym, one of our Big 3 Gym Rules! Ok, let’s fly like a flock of birds, all together, to get a drink”. Another example might be when a you show a gymnast how to do a station and they complete it as asked, you can say “wow Gemma! You really followed directions, one of our Big 3 gym rules!”

Be Patient

Remember that young gymnasts are not only learning your rules, but also picking up on class flow (when you get a drink, etc.), new friends in class, and new body movements (the actual gymnastics part!) It will take them a few weeks to get everything used to everything. 

This is particularly true for gymnasts in preschool or kinder taking evening classes. These gymnasts will be super tired by the time they see you in the gym. They’ve been following classroom directions and learning new routines all day, and now you’re asking them to do that in the gym. Remember that they’re still very young and it will take some time for their stamina to increase so they can follow all of your gym rules. Until then, be firm but kind while you repeat and show your Big 3 rules often. 

Get Parents on Board

At the end of class during your PTT (“Parent Talk Time”), tell parents that you’ll be going over the Big 3 gym rules for the next few weeks. Explain that it will take several weeks for their young gymnasts to pick up on the flow and rules of class, but keeping them safe in the gym is your top priority. Let them know that after you have routines and rules set, you’ll be able to motor on some more gymnastics only focused class. 

Ready, Set...Gymnastics!

Once they have the routine down, it’ll be a breeze to dig into more meaningful gymnastics. The first six weeks of class are the most challenging, but your hard work will pay off soon. Keep it consistent, keep it fun, keep hitting The Big 3!