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Over my years of coaching I have come up with a few ways to help make stretching more exciting and worth-while for my younger aged athletes. Of course it is not something I do every practice because training flexibility has to be serious as well. It takes discipline and focus to make sure they are stretching their bodies in a way that is going to help their gymnastics. These are just a few fun activities I use sparingly to distract their minds from the pain.

1 – Something To Think Or Talk About

Start by saying out loud any subject and give them a few moments to think about something related to that subject. They can take turns sharing what they thought about. This can be repeated until the stretch is completed. For Example: You might ask what their favourite subject is in school or what their favourite food is.

There is no right or wrong answer, all this simply does is distracts the kids from the pain they may be experiencing by thinking about something else. You may also want to use this time to give the kids a chance to talk about their goals or achievements. You can also ask them to talk about what they did at school that day or how their weekend was. It is basically a chance for them to talk and share. Before they know it they will be done stretching. This also doubles as an excellent way to bond amongst the team.

2 – Play A Word Game

This game is kind of like the one above but more exciting, faster pace and great for learning how to think under pressure. Give them a subject, for example “animals” or “fruit”. Each athlete would have to say a word related to the subject one at a time with only 10 seconds to respond. If they go over the time limit, pass them and give the rest of the teammates a chance. You can keep circling around the team until there is not much left to say in regards to that subject. You can continue to repeat the game with different subjects throughout the entire stretching period. This helps with distraction but also gets their minds working at a fast pace and under pressure which is important in gymnastics. Most determined pre-comps will not like to be “passed” so they will try very hard to come up with something faster the next time it is their turn.

3 – Breath Deeply And Visualize

Breath in through the nose, hold for one second and then breath out through the mouth while keeping the shoulders relaxed. Repeat this breathing pattern while training flexibility.

While they are breathing deeply, I ask them to close their eyes and visualize themselves doing their routines on each event. I like to talk out loud during this exercise to prompt them when to breathe in and out. I try and speak with a soft voice and tone so it feels therapeutic while they are visualizing. Visualizing is not only good for distraction but helps to develop strong minded athletes that can actively make changes to better themselves on a regular basis independently.

4 – Remind Them Of The Benefits

Educate your athletes on the reasoning and benefits of training flexibility. Check out the article “Top 3 Reasons Why Flexibility Is Essential For Gymnastics “. In that article I go over the 3 most important reasons as to why flexibility is an essential part of the sport and why it is important to train if you are looking to raise higher level athletes in the future.

This exercise is not as “fun” but I find it most successful when working with athletes that have positive attitudes and are motivated to succeed. I talk about the benefits of flexibility at any age but I find it more successful and meaningful when they are on the older end of the pre-comp spectrum and especially as they move into higher level gymnastics.

5 – Laugh

Now this one may seem odd but it seems to be one of the biggest hits when I am coaching. The kids find it exciting and seem to enjoy it. There is no special trick or rules to this one. You basically just tell them to laugh. Who doesn’t like laughing? At first, you may have to give them something to laugh about but as they get the hang of it they will be able to do it themselves. Laughter is infectious, the moment a few of them start the whole room will be laughing. You can have them say jokes or even funny memories from the past. I find this exercise really helps turn tears into smiles.

These exercises are not difficult and there is no trick to making flexibility training easier. They simply help the time pass quicker by distracting their minds. Many of these exercises also have emotional benefits and help to develop strong minded athletes so I encourage you to give them a try. Stretching splits and doing other flexibility exercises are essential for making gymnastics a safe sport. It takes discipline and focus to do them properly so try not to do the silly activities on a daily basis because it may take away from their focus. Use them once and a while to make stretching more fun but push for the more serious exercises such as visualizing or focusing on how they will benefit from flexibility training.

“You are your own most powerful motivator and critic. Which will you be?”

-Coach Brittany-