Before We Start
Teaching pre-competitive gymnasts is very tough. In fact, I find it to be the most difficult of all the levels and age categories that there are to teach in gymnastics. I have had the opportunity to raise many pre-competitive (pre-comp) groups from being able to do almost nothing, not even a front roll, into doing back layouts on floor, kip cast to handstands on bars, back handsprings on beam while having a strong understanding of basics in 2-3 years. Of course there are many more skills but those are just a few examples of what can happen in a 2-3 year time frame. By year 4 I would have them working giants on bars, twisting on floor, flight connections on beam and starting more difficult vault entries. I teach gymnasts of all ages and levels but my favourite thing to do is teach pre-competitive athletes and mold them into well conditioned and higher level gymnasts. I usually consider a pre-competitive gymnast age 5-9 years old but of course there is always exceptions for kids a little younger or a little older as long as they follow the same program.
Through trial and error over the years I have been able to make many guides and programs for basic skills that get results. I started out as a rookie but over time have put together what skills are the most important, at what age they should be learning them and what kind of time frame it should take to learn each skill. I wanted to try and sum up the most important tips to raising pre-comp athletes into 3 subjects but it was rather difficult because there is so much to cover. That being said, I picked 3 that I thought were the most important to start off with and will make the rest available to you in the near future.
You are probably eager to get into it so let’s go.
Tip #1: Have A Plan
This is by far the most important tip. Have a plan that is written out and easily accessible to you while coaching. No matter how much you think you have it down in your head it is important to get it down on paper so you don’t get lost and end up taking steps backward in your gymnasts development. I can promise you that without a plan you will get lost and therefore so will your athletes. It takes hard work and dedication to raise little gymnasts into big ones and if you are not committed you should know now that your athletes will not achieve what you want them to in the time frames you have set out for them. I don’t know about you but I don’t really enjoy setting my athletes up to fail.
Ingredients of A Great Plan:
- 3-4 Year Long term plan
- Short term goals in order to achieve long term goals (yearly, quarterly and monthly)
- Stay Focused on reasonable time frames
- Sufficient # of repetitions
In my experience you should have a minimum of a 3-4 year plan that outlines what skill level you want your little gymnasts to be at. Once you have determined that, you need a yearly plan as to where they should be at the end of each year leading up to the 3-4 year time frame. Next you will need a quarterly plan that describes where they should be roughly every 3-4 months throughout each year. Lastly a monthly plan that shows exactly how many repetitions each skill will needin order to be able to achieve all of these goals you have set out for the next 3-4 years.
What If It Changes?
Kids change as the years go by just like adults so you have be open to making changes to their developmental plans. It may turn out that they are not cut out for a fast pace strict program or perhaps it may be too easy and they will need a bit more of a challenge. They may have followed the plan for a year and a half and then start to get off track. It could be for various reasons, so be sure to investigate what the issue could be before giving up on the athlete. Whatever you do “don’t rush”.
Tip #2: Keep the Gynmasts, yourself and their families focused
on your expectations
In my opinion the hardest part of raising pre-comps is keeping them focused on your plan, keeping yourself focused on following the plan, and also keeping their families on board with whatever expectations you have set out so they can support their children in your program. My piece of advice would be to always follow through with your plan as well as your expectations no matter what.
But They Are Just Too Cute!
While teaching pre-comps I find it so easy to get distracted and just want to play games. I mean, who wouldn’t want to play games with cute little kiddos? I have found myself wanting to take it easy because their cute little bodies are just working so hard. From experience, I suggest you throw those easily distracted feelings out the window and stay focused. Kids this age need a consistent routine in order to learn effectively as well as someone to guide them and keep them reminded of what they are supposed to be doing. If you are the one allowing them to do something else other than their programs you can kiss your 3-4 year plan goodbye.
Are Their Families On Board?
Keeping their families on board can be rather difficult, especially because they are so young and still their “mommy’s babies” in several cases. Your job is to help the kids learn how to be independent and hard working athletes who do not depend on others for everything. Their families may find it shocking at first and sometimes not even enjoy your program but once they start seeing results they will be thankful and happy for their child’s success. Results are going to help your families trust you as their coach. If they do not see results you will have unhappy parents and families. Remember they are the ones paying for the programs and have control over whether their child stays in your program or not. That doesn’t mean you need to allow the parents or families to walk all over you and do as they say, it just means that you have to find the best way for them to understand that you are the expert in gymnastics and prove it with results. They will in most cases respect you for that.
Have rules in place and don’t let them get away with not following them. This goes for your little gymnasts, their families and yourself. No one should be not following rules that have been set out from the start. I encourage you as a coach to have your expectations set out in advance for the parents so that they are not surprised with any type of disagreement such as missing practices or having their child take a “reflection break” (time out) for not following proper instructions. Be reasonable but be in charge.
Give the parents honest reports and evaluations of their child’s progress. If you lie once and say that they are doing well when they aren’t you will only get stuck later. It may be nerve racking to confront the families, but most adults take honesty very well. I realized that they might not always like what I am saying but it is the best thing so they can stay on board with their child’s involvement in your program. If the athlete needs to do 50 cartwheels each week for 4 weeks but misses 4 practices out of the 12, the parent should not be surprised as to why the skill may not be completed on time. This is another reason why your plan needs to be written down and well thought out.
Always give honest feedback to your athletes. If they did not perform a skill or correction properly, I would strongly suggest you do not tell them they did. Even though they may have tried it 100 times already and you may feel bad for them, lying about it will not help them do it any better next time. It will also not help you to build a proper trusting relationship with that athlete.
Reward is important for each athlete in order for them to feel motivated to continue especially if you are running a strict and fast pace program. Reward your athletes but only when they have earned it through success, positive attitude or following instructions. Do not reward bad behaviour or pretend like you never saw it. Take charge of your athletes so that they respect you as their coach.
Tip #3 – Don’t Ever Hold Them Back
Pre-competitive athletes usually pick up things quickly but they will all be different. Move on when they are ready and don’t hold them back. If they have completed a part of your plan early, get the next part started right away. If that means that they need to train more hours, talk to the parents ASAP and get them on board.
As a first year pre-comp I recommend starting at 4-6 hours and move to 9 hours by the end of that year at 3 days per week. Second year, I suggest training 12-15 hours at 3-4 days per week as long as they are progressing well according to your long term plan. Third year, I generally recommend 15-17 hours at a minimum of 4 times per week and then closer to 20 hours in the 4th year at 4-5 times per week. By then they should be at a level where they can enter into the U.S.A.G. J.O. level system at around a level 7 or moving into an optional, pre-novice, aspire or pre-high performance program. Of course each gymnastics centre is going to be different and have different philosophies and opinions on training hours but I have found over the years that these were the best jumps for my athletes that I knew were talented and were going to be high level gymnasts.
What About The Basics?
Make sure you spend enough time on basics but understand that not everything is going to look as nice as if a 10-12 year old did it simply because they are younger and still learning body coordination. As a coach, I am very picky on tight body form and presentation but it’s important to allow them to try harder skills as well even if the basics are not perfect. You should always go back and perfect their basics as you go along but don’t wait until they are perfect to try something harder. I made this mistake in my first couple years of raising pre-comps and I realized too late that they were behind where I wanted them to be.
All of these tips are for gymnasts in a fast pace program towards higher level gymnastics. If you are predicting that the gymnast will be a lower level, take your time to help them stay in the sport as long as possible so they don’t get burnt out working skills that they are just not meant to do. Gymnastics is great for everyone but in different ways. It doesn’t matter what level they end up in so do your best as their coach to make sure your athletes are following the right program. Each athletes best work will be different and you have to be able to work with them at the appropriate level.
Stay Tuned For More
I have so much more to talk about in regards to pre-competitive gymnasts starting from zero and progressing forward to higher level gymnastics. I have skill progression charts, conditioning charts and skill development programs that I will make available to you. I have information on learning how to teach young kids in the most efficient way possible in order to get the most out of them. Dealing with parents and families is a huge topic as well. I can provide information to help you get your athletes and their families on board with your programs. Stay tuned for more to come.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on clinics for coaches in regards to pre-competitive development. One of the toughest things I have noticed at many gymnastics centres is finding time to have the experienced coaches and/or gym owners teach the younger coaches how to run great pre-competitive programs. We need to focus on teaching them in order to have larger successful programs. Our coaches need to feel challenged as well as feel appreciated so they can be successful in their development as well. Let’s start by teaching them first.
“You are your own most powerful motivator and critic. Which will you be?”