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What do you feel is the best age to start competitive gymnastics? By competitive I mean, at what age should children begin spending 20-30 hours a month in the gym?

At my gym, kids start pre-team at age 7-8 which is a feader into L4, but I have noticed that other teams have children half our teams size and 2/3 their age. Also, I've now learned that some kids start as early as Level 2. What are the benefits/drawbacks, concerns/dangers to starting team gymnastics at an earlier age than 7-8?

For me, I was concerned about my DD spending so much time in one activity and opted to give her oportunities in different activities. Also, the pound on young developing joints was a concern as well as muscular development (or overdevelopment) at such a young age as say, six.

All opinions welcome
My dd started later than a lot of other people I talk to. She started rec at about 6, pre-team at 7 and started competing level 4 at 8. Now she is a level 7. Do I worry about the hours in the gym - honestly -yeah I do. Especially after this summer. She was training 24 hours per week and ended up with wrist injury. I would like for her to have time to try other things - but truthfully it doesn't bother her that she can't. All she wants to do is gymnastics. She really does love it. And to be perfectly honest, if she weren't dedicating all her time to gymnastics it would be something else. That is just her temperament and personality - I'm actually glad we have an outlet for all her energy.
Hi flippymonkeysmom

sounds like we followed a similar path - preteam 7/8, L4 8/9, L5 9/10. I would like to add that the younger kids that I have seen competing at the same levels appear to be very well coached...kind of glad that we didn't have to go head to head actually...but it does raise a little concern.
At our gym, there is no hard and fast rule about age/levels, they look at a child's ability. My oldest DD came to this gym at 7y 2 months, only knowing a cartwheel. By 7.5 she had gotten her ROBHS and started training 9-12 hrs/wk for Level 4. Competed her first L4 meet on her 8th b'day. The other girls on her L4 team were 6.5, 9 and 12. My little DD joined the L4 team at 5.5 yrs old, training 15 hrs/wk. She competed L4 just 6 weeks after turning 6. The other girls on her L4 team were 8-12 yrs old. The level 3 girls were both younger and older than her.

Our current team trains:
Preteam - 6 hr/wk (aages 6-8)
L4 - 9 hrs/wk (ages 7-10)
L5+ 15 hrs/wk
L5 girls are 8, 10, 10, 13
L6 girls are 12-14
L7 girls are 11-13
L8 girls are 10-14

What I've observed at our gym is that girls who start younger like my little DD and the L8 girl who is 10 have fewer fear issues when learning progressively harder skills than the girls who started later.
My dd started at age 7, I think I saved some money! We have been at it 4 years.
I started my kids when they kept climbing on the couch, their cribs, etc. Usually a good age to start in my opinion would be 3-6. At that age, they don't really have any fear, and there little so it would be easier to do tricks. The cons would be, they might burn out or not have any interest. Also, they might get an injury that will force them to retire early. At our gym it ranges

Pre-team: 5 girls, ages 4-6
Level 4: 7 girls, ages 7-10
Level 5: 9 girls, ages 7-12
Level 6: 8 girls, ages 8-14
Level 7: 10 girls, ages 9-15
Level 8: 6 girls ages, 10-15
Level 9: 3 girls, ages 14-16
Level 10: 2 girls, ages 15
I just want to clarify that at age six, we are talking about kids who have just started their first year of Kindergarten for the most part which is also their first all day experience away from home. I find athletics at that age extremely healthy for the mind and body...also to burn off that excess energy, but if we're talking spending an additional 15hrs a week in the gym at that age plus the rigors of a competitive team...WOW!
Best age to start? Oh, sometime between 8 and 18. Ok, I'm being a smart-alec, but my views on gymnastics, or any kids sports, are pretty laid back. What's your goal? If you think you've got one of the 6 girls who will eventually make the Olympic team (and somewhere, somebody does), you're going to look at this much differently than I do. I think kids should learn to love being active, to win and lose gracefully, and to understand the mindset of an athlete. (We're a pretty sports-centric culture, KWIM?). That really can be accomplished at any age.

Our gym starts competing at USAG level 4 and a girl in that level might be anywhere from 6-12. Our old team manager and head coach prefered older girls. The youngest advanced girl on the current team is a 13 yo level 10. She's a 7th grader and will have 6 years she can compete as a 10. Should be well-situated for a scholarship. She started competing level 4 and has progressed at the rate of one level a year. So, why start competing at younger ages and blast through the levels as fast as possible? I have no idea what benefits that would offer (again, though, remember what I think kids should get out of sports).

I think you're right to be concerned about the pounding. My oldest dd left the sport after her freshman year in high school. Her knees still hurt. She did not start training for team until age 9, optional at age 12. I can't imagine what it's like for the very young optionals who start training 20 hours a week at age 10 or younger. I'd also add hyperextension to your list. Young bodies are more flexible, often to their own detriment.
My gymmie started pre-team at age 7 at one of those "elite" training gyms. That was about the average age for girls to begin the road to team. She competed L5 at age 9, L6 at 10 and was 11 last year as a L7. We swtiched gyms after her L6 season for the "very negative atmosphere" reason and she has found that passion for the sport again.

One of the big concerns for girls after about age 9 are growth related injuries. Many are painful with no real problem later on, but some can force a girl out of the sport or they get tired of dealing with the pain and go onto something else. Doing long hours of practice for years burns kids out and many times they can get the same amount done in a shorter time. Really about the only way 25-30 hours of practice/week can be handled is with homeschooling and a physical therapist on speed dial.

My gymmie had a friend from our old gym that the gym decided to fast track. Girl was fearless(to her mom's dismay) and they decided early in her L6 season to get her to L9 for the next year. Starting in May 07 she began putting in 25-30 hours/week---every week. She had already uptrained alot as a L6, so had all of her L7 skills. If you look just at the results, you'd be very impressed. 1st AA at states as an 11yo, did well at regionals and qualified to sectionals. Will you see her name in results this year? No. She is done and 12 yo. Her parents could not take watching the pounding her body was taking anymore plus the whole family was putting their lives on hold for her gymnastics. Fearless: yup Talented: yup, but was moved fast---not moved smart.
I'm not really sure if I'm answering your question, but I had some input along the same lines with my DD. She will be 4 in a few months and has the option of going 2 days a week for 2 hours at a gym that competes Level 3. She would compete in 2 years as a 5 year old and train 6 hours a week. I decided that it just wasn't necessary. I don't see any advantage to her training 4 hours a week at such a young age or competing as a 5 year old.

My decision is already made, but I'd be interested in some input from coaches on this. Even if she had aspirations to get to the elite level, which is impossible to know at this age and probably unlikely, I don't think it matters what she does right now at almost 4 years old. The gym is trying to convince me that the preschool class isn't the right class for her. It's not progressive and it's too easy for her. I don't really care though. This is my instinct as a parent.
My dd is in pre team which at our gym is level II and she is 4. Our first team level that competes is level III. Right now we are kind of weighing the pro's and con's of what we should do. The Level III coach has already told us that dd is more than ready to be moved up to level III and their plan for her is to move her up as soon as she turns 5 so she can compete. Most of the girls in level III are 7 and up, she she would a lot younger than the other girls which worries me a little. We told them that we have to think about it. The main thing that concerns me is all the hours of practice and the potential harm it can do to their young bodies.
Not really sure on this one. I am pretty new to this sport. I would like to say it depends on the child. I know that I take this whole gymnastics life day by day, LOL, but I think it really depends on the kid.

My DD started gymnastics at age 3 1/2. She had been developmentally delayed at birth, but with PT, OT and mommy therapy she became almost the complete opposite & was super strong. She used to run full speed doing a front handspring in my house or grab my hands and climb up my waist to flip over. I am sure everyone on this board is nodding right now that their DD's did the same thing! We signed her up after watching a class w/a friend. She was in rec classes from 3 1/2 to age 5. 45 min or an hour was never enough for her, she always wanted MORE. Right before 5 she got really bored and I almsot took her out for another sports program, but on her 5th B-Day they moved her up to Pre-team. We thought the 4 hrs a week would do her in and she would be done. She never complained and loved the extra time. She could have gone to team earlier but we waitted until the 6th B-day. When the hrs increased again to 10.5 hrs/week, I thought she would be done. All along she did other activities like Girl Scouts, CCD and T-Ball too. We are on yr 2 getting ready to compete again. I would love to "hold" her here as far as the hours. I am afraid of burn-out when she gets to the next level & hours will increase again. But for now she still loves it and aspires to be on the TOPS team. She's only 7 and I know her interest could change at any time and we try not to get too far ahead of ourselves. In Jan we can re-evaluate if she wants to move up and take on the extra time, she will be almost 8 then. I never want to look back and think I made any mistakes or that she missed something by doing gymnastics. But to answer the question finally....I think this was the right age to start gymnastics for her because she is such a physical child. When she is not in the gym she is bored and bouncing off the walls. I tend to think if it wasn't gymnastics, it would have been another sport for sure because she's been like this since birth. She did dive team over the summer and wanted to do Winter dive but with 3 kids it is too expensive and too much of a time comitment. I don't see her going to the elite level in gymnastics, I don't even think about getting to L5 yet. Right now she just loves it, and loves being in the gym and loves conditioning and being strong.

The only concerns I would have about starting at the early ages is for those parents that get sucked in & try to push their children thru the levels. They think they have to start early to get their kid to the Olympics! They want their children to get more privates, more practice time, open gyms, more time period! They are thinking more time means better. Couple girls on DD's team go to the gym in the morning before school for extra time training for HOPES, get privates and go to practice...sometimes they are in the gym almost 6hrs on some days already. CRAZY! I think age doesn't matter as long as you child is in it 100% and you know how to use your judgement.
I agree ellabella. I would let her be 4 love it and not let anyone give you the "she has so much potential talk". She will have that same potential in another year. This age is way too young to make that type of team commitment. The program should offer something for her level..If shes too good for the preschool and not yet ready for team what other options can they as a gym offer you.
My oldest dd was a gym rat and always in the gym with me since she could walk. She competed young and trained hard and gave up everything to be there. She had to work for every skill she got. My youngest dd had no interest. She danced, swam, did soccer,piano and anything else she could try. She was a natural ,graceful athlete and I knew she had it all. Many of the other coaches kept telling me to push dd2 but it wasnt worth it to me. At 8 1/2 my youngest decided she wanted to do gym and be on a team too.. My oldest had been competing for years by the time she was this age. My youngest was very lucky that she was a natural because she learned a lot by watching and mastered most skills after only a few turns.. By the time she was 10 1/2 she had caught up and surpassed most the kids she started out with and I had 2 level 9s in my house. She was still loving it when others were burning out because she had her chance to do it all before she started. She never had the feeling that she was missing out on anything. Though my oldest succeeded as well and competed through college she often said she wished she had tried some of the other sports that my youngest had.
For some kids its 5, for some its 10, for some its 15 for some its never. It really depends on the child, all kids will develop at different rates. They need to have the desire to want to be there and to want to work hard and they need to love it. No child is going to accept 20-30 hours a week of training and work hard if there is not some drive coming from inside themselves.

In Australia you can't start competitove gymnastics until you are 5, so this at least ensures that we don't have too many 3-4 year olds running around training 10 hours a week and doing comps. I do think 5 is an acceptable age to start, as many 5 year olds are ready and many are not. You also start to compete from level 1.

The average hours would be

Level 1 - 2-3 hours a week
Level 2 - 2-5 hours a week
Level 3 - 4-10 hours a week (although for some gyms as little as 2 and some as many as 12)
Level 4 - 8-14 hours a week (againa can be as little as 6 and as many as 25)
Level 5/6 - 10-18 hours a week
Level 7-10 14-24 hours a week

International level 6 - 25-35 hours (average age 9-10 years old)
International level 8 - 30-36 hours (average age 10-12 years old)
International level 10 usually 35+ hours (from about 12 and above)

(Internationals are the ones training for olympics and similar competitions)
DD started gym when she was 6.Her first real competition year was at a level 7 with 9 years old.Competed Level 8 as a 10 year old(last season)and is training for Level 9.Also got invited to a pre elite group which only ads 2 more hours.That will put her up to 20 hrs a week.
I'm also afraid of overuse injurie training so many hrs at a young age.
She always trained less hrs than her teammates and was right up there with them on her skills.
I will let her try and see how she likes it and how her body can handle it.
My DD was one of the 6-year-old level 2s. She started gym at 4 years old in a preschool class (one hour, once a week) and fell in love with it. She saw some of the older girls doing advanced tumbling one day. She turned to me, very seriously, and said "Mommy, I need to come every day." From then, she moved up to a kindergym class, then did a rec league for about 6 months before coming to our current gym where she was immediately put on the L2 team.

She trained 5 hours per week on the L2 team while doing full day kindergarten. She loved it and she excelled. She competed in 7 meets last spring, including state (she was even state champion on bars and AA). Then in May, she moved up to L4 (she's still 6- won't be 7 until October). The hours increased from 5 to 11 per week over 3 days rather than 2. I was worried about her at first but she picked right up and never looked back. She's doing great, has never had an injury and is having a ball. She doesn't do any other sport or activity, except things at church (choir, children's group, etc). She's doing great in school, and never asks to do anything else. She's a gymnast. Just ask her. :D
Our experience is a bit different. My daughter learned her cartwheel in 1st grade. We put off joining the team a year and she competed level 4 when she was 9, did fine. She competed level 5 when she was 10 (competed as an 11 yr old due to birthdate) and did great. She looked so much more finished than many of the younger gymnasts at her level. Now at 11 she will do level 6.

This is not a race. My dd will not be going to the Olympics. Will she get a college scholarship? Who know's. So much can happen between 11 yr and college. Injury, friends, school etc.

My theory on gymnastics, even though she trains 16 hrs a week, is simply this. Gymnastics is our fun activity that we do. As long as she does the best she can do on that given day, that is good enough for us. We are thoroughly enjoying each level of gymnastics. Celebrating her successes and laughing about he falls off the beam. She knows as long as you get back up and smile, its no big deal!
My experience with this is a bit different as well. My dd started cheerleading at age six and continued for 3 years. We switched to gymnastics when she was 9 yrs old back in April. Here is the run down of her hours at each gym:

Age 6-8 - All-Star cheerleading - 4 hrs/wk
Age 8-9 - All-Star cheerleading at highly competitive gym - 8 hrs/wk (includes practices, privates and stunting class)
Age 9 - April-May 2008 - Gymnastics Pre-team - 4 hrs/wk
Age 9 - currently - Gymnastics Mason Dixon Level 4 - 11 hrs/wk

For us, we gradually increased her hours in an athletic activity through cheerleading and then eventually gymnastics, so I think she is more used to the increased hours of training as opposed to kids on her team that had not done anything before joining team. DD's MD Level 4 is a group of about 7 kids ages 8-11 so they are all a bit older than some of the USAG Level 4's at our gym. The MD and USAG's train the same amount of hours, except they do not compete as much.

I think it really depends on the child whether they can handle more training or not. My dd, for instance, is used to a lot of training and actually likes doing conditioning. Weird child, I know! But she started upping her hours a lot later than most of the little kids in her gym, so I don't know if her being older has helped her adjust to the increased training.
To answer the first question, I don't think most kids should practice 20-30 hours a week in the gym. It seems crazy to me, though I understand why they need to be for the higher levels.

My DD is 6 and a level 4. They practice 10 hours a week and though she seems to be perfectly fine with it, it still bugs me on some level. I know the Optional girls at DDs gym are there about 22 hours a week. I don't think my DD will get to that level though, but if she surprises me, we will go from there. I don't see her being fast tracked though so she should be older by the time that might happen and I will be thoroughly brainwashed by then. LOL. Just kidding.
I think the key is to make sure the child is happy. Is she safe and having fun at gym? Is she getting enough sleep? Proper nutrition? Doing well at school? Is she able to keep up with homework, chores and family activities? If the answers are yes, there is nothing to worry about. If she is feeling stressed, overwhelmed or exhausted then changes need to be made, regardless of her age or practice level. Children handle things differently and that needs to be considered.

For example, my DD practices 11 hours over 3 days per week. She's doing great in school, loves gym, gets plenty of sleep, eats well and is a happy, healthy girl. On the other hand, my 5-year-old son cannot handle anything but school. We had him in martial arts and he lasted about a month and a half. Once school started, he was tired, didn't want to go to practice, wasn't paying attention when he was at practice. He just couldn't handle the extra activity once school started. I'm hoping he'll out grow this as he gets older but clearly he and his sister, though close in age, are very different.
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