For Parents Struggling on Bars

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Mar 14, 2022
Hi all,

Looking for some advice for my 9-year-old. She just finished her Level 4 season, and while she had a good amount of success on vault/floor, and did well on beam when she hit, she struggled big time on bars.

She has excellent air awareness, and is a powerful tumbler - she will sometimes mix up a few steps and rack up text errors on beam/floor, but always scores upper 8's and low 9's. She was getting upper 6's on bars early on in the season and eventually progressed to upper 7's. She has hypermobile elbows and I think it may be contributing to her struggles with bars. Her squat on and back hip circle are beautiful, but everything else is super messy - especially her kip.

She scored in the 33-35 range for most of the season. Her coaches were talking about possibly having her score out of 5, and move on to level 6...they think she would do really well in optionals, especially since she's a strong tumbler. The season wouldn't be starting until Nov/Dec so she does have several months to improve her bars, but I worry that skipping level 5 would have a negative impact on her bars progression.

Is it worth it for a gymnast who is strong on vault/floor/beam to skip to level 6 if their bars is a pretty big weakness? I get the feeling that they might be leaning toward having her be an event specialist down the road. My husband is worried that doing bars long-term will be tough on her elbows, but I honestly don't have a clue about that and have gotten PT referrals from her pediatrician to address that concern.

This is all fairly new to me since she is only in her second season. Her level 3 season came pretty easily, and there were fewer practices/meets. Any advice/guidance would be greatly appreciated!!
I really hope that they are not already planning a path for an event specialist down the line when she is only 9 and an L4. That is really short-changing her potential.

I am only a gym parent so take my response with a grain of "here is anecdotal evidence of ..." salt!

My older one did levels 5 and 6 back to back fall/winter seasons, so finished 5 in December of one year and started 6 in January (she was supposed to go from 5 to 7 but lost her giant the week prior to meets, so moved to level 6 so as not to waste the paid meet fees). She was tiny and young (turned 9 in the middle of level 6) and I honestly did feel that there was a pretty significant difference between the levels, despite many people telling me that they were similar. Especially if your kiddo's arms/elbows are hypermobile or not super strong yet. The vault alone can be tough for level 6 (timer vault vs FHS that she can already do) and they focus a lot more on handstands (cast HS and free hip HS) on bars.

Purely based on scores, yes my kid scored higher in 6 than 5 because of the lack of text errors allowing her beam and floor scores to drastically improve, but vault in particular was a challenge. But personally, I felt that level 5 was a very useful level to train. In hindsight, I wish she could have done her season of level 5, skipped 6, and a year later gone to level 7.
There is definitely a benefit to training L5. A year of strengthening kips and casts is very helpful later on - especially as girls hit L7 with cast - handstands etc (even though many do those in L6).

DD has hypermobile elbows and until she did a ton of arm conditioning, it was causing significant deductions on bars. Now, she is one of the strongest on the team and her bar deductions are no longer arm related.

I would chat with the coach about your child's bars. Maybe it is a conditioning thing like my DD. Maybe it is a form issue (like not shifting wrists properly) or a combo. Best to know how your coach plans on improving bars. You don't want your gymnast dreading that event or making it the "I suck at it" event. The goal should be to get her strong on each event.

With a good plan, whether it is L5 or L6, it should be ok. However note that scoring out of L5 with weak bars will mean she needs to hit her other routines solidly. A bad front tuck or fall on the beam with bar scores in the 7s could mean a 2nd score out is needed. It was not uncommon to see many girls in the first meet have 2 scores in the 7s and a couple of low-mid 8s. Those judges were really critical of the front and back tucks on floor, switch leaps, and real power on vault was really needed to get a high 8 to low 9.
There is definitely a benefit to training L5. A year of strengthening kips and casts is very helpful later on - especially as girls hit L7 with cast - handstands etc (even though many do those in L6).

Kips and cast are done at L6 as well. These skills are a basic warm-up at all levels for top level bar clubs.
I think it really depends on how your coaches approach bars and overall training. I'm a big believer is strong basics. My daughter went from 4 to 6, but she's also a naturally strong bar worker. She came from a gym that spent tons of time on kips and and never skipped 5. So while I knew she'd be OK, I felt a bit skeptical about this approach because I noticed some of her teammate's at her new gym did not have strong kips last season (and were moving 4 to 6). But all the girls have grown by leaps and bounds this season; their kips look sooo improved. I think the coaches chose to hone in on bar/kip basics and strengthening.
My daughter has hypermobile elbows as well and struggled on bars last year as an L6. Fast-forward a year later and she is amongst the strongest on bars. Her elbows do not seem to be an issue and she's never had any problems related to them. They really do progress a lot in a few months, especially during summer training. You still have lots of time to decide. Wishing her the best ☺️
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