Maybe your child was just invited to join pre-team, or team at your gym, or they’re in a rec class but dream of competing one day. As exciting as it is to join the team, there are some questions worth asking before your family takes the plunge.
What’s the difference between recreational gymnastics and competitive gymnastics?
Most recreational gymnastics classes meet once a week for an hour or two and focus on learning basic skills and coordination. In a one-to-two-hour class, kids get to see progress from week to week without the pressure to master skills in a certain timeframe. Classes may be broken up by age or level of experience, and they mainly focus on developing strength, coordination, balance, and flexibility while keeping things fun. Competitive gymnastics practices usually begin with a warm-up, followed by rotations through each event where a lot of time is spent on drills that will lead to developing the skills they need for competition. There are specific skill requirements for each level and most gyms expect their athletes to master those skills well before the start of competition season. Practice usually includes strength and cardio conditioning and flexibility training. During competition season gymnasts spend much of their time practicing routines and perfecting the small details. Some kids thrive under the exacting nature of competitive gymnastics, while others find it repetitive and stressful and prefer the fun of doing something different in a rec class each week. Sticking with recreational gymnastics classes also leaves plenty of time for other sports or activities.
Competitive gymnastics hours will continue to increase as your child moves up through the levels, and it’s a good idea to see what the training schedule looks like for each level at your gym. While pre-team hours may be no problem for your family, you may find yourself driving to the gym five to six times a week within a few years. Gym hours vary depending on the club, but typically Xcel programs begin training at least two to four hours a week at the lowest level, going up to 12 to 16 hours a week at the highest level. Development Program hours typically begin anywhere between six to 12 hours a week at the lowest level and may go up to 25 hours a week at the highest levels. Depending on your club’s training hours, it may be difficult for your gymnast to fit in any other sports or activities. Also keep in mind that gymnastics is a year-round sport. Some gyms keep the same afternoon or evening hours all year round, but many clubs move to morning hours for the summer training schedule. Knowing what the gym hours look like throughout the year will help you avoid scrambling to figure out how to get your gymnast to practice when the summer schedule comes out.
Just as the hours increase with each level, so do the costs. This is another area where it’s a good idea to get a breakdown from your gym on the monthly tuition for each level, so you can look ahead and have an idea of what you might be paying in another few years. Many gyms require parents to sign a one-year contract when joining the team. If your gym requires a contract be sure to read it—it’s very common to be expected to continue paying the monthly tuition even if your child gets injured and is unable to compete or decides to quit mid-season.
Costs besides the monthly tuition usually include:
- Meet fees. Meet fees are often broken up into several payments throughout the season. The fees go toward facility and equipment rentals, paying the judges, and coaches’ travel expenses. Meet fees can range from a few hundred dollars at gyms that mainly do a few small, local meets, to a few thousand at gyms that do a lot of meets including larger invitationals.
- Entry fees to the meet. Venues usually charge between $10-$25 per person for entry into the competition.
- Competition gear. This usually includes a team bag, a competition leo for girls, a step in, shorts, and stirrup pants for boys, and team warmups for before and after competition. Again, costs can vary widely from club to club, but expect to pay anywhere from $200 to $600 for competition wear. Some gyms replace these items every year, while others will keep the same competition gear for several years.
- Travel meets. Some gyms require at least one travel meet, so you may need to factor in flights and hotel costs.
Your gym may have a booster club, which will help offset some of these costs in exchange for your volunteer hours, and your gym should be able to provide you with that information.
Gymnasts develop awe-inspiring skills, but it’s a demanding sport mentally, physically, and emotionally. In most sports the game stays the same all the way through—sure, the equipment and the size of the field may be smaller when kids are little, and they eventually learn to play certain positions, but the actual skills required don’t change dramatically throughout the years. Gymnastics is a sport that gets harder with each level. Master one difficult skill and it’s time to upgrade to something even harder. The bar is constantly being raised, which demands a lot of the athlete physically, but it also demands a lot of mental toughness. Having a strong family support system is extremely important for a gymnast to be successful in the sport. As a parent you’ll need to be prepared to offer support if your child is struggling with skills, fears about competition, mental blocks, or injuries. Your child may never hit any major roadblocks during their time as a gymnast, but it’s helpful to know from the start that those issues might come up along the way.
Whether your child decides to join the team or chooses to stick with recreational gymnastics, enjoy the journey!
Jen Kula is a Massachusetts based writer, and mom to two gymnasts. She has published one novel, has worked for several magazines and websites including; MetroSports Boston magazine, Appalachian Mountain Club Outdoors Magazine, and Babyzone.com, and has an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College.