competing a 4 year old

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Proud Parent
How do gyms decide what level a child is allowed to compete?

is it by age or skill level?

Or does the child have to compete through all of the compulsory levels?

Can a gymnast advance through more than one level per season?

I'm just wondering. Primarily because I have a gymnast...very young...(4 yrs old) who is going to her first competition in 3 weeks. Competing level 2, but she is training for level 4. (missing front hip circle and beam dismount) Her coaches said that 6 years old is the minimum age for level 4.

then they casually mentioned that MAYBE we should just do level 2 this whole season and "fast track" my daughter to level 5. :eek: UMMMM...i don't even really know what to say about that. I was just sort of like "okay, well why don't we just keep doing what we're doing and see where she's at in a few months."

I really don't understand what the point is. If 6 years old is the minimum age for level 4, then is 6 years old also the minimum age for level 5? I just can't even fathom my daughter being able to progress to level 5 over the next year and a half. She's pretty good, but she's not superman - she's 4. she's not even old enough for kindergarten - and still sleeps with her baby blanket. and brings her baby doll in the car to the gym.

The other thing is: wouldn't it make more sense to just hold off on competition altogether until she reaches the minimum age requirement to compete whatever level she may be at that point in time???

Anyway, i'm kind of at a loss. I like our gym pretty well, i think. I mean, my daughter LOVES going to gymnastics. I would hate to see her being pushed too hard too quickly. This level 5 talk doesn't scare me, it just makes me wonder. I mean, i am no expert on gymnastics by ANY means, so i don't really know what's too soon, and what isn't. All i see is that all of the other children my daughter's size and age are in 1 hr/wk preschool gymnastics classes, and my daughter is working out with the level 4 and 5 kids and one other competitive level 2 who is 7 years old. The level 4 and 5 kids are 7 - 12 years old.

I don't really know. I just feel like the coaches don't know what they are doing. I feel like they should have a plan. I feel like they don't have a plan for her. I don't know if it's because she just keeps learning so quickly, or if they are trying to take advantage of fearlessness, strength, and flexibility while she's still young, or what they are doing....

I'm just wondering what is the best way to approach the whole competition thing. Wait? or start competing now? move her through by testing out of levels throughout the season?

jeez. This probably really doesn't have to be so overwhelming. Maybe i'm over reacting? lol!
You have to be 7 to compete level 5. It is not a requirement to compete at all of the lower levels. Many gyms begin competition at level 5, never having kids compete at levels 2,3 or 4.;)
They may think that your dd has potential and don't want to bog her down with learning routines at this time. They will progress her with the skills for level 5. You really need to sit down with the coaches and ask what their plan is!!:)
IMHO, that's way to much stress on such a young developing body. I wouldn't walk, I'd run!
My daughter competed a season of level 2, skipped to level 4 and in six months skipped to level 5. Of course, she was six turning seven. Your daughter is still very, very young. As she can't compete level 5 until she's seven, I'd sit down with the coaches and ask them very specifically what they're thinking. And no matter what they say, keep your daughter's health and happiness firmly in mind.
This might be helpful:

Too Much Too Early
Too Much Too Early

To: <[email protected]>
Subject: Training a young talented gymnast Dear Coach,
We want to know if our daughter should move up to Level 5 or stay another year in Level 4 to better learn the skills and have more competitive success.
I am the parent of a young gymnast (6) who is training to compete in a group of girls that are from 10-12 years old. She is very talented and can physically do many skills that they can't however she lacks the maturity that they have. Between events and in down times she is very active and plays around just being a 6 year old. She dos not have the control that the older kids do. I am unsure what to do.
Do I have her move down a level where physically she will not be challenged until her maturity catches up. Or, do I leave her in a level where skill wise she is challenged but she may not be emotional ready. I am not sure what the right thing to do would be. Do you have any suggestions on how to get her motivated and focused at the age she is at to successfully have her compete where she is at physically?
Or, Do you think it would be wise to hold her back until she gains the mental skills needed to keep focused. She sees moving down a level as a punishment and that she has failed. I am hoping it will give her the time to grown into herself. What suggestions can you give me as a parent to help her through this?
Looking for any guidance to help my daughter blossom into the great athlete she is.
To answer your question, in essence, we believe that you and your coaches are probably already doing exactly the right thing.
Your daughter has at least 10 more years before she is even old enough to compete in highest level meets, like the World Championships and the Olympics. And while we don’t at this point know for sure (nor does anyone else really), whether she will ever be at that level, we do know that to get there, she has to stay in the sport for a long, long time. So our first goal must be to keep her in the sport and we do that by letting the sport and practice be as fun as possible for as long as possible (at this age, anyway).
It is unfortunately much more likely that she will train (or be trained) too hard, burn out and quit the sport long before she is even old enough to be in such a meet. With over 10 years of training and learning time left, sufficient progress (assuming the correct program and coaching) and maturity is less of a worry than burn out.
This is especially a difficult problem with the most talented young gymnasts. There are often more likely to over train themselves and their coaches are more likely pressure them too much, too soon being anxious to develop a great gymnast.
What you should really be most closely monitoring and concerned about is that she is not showing any signs of burning out.
We actually have a somewhat similar situation that we are dealing with. We have a very talented seven-year-old gymnast (likely the best seven-year-old in the country) training for Elite. With her, the problem is that she is too serious. We have trouble getting her to take any time off, even if she is sick.
We are lucky that she is in a group of mostly other young girls (ages 7 – 9) and so they also play in between turns. For us, it is a welcome sight to see them doing doubles into the pit and then following a little obstacle course they have built themselves (over some bars, behind and under a tunnel made with a mat leaned up against the wall).
We teach all our gymnasts to pay attention when they are being spoken to and when they are being coached and we expect them to be ready when it is their turn. But in between, we are perfectly happy that they are “active and playing around just like theâ€￾ six (or 7 or 8 or 9) year old that they are.
You are likely not going to want to move her back to working at a lower skill level. It has been proven that it is best for gymnasts to learn as many high level skills at a young age (ages 7 – 9 in most cases, 7 – 11 in some cases) and certainly before they hit puberty. So having her progressing at her maximum skill learning level is something that you definitely want to do.
There is another potential problem since she is with girls who are much older than she is. In many gyms, especially smaller gyms, this situation occurs frequently because there are not enough very talented and high level young girls to make up a full group. It can sometimes cause social problems and sometimes cause gymnasts to unfairly (negatively) compare themselves to the older gymnasts. Also, sometimes, younger girls are socially excluded and become isolated.
Skill-wise, older girls often are (and should be) better than younger girls and even very talented young girls may not always outdo their elders, say in something like dance. This negative comparison can be hard for them to deal with and they too often take it that they are not very good or good enough, become discouraged and end up quitting. Young gymnasts, even if you explain it logically that the other girls are older and should be better often cannot overcome the negative emotions they feel that result from such daily comparisons.
We absolutely forbid recreational class gymnasts to practice above their age or skill group level because they almost always quit (close to 100% of the time). This means that you (and the coaches) should be keeping a very close eye on your daughter to make sure she is not making such negative comparisons that may cause her to doubt her talent and not want to continue with a sport that she perceives herself to be inferior in.
It is fortunately not uncommon for talented gymnasts to be able to deal with this situation better than average also. Sometimes the personalities of the younger and/or older gymnasts negates this problem, but it is definitely something to carefully watch out for. In such a case where there is a really bad potential inferiority problem, it can be better to put the gymnast with other younger gymnasts but still continue to work the higher level skills. Also, while it does not always work, it is not a bad idea to talk about and explain about this comparison phenomena with your daughter and tell her to guard against it.
So to summarize, we believe that your daughter should continue learning and training high level skills and also play around and just be a six-year-old as much as possible. Doing this can help her from getting burnt out, now or in the future. You need to vigilantly look for any signs of burn out, like not wanting to go to the gym. When in doubt, remember that she has plenty of time and better to take it easy at such a young age. You and she should also guard against her making any negative comparisons between herself and the older girls who are likely to be better than her in at least some areas.
I have seen 4 year olds competing at unsanctioned meets (we don't have USAG L1 or 2 here, no idea what the age limits even are) but I don't really get the point. I suppose like anything it depends on the individual but in my experience most 4 year olds are content to be learning new things and playing games in class. Moving them to "real" competition groups (i.e. L5) seems too serious. I'm thinking about preschool vs elementary school. We don't have 4 year olds sitting in desks all day...I am no expert but I am guessing the people who are have generally agreed it isn't the right developmental approach. There is a big difference between 4 and 7, and a big difference between the unsanctioned or USAG 2 meets, and level 5.

But I'm not really sure what they could mean. She will do L2 this season and then not compete for 2 years until she reaches the age for L5 at 7 :confused: Seems confusing for her, plus will everyone else be competing in the groups she is working in, that would seem a little strange to me. Also, in my opinion the skills in L5 are not physically appropriate to be going through so fast with kids under 7. Preschoolers aren't really even supposed to be bridging, so training L5 skills (the growth plates stabilize more around 7 or so per my understanding) just doesn't seem to be recommended by the experts on that front either.

I would definitely have a "sit-down" meeting with them and express your concerns. If you and your daughter are happy in the group she's currently in, then you should let them know. That is an important thing in my opinion.
You have to be 7 to compete level 5. It is not a requirement to compete at all of the lower levels. Many gyms begin competition at level 5, never having kids compete at levels 2,3 or 4.;)

Yah, our team starts at level 4 and you have to 5 years. i am a level 4 and i am thirteen,so..... i don't know about the age reqierments.
Great post TeamDad!!! and I also agree with Gymdog. I would not even worry about competing at the age of 4--even if she is the most mature 4-yr-old in the world. What concerns me is the rush to have young girls skip levels at such a young age. I mean, if they are so young (4, 5 and 6 yrs old) then they are young enough to go through the levels naturally. There is no reason why young kids should be rushed to skip levels where parents may feel the need to adjust their schedules or even turn to homeschooling so that the child has "more time in the gym". That to me is just a red flag signaling burnout is imminent. I know that there are the few and far between kids who can totally handle it, and continue to the elite levels, but it is rare.

Sheplaysinthechalk--I would just play the whole thing by ear and let her continue to LOVE going to gymnastics. Try not to emphasise competing, skipping levels, or anything to serious with her at this age. Kids are very smart and intuitive and can pick up parents thoughts and feelings very well. She is 4--just let her play in the chalk!!!!!!!!!!
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My apologies in advance for a very long post...

I agree that TeamDad provided some great information, along with great posts by many others. I would not say that I agree or disagree with the various points that have been brought up. Instead, I am just going to try to offer a point of view based on my personal situation.

Let me start by providing a little background on my insight. My DD literally just turned 6 (and has always been very mature for her age) and will be competing in her first real meet this weekend as a level 4. Our gym does not compete any levels lower. If they did, I would expect I would have let my DD compete earlier and at lower levels (yes, probably at 4 years old). BUT, I think it is something that is highly dependent on your specific child and how you as a parent (and your gym) deal with the competition in itself. My DD loves to PERFORM! She sees a meet not as a competition but as a performance for all the people in the audience and she thinks everyone is there to see her - LOL. At this point (and definitely if she had been younger), she does not really understand the ‘competition’ aspect of things. The benefit of competing at a younger age is they get used to performing in front of people and build self confidence that in some cases can be more difficult for older girls. In addition, awards are handled totally different at levels 2-3. Girls are not awarded 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. The lower levels are given participation awards and all gymmies get an award for their participation. I think if handled properly, going to meets (versus calling them competitions) is a great experience if that is the kind of thing your specific child would enjoy. If my child was shy and did not enjoy being in front of people then I would definitely not put her in that position.

In regards to fast tracking, that is also a hard one at such a young age. Assuming your gymmie’s time would be limited (in comparison to the older girls) I don’t think there is too much harm in letting her train the higher level skills (if she enjoys it). As the article TeamDad mentioned, there is benefit to working higher level skills (with heavy spotting) with the younger girls due to their lower fear levels. When they work on these skills, even if they are not physically able to do them unassisted, they are getting comfortable with going through the motions. In this sense, when they are older and physically ready to do the skill they are so used to going through the motions they are not having to deal with the intense fear that many older gymnasts have to battle, a definite plus in many people’s minds. She could also compete at level 2 as a 4 year old, level 3 as a 5 year old, level 4 as a 6 year old and be training higher level skills during this time. Money is another thing to consider. Are you ready to start paying meet fees?

I think the biggest thing to keep in mind is that it is a PERSONAL decision you have to make based on your specific child and the most important thing is that it remain FUN and not something you (or her coaches) expect of her. I think the best advice is, if you do proceed, take it one day at a time and if you see any negative effects then stop!

In regards to Sheplaysinthechalk’s comment; “I just can't even fathom my daughter being able to progress to level 5 over the next year and a half.” Trust me, if she is one of the talented ones (which apparently she is) with her own personal determination, she can. When you have such a talented youngster you will be amazed what a difference even 6 months will make, much less 1.5 years. At 4, my DD was doing good to do a backward roll but almost had her ROBHS. At 5 years old she achieved all of her level 4 skills along with several level 5 and 6 skills.

Sorry this was so long but I wanted to try to touch on the various issues mentioned by others. For those of you who disagree, try not to beat me up too badly…
My advice would be to just let your child play and have fun with it, she's only 4 years old and seems quite talented already. I would definently talk to the coaches on their plan for her too. If she loves to perform, than going to the level 2 meets may be fun. No they are not necessary to excel later on, but she will get used to being in front of a crowd.

I was helping my sister with her hot shots class this past week and there is a 4 year old that could do a standing back tuck and round off into two back handsprings by herself. They also have her do giants spotted once a week to get used to doing them. I don't think i've ever seen a more talented kid at 4 years old. They just let the kid play though, she absoulutly loves to be there and to learn new things and it's great. I believe they are actually going to pass her through the compulsory levels (of course score out of each) and start at prep-op or level 7. But as we all know, a lot can happen between now and then and if it's not fun anymore than she shouldn't be doing gymnastics.

Anyways that's just my two cents.
Good points Juju's Mom! It is somewhat difficult for me to relate to all of this in some respect because my dd started gymnastics so late (9 yrs old) compared to most kids. But then again, some could argue that I was crazy when I put my 6 yr old in all star cheer and she started traveling for cheer competitions across the country at age 7 and 8!!! You are right in that it is a personal choice and that the child's welfare is always the most important thing to consider.
Obviously your daughter is very highly talented, that is why the have her training with the team instead of with the pre school kids. My guess is that the reason for this is because they have no where else to put her. Some gyms have specialdevelopment groups for highly talented pre schoolers but it sound slike your gym does not have enough of these to justify the group so they had to make a desicion between either having her stay with her age group, be bored out of her mind and quit because she isnt being challenged or place her in a group where she will be challenged but the kids are developmentally beyond her. I would also have chosen the second path and put her with the older girls but modify the program so it is age appropriate especially when it comes to conditioning. Does she do the same condititoning as the older girls or is it modified.

My understanding of the US system is that a child must be 4 years old to compete level 2, 5 years old to compete level 3, 6 years old to compete level 4 and 7 years old to compete level 5 and 6. However level 2 and 3 competitions are non sanctioned and not done everywhere. The 'real' competitions start at level 4 but competing is not required in order to progress until level 5. So some gyms start at levele 2, some at 3, some 4 and soome 5. What level they start at will vary from gym to gym depending on what competitions are availabale in their area and the gyms philosphy. Some gyms would prefer to start early to get competition experience while other gyms would prefer to wait as long as possible so they can just teach skills and not have time taken up by routines.

Age really is irrelevant in gymnastics. Coimpetitions are organised by skill level, a 7 year could have been training scince the age of 2 and be super talented but a 12 year oldd may have just started in which case the 7 year old will be competing a higher level han the 12 year old.

There are advatages to all systems, There are some huge advantages to having her compete level 2 at age 4 and there are also some disadvantages. The advantage is competition experience. If a child starts competing very young it becomes very natural to them to perform in front of judges and in front of an audience. By the time they are older they are more comfortable performing and suffer less nerves, It is alos exciting for many kids as long as the emphasis is on fun and particitpation rather than results.

The disadvantages are that if there is too much pressure it can ruin the sport for kids and take away the fun side. It should not be about the resulkts, everyone who goes ouit there and has a go did a great job. It also means that a lot of time needs to be spent on routines and perfection rather than on learning new skills.

The other problem with gymnastics is there is no possible way to predict progress. Kids do not improve in steady cycles they improve in leaps and bounds. Sometimes they seem to be developing at an amazing rate, sometimes they seem to be staying the same sometimes they are even going backwards. Your gym can only do their best but they cant garentee she will be of a certain level at a certain age. Many talented youngsters are just early bloomers and by the time they are 9 or 10 they are no more developed than any other 9 or 10 year old, While others are international standard by then.
WOW! Everyone's replies were VERY helpful! Thanks to everyone who replied!

We had class tonight. Didn't really get a chance to talk to the coaches, yet...maybe tuesday.

Anyway, someone had asked if my daughter was doing age appropriate conditioning.......I have no idea if it is age appropriate, but here are the things that she does: push ups using push up bars, chin ups, pull ups, and dips on the mens parallel bars.....v sits, leg lifts and lever ups for her tummy muscles, squat jumps, candlesticks, calf raises, handstand pushups...she doesn't do as many sets as the older girls, but she does all of these some press handstands with a little help, and several pull overs on the bars. I wouldn't say that they do all of those exercises at every class, but those are the variety of conditioning exercises that i've witnessed my daughter doing in class. Are those appropriate exercises for a 4yo? If not, PLEASE let me know. Like i said, i am no expert.

And as far as pushing her to compete, we really aren't. She started with competing beginner tumbling through USTA last season. She saw some kids come back from a competition with some trophies and came running over to me and the coach that i was talking to and said "i want one of those! I want to go to the trophy store!!!" So the coaches approached me to sign her up for tumbling meets. We did it and had a great season. She had TONS of fun, loved every minute of it, and was SO proud of herself when she got to stand on the "tall step" (top of the podium) and wear her "necklace trophy" (gold medal) at our national meet. It was really cute!

Anyway, after having had my daughter compete tumbling, I truly believe that she does understand the competition aspect of it - having been exposed to winning and not winning..."big, giant trophies" and "little trophies"...she also understands that going to the "trophy store" is where she has to try to keep all of her points. The coaches had a pretty elaborate discussion with us before she competed and explained to us the approach that they were going to take with her: it's that she takes her points to the trophy store. If she uses good form then the judges will let her keep her points. If she doesn't use good form, then the judges will take some of her points away. If she keeps a lot of points, then the judges will be able to give her a trophy. That's the basic idea of the whole thing, anyway.

honestly, i'm still weird about what to do. I don't know if i should just ask them to scratch her and wait a couple of more years to compete her, or just go ahead and let her do the meets. I don't know that it will hurt to do meets, but if their goal is to advance her, then i don't really know if i see the point in meets right now. But on the other hand, if dd wants to do it, then i suppose i should allow her??? I think i would feel differently about it if i knew she wasn't having fun, but right now she just loves being at the gym. I can't hardly get her out of there after class is over, and she's dragging me out to the car when it's time to go to class. i'm still a little torn though.
Obviously she is not an ordinary 4 year old, she has strength beyond average, what is safe and acceptable for 1 year old will be different for another 4 year old. If she is doing less reps in conditioning than the other kids then the coaches are at least aware of the fact that she can't be expected to perform on the same developmental level as other kids who are 7 or 8. The conditioning does not sound too innapropriate, if the coaches were using any type of weights or resistance at her age it would be seriously damaging. I would have regular check ups with the doctor to make sure she is keeping healthy (you should be doing this anyway at her age). Not just for gymnastics but any sport.

Be careful with her hours aswell. At 4 3-4 hour training sessions are pointless and dangerous. Her attention span will not be long enough and her energy levels will not be consistent enough. By the end of the training session she can injure herself if she is tired and not concentration anymore. Also she will be practising poor form and forming habits that are hard to break. Even for an exceptionally focused 4 year old 2 hours should be the absolute maximum. They may benefit more from training more often for less time than training fewer days for a longer time.

I would go for it with the competition. It sounds like all the kids will be competing and working on routines anyway so she will be doing the same training regardless of if she was competing or not. It also sounds like she really enjoys competition and has a strong enough personality that not winning doesn't turn her off the sport altogether. It will also keep her interest. She can't compete level 5 for 3 years, I'm sure she will enjoy moving through the steps and going up the levels and competing different skills.

As I said before you cant predict with gymnastics. She may not even be interested in gymnastics in three years time, she may want to try a totally different activity. In which case she has spent all her time working towards and goal that may never come.

Yes, you got a lot of great advice from a lot of different perspectives- coaches, parents etc.

One more piece- Please get your daughter into an age appropriate class- yes, even if its just FOR FUN, and she isnt challenged with "skills." She will not get bored if you accent the fun part- there is plenty of time for real training, competing, routines, etc. later. She may enjoy it the way it is now, but most kids will enjoy almost everything that involves running, jumping, etc! I am worried about the future not about the present.

I have seen so many talented young ones burn out at age 12-14 because its too serious too soon-and those kids enjoyed it all the way up to the time they started hating it! Even in the russian/ romanian systems- gymnastics at this age is play- they have to learn to love it to get through the hard times later!

You sound like you instinctively know that what the gym is suggesting is not the right thing. She may seem physically ready now, but emotionally & developmentally she is still 4! I have developed some excellent young athletes, and I love noticing the talented 4 yo cuties in our program- but would not put them in a training/competing environment EVER- they are just not ready and its not worth it. She cant compete L4 until she 6, L5 until she is 7!!! Is she really expected to train for 2-3 years before she competes? Even adults wouldnt want to do that!

Good luck- sorry about the long post!
gymch34, i totally agree!!! In fact, my daughter DOES attend a preschool class once a week in addition to her other training. SHE LOVES IT!!! I think it's because the preschool training is a blast for the little ones. She gets to play on the equipment and do all of the preschool things that they do in the class and just absolutely loves it. And, if they are learning something new in preschool class, the coach uses dd to show an example. She likes being able to show the other kids how to do new things. I LOVE that she takes the preschool class as well! It's awesome to see her being able to just be a 4yo at the gym. It's funny too - she seems to act more like a 4yo in the preschool class than she does in the team class.

Other than the preschool class, she goes twice a week for 2.5 hours each class. She loves the team classes too. I think it's because she's a little more challenged in there and loves it that she (at this point in time) can do what the big girls are doing. She gets so proud of herself! The coaches are really really good with letting her just be in the gym and play sometimes during team training. They give her time to just be with the team, but not working as aggressively as the other kids.

My one and only peeve is that all the kids are older than her - by years. So, of course, i worry about her hearing the wrong things...I hear the 12yo kids talking in the gym after class - you never know what will come out of a 12yo's mouth sometimes!

But as far as my dd being with the team - she loves all of the girls on team, and and the coaches tell me that the girls just love her as well. She's like the little sister. The girls help to keep my dd in the lines and help show her how to do new things. I appreciate that the team kids are so great with my dd. I also appreciate that our gym is trying their best to accommodate us. I may get weirded out sometimes by all of the talk of moving her up and when she's doing some advanced skills for a 4yo, but i think that in the grand scheme of things, everything is going pretty well for us in the gym.

I think i'll probably let her go ahead and do this level 2 competition. See if she likes it. She says she can't wait to go to the gymnastics trophy store and gets really excited if I bring it up. So, maybe we should see how this one goes, and then take it from there.
It sounds to me like competing is really her own idea, more than anyone elses since she already has competed in tumbling. She may wonder why she could go to the trophy store last year but not this year, you know?

As far as the girls being older on the team, you can use that to your advantage. Particularly with the oldest ones- at 12 you can babysit and are old enough to understand responsibility and the importance of setting a good example. I know when I was 11 and 12, I made a conscious effort to watch what I said or what music I was listening to around my 3-4 year old next door neighbor. Maybe if you approach the older girls and just tell them, since you can't be right near your daughter during practice you'd like for them to act like big sisters and look out for her. Most kids will really shine if you give them the opportunity to be a good example, especially if you make sure they know it's because you think they ARE responsible. It works a lot better, too, than just asking them to be careful what they say around her. When they feel like they're more like the grown ups in the situation, most of the time they really live up to the challenge!

its sounds as if she is already pretty talented!

it sounds like she doesn't want to quit until shes old enough.its cool that she gets to train with upper levels and do the skills 'coz it develops role models ("i want to be like her") kinda thing, but dont let it burn her out or injure her because she still has along while for gymnastics. it would be quite sad to leave the sport so early because of injuries! i think that she should still compete level 2, just to get used to competitions and performing in front of people.

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