10 events for 10 years #AffinityTurns10
To celebrate our 10 year anniversary, we decided it should be big. So big in fact, it won’t fit in one event, so we’ll be holding 10 events to celebrate our 10 years of gymnastics. This brings us to telling the Affinity story, again in 10 parts! (Can you see a theme here?). In this post, club leader Jennifer Page shares the start of the Affinity story and what happened during our first year in the 2006/7 academic year.
The start of the Affinity story starts with my own gymnastics story.
I started gymnastics when I was 7 years old. I'd moved up to junior school and this meant I could attend a lunchtime gymnastics club at primary school. All my friends went, it was the activity to do.
Well, as it turned out, I was pretty good at it and the teachers at my school advised I found a local club to go to. I went to some recreational sessions at the then named Barnwell Gymnastics club in Stevenage (later to change to their current name of Marriotts when they moved to purpose built premises in 2002). After a term or so of classes they asked me to join their squad sessions and train more hours, so here my competitive gymnastics story began.
To cut a long story short, I went on to compete at club, county and regional level at women's artistic gymnastics. I trained 2-3 times a week, total training time of between 6-9 hours a week across my career. I'd compete 3-4 times a year for the next 10 years. It became me, or maybe I became it. I'm not sure. What I do know is that gymnastics became a huge passion and part of my identity.
Fast forward to 2006 and I had completed university and was considering what to do next. I wanted to be involved in gymnastics but it found it was becoming a different sport.
Gymnastics had moved on a great deal since I trained as a child and teen in the 90's. My 6-9 hours of let's face it, fairly relaxed, training with part time, volunteer coaches (albeit skilled and extremely dedicated) on a few bits of mats put out in a school or sports hall just wouldn't cut it now. The sport had broadened dramatically (which is great news) and developed and the elite competitive end of the sport was way out of reach for the majority. Even for the super talented, it's a tough job. The same medals and trophies I won back then now go to gymnasts training 12-15 hours a week at least, often much more, in a very planned and pressured environment, with full time super trained coaches, in purpose built fantastic facilities. Oh and they likely started at age 3. It's a world away. I’m not saying that any of this is bad, I’m saying this is radically different to how it was.
What I became brutally aware of in 2006 was that my level of talent just wouldn’t cut it these days. If my 7 yr old self walked into an artistic gymnastic club at that point, I'd very likely be shown the door. I wouldn’t have been offered the opportunities I had within our sport.
That got me thinking. What if I'd never been a gymnast?
I'd have missed out on the training and ability to improve and develop my skills, as a gymnast and as a person. I'd never had gotten good. In fact I'd never had known I could be good at something. To aspire to a goal, plan and work towards it. To achieve and be recognised for it. To believe in myself and grow as a person as I did through gymnastics.
There was a gap in 2006 for providing these experiences to gymnasts who weren’t up for the hard core training to go elite. Looking around at clubs and classes, I could see excellent elite programmes and (what I felt were) poor recreational programmes. These gymnasts were being seen as second class and I felt fiercely passionate that this was wrong.
I wanted to stand up for and provide for these gymnasts. I believe that everyone deserves excellent coaching and opportunities, no matter their ability or level. So when an email landed in my inbox for a school in Hoddesdon looking for a gymnastics coach to start a club, I went for it.
Sheredes Primary School had a huge interest to start after school gymnastics and had been successful in getting a £5000 lottery grant. I was involved in choosing all the new equipment (that was so much fun) and started coaching classes in September 2006. Even at the start it wasn’t your average club - we started with 3 days and 9 classes with children from years 1 to 6.
Over this first academic year, the club grew and we added classes for the reception year children after Christmas. A fair few of this year group are still with the club now! (Not sure if this makes me feel proud or old…..). We performed our first display at the Sheredes Primary open evening in July 2007. Now our first year was done, there were some big changes and exciting times ahead for our second year, more about that next time……
In the meantime, our first 10 year event to go with our 2006 story is our Birthday Open Day and Join In event, see you there!