How do I know if my gymnast is progressing

It's gotta be the number one thing you look for as a parent of a gymnast, right? You are paying the bills and want to know your child is progressing. But what does that mean, what does it look like and how do you know?

This again is a common question we're asked as coaches and as a club - how is my child progressing? We love being asked as we like to work together but we'll be honest that it's really tricky to answer. Everyone is different - children progress at different rates in different things but also what progress means to one parent (or coach!) may be completely different to what someone else sees or expects. 

So how do we see it?

We see our gymnasts week in, week out over a range of skills and activities. We see them grow as people, cope with challenges, interact with others, grow in confidence and self esteem, improve flexibility, strength, stamina etc etc. There is A LOT we see. We think ALL these areas are equally important and all add up to that thing we call 'progress.' 

Each gymnast will progress in all these different areas at different rates. They are all needed and we don't place importance on any one area. For example, perhaps a gymnast hasn't achieved a particular skill this term. They found the skill difficult but have been working hard, determined to try their best and not give up. By the end of the term they have overcome huge challenges and grown in confidence, knowing their persistence will pay off. Likely they have been building up the strength or flexibility or other pre-requisites to do the skill too. Does the fact that they can't currently do this skill mean they have failed or not made progress? Not in our eyes. We see the progress in other areas and value the efforts of the child and how they have grown. This will stand them in better stead in the long run (and likely that skill will follow soon maybe next term). 

It's tricky as a parent though as you don't go on this journey with your child, you likely don't see this unfolding. We appreciate that your side of it often is seeing what badge they come home with at the end of the term, what a friends child can do, or what tricks can be done round your living room (which is likely only a tiny amount of the things they can do in a fully kitted out gym).

We can't fully represent this journey and the progress of an individual through a badge scheme or even a written report. You can't fully represent a person on a piece of paper. We can try, but really, the best way to know if your child is progressing is to ask them some quality questions regularly. Why not try these as a start point and let us know how you get on:

What was challenging at gymnastics this week? How did you and the coaches cope with that? 

What was the most fun? Did you have a favourite thing this week and why?

Did you work with a particular gymnast or group today? Did you work well together?

What do you think you need help with now? What would you like to learn next?

Also consider what progress looks like to you, as the fee-paying parent! What is important to you and what are you looking for as a result of classes? You know your child best so do communicate what you and your child need and as a club, we'll be over the moon to know how we can help and can keep you updated with the right sorts of information. 

Why I am not telling you to point your toes

Wait, but isn’t pointing your toes the whole point of gymnastics? Don’t you have to do that all the time to be a good gymnast?


Well, yes it does make everything look nicer. But when it comes to effective learning, it’s actually the last thing on my mind as a coach. I’ll explain why.


Gymnastic skills aren’t easy.  Every skill is complex - yes even the so called ‘easy’ ones. Add into the mix a child who is also still learning how to manage and move their body at the same time and it’s no mean feat. 


As a coach, i’m looking at what each gymnast needs to do well at each stage of learning a skill in order for them to master it, feel confident and move to the next step. 


To give feedback, a coach will go through the following process each time a gymnast performs a skill:


  1. Observe: look at what is being performed by the gymnast.
  2. Compare: consider what we ultimately want to skill to look like and see what bits fit with this and what bits don’t.
  3. Analyse: why are we seeing what we are.
  4. Action plan: work out what we can do to help the gymnast progress.


Yup, we go through this whole process, in our heads, every time (we actually can’t help it). Then we get to the most important step:


  1. Do the most important thing. What is the one thing the gymnast can know or hear now from me as their coach in order to progress. 


I tell you, extremely rarely is this to point toes. From a technical perspective, if toes aren’t pointed then usually theres something else to focus on to achieve it - such as keeping the legs tight, or arms strong in a skill. To run fast into vault skills or press down on the bar when swinging.


But then there’s secret step no 6:


  1. What does this person need from me in order to progress. 


I may not need to give them anything technical to work on at all. And I don’t mean that the skill was perfect -  gymnastics is as mental a sport as it is physical. Often, its most important to acknowledge the effort and journey the gymnast is going through learning that skill. Giving a technical correction at a time when the gymnast needs encouragement or celebration of their efforts is totally counter productive


Confidence is key. The pointed toes? Thats just the icing on the cake :-)

Interview about Freestyle Gymnastics

An area of Affinity is growing and has made it onto our holiday class schedule with two weekly classes, Wednesday mornings 9:30am-12pm and Thursday afternoons 1-3:30pm. I caught up with our Freestyle Gymnastics (FreeG) lead coach and Ambitious Apprentice, Dan, to understand more about this area of the club: 


Hi Dan!

Q: Tell me, whats FreeG? Whats different about it to regular gymnastics?


A: For me, FreeG is less rules more cool. Its about movement and getting from point A to point B in the fastest and coolest way possible. Spicing it up a little. It’s creative and fun and at Affinity we fuse this with our gymnastics knowledge and skill too.


Q: What makes FreeG special?


A: Well, ninja’s do it. That kinda sums it up! Not many gym clubs do it in the way we do, we’re unique in our way of fusing the fun adventurous movements with gymnastics in the same package .


Q: What do you like about it?

A: It looks cool. I saw my friend do a backflip and just wanted to do it.

it’s inspirational. We love watching and sharing videos of new tricks and movements. 


Q: What do you see the kids getting out of it?

A: It really builds confidence in what they are doing with their body. I can see them getting a lot from exploring what they can do. It’s a great relaxed yet focused approach. 


Q: I hear you are a bit of a ninja in training. What brought you to gymnastics and what sort of things do you train yourself?


A: I just love sports. Pole vault, swimming, free running, javelin. skating. I’m always incorporating free running into skating and other sports. You’ll find me down the skate park or on the trampoline at home. (Editors note: since joining us in September 2016 Dan has been getting SERIOUSLY good at gymnastics. He’s winning most of our handstand competitions now, much to the dismay of our squad gymnasts!).


Q: What would you most like to share with the gymnasts through your FreeG classes?


A: I think mainly the ability to try stuff, to be confident in what they do and to know the right progressions to get to where they want to be.


Q: What would you say to someone who is on the fence about joining a class?


A: Erm, have you seen ninja warrior? Just join.

Wow looks like I may sign up for a class myself. Come and join Dan for the FreeG fun here.


Affinity Sizzling Summer Camps Why Is it so Special

Yikes it's the end of another academic year already, this means our summer holiday classes are nearly here! I caught up with lead coach, Lucy, to pick her brains about why the Affinity Summer Holiday classes are so special:

Q: Hi Lucy, I understand you have been at the majority of our holiday classes over the past couple of years. What makes them different to usual classes?


A: In the holidays we get to try such a wide variety of types of gymnastics. We also get to tailor the sessions to the gymnast’s desires as they can bring us their ‘wish list’ of skills and activities and I love hearing what is on these lists then accommodating it! This is the best opportunity to take away as much knowledge away from the coaches as possible.


Q: Whats your favourite things about the holiday classes, compared to term time ones?


A: We get to see lots of new faces and love seeing their faces light up learning a new skill for the first time. Also seeing current members coming and showing their love for gymnastics and achieving skills started in term time classes - they all want to practice and learn more. and we love supporting that. I love the freedom of being able to do what you want, as the classes are longer, - both for coach and gymnast. We’ve more time to set up bigger preps that we wouldn’t normally have time or space to do so within a term time lesson. This is when we often come up with our best stuff and most creative ideas!

We also get to know the gymnasts better as people as they are here for longer sessions.


Q: Sounds like the Affinity fairies spread their magic during these classes!


A: Yes it’s certainly when we as coaches are most creative. Plus we have the most new skills learnt or progressed, theres definitely some magic in the air!


Q: What have you seen gymnasts achieve or progress in?


A: I’ve seen beginners achieve their first skills in gymnastics and getting a real buzz from it, to more experienced gymnasts transferring skills from floor onto apparatus. For example, we’ve been working on front somersaults from trampette in term time class, over holiday classes we’re now doing these from the beam.


Q: This year, we've a lot more classes than previous years. What are you most looking forward to?


I think I’m looking forward most to the family fit. More people are booked on than we usually have and I look forward to the challenge to get the parents involved. Plus lots of you are doing all the weeks so I’m looking forward to finding a way of each class progressing and building on the next - its like a special course. Families being active together is really important to us.


Q: Who usually comes to the holiday classes?


A: A large range - and that is what makes it so interesting. From complete newbies to club members keeping up training over the summer - we make everyone welcome. We also often see dancers who want to work on acro skills in tumbling or 121 classes as well as cheerleaders, martial artists and those from almost any other sport.


Q: What would you say to someone who is on the fence about signing up?


A: Come and try one and see if you like it! We bet you’ll leave signing up for more but if you don’t try, you’ll never know.


Q: What do you do if a child is unsure of coming to a new class?


It’s important for them to know that its usual for kids to come by themselves and not know anyone - they are often all in the same boat. We play lots of games to help them get to know each other and we pride ourselves on being as welcoming as we can. Also lots of children do return - so if you come back in oct half term you may see your new friends.


Thanks Lucy, sounds like it’s going to be a great summer! You can book our classes here.