How to Teach Gymnastics to Children
Every gymnastics coach has his own training methods, but all top children’s coaches share the same priorities: They make safety No. 1 and fun a close second. Through gymnastics classes, children learn to follow instructions, build their self-confidence, and improve their strength, coordination and flexibility. To teach gymnastics, you must be trained either by your employer, or you can earn your Level 1 certification from USA Gymnastics University. While the specific gym for which you teach will have class- and age- level guidelines, structuring your class around child-friendly teaching techniques helps ensure your gymnasts’ success.
Start class with an engaging warm-up session that lasts approximately 10 minutes. Play music to encourage children to get their hearts pumping with laps or jumping jacks. Make stretches come alive by telling children to flap their wings in the butterfly sit. When children stretch their backs to the floor in the straddle, ask them to go flat as a pancake and have them take turns describing their favorite kinds of pancakes. The key is to make stretching something they want to do, not just something they have to do.
Focus on the fundamentals, which include proper body and landing positions. Fundamental body positions include tuck, hollow, straddle and pike. Demonstrate how to land properly, with knees slightly bent and arms up and next to the ears to protect the head and neck. Teach the children how to roll out of the dismount, if they do not land their feet.
Adjust your methods to the age group of the class. For preschoolers, teach animal walks from bunny hops to bear crawls, which help strengthen the children’s muscles and help them understand how to move for the different skills. For older children, speak to them in straight terms and explain how mastering the rebound from a round-off sets them up to progress to a round-off back-handspring, for example.
Teach new skills on modified equipment, such a low, padded balance beam, a child-size, unisex practice bar and triangle wedges. You can also use guide mats, which show children where to place their hands and feet for cartwheels and handstands.
Set at least 10 practice tries for each skill and monitor each attempt, giving the appropriate corrections and praises for the skills. Call out simple correction cues, such as straighten for bent legs and point for sloppy toes.
Track each gymnast’s progress and mark off skills as the gymnast completes them. Let younger children place a sticker on the chart for completed skills and hang the skill chart prominently in the gym.
Give the gymnasts practice assignments at home. The assignments should focus on flexibility stretches and skills they can safely execute on their own.
After a 5- to 10-minute cool-down, let loose with cartwheel races on the floor to see which gymnast can pull herself out of the foam pit first, or enjoy free time on the trampoline.
Always spot new skills. As a gymnast begins to learn the skill, reduce your spot from two hands to one hand to a simple touch spot.
USA Gymnastics also offers a preschool fundamentals course in two parts. You can take theory online and then hands-on training in person.
- Teaching FUNdamental Gymnastics Skills; Debby Mitchell, et al.
- Teaching Children Gymnastics, Second Edition; Peter H. Werner
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