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To reach the Olympic spotlight, a gymnast should start training by the age of 2 or 3.
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Gymnastics is a sport that children can enjoy regardless of their age or ability level. The desire to learn and experience the sport is more important than age. But if a young athlete wants to become an elite gymnast and reach the Olympics, it's important to begin training at a young age. The University of Minnesota estimates that the average age of an Olympic gymnast on the U.S. women's team is 16. In order to maximize training, develop strength and reach an Olympic level by the teen years, a gymnast should start training as a preschooler.
USA Gymnastics says that most children between the ages of 2 and 5 are developing their fundamental movement skills. Beginning gymnastics during these formative years will allow children to gain confidence while their bodies and muscles grow and develop. Most preschoolers are placed in gymnastics classes by age rather than ability, and as 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds they are expected to gain an awareness of their bodies and how they move. When an aptitude for gymnastics is demonstrated, young children can move into more advanced classes.
Choosing a Coach
By the time a young gymnast turns 5 years old, he or she can master more complex gymnastics skills if regular training and classes have been going on for a few years. Physical maturity, practice and good teaching will allow older children to master impressive gymnastics moves on all the equipment. At this point, parents with aspiring Olympians will want to choose a coach and a gym that can provide competitive training and outstanding coaching. Look for a gym that has trained elite gymnasts in the past.
Female gymnasts between the ages of 7 and 10 can participate in the Talent Opportunity Program, which is a talent and scouting program that identifies potential in young gymnasts. Gymnasts are evaluated on their physical abilities at the state and regional levels, and if they show promise, they will be invited to participate in the TOPs testing program and the TOPs training camp. This is a major step for a gymnast to establish herself as a potential elite gymnast or Olympian. To be pass the initial screening and tests and be chosen for the training camp, she must have outstanding physical abilities and consistent gymnastics skills by the time she reaches age 10.
Becoming an Olympic gymnast requires intense training, even at a young age. While still a child, the gymnast will have to devote between 20 and 30 hours of her time every week to the sport. Starting a gymnast in classes at a young age is essential, but be prepared to help her deal with the pressure and physical demands required of becoming and Olympic gymnast.