There are exceptions to this progression. Some kids are naturally talented (maybe they were acrobats in a past life) and already have good body awareness. There are also kids who are not naturally talented, strong, or flexible, and they have to work extra hard just to figure out their hand from their foot. Eventually, though, the most talented kid will come to a skill that is difficult and that’s where the progression comes in.
- Strength and flexibility is where we start. The mechanics and technique of a skill come after the body has already been prepared to perform the skill. Being prepared means the body is flexible enough for the skill and strong enough to perform the skill. Only then, can the focus turn to the mechanics and technique. It doesn’t mean there is no practice of mechanics or technique. You do a little bit, but it’s less important. The strength and flexibility are much more important, initially. I would say about 75% strength and flexibility to 25% mechanics and technique. So, you might see us doing strength and flexibility exercises for awhile instead of tricks. Trust me, it’s worth it.
- Repeating a skill with a spot. A lot. While strength and flexibility are important, it can’t be the only focus because the gymnast must understand how to get into the skill and how to come out of the skill, even if they aren’t strong enough or flexible enough to perform it on their own. Also important is for them to notice how the skill feels in their body. Seeing a skill performed, one can imagine how it might feel to do it, but the reality is sometimes much different, especially for children who don’t have much body awareness to begin with. It’s also important to know how it looks. That’s why watching a skill in any capacity can be helpful, whether it’s watching your coach or another gymnast demonstrate the skill.
- Using props and, you guessed it, more strength and flexibility. Once the strength and flexibility have improved and progressed, then you can start working more on mechanics and technique. We may use the trampoline, stack mats, or use a floor bar for drills and other techniques to get the gymnast to repeat an action or mechanic used in a certain skill. However, we never ever stop working on strength and flexibility, because they’re important to maintain in order to perform a skill, but it may decrease to maybe 50% strength and flexibility and 50% skill work, which is practicing and repeating the skill, and working on mechanics and technique.
- Mental work. Ability level is irrelevant, however, when it comes to the mental work involved in gymnastics. Mental work includes but is not limited to dealing with fear and stress, a comparison mindset, and ability to focus, listen, and take correction. In working with children, it’s important for them to feel a sense of victory and accomplishment. Having small victories is essential, like doing a push-up correctly. It’s also important for children to learn proper body alignment so they don’t form bad habits or get injured.
- More repetition. It may seem monotonous, and it is, but this repetition is necessary to integrate the strength, flexibility, and mechanics of a skill into the gymnast’s body.
- Gymnastics (or any discipline, really) helps a child in every aspect of their life! As a coach. I’m constantly talking. A kid doing a private lesson has my voice in their head for an hour or more per week. That voice eventually translates into their own inner voice. They take this voice with them all the time, not just when they’re in the gym. I’m not just impacting them for the time I spend with them one on one. I’m putting my voice in their head so much that it may resurface at anytime, like when they take a test or are faced with a hard decision. It’s important I say the right words with my voice – encouraging words, empowering words, words that lift them up, not bring them down. I’m not just teaching physical gymnastics skills here. I’m teaching them life skills and essentially, how to think, how to live their life. Not because that what I’ve necessarily been tasked to do, but that’s the reality of working with kids.When a child is playing a sport or learning something new, what they learn there is going to be applied in their life whether they realize it or not because they’re in such a formative stage in their development and in their life.
As a yoga teacher, I enjoy working with children one on one and being a positive voice in their life. I love having the opportunity to share with children the joy of gymnastics and the excitement of movement. It’s not just about learning a trick. It’s about freedom of movement and feeling good in their own skin.
This is my personal approach to private lessons formed from my own opinion and my experiences. I’d love to hear different approaches and what you might add to this list.