Gymnastics is a unique sport because it combines physical strength and flexibility with mental tenacity and courage. It provides a strong foundation for most any physical activity or sport, whether it be football, basketball, soccer, yoga, ballet or cheerleading. So, how can one sport provide a foundation for all of these different activities?
Well, the benefits of gymnastics start with the mental toughness that is required to learn gymnastics skills from beginner to elite. Extreme self-confidence, focus and concentration are necessities. This is not the kind of activity where you can be thinking about what you are doing later or talking to your friends while you are learning. It takes an enormous amount of discipline and perseverance to stick to it even when the going gets rough. These are life skills that stay with you long after you have retired from the sport and translate into many different facets of life (professional, relationships, etc.).
Gymnastics also requires a great deal of physical strength and flexibility. Although natural talent and certain body types (i.e. smaller, more petite frames) are better suited for gymnastics, virtually anyone who puts their mind to it can be successful in learning basic gymnastics skills and tumbling tricks. The different events used in gymnastics each build different parts of the body that might not otherwise be used. For women, for example, the balance beam helps with balance and core strength while the uneven bars build upper body strength. The floor exercise requires stamina and endurance and a strong lower body, as does the vault.
The benefits for gymnasts, from beginner to elite, really are unique. Gymnasts learn from an early age to set goals (“I want to learn my cartwheel by Christmas”) and how to successfully defeat their own demons that might keep them from being successful. For example, learning a new, dangerous skill might make a young gymnast question herself and her ability to complete the skill successfully without hurting herself. How many times do we as adults face fears in our personal and professional lives that make us question what we are made of? This is the perfect opportunity to develop the kind of mental tenacity that will get you through the ups and downs of life.
Lastly, gymnastics helps develop strong leaders and good team players. Similar to other team sports, such as football or basketball, gymnasts must take responsibility for their routines and learn how their unique talents will help with the goals of the team. Everyone has something special to offer, providing a sense of personal pride. And, because one is often competing against herself to learn challenging new skills or to compete at a higher level, a strong sense of community is felt among her and her fellow teammates, who are also fighting to be their personal best.
The benefits of gymnastics, both physical and mental, are second to none. I feel thankful that my mother took me to a “free” gymnastics class when I was four, only to find out later that it would be one of the most important factors in shaping my path for life.