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What are the most important qualities to look for in a potential competitive gymnast?

One of my favorite things to do as a coach has always been “testing” young kids to be on the competitive team. I’ve always coached boys for the most part, and thus this testing process has typically entailed taking a 5, 6, or 7-year-old boy and trying to decide if he has enough potential to be invited to the competitive team. Sometimes I will spot the kid myself out of a recreational class, either one that I coach or one that I’ve watched someone coach. Other times, a recreational coach will come to me claiming to have a talented kid who needs to be tested for the team.

I’ve always found this process to be very fun and exciting as a coach. First of all, it involves exploring the abilities of a kid I know very little (or even nothing) about. That bit of uncertainty always allows for the possibility that I may have a good gymnast, or even a great gymnast, or better yet…an absolute star on my hands. Not only is it always great for the program and the success of our team to bring in new talent, but it often does WONDERS for how much we enjoy our jobs as coaches. I’ve always found that having that one special talent we believe we can turn into a shining star, or even a kid who is just a blast to work with can literally make us look forward to going into the gym each day. Encountering a new kid from his or her own unique background and family reminds us of the amazing opportunities we have as coaches to help mold children into a confident and successful athletes, as well as the amazing responsibility we have to help mold their character. Another reason I love this process is because of the genuine excitement and enthusiasm I usually sense on the part of the kid as well as the parent(s). The competitive team is often something that the recreational kids are fascinated by and sometimes aspire to achieve, and when they suddenly find the opportunity at their hands, their wide-eyes aren’t hard to notice.

So what do I look for when determining if a kid should be invited to the competitive team? I know we all have our own methods as coaches, so I wanted to share some of the qualities I’ve learned to look for over the years. I’ve separated them into two categories: physical and non-physical. I’ve come up with the seven for each, and these are pretty much in order of importance for me:

Physical

1. Coordination

2. Flexibility

3. Core strength/body tightness

4. Leg form/toe-point

5. Body alignment

6. Upper body strength

7. Leg strength

Non-Physical

1. Motivation/enthusiasm

2. Intelligence

3. Listening skills

4. Behavioral skills

5. Courage

6. Trust of the coach

7. Emotional stability

So now that I know what qualities I’m looking for, how do I go about actually testing for them? And how do I so in the short amount of time I often have to test a kid? I’ll discuss that in my next blog.

What qualities do you think are most important to look for in a young aspiring gymnast – male or female?