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Junior Boys’ State Team Finals??!!

Last weekend I had the opportunity to watch the first ever Georgia boys’ state team finals – a separate day of competition for the top six Level 5 and Level 6 boys’ teams.  I’ve heard of girls at those levels having state team finals, but I had never heard of such a concept on the boys’ side.  This is how it worked:

  • Saturday’s meet consisted of all-around for all levels and team “prelims” for Level 5 and 6
  • The top six teams for Level 5 and 6 qualified to Sunday’s “Team Finals”
  • Each team could put up between 3 and 5 gymnasts per event in the team finals
  • The top 3 scores counted on each event

The Georgia state director came up with the idea as sort of a consolation for the fact that not as many kids were going to be qualifying for regionals because of a new system.  Rather than having a minimum score as the basis for qualifying for regionals, we now have an “allotment” system in which each state is allowed a certain number of spots for regionals in each level and age group.  The number of spots allotted at each level varies between the states in the region and is based on how many gymnasts are in each state.  This meant that much fewer gymnasts would be able to qualify for regionals, which was a necessary action since last year’s regionals was overloaded.

During the award ceremony on Saturday, our state director actually encouraged the crowd to be VERY LOUD during Sunday’s team finals.  He encouraged things like team signs and a TON OF NOISE.  And boy did he get it!

Sunday’s team finals was the MOST FUN boys’ gymnastics meet I have EVER been to in my life.  Each team’s fans were given an assigned seating area. There were lots of signs.  There were foghorns and bells.  And there were TONS OF SCREAMING FANS the entire meet!  I walked in during the first event and I couldn’t believe how loud it was.  It felt like a rowdy college gymnastics meet.

I found my team’s fans (I’ve coached the boys at Hayden’s Gymnastics in Evans, GA for several years and now just do some private lessons with some of them), and I could feel their energy immediately.  As I looked out at all of the boys competing, I was thrilled to see the POSITIVE ENERGY that was being transmitted to them as well.  Routines were being nailed left and right, and the fans were just electric.  Team scores were announced after every rotation, and the energy in the building continued to escalate.  Some teams even chanted their own cheers.  Our voices were just about gone by the end of the meet. Young kids who typically look uptight and nervous were pumping their fists after their own routines.  They looked confident and excited, and they were having a blast.  It felt as though every kid in the building was having an awesome meet…the kids I coach nailed every single routine and had their best meets ever.  Several of them scored SEVERAL POINTS higher than they typically scored!!!

So many of the parents said it was the most fun gymnastics meet they had ever been to, and I completely agreed.  The great part was the kids said the same thing!  They were totally energized after the meet and looked more excited about gymnastics than I had ever seen them.  It was so cool to see that excitement after the state meet in particular, because it’s close to the end of the season (just regionals left), and we coaches tend to start wondering about what the next year holds for each kid.  Some will be motivated; others burnt out.  Some will be excited to try to move up to the next level; others will decide to quit.  I truly believe that ending the season with an incredibly positive experience like that one could do wonders for keeping kids in the sport who might have otherwise quit.  I also believe it could do wonders for keeping the COACHES from becoming burnt out as well.  I couldn’t help but notice how much more excited the coaches were during and after the competition than I had ever seen them.  I also saw an amazing connection and appreciation between the parents and the coaches that isn’t always there.

I think my favorite part about the team finals was seeing how the magic of “team energy” works just as well with young kids as it does with elite gymnasts. Most people don’t view gymnastics as truly a team sport, and I think this is a legitimate viewpoint at the junior levels in particular.  Team scores and results are very important to coaches and often to the parents, but let’s face it…it can be very difficult to get kids to view the team results as more important than or even equally as important as their own individual results.  The fact that the team scores are simply mixed in with the all-around competition make this especially difficult…the team results become simply an afterthought after the individual results are announced.  Many kids even forget that a team competition is being contested.

Having a separate day of team finals was absolutely AWESOME.  The kids knew that the team competition was all that was being contested, and it caused them to pull together and cheer for each other like never before.  I believe it made them truly appreciate their teammates and helped them realize that gymnastics IS a team sport, and that competing WITH your teammates is a whole lot more fun than competing AGAINST them.  The energy created in that building during the team finals is what this sport is all about, and in fact is what all sports are all about.  It was so uplifting to witness it and to see those kids have that experience.  Those are the memories that I want all the kids I coach to leave the sport with.

Has your state ever done a boys’ team finals?  If not, I would HIGHLY recommend it – not only for the state meet but for other meets as well.  I believe its potential benefits to our sport are astounding.