The Elephant in the Room

If you’re wondering what on earth the elephant in the room could possibly be when all you did was sign your child up for recreational gymnastics, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Truthfully, you have no idea there is an elephant. But there is. And your coaches know it. Here’s the thing, your daughter will probably never be a competitive gymnast.

What?!? You gasp. But she loves it and we’ve spent all this money for so many sessions of classes! Yes, you have and she is improving and it is wonderful and we (your coaches) are beyond thrilled to hear that. Now hear this, 4% of children who do recreational gymnastics go on to compete at any level. Any level. Not just the top. 4% is a very small margin. And from that 4% only .0625% go on to be elites (the level of gymnasts you see on TV). That is one sixteenth of a percent. I can’t even do the math to determine the percentage of kids from the original pool of recreational gymnasts who go on to become elite gymnasts. (No really, I’m terrible at math, couldn’t begin to calculate that.)

Why am I telling you this? Well, aside from the fact that these are the truths about our magnificent sport, a lot of times we, as parents, need a bit of a reality check. We all believe our children can grow up to be whatever they want. While this is true, and a lot of kids will become competitive gymnasts, it’s best not to set yourself up with an unrealistic expectation. It’s hard to do, I know. My boys play soccer. Do I dream that they will become the next Cristiano Ronaldo (while maybe wearing a bit more clothing in their endorsement deals)? Yes, I do. But I spend most of my time shouting from the sidelines to “Just kick the ball! No, towards the other goal, son!” Future Beckhams they are not. And that’s okay, because soccer is a wonderful sport for teaching a lot of developmental milestones.

Gymnastics is the same (only better) and keeping your child in gymnastics will start them off with an amazing foundation for athletics in general. Gymnastics, even at the recreational level, teaches spatial awareness, balance, problem solving, self-discipline, overcoming fear…the benefits are endless. Many pro athletes use gymnastics as cross training because the muscle development and skills it requires at the most basic level are unbeatable.

The things your child is doing in her tiny tumbler or shooting stars or gymtyke (we have the greatest class names) class is growing her mind and body in ways you can’t duplicate elsewhere. Ralph R. Barrett even wrote an article (Does Gymnastics Enhance Reading? Yes!) using scientific research that proves gymnastics, even at a preschool level, helps enhance reading. Reading! Recreational gymnastics is making your child a better reader while simultaneously making her stronger and more coordinated. Who could ask for more?

My point is this, your child may not ever be a competitive gymnast, but the skills she develops during her time as a gymnast will stay with her forever. Keep at it. Someday you might have the privilege of spending your too-short weekend in a gym listening to the same floor music over and over and over (compulsory gymnast parents, you feel me), or you may watch your kid excel at something else, knowing you helped them get there on the fateful day you decided to give this gymnastics thing a shot.


  1. Can you tell which 4% of the preschool rec gymnasts will someday compete? I’m curious because my daughters (ages 5 and 3) have been in gymnastics for 2 years, and I always get comments about my younger daughter from the coaches. Her very first coach in the parent & tot class told me that she was going to be a competitive gymnast someday (she was only half joking), and her current coach is pretty impressed with her too. I haven’t gotten any such comments about my older daughter! She likes gym and has improved a lot, but it’s even clear to me that she isn’t made for it. Still, she wants to be on the team someday and I know that gymnastics is so good for her whether or not she ever gets the chance to be on the team.

    I just wonder if the coaches can really know at this age.


    • I feel like different coaches will give you different answers to this question, but here’s mine: yes and no. I (and the team coaches my parents have trained at their gym) can generally tell if a preschooler has the potential to be a competitive gymnast. The problem with saying straight yes, is that it’s merely the potential to compete. I’ve seen plenty of kids with more than enough natural talent to be competitive gymnasts that just don’t have the drive or discipline it takes to get there. In the same vein, there have been rec gymnasts who don’t show a natural inclination for it who want it bad enough and work hard enough that they can make it far as competitive gymnasts. Gymnastics is a very mental sport, and kids with the natural ability, mental tenacity, and relative fearlessness that it requires are rare. Sometimes having two out of three of those characteristics is enough to earn your spot on a team. Good luck to your daughters!


    • As a quick follow up to my first response, that answer was running on the assumption that you’re talking about USAG Jr. Olympic teams. Most clubs now have Xcel teams, which is a different USAG track that offers a different code of points. A lot of gymnasts who struggle with the Jr. Olympic track find great success with Xcel. Some states (like Colorado, where I am) also offer a state-level recreational competitive team that generally feeds into high school gymnastics. The sport of gymnastics has done a great job in recent years creating several tracks allowing a broader number of gymnasts to compete. (My original post was in reference to the most widely known Jr. Olympic level.)


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