I was asked by someone the other day, “how long will it take for my child to learn her back handspring”?  It is a very common and reasonable question, (just insert whatever skill you want at the end of the sentence).  The best answer we can give as coaches is that every child progresses at a different rate.  I’ve had kids take 3 weeks to learn a back handspring, kids that took several months and kids that took over a year to learn the skill and every time frame in between.  Take our family for example; we had a daughter that went to the University of Iowa on a full ride gymnastics scholarship that could literally learn a new skill a day when she was developing as an athlete, and we also have an 8 year old that took 2 years to get a handle on her cartwheel.  Thankfully, she is now onto more difficult skills but each takes a considerably longer time to master than it did for her sister.

Over the course of the past 26 years of coaching young athletes, I’ve found that the main keys to progress and success in any sport is patience, repetition and consistency, consistency, consistency.  Especially in tumbling, cheer or gymnastics where we are utilizing our body for every aspect of the sport and moving it through space in ways that are not necessarily natural (for example, cartwheeling, flipping, twisting, swinging, etc.).  Every move from the most basic skill through the most advanced requires precision, spatial awareness and muscle memory.  Even the most seasoned athlete will become “rusty” rather quickly if they take time off.  It takes time to get back in the gym to shake the “rust” off and become proficient and precise again.  So, it makes sense that the more consistent you are in attending classes throughout the year, the faster and more consistent progress will be.  A cheer athlete said to me that she was going to be done with class the other day because season is almost over.  Truth be told, they should be kicking it up a notch as soon as season is over, perhaps taking a second class or at least their regular class plus an extra open workout, as the off season is when the most progress is made on learning new skills.  The best thing you can do for your athlete is keep them in a program consistently throughout the year, utilizing open workouts and opportunities such as Flip-Flop Shops and other clinics as well.  These are difficult skills to master and the more time you can spend practicing them in a qualified facility, staffed by professionals involved in your child’s specific sport, the better. 

You also have to factor in the child’s:· work ethic· personal drive· how they handle fear· personal accountability. 

Another consideration is the coaches’:· ability and experience· is the coach breaking the skill down into achievable progressions· how the coaches motivate the child· the general motivation of the coach to help the child progress. 

*A side note regarding coaching;  I have actually had kids come to me and say, “my old coach said I will never learn a back handspring”.  I literally have to apologize for their behavior (even if I don’t know them) and reassure the child that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to.  Every one of these kids eventually learned a Round Off-Back Handspring and more in most cases.  If you end up with a coach that is negative in general or tends to squash the kids spirit, it is best to cut your losses and remove your child from the situation and find a program that will help your child flourish.  This goes for lackadaisical attitudes as well.  It is often obvious as soon as you come through the door of a facility.  The general feel and energy coming from the floor and staff. Be sure to do your research, (word of mouth is a powerful and often accurate gauge of a facilities atmosphere).  It is wise to also look into reviews online as well and don’t be afraid to ask to watch a class or two or participate in a trial class.  As a parent, we need to take all of this into consideration when enrolling our child in a tumbling, cheer or gymnastics program (this is actually the case for all sports). 

I know that things get hectic, schedules are hard to match up, especially with more than one child participating in activities, but I would encourage you to do your best to keep your child in the gym regularly as it will pay dividends in the end both from a skill acquisition/maintenance and also safety standpoint.  Consistent practice throughout the year is the best way to maintain skills and continue to stay on track for new skill acquisition.  Regarding how hectic life gets, most gyms are flexible with their make-up policies which helps if you need to miss a class here or there.  Good luck, get into a gym and enjoy watching your child grow in these amazing sports!