Rhythmic gymnastics is truly an amazing sport – gymnasts learn hand-eye and motor coordination skills, and build fitness components like muscle strength and power, flexibility and endurance. You’d think that would be enough.
But it’s not.
Gymnasts also learn and develop life skills, not just sport-specific skills, by participating in gymnastics: the key is that these skills are transferable to other areas of their lives outside the gym, like family, school, work and in the community.
Not sure what some of those skills are? Let’s take a look at 8 life skills that are developed in rhythmic gymnastics.
Life Skill #1: Confidence
Imagine yourself standing on the edge of the carpet, getting ready to perform your routine in front of audience – of 1 (your coach) or of hundreds (spectators and family) – your heart is racing, you’re not sure you remember your starting pose, but you take a deep breath, step out onto the carpet and trust yourself to do what you’ve done in practice hundreds of times. It takes COURAGE to perform, as an individual or part of a group, risking success (a great catch right at the end) or failure (chasing the hoop as it rolls out of bounds for the third time) every time. Learning from these experiences helps gymnasts build confidence in their abilities to adapt to and cope with the emotional ups and downs inherent in sport.
Rhythmic gymnastics is a complex sport; learning that the hard work you’ve done in during practice prepares you to perform or compete helps gymnasts build confidence in their abilities. Seeing and feeling yourself improve – become fitter or master a difficult skill after weeks of trying – requires a positive outlook. Confidence and a positive attitude are intertwined, and they in turn help develop Life Skill #2.
Life Skill #2: Competence
Competence is the ability to do something successfully and efficiently. Whether it’s physical, technical, mental, emotional competence, gymnasts learn and practice all of these skills. Through physical training, gymnasts become stronger, faster, more flexible and more coordinated, handy for transitioning to other sports or for maintaining a life-long appreciation of fitness. Gymnasts develop technical proficiency through practice and problem-solving – they ask questions (why didn’t that work), come up with alternatives (what if I try this instead), and analyze (what went well, what didn’t, how would I do it differently next time). Learning and practicing mental and emotional coping strategies as they work on frustratingly complex skills, prepare to compete, or reflect on a performance that didn’t go to plan can transfer and help gymnasts be successful in school, give a presentation at work, or work with new people in an unfamiliar environment. Gymnasts, in short, are very competent people.
Life Skill #3: Goal-setting
Many coaches and gymnasts set goals together, choosing to focus on what the gymnast can control (skills, expression, attitude) rather than what she can’t (scores, what another gymnast or group does). Setting a goal is methodical; climbing high requires many small steps. Learning how to break that big goal down into manageable pieces is definitely a skill at which gymnasts excel.
Life Skill #4: Determination
Did we mention that rhythmics is complex? RG is a finicky sport, requiring you to learn to calm yourself down and refocus. Patience is important in chasing those elusive goals, but without determination, you’ll never reach that long-term goal. Most of the time, the pay-off isn’t immediate. Gymnasts learn and develop an understanding that sticking with something, while challenging or even frustrating right now, will enable them to become better athletes down the road.
Life Skill #5: Time Management
Gymnasts spend A LOT of time training in the gym. But no matter whether a gymnast trains one day a week or five, almost every coach will tell you that school comes first. So that means learning to manage your time. Gymnasts learn early on that if they want to go to the gym and train, they have to make sure their homework is done. Starting and finishing projects and assignments in an efficient, timely manner is a skill that gymnasts apply at school, work or at home.
Life Skill #6: Independence
Even in group gymnastics, gymnasts are sometimes required to work on their own. They have to be able to think independently and critically about what they’re doing. Learning to think for themselves rather than constantly asking a coach ‘what should I do now’ is a valuable skill to learn and makes them highly sought after employees and graduate students.
Life Skill #7: Leadership
Unlike team sports, where athletes are put on teams according to age groups, training groups in rhythmic gymnastics often combine gymnasts of multiple ages and abilities. ‘Older’ gymnasts, whether they are 10 or 17 years of age, are encouraged to be role models for their younger teammates. They set the tone for training, set an example through their actions, or sometimes just help a younger teammate fix her bun. Being able to stand up in front of their peers and lead warm up or peer-coach a teammate, can help prepare gymnasts to take charge, like in a group project at school or at work. When you need someone to lead the way, there’s a good chance a gymnast will be at the front of that line!
Life Skill #8: Connections (communication and teamwork)
While it might be easier to see in group gymnastics, there is a lot of teamwork that goes into gymnastics, even on the individual side of the sport. Gymnasts cheer for and support their teammates at competitions, performances or even in practice. They learn to communicate – giving a teammate feedback that is positive and constructive, peer-coaching, answering a question from a younger teammate are all important aspects of training and working with a multi-generational group. They train together, snack together, travel together – these are life-long friendships in the making!
Of course, there are SO MANY MORE life skills a rhythmic gymnast can build than the eight we shared above …but to find out what those are, you’ll just have to find a club and sign up for a program that suits you!
Interested in finding out more about life skills development through sport?
Check out some of these resources:
ProjectSCORE (for coaches – ideas for how to foster the development of life skills through sport activities)
@PYDSportNET has lots of resources for parents and coaches
Resilience in Youth Sport: A Qualitative Investigation of Gymnastics Coach and Athlete Perceptions (link to PDF)