Becoming a competitive gymnast

Westside is a USAG Junior Olympic team. Girls are invited and placed by certified coaches on Pre-Team or Compulsory Level 3 Team. Participation in higher levels (compulsory L4-5, or optional L6-10) occurs after competing at the preceding level and through skills assessment by the coaching staff. Westside also has an xcel program, a boys team and a dance program. Visit westsideacademy.com for more information.

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WHAT IT TAKES

It begins with a love. A love of climbing the walls, of flipping over playground equipment, of balancing on teeter totters and turning cartwheels. The first gymnastics class is magic; this is home. The skills come easy. Back bends. Hand stands. Star jumps.

The teachers quickly notice her enthusiasm. They can see that she is ready to take her gymnastics to the next level. She begins taking accelerated classes or joins the pre-team, practicing four to six hours a week. She sees the “big girls” flipping gracefully on the floor, swinging over the bars, landing big jumps on the beam and she yearns to be where they are. She works hard at practice and at home.

When she has mastered the beginning skills she needs, and she is invited to join the team, she responds with a resounding “Yes!”

Soon she is doing back walkovers, hand stands on the beam, splits while watching television. She lives, loves, and breathes gymnastics. Practices are now nine to twelve hours a week as she learns the compulsory levels. Skills are harder, and they can be scary. She will fall and have to learn how to jump up and try it again, pushing aside fear to conquer that next level.

Competition begins and she has to learn how to stay composed under pressure. She learns how to be a teammate while competing for herself; she learns how to lean on her friends when disappointment hits, and she learns how to celebrate when she hits her routine. She progresses through the compulsory levels, learning increasingly difficult skills, until finally she is a Level 6.

Now she becomes an optional gymnast; she has mastered enough skills to be able to perform routines of her coach’s creation. Practices are four to five days a week for four hours a day, with two weeks of time off throughout the entire year. Her hands will bleed from bar work; her back will ache from conditioning. She will fall over and over; she will struggle to learn a new skill and weep in frustration when it refuses to come. She will be over the moon when she finally masters it. She will miss sleepovers and birthday parties, but that love for gymnastics will keep her going. Her best friends will most likely be her teammates, who understand what the life of a gymnast is all about. She will continue adding difficulty to her routines as she moves through levels 6 to 10.

A gymnast who achieves Level 10 is something special indeed. She is determined, dedicated, talented and fearless. She has had to work almost every day on skills that may scare or frustrate her. She has most likely come back from injury at least once, and she has had to keep going when the siren call of being a “normal” teenager has tempted her to quit.

Whatever level our gymnasts achieve while competing at Westside, we are inspired by their hard work, their commitment, their courage and their love for the sport. All of our gymnasts are learning valuable life skills that will help them achieve whatever goals they set for themselves. Gymnasts are a special breed of athlete, and we could not be more proud of their achievements inside the gym and out.

If you would like to support these hard working young women in pursuit of their gymnastics dream, please consider making a donation. 

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