Question: When should my kid start serious gymnastics training?
Answer: The glib response is "never." In my opinion, your child should always be having fun, and should never be doing "serious" training. Once s/he stops enjoying the sport, it's only a matter of time before s/he quits altogether.
But I understand what parents are really asking when this question comes up. Most see their daughter or son in a preschool gymnastics class and wonder when it should be more actual gymnastics and less play.
I talked to several coaches and the general opinion seems to be that most kids should be about six when they start a "real" gymnastics class. Before that, the focus of any class should be on developing body awareness and a love for the sport, even if it's more "play" and less "real gymnastics."
Kids that start more serious training very young don't seem to have a leg up on kids that start a bit later -- and it may even be to the child's disadvantage to start early. "The risk of starting advanced gymnastics at a young age is potential burnout as a pre-teen," says veteran coach Rick McCharles of Altadore Gymnastics Club in Calgary, Canada.
Altadore runs a "Mighty Mites" program in which kids age four to six work on general physical and motor fitness. Then, children progress to a "pre-competitive" training program.
An interesting sidenote: McCharles has noticed a difference between boys and girls. "Girls are on average more psychologically and physically ready for structured training than boys the same age," he says.
So, if your kid is having a blast in a preschool program, don't worry that you're hindering her chances at becoming the next Gabby Douglas. A kid who loves gymnastics will pick it up very quickly at any age. One unique example: Brazilian world champion Daiane dos Santos didn't start gymnastics until she was 12.
Get more coaching advice from McCharles in his blog, GymnasticsCoaching.com