Rachel Nickens, a doctoral candidate in sociology and a USA Gymnastics coach and judge, spent a year observing training sessions and competitions, and conducted in-depth interviews at three gyms with 20 gymnasts ages 11 to 17 in Junior Olympics levels eight, nine and 10.
The interviews were part of a larger ethnographic study on youth gymnastics. Nickens also drew on data from another 18 interviews with adolescent male gymnasts, coaches and parents.
Nickens will present her study, “Not Just ‘Little Girls in Pretty Boxes’: The Everyday Experiences of Adolescent Female Gymnasts” in Philadelphia at the 113th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association …
… when gymnasts define and explain their athletic participation, they mostly talk about practice, teamwork, the joy of physicality, and the reward of overcoming challenges and fears. While they define themselves as gymnasts, they also define themselves as athletes and students, friends and leaders.”
Nickens said that at the moderately high level, gymnastics might not be all that different from any other sport—both in its rewards and in its challenges.
There is a group of people I refer to as the burn it all down crowd.
They believe Gymnastics is intrinsically harmful for girls. (They mostly ignore male gymnasts.)
That’s nonsense, of course. There’s no sport which rewards participants as richly in motor and physical fitness. For girls in particular, competitive Gymnastics is a great way to grow up. It seems to me gymnasts are disproportionately successful in later life compared with other sports. The discipline and persistence transfers. Gymnasts consistently get some of the best grades amongst NCAA sports.
As coaches we need maximize the benefits, minimize the risks for all our athletes.