Watching the Olympics can be inspiring and you might be thinking, “What would it take for my child to become an Olympic gymnast?” or, “I want to become an Olympic gymnast — what do I do?”.
While it’s extremely rare and difficult to become an Olympic gymnast — and I certainly can’t promise that — here are some “must-dos” for becoming a top gymnast. This same logic applies if your goal is a college gymnastics scholarship. In order to become a successful gymnast and maybe even an Olympic gymnast, you need to start young, you must train many hours a week in a gym with the right tools for you to succeed and you must master the basics.
Olympic gymnasts are young and they start hard-core training at a young age. The minimum age that a gymnast can compete in international competitions is 16. This rule is one of the most debated rules in the sport of gymnastics. Smaller, younger girls tend to be better at the difficult skills required at high levels. However, without the minimum age rule there is some concern about the health and well-being of gymnasts. At the 2008 Olympics, there was some controversy about whether one of the gymnasts on the Chinese gymnastics team was old enough to compete. There was speculation that she was only 13, but nothing ever came of this investigation. Gymnasts peaking at a young age is evidenced by the fact that 4 of the 5 girls on the 2012 US Olympic gymnastics team were 16 (the minimum age) and Aly Raisman was the oldest at 18 years of age. This simply proves that starting gymnastics at a young age is one of the most important factors in being successful at a high level. In order to be training at such a high level at 16 — girls need to start young.
In the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, he studies the factors that lead to very high levels of success. (Side Note: This is one of the most interesting, motivating books I’ve ever read and I definitely recommend it.) He studied how the Beatles became one of the most successful bands ever and how Bill Gates was able to start one of the most innovative companies in the world. He deduces that both of these successes (plus many others he studies throughout the book) are due to the 10,000 hour rule. He concludes that you must practice a task for 10,000 hours in order to become an expert. The Beatles performed over 1,200 times in Germany between 1960 and 1964, amassing over 10,000 hours of live playing time. When they returned to England — they were “experts” and sounded better than anyone else. Gladwell credits Bill Gates’ success to the fact that he was able to get access to a computer as a kid (which was very uncommon at the time) and spent over 10,000 hours programming on it.
I also know from personal experience the value of practicing more than anyone else. My dad was a phenomenal runner in high-school, college and afterwards for a short time before he got injured. He still holds both high-school and college records that have held for more than 30 years! When he was in high-school, he ran twice a day every day of the year. He would wake up in the morning and go for a run before school, and then after school go to track practice. No one else was running that much — and he contributes his success to the fact that he was working out harder than anyone else.
Also, each of the 2012 US Olympic gymnasts trained 30+ hours a week. While I’m sure they hadn’t done that since the time they started out, that’s still a lot of hours in the gym. Let’s think this through: Imagine you start gymnastics at 4 or 5 and for those two years you are in the gym 2 hours a week for the year — that’s about 100 hours. Then ages 6-8, you work out 10 hours a week, and