Essay: Gymnastics Is a Sport That Requires

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Gymnastics is a sport that requires tremendous physical stamina and technical control over the body. Denise Villani, an author and Webmaster of a number sports-related websites, writes that this graceful and artistic sport requires a "combination of strength, balance, agility and muscle coordination" (http://gymnastics-stuff.com). Villani explains that gymnasts must be in top physical shape in order to perform "sequences of movements" that require endurance, flexibility, and "kinesthetic awareness." A few of those movements that gymnasts perform include: split leaps, cartwheels, aerials, handstands and handsprings.

History of Gymnastics: Villani explains that gymnastics dates back to ancient Greece, and in fact ancient Greek peoples went through gymnastic exercises and routines in order to be prepared for war with aggressive enemies. The muscles that are needed for hand-to-hand combat are kept in fine-tuned form by rehearsing jumping, running, discus throwing, wrestling, and even boxing, according to Villani's article. The Greeks build buildings called "Gymnasia," hard-surface courts where the training was done. According to www.ancientgreece.com the Greeks launched ancient Olympics around 700 BC, and gymnastics became part of the games. In 393 AD Roman Emperor Theodosius abolished the Games, and gymnastics declined.

But, Villani continues, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, modern gymnastics came into being, thanks to Prussian Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, who introduced "the horizontal bar, parallel bars, side horse with pommels, balance beam." Jahn is known as the "Father of Gymnastics," Villani writes. In the 1800s, U.S. educators adopted German and Swedish gymnastic programs. The first modern Olympics were held in 1896, and gymnastics was part of those games, but women were not allowed to participate in Olympic gymnastics until 1928.

Types of Gymnastics: In Women's Artistic Gymnastics, the specific events include vault, uneven bars, balance beam and the floor exercise. There are about 4.5 million athletes in the United States who train for artistic gymnastics, according to Amy Van Deusen (www.about.com), and 71% of those 4.5 million athletes are females. Women's artistic gymnastics is the "most popular" and "well-known" type of gymnastics, Van Deusen asserts. The women who compete in artistic gymnastics must have certain qualities beyond being in great physical shape. Van Deusen explains that women must possess "psychological qualities such as the courage to attempt difficult tricks and to compete under intense pressure." Also, women need to have the needed discipline and a good "work ethic" to be willing to practice difficult routines over and over again.

Men's Artistic Gymnastics involves floor exercises, pommel horse, still rings, vault, parallel bars, and high bar. Van Deusen explains that boys "start young, though usually not as young as in women's artistic." In fact, women begin training in gymnastics around age 7 while males typically do not have the strength to pursue gymnastics seriously until they have reached puberty, Van Deusen writes. Both men and women are "age-eligible" for the Olympic Games on January 1st of his or her 16th year.

Acrobatic Gymnastics is another type of gymnastics and typically this event consists of a team of gymnasts (two or four per team). In this event, team members perform handstands, holds and balances on each other. They throw and catch each other, and Van Deusen writes that they "perform flips in synchronization." There are "men's pairs, women's pairs, mixed pairs, women's groups (three gymnasts) and men's groups (four gymnasts)," Van Deusen explains. Rhythmic Gymnastics involves female athletes using equipment rather than performing on equipment; gymnasts use various apparatus and toss, leap, and jump and are judges on grace and coordination rather than on sheer athletic strength or "tumbling prowess" (Van Deusen).

Different elements in gymnastics: Women: in women's vault the gymnast stands at the edge of the mat, concentrates intensely, and runs down a runway, "jumps on a springboard, and is propelled over a vaulting 'table' about 4 feet off the ground" (Van Deusen). The uneven bars require great athletic skill, but also timing is very critical. The gymnast performs "swings, release moves, pirouettes" along with a carefully executed "dismount" that utilizes two horizontal bars. The horizontal bars are set at different heights, with the lower bar about five feet above the ground and the higher bar is generally eight feet off the floor (Van Deusen). On the balance beam, the gymnast's choreographed routine includes "a mount, leaps, jumps, flips, turns and a dismount on a padded, wooden beam" about four feet high. This exercise has to be completed in less than ninety seconds. The floor exercise entails another choreographed routine performed to any music that the gymnast wishes to use. Generally speaking the gymnast performs tumbling passes, jumps, dance moves, jumps and creative gyrations within those movements. Men: The men's floor exercise (maximum 70 seconds) consists of tumbling passes, balancing elements and strength moves. The pommel horse moves require the gymnast to swing around on his hands without touching the horse. He performs "circles, flairs, scissors," handstands and a dismount. The moves on the still rings include swinging, handstands, strength moves and a dismount. The rings are about nine feet off the ground. The men's vault is very similar to the women's vault. He "hurdles onto a springboard" and propels over a vaulting table four feet off the ground. Parallel bars: he performs release moves, pirouettes, swings and a dismount (Van Deusen). The high bar is smaller than the parallel bars (in diameter) and men do pirouettes, swings and "high-flying release moves," according to Van Deusen.

Safety and Gymnastics: The website www.kidsource.com uses reference information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, among other organizations, to present the following safety tips. A young person wishing to pursue gymnastics should have a thorough physical exam prior to training, and the child should wear "all the required safety gear" each time he or she practices. Hang grips, wrist guards, special pads and footwear are important to the athlete's safety. A child should be taught not to try and "play through pain" as some professional and university-level athletes say they do. First aid must be available at every practice facility and during all competitions, the web site says.

The American Academy of Orthopeadic Surgeons (AAOS) website claims that more than 69,000 children -- all less than 14 years of age -- were sent to hospitals, doctors' offices, emergency rooms and clinics in 2007 for injuries that were related to gymnastic training and competitions (http://orthoinfo.aaos.org). The AAOS asserts that "cold muscles are more prone to injury" than warm ones. Hence, stretching and warming up (perhaps walking in place for 3 to 5 minutes) are vital parts of the safety approach to gymnastics. Also, equipment should be properly maintained and must be arranged so as to avoid "accidental collision" between gymnasts during a workout by several athletes. Proper floor padding is vital in order to reduce the impact from a landing -- and indeed, mats must be properly secured so gymnasts never hit the wooden floor. Proper footwear is important, along with pads that protect the knee, wrist, ankle, elbow and heels, the AAOS website explains. Those in leadership positions when gymnasts are training must be "knowledgeable about first aid" and must be able to administer for minor cuts, tendonitis, strains, sprains, and other minor injuries. Responsible leaders must have an emergency plan for any medical situation that may arise.

Importance of Gymnastics. Mark Thompson Kolar writes in the Michigan blog Mlive.com that above and beyond athletic skills, gymnastics teaches youth the importance of a "healthy lifestyle." Kolar interviewed Kim Tanskanen, owner of MEGA (a gymnastics academy in Michigan) about the importance of teaching kids gymnastics. Tanskanen expressed that there are many influences in the lives of children and teens that are "unhealthy" -- such as fast food, candy, and other items -- and as a result, "the childhood obesity rate [in the United States and Michigan] is higher than it has ever been anywhere in the world" (Kolar, 2007). And so, part of the training that kids receive when they enroll in the gymnastics program at MEGA relates to healthy living. The competitive team programs at MEGA emphasize physical fitness, gymnastics, dance, and a "healthy lifestyle" goes into all those training programs.

MEGA promotes the importance of exercise per se, and in association with USA Gymnastics (the governing body of gymnastics in the United States), MEGA teaching young athletes how "to set goals to achieve skills or conditioning elements" (Kolar). In order to evaluate each participant's progress, MEGA provides charts and report cards for the students and their parents to use. "When children make physical fitness a part of their daily lives," says Amy Fringer, program director for gymnastics at MEGA, "they will find they are more alert and do better in school." Moreover, Fringer insists that physical activity does not have to be "strenuous" in order to be healthy for kids. Having fun, in fact, is one of the aspects of the gymnastics program. And so it is clear that training for gymnastics is important in the sense of healthy… [END OF PREVIEW]

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