Many of the world's elite gymnasts began training very young. The early start is advantageous given the work required. Olympic silver medalist Alicia Sacramone switched from dance to gymnastics as an 8-year-old. "That was kind of old for most girls," she said in a video interview with the Gymnastike website. "I was older. That is why I peaked in my elite career older." But 12-year-old athletes can come to the sport, master the necessary skills and compete at a good level.
Advantages Of Starting Young
Young gymnasts tend to be lighter, more flexible and more easily taught than older gymnasts. “Very difficult gymnastics skills are more easily learned and much better learned at a younger age, say 8 to 11 years of age,” gymnastics coach John Howard writes on his website, GymnasticsZone.com. “Younger gymnasts also do not usually have any fear of doing gymnastics skills and they adapt to hard training regimens more easily.”
Not Too Late For Teens
Gymnastics coach Roger Harrell encourages teenagers to pursue gymnastics. He writes on the Drills and Skills website, "Many people believe that 15 is too old to start gymnastics. This is a ridiculous notion." While a gymnast is unlikely to become an Olympic competitor starting late, Harrell writes, "it is never too late to gain the benefits from practicing this sport. Gymnastics will improve performance in any other sport, as well as improving overall fitness and functional strength to a level that most people never attain."
Playing Catch-Up In The Weight Room
Advanced gymnastic maneuvers on the vault and bars require considerable upper-body strength. In the men's competition, the pommel horse and the rings demand extreme upper-body strength. Pre-teens develop this strength through gymnastics training. Physically mature athletes can play catch-up in the weight room. "Older gymnasts can take advantage and gain more benefit from weight training than younger gymnasts can," Howard writes.
Challenges Facing Older Gymnasts
Gymnasts starting older might become frustrated watching young children perform at a higher level. "The kids fully understand, because they went through it as well," Harrell writes on the Drills and Skills website. "There is nothing to be hesitant about. Everyone in that gym has been through the basics." Older gymnasts might not be as flexible, due to their lack of training, and because of their size, they put more strain on their body while learning the sport. This is especially true for adults taking up the sport. "Proper progressions and a focus on safety is critical," Harrell writes.