Being part of the medical and training staff for a gymnastics team means learning how to work with athletes ranging in age from pre-pubescence to adulthood. Because gymnastics focuses on balance, motor control and joint range instead of efficiency of movement, the challenges involved provide one with a broader outlook on sports medicine and training. If you are considering making the switch from standard team sports to gymnastics, there are a few nuances that should be identified.
Movement and Strength
The moves intrinsic to gymnastics differ based on the modality being practiced. Floor routines require different muscles than routines on equipment like the pommel horse and rings. It is important to observe each training session to understand how the athletes are expected to move and the strength required for each move. This can help you identify the risk factors for injury and help them structure their stance to facilitate the maneuver. Risk factors in the gymnastics field also encompass the age of the athlete, their anatomy and the hormonal changes that would affect their neuromuscular control deficits.
Gymnastics does not have a goal-oriented scoring system like most sports. In gymnastics, points are scored and deducted based on limb placement as well as speed and complexity of the individual moves and overall routine. In other sports, conditioning is tailored to the action needed to play the game; in gymnastics, how the athlete looks when initiating and completing the move is just as important at the action of the move.
Normally, sports training would include practiced movements to avoid hyperextension of any joint. However, gymnastics scoring requires a certain degree of hyperextension to achieve the aesthetic look the judges want. For instance, plantarflexion of the ankle joint and hyperextension of the knee are commonplace stances for gymnasts, requiring constant use of the Achilles tendon. Understanding this requirement helps provide the support during training exercises necessary to avoid injury.
For each new routine, new partner or new challenging move, a safety screening is ideal to ensure the training that the gymnast has been receiving is adequate to support the new situation. If not, then additional strength training is necessary to lower the risk to the athlete. While the screening is not a guarantee, it allows routines to be created with safety in mind.
These athletes take on extraordinary loads in their routines, both with and without partners. Unlike other sports with many players that can be switched out, gymnasts cannot be substituted out easily should they be injured. They are completely committed to their sport and loathe mentioning any pain or discomfort at all. Gymnasts are more likely to hide their symptoms because they recognize that each one of them is essential to the team. This can be damaging to them physically. It is vital to both the athlete and the team to observe them vigilantly for any signs of stress or injury that could be further damaged without proper treatment and training.
Establishing working relationships with adult athletes is relatively easy, but gymnasts come in a range of ages so relationship-building must be adjusted for the age and gender of the athlete. Most if not all child gymnasts have a high maturity that lends to their professionalism as an athlete, but they still are limited in their understanding of core concepts. Couple this with the language gymnasts use and the training they receive, which are different than in other sports, and it is quite a task to establish a trusting relationship.
Understanding the language and differences in mental understanding helps to build that trust so the athlete feels comfortable discussing their symptoms and other physiological issues with you. Only with this trusting relationship can you adequately assist the athlete with training and support that will not inhibit their growth both physically and mentally.
As a member of the medical and training team for any sport, we have a certain responsibility to our athletes. We are responsible for safe and efficient conditioning and strength training as well as their emotional and mental well-being. Knowing the ins and outs of gymnastics will help you assess what each athlete needs in their training, allowing you to help them progress physically, mentally and emotionally.