Late Start Gymnasts

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Hatsumomo

Defender
Just a random thought rolling in my head about the ages when a lot of elite gymnasts started the sport. We hear so much of how they started when they were barely out of diapers and I was thinking on who started late. Daiane Dos Santos started at 11-12, Alicia Sacramone at 8-9. Simone Biles started at six, though I don't feel like six is an uncommon age to start the sport.

I also wonder if that is something that will evolve (in the USA at least) as time goes on now that we're seeing a few gymnasts not bothering to qualify elite until they're 15-16 and there's no longer a Karolyi in charge.
 
I looked at Wikipedia and Ellie Black tried her first FIG level competition at Elite Canada in 2008 (16° AA). She was born in 1995, so that made her 13 years. She had never competed in any elite category before that.
 
There's a lot of scientific evidence that waiting to specialize in a specific sport leads to better health outcomes and sport success. Having an 8 year old train one sport exclusively with high volume is limiting developmentally and leads to burnout and injury. It's a good explanation of why someone like Ellie Black, who's had some nasty ankle injuries over the years, is still competing at a high level at nearly 30 years old.
 
Well, the question is always did they truly start so late or did they start more organized/serious training late.
Starting around 8/9 checks out because most kids have at least 3-4 years before the big changes of puberty. Starting after 10 only works out if the kid is physically exceptionally small and puberty doesn't bring on big changes. I would put Furnon and Dos Santos into that category.
 
Well, the question is always did they truly start so late or did they start more organized/serious training late.
Starting around 8/9 checks out because most kids have at least 3-4 years before the big changes of puberty. Starting after 10 only works out if the kid is physically exceptionally small and puberty doesn't bring on big changes. I would put Furnon and Dos Santos into that category.
Though I subscribed to this thinking when I was younger, I wonder if it's unecessarily limiting now. We've seen many "older" gymnasts gain skills when in prior eras it's possible they might not have even tried because they'd have been labeled too old.
 
That gymnasts are having longer careers, doesn’t mean that in the most part, it’s possible to start later.

Does it mean that young gymnasts can train less intensively? Yes. Does it mean it’s possible to miss a season in order to properly rehab an injury? Yes. But the foundation in dance and basic acrobatic still has to be done at a relatively young age.

Indeed the longer careers we are seeing now, and gymnasts coming out of retirement in their late 20s, even 30s are because of the work they did when they were young.

the previous typical timeline was start gymnastics aged 5, turn elite aged 13. It is not the case that we can apply those 8 years to an older age frame. 10 to 18 might be possible for some incredibly talented gymnasts, especially if they have training in dance or another artistic sport. But it’s going to be harder on the body. It is always easier to adjust and re-learn through a growth spurt than it is to be learning things through a growth spurt.
 
But the foundation in dance and basic acrobatic still has to be done at a relatively young age.

The thing I've never had explained here adequately is why? I'll admit I'm somewhat hostile to the idea, but what I really just want is the proof. Where are the studies that look at kids who start at different ages and are given the same amount of investment by the coaches? There are a lot of studies supporting late specialization--where is the evidence that gymnastics is fundamentally different and requires early specialization? I'm genuinely really, really curious to see where this has been explored, how, and what the causal inferences are.

Coaching other sports, I'll take the eight year old over the five year old any day. With their better control of their body, ability to listen to instructions, longer attention spans, and ability to make communicate and make corrections, they make the same progress in two months that takes a year at four or five. I've watched things click for so many kids once they hit 7-9 and the brain-body connection improves. Puberty is always rough, but there's another burst of ability in learning new things when they come out the other side, with the bonus of more power and the ability to understand and contribute to the shape of their training. After a couple of years, there's just no difference in the kid that started at 5 and the kid that started at 8 except the kid that started at 8 is more likely to still be doing the sport.
 
The standard argument is that smaller younger bodies are easier to learn in, and acquire skill with less difficulty, and that that muscle memory carries forward. Back when I was a teen there was even an attitude that if you didn't have a skill as a junior you'd never get it as a senior. Worse, there was an attitude that if you didn't get a skill before you had breasts you'd never learn it. I honestly wish I'd not been brought up with those attitudes, because I quit at 18 thinking I was just too old to do the sport that I loved doing even though I was actively still acquiring new skills. Also was a great way to teach me and most of my teammates to have eating disorders. :(
 

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