As a coach I get asked this more often than any other question. The answer is not really as black and white as it may seem. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration. What is your/your child’s goal in Rhythmic Gymnastics? Is this for fun? For sport? For an Olympic Medal? RG requires a huge range of flexibility, strength and coordination which does not come naturally to most, genetics alone can impact your athlete’s readiness. Certain body types adapt easier to this sport than others. Previous experience in other sports such as Artistic Gymnastics and Ballet can sometimes aid the transition as well (so long as the basics of good body technique have been already taught). What is a “good age” for one athlete may not be the same for another.
Generally speaking, your child will have the best chance if exposed to the sport on the earlier side. Here at MG we start basic training at age two and a half. But what can my toddler do at that age? Well she won’t be doing any large tosses or complicated acrobatics in that class, but I can tell you she will be developing basic motor control, spatial awareness, and age appropriate discipline. Our classes are designed to stimulate your child’s brain and create good neuro pathways to set them up for success in sport (whichever sport they choose) and in life. See here to read more about our Pre-Gymnastics classes and the Gross Motor Milestones your child should be hitting.
After the Pre-Gymnastics years (2.5-4) it becomes time to make a decision about the path your child will take. Usually at this time your coach will advise you about your options to join the Junior Olympic, XCEL or recreational track. The different tracks are designed to include any child of any ability and allows for your athlete to find a good “fit” in the world of RG.
If you or your child plan to do this sport professionally (Junior Olympic track) in any capacity, the earlier the start the better. Girls in the JO track can start competing as early as six years old and ideally should have trained some years before that to prepare. This is why we begin teaching Pre Team training at age four. An athlete's bones and joints are softer at this age and can still be stretched and shaped. Once an athlete begins to hit puberty (around age 10) their bones begin to harden and it becomes much more difficult to stretch (and can often result in injury).
A child’s brain is also much more absorbent at this point. The base of RG, the part behind the tricks, grace and coordination, is simple clean technique: pointed toes, straight knees and arms, fingers held, a straight back and a long neck. The first few years of serious training will consist of just this: creating a good base for the future. These simple things need to become a habit for these athletes, natural, like walking, without a second thought in order to later perform the difficult skills.
XCEL is a newer concept in the world of RG and has been an enormous step in making this sport more inclusive to gymnasts. Any child who has a passion for the sport and still wishes to compete but is not able to partake in the JO program (for whatever reason-time, skill, money, goals, etc) can easily find their way in XCEL. A child can join the XCEL program at any age because the program is designed around the athlete. The skills can be tailored around each child’s ability and strengths. The opportunities for an XCEL student are very similar to the JO program. Most competitions now have XCEL sessions which means they get to travel alongside the JO team almost anywhere (like our annual Bahamas trip!).
Recreational gymnastics is also a great option for students just wishing to do Rhythmic just for the sake of exercise. The development of a child’s balance, coordination, flexibility and strength is important for a healthy lifestyle and to prevent injuries later in life. The skills and lessons learned in RG will follow your child through life. Read here how RG is making your child more successful academically!
One important thing to note is that the training, focus and methods vary greatly between these paths. It is much easier to begin training more seriously, gain the proper training and skills for the sport, and decide to pull back or change paths than it is to begin recreationally and try to jump to a more professional track later.
There is no “one size fits all” answer. Each child is made of a different fabric with different life experience which shape the way they learn. The “late starter” with the least amount of natural talent but all the motivation and grit in the world will easily surpass the talented child who began at two and does not know how to challenge herself. Our coaches are trained to help guide each child and family to the path that is best for them.