Competitive or Recreational? Choosing which gymnastics path suits your child

Gym With Me

So, your child has been doing gymnastics for some time – maybe once or twice a week recreationally – and has also taken part in some of our holiday camp programmes. Now, he or she (or you) is thinking they’d like to see if they could take the next step towards competitive gymnastics.

Some of the questions you might be asking yourself as a parent could include: Where do I begin? How experienced does my child need to be? How many hours are involved in competitive training? Does he or she even have the capability to compete?

At Gym With Me, we have a robust process to establish the capability of children who express an interest in taking up gymnastics competitively, before deciding whether they can join our Pre-Competitive, Junior Competitive, Senior Competitive or High Performance programmes.

On the whole, gymnastics promotes numerous fitness and health benefits, but deciding what’s best for your children isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly.

Competitive gymnastics differs drastically to simply doing gymnastics ‘for fun’. We’ve outlined a few considerations to help give you a better idea of what could work for your budding gymnast.

What’s the difference?

Recreational gymnastics, as its name suggests, caters to anyone from your little or big ones who are just starting out in the sport, to seasoned gymnasts who’d like to train without the pressure of competitions. After all, it’s never too late to start, and this sport caters to anyone looking to enjoy its benefits!

In short, recreational gymnasts get to cement the fundamentals of the sport through classes, and can transfer the techniques and skills they’ve picked up to plenty of other sports later in life.

Competitive gymnastics requires a much higher level of commitment – in terms of time, money and pressure and expectation. Places on a competitive squad are limited and are made by selection, so as much as you might have expectations as a parent or gymnast, there is also a level of expectation from your coaches and team members. Some competitive gymnasts start training at a young age, but we also see numerous children come into the sport later on and progressing well, because they are naturally athletic – and because they work very hard. There is a dedicated training programme they must adhere to, working closely with their coaches to hit certain milestones.

Training hours

Recreational classes might take place once or twice a week at most, for an hour to two hours at a time. The programmes are focused on fun and the overall experience. They are typically less intensive, but all programmes are still based around technical skill progression. We always ensure children are constantly learning new things and reaching their own goals at their own pace.

Gymnasts training competitively have a stricter schedule – anywhere from eight hours to 20 hours a week (or more), depending on their level. This might pick up even more in the lead-up to big competitions. Skipping trainings usually isn’t an option unless there is a very valid reason, and coaches will be expecting intense dedication and progression to take place during training.

It can be gruelling – albeit fun, of course – and it’s not suited to everyone, no matter what sport you’re in!

Commitment level

I’m not going to lie, being in the competitive squad will mean spending a lot more time in the gym – in between school and during term breaks. Being able to juggle training sessions and activities outside of the gym (not to mention homework and studying for exams) becomes crucial. Sacrifices often have to be made, and depending on their competitive level, things like social lives can take a bit of a beating!

On the other hand, recreational trainings have less of a commitment expectation. We want to see children staying active and keeping fit, and despite the smaller commitment your children will still reap all the physical, mental and emotional benefit the sport has to offer.

Health and fitness

Recreational gymnastics is an excellent addition to any child’s healthy lifestyle. It’s a high intensity sport, burning calories and helping to gain muscle tone, flexibility and balance. Health wise, there is almost no better sport for a developing child to take part in. The skills and developmental advances gained from doing gymnastics – even recreationally – will benefit them in any other sports they take part in, as well as in social situations and with discipline around schoolwork, etc.

This is simply ramped up a notch for competitive gymnasts. A healthy and robust diet is needed to help keep their energy up for longer training sessions, and we advise plenty of rest in between to give their bodies time to relax. Keeping their young bodies in top form is important, and we promote and all-around healthy and balanced lifestyle.


As much as 80% of what your child will achieve is based on their hard work and dedication in the gym with their coaches. The other very important 20% is the support they have to help them achieve their goals, and this primarily come from their parents (although as they progress, this will also come from teachers, friends, etc.)

As a parent, are you able to commit to the training schedules of competitive gymnastics, the financial commitment of increased hours and give up your own time on the weekends to support your kids at competitions? Are you able to help your child make the hard choices when the time comes?

The support structure for a gymnast is so important and is something coaches consider when offering a child a place on a team.

So, which programme is most suitable for my child?

At Gym With Me, we offer both recreational and competitive gymnastic programmes at various levels. If you’re considering enrolling your child into the sport, you might want to assess their interest first putting them in the recreational class or our seasonal gym camps, before diving into the commitment that comes with joining the team.

It is also not uncommon for children to move from recreational to competitive gymnastics over the course of their training when their coaches feel they’re ready for a greater level of commitment.

However, it is still essential to know that the decision ultimately falls on the shoulders of the child, and we as parents should never rush into placing them into more intense programmes.

Coaches are constantly looking at the progression of their gymnast. If they feel a child is excelling and ready for the next step, they will be the first to let you know. They are always working in the best interest of each individual and will recommend competitive programmes if they feel a child is 100% ready for the demands in conjunction with all the above. In short, listen to your coaches recommendations!

At the end of the day, no matter which programe your child takes part in, it is important that they enjoy it.

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