Where does it go . . .

I’ve been asked this question a lot – where does this all go?  Where will my gymnast progress to within the sport or what does it all lead to?
There’s two answers to this – firstly the development route within gymnastics and how we do this at Affinity. Yes, we have squad gymnasts that enter competitions and do displays plus there’s plenty of progression within our class system. Here’s how it all works:
In each class area the gymnasts progress through different class levels as they age. They are assessed against our own Affinity Awards scheme each term and each area (pre-school, general, tumbling and freestyle) have their own schemes representing what they do in class. Then there’s the squad system. These classes run in parallel to the others and are accessed by invitation. We look for the gymnasts who have the physical potential to progress quicker or further in the sport and who also have the attitude, interest and work ethic to do so. We generally assess gymnasts in their usual classes. We’ve a set of access skills and capabilities for each squad that our coaches will look for and when they identify a gymnast has these, they will nominate them for a squad trial. Denise, our Department Leader of squad gymnastics will then arrange a trial to see if the gymnast is ready to move into a squad class. We’ve various squads now based on age and ability as follows:
Pre-development squad – 4-6yr olds, 60min class per week.
Development Squad – 6-9yr olds, 90min class per week.
Advanced + Squad – 9yrs +, 90min class per week with option to train twice.
Competition Squad – for those competing at Regional General Level 3 and upwards, 3.5 hours training a week.
Gymnasts in these squads work towards County and Regional General Gymnastics competitions – this means they train on floor and apparatus. We do offer competitions to other areas too when it suits – for example our Wednesday tumble class occasionally compete in local tumbling competitions as appropriate and of course everyone is invited to our own Affinity Invitational.  Gymnasts usually have to be 8yrs in the year of competition to compete – although at our invitational it's 7yrs old. However its worth knowing that at Affinity, our squad system is based on floor and apparatus skills so to gain access to these squads, gymnasts ideally need to be in general gymnastics classes where they are learning all of these skills.
As competitive gymnastics goes, at Affinity we focus on ‘general’ level competitions, which have restrictions on the amount of hours a gymnast can train to maintain a level playing field.  This suits our facility type and training time available.  We can take gymnasts to a really good level here but what happens if we have a potential Olympian appear?  Simple really – we’ll direct them to a club that can cater for that style of gymnastics. Training for higher levels of gymnastics – usually ‘artistic’ gymnastics, requires an average of 12-15 hours training time a week to succeed.  It’s fab, but it’s just not our focus area at Affinity.
The second answer to ‘where does it all go’ is a broader one but I feel much more important.  Whilst yes we’re coaching gymnastics (and we LOVE it!) really what we’re doing here is coaching people. The skills and experiences learnt through gymnastics really set you up for success in all areas of life – a love for physical movement, always improving self-esteem and belief in yourself, how to deal with and grow through challenges, being supported in a happy, positive environment. These things are really what it’s all about and these are gained whether your gymnast competes or not. Whether they are ‘good’ at gymnastics or not. (with a big set of air quotes around ‘good’ as it’s such a perception – I’d argue it matters not one bit but that’s one for another blog post…)
As long as our gymnasts are enjoying their sport and learning something, that’s all that matters.  Saying that, if you are interested in squad gymnastics please let us know – as mentioned we’ll be assessing in class anyways but knowing it’s something you and your gymnast are interested in always helps.

Jennifer Page
Our awesome Leadership Academy


You know we LOVE gymnastics at Affinity but what we’re really doing here is coaching people to be the best they can be and enjoy what they do. From the gymnasts who overcome challenges and learn through gymnastics through to our staff. However, there’s a group in between these two that I’m not sure if you know much about but they are some of the MOST awesome people and one of the best things we do! (Best kept secret eh?)
I’m talking about our Affinity Leadership Academy.
We run our own in-house training scheme for young people aged 12yrs+ to help them develop leadership and coaching skills. We provide initial training in what leadership and coaching is all about - what it looks like, whats important and why. They are then buddy-ed up with one of our coaches and help assist them in running classes. 
These young people are developing some serious awesome. They are a real asset to the classes, coaches and gymnasts they assist and they are helping us shape the way Affinity develops. We love the input they bring. And in return of course they are getting excellent training and experiences - we love seeing them grow in confidence and discover the joy of coaching and sharing their knowledge with others. When they are 14, they can take their first external coaching qualification and start to lead small sections of classes, then progress to L1 when they are 16, then take on an apprenticeship in the sport and then who knows - take over the world! Cool huh? Yikes we had better get setting up more Affinity’s for these awesome ones to lead in future hey? But it doesn’t have to lead to working within gymnastics - the skills they are developing will stand them in good stead for whatever they want to achieve and we’re super proud to help be able to develop this.
We’re looking for our next leadership academy members to start in Sept 2018 - so if you are (or will be by October) 12yrs old I invite you to apply by emailing to hello@affinitygymnastics.co.uk the following:
  1. What excites you about becoming a leader?
  2. What would be your greatest challenge being a leader?
  3. What class/es could you volunteer with weekly? (parents please help with this! Have a look at the timetable on our website).
  4. Can you make the next initial training session on Thursday 30th Aug 3:30-5pm?
Looking forward to seeing you all spreading more awesome in the new term :-)
Top 10 Reasons why holiday classes are different

But we come to gymnastics week in week out! We aren't missing much in the holidays..... right?  .....Wrong. Check out our TOP TEN reasons why holiday camps are different, in a good way!

1. Be the first to try out new activities. As coaches, we use holiday class times to be creative and try out new ideas. Be the first to try our new ideas before everyone else.

2. Longer sessions allow us to do more than a term time class. We use all the apparatus in the gym each class, unlike term time where its on a rotation from week to week. No chance that your child’s favourite apparatus isn’t included this week!

3. It’s a reliable indoor activity the British weather can not spoil or cancel. Plus we’ve air conditioning for those summer days.

4. New skills. It’s a great chance to try new things and to see what other gymnasts are working on, to see whats possible.

5. We watch movies at lunch for those who stay all day. We’ve got colouring books and crayons and puzzles now too.

6. Everyone feels better after exercise. You know this is important for your child and hey, if they are feeling good from their day perhaps your evening is easier? These are coached sessions. It’s not soft play. We’re sharing our passion and coaching expertise all day.

7. Help with childcare. Well the kids need something to do and sending them to us means you’ll have some time to yourself.

8. Make friends - your gymnast will meet a wider range of children and make new friends (we’re a welcoming bunch).

9. Siblings and friends can attend together as the age range is wider and no one needs to be a member (this helps with item 7!)

10. It’s fun! (shouldn't everything be?)

Spaces still available in all classes in May half term. Book via our holiday class page here or drop us an email.
How gymnastics helps your preschool child develop into a well rounded adult
We know gymnastics is great fun. But why should you look to bring your pre-school child as early as possible? Pre-School Department Leader Litsa shares with us the top ten reasons why gymnastics is of great benefit for the development of your pre-school child, with the help of some science and the feedback from our current Affinity preschool parents.

Gymnastics is not solely about creating gymnasts (for any age) but for the preschool child it is particularly beneficial. Here's our top ten areas where gymnastics can help your child grow into a well-rounded adult:

The UK is becoming increasingly full of obese children who risk their health and happiness by being overweight. Gymnastics teaches and encourages an active life and enjoyment of physical activity – we belive it’s got to be fun first! This love of movement translates into other sports as well as a lifetime positive relationship with activity - what better gift can you give your child. 
But will my child be an Olympian? Not all children who participate in gymnastics are Olympians. In fact very few are. That does not mean that gymnastics is not for everyone. By teaching young children they can be successful at physical skills from an early age encourages them to be active and aware of what their bodies are doing and we feel that’s waaay more important.
Here’s the science bit: Movement promotes good health in many ways. Consciously controlled and coordinated movements stimulates production of neutrophils (nerve growth), increasing the number of connections in the brain. The more precise the movements the more developed the network will become. So it’s essential our young children start this work as soon as possible.
Preschool fun fact! By the age of three, your child will have developed around 1000 trillion connections around the cells in their brain…. Which is around twice as many as the average adult!

Our Affinity pre-school parents say: “She says that she really enjoys it, she loves using the equipment (Beam, bars, trampette) and when she talks about it with friends they are amazed that at such a young age she is using them”
Pre-school gymnastics coaching helps develop better coordination and body awareness. For young children, interacting with their surroundings is mostly physical in their early years. Gymnastics provides them with the skills to interact with their environment in ways that other children cannot utilising all their body from top to toe.  Something we all wish we had more of as we age! Flexibility is important in injury prevention and helping prevent the every-day aches and pains. No sport gives an athlete the flexibility that gymnastics does. Not only is flexibility great for gymnastics, but it aids in the development for other sports as well. Next time you watch a professional sporting event keep an eye out for how flexible the men and women participating are. Gymnastics produces, pound-for-pound, the best athletes in the world. Gymnastics uses almost exclusively body weight exercises to build upper body, lower body, and core strength. Kids who do gymnastics show off this strength at a young age. It is also great fun for them to be a demonstrator in PE classes at school and in a lot of cases way ahead of their peers.
Here’s the science bit: Research has found that children who do not spend time crawling can typically have more difficulty with reading and writing later. The reason is that when crawling, they are tracking their hands with eyes in a pattern of movement (reading). Their hands slap the ground and develop strength and flexibility in the hand and wrist (writing and holding a pencil). Hanging on bars is great for handwriting skills. (Not to mention upper body strength). When children hang from the bars, they are building strength and dexterity in the muscles found in their hands. Building strength in their upper body leads to more refined fine motor skills like handwriting. 
Our Affinity pre-school parents say: “She has learnt so many skills that perhaps would have developed later – skipping, galloping, jumping, hopping etc. She has become braver in terms of having a go in other situations such as soft play, The simple structure of the class will help no end once she starts school”.
At all ages, gymnastics provides an opportunity to develop social skills. Pre-school children learn how to stand in line, look, listen, be quiet when others are talking, work and think independently, and be respectful. The older pre-school children in the gym learn to inquire about why something works the way it does. They also learn how to set a good example for the newbies who look up to them and become role models at a young age. All of these skills are stressed by our coaches because they are so important for a good learning environment.  Here at Affinity, skills are learned through progressions. By teaching in this manner children gain confidence as they progress through these skills. With each step, they become more confident in themselves and that carries over into all aspects of their lives.
Our Affinity pre-school parents say: “The classes have really helped with her confidence. It has developed her listening skills and taking direction from the teacher. The classes have also really helped to support her development in other classes she attends. Her overall strength and coordination have improved too”.
At Affinity, manners and kindness are a two-way street. Our coaches pride themselves on conducting classes in a way that is kind and caring to all of the students and in turn we expect that the children are well mannered and kind to their coaches, along with the other children in the class. Through these two key important areas from our staff, gymnastics classes led by example, we strive to help in your efforts as parents to raising a respectful child.
Preschool fun fact: The average two year old manages to add around five new worlds to their vocabulary each day…. Whilst we may have to rely on word of the day apps!

Our Affinity pre-school parents say: “I enjoy watching him and seeing how he is challenged and how much he behaves and engages in the activity”.

Gymnastics is a challenging sport. Every skill you learn is earned through hard work and repetition. A great thing about pre school gymnastics is being able to see the direct relationship between hard work, practice and results. The harder children work and the more they practice the more quickly they progress. There are few better ways for a child to see how hard work and determination pay off.
Our Affinity pre-school parents say: “I know she gets 45 minutes of quality physical exercise which is great fun”.

This is a very important aspect of gymnastics and it comes in two parts. In the gym there are rules for the children's safety. These rules must be followed and this takes discipline. The other part is self-discipline. Each child must have the self-control to make corrections when a coach asks them to. Children must also have the self-discipline to stay on task when a coach is working with another gymnast. Working hard, even when you think no one is watching, is a great asset to any individual's character and cannot be overlooked. Pre school children find this particularly challenging but by the end of their second term with us they start to be more self aware of their roles within the gym.
Our Affinity pre-school parents say: “She is gaining strength and coordination and learning the discipline of listening, following instruction and respect for her instructor and fellow gymnasts. They sometimes need to show patience to wait their turn and share equipment”

Gymnastics breeds determination. Most skills in gymnastics take a number of tries to get them right. This is true with a number of things in life. Gymnastics encourages children to get up and try again even if they messed up because they know if they continue to work hard that they will achieve their goals. 
Here’s the science bit: Movement reinforces the learning capacity, to store something mentally, with some type of movement. By putting it into ‘muscular memory’ it is more likely to be remembered than simply something thought about and not ‘acted out’. 

The Vestibular system is located in the inner ear and provides information about gravity, balance and movement. It regulates our sense of movement and gives our nervous system information about our movement as to whether we are moving fast/slow and in what direction. It responds to the position of the head. It influences muscle tone, visual tracking, special awareness and behaviour through complex interactions of the nervous system.
80% of nerve endings to muscles in the body are directly linked via proprioception and the vestibular system with motor nerves running to and from the eyes. 70% of sensory input for humans is visual so vision plays a large part in the process of learning.

Our Affinity pre-school parents say: “I’ve seen a big increase in my child’s confidence levels. Both in taking on physical tasks and in speaking and communicating with people.”

There are things in gymnastics that are scary. A lot of this has to do with the fear of trying something that you have never done before. We encourage our gymnasts to express their fears to us, and we set attainable goals to work through their fears - together. This goes hand-in-hand with building confidence. Our gymnasts are often challenged to try new things and our coaches lay out a path that allows them to achieve those challenges in a step-by-step manner. This approach allows children to develop strategies to overcome things that they see as impossible and encourages them to try new things both in the gym and in life. In a preschool childs’ world it’s black and white, there are no grey areas!
The science bit: Proprioceptive system provides information about muscle tension, body position and the position and movement of our joints in relation to each other (spatial awareness). It responds to movement by stretching and bending muscles. Sensory information regarding movement, muscle tension, pressure, joint movement and body position in space is sent to the central nervous system. This then influences motor planning, spatial awareness and behaviour.

Motor planning – how a child learns through play. i.e walks along a floor beam and falls off, has another go and falls off and wonders why, has another go and uses arms, improves technique of walking along the beam

Our Affinity pre-school parents say (in this case it’s the gymnast!): “I love it! I like being a penguin. I get scared on the bar but then I can do it”
One thing that is often overlooked by our population is the ability to perform in front of people in a pressure situation. In gymnastics, it becomes second nature. At Affinity we encourage all of our gymnasts to volunteer as well as watch their teammates because they can learn by watching as well as doing. This creates confidence in our children to step up and do their best when people are watching. Gymnasts are often first to volunteer in schools to demonstrate or raise their hand to answer a question they are unsure of. They gain the confidence in themselves to be right, and the understanding that even if they are wrong, that they gave their best effort. 
Preschool fun fact: Why you should never say ‘don’t’ before a sentence…. If I say to you ‘don’t think of a blue tree’ what immediately do you think of? We only ever hear the action after the word ‘don’t’. Instead say what you want to do instead i.e walk slowly, then theres no confusion.

Our Affinity pre-school parents say: “Seeing her so happy and being very proud of herself when learning new skills. Gymnastics is her favorite thing to do” 

All of our gymnasts learn compassion through the example set by our staff. At Affinity we know that every child, regardless of ability, can benefit from gymnastics. Our staff are committed to making sure that every class and child gets all of the great things that gymnastics has to offer.  It’s great to see each preschool class becoming a team that work together to support each other.
Our Affinity pre-school parents say: “Seems more adventurous and active with different things”

Yikes I had better get to a class myself!! We'd love to welcome you and your child to a class for you to experience all these benefits for yourself - take a look at whats on offer for pre-schoolers at Affinity here and register for a class here