Developing General Gymnastics in the East Region
This has been a large part of mine and Affinity’s life over the past 8 years so I thought the occasion of me stepping down was a good enough time to tell you about it!
Rewind to 2010… Affinity has been running for a couple of years and our gymnasts are now looking for some opportunities to compete. Couple this with the fast development of gymnastics in the UK and a gap is wide appearing – elite competition is more and more elite. We train in a school hall, we aren’t elite gymnasts (or even trying to be). But where we used to be just lower level of ‘artistic’ gymnastics, we’re increasingly edged out of competition suitability. The perfection level expected at competition is getting high.  It was starting to requires many many hours of training, fully kitted out gyms and professional full-time coaches.  We don’t have this (or want to). We’re just enjoying a few hours of training per week and want to have something to work towards. Oh and and for it to be a positive experience!
So we start entering the few events for ‘general’ gymnasts. These are good…. But poorly run – from organisation through to the confusing rulebooks. You know that thing where by you complain about something and get landed with the job? Yes that’s how I got my volunteer role with the east region ‘GGTC’ or General Gymnastics Technical Committee. But it was a cause I felt (and still feel) strongly about – there should be suitable competitive outlet for the gymnasts training a low number of hours in our region. They absolutely should not be treated as second class (which was happening at the time). The events should be well run (even if all run by volunteers, that’s no excuse for a poor experience) with clear rules and progression and it should be fun!
I started out on the committee, assisting with competition organisation. The following year I WAS the competition organiser (that will teach me).  Then 5 years ago I was asked to lead the committee and was voted in as chairperson.

It has been a privilege and an honor to be able to lead the area of my sport that I feel so passionately about into brighter futures.
So what has changed? Well that’s actually the reason I’ve now stepped down. I’ve made a reality of the vision I had for this area. Over the past 5 years as chair, I’ve lead the committee from a weak one of a few people to a thriving strong group of motivated awesome people. Together we’ve entirely re-written the rule books and there’s a really clear development programme in place for gymnasts. The rules are clear and straightforward so more clubs can understand and access competition. We run our own judging courses to train coaches and judges in our specific rules. Our very own Coach Denise came on board to oversee and develop judging across the discipline (she’s an international judge you know) and I’m so pleased and appreciative she’s been able to do this – its had a HUGE impact.
All these things led to the biggest problem, which actually allowed the best change - we got too popular! The events had too many gymnasts wanting to join to be able to fit into one day. So 3 years ago we changed to a regional final model. In the east region we have six counties – Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk.  Regional finals mean each county holds its own championship with our rules, then the top three in each category come and compete at a regional final. It adds more credibility to our events, even more development for the gymnasts and most importantly – allows more gymnasts the opportunity to compete. Not just from capacity, but location – with each county running an event there is never far to travel. 
We now have well over 1000 gymnasts competing every year at the GGTC final events with at least another 1000 competing in their counties that weren’t before.  I’d say that’s pretty damn awesome, wouldn’t you?
It’s been an awesome journey with its challenges and progress. I’ve learnt an awful lot – how to lead a committee (no one teaches you how to chair meetings! Who knows even now if I’m doing it right) how to run events, how to stand up for a vision you believe in and manage change (when no one likes change right?).  I’m looking forward to taking these skills forward into a new volunteer role in future when the right one finds me.
It’s not over… there is and always will be more. That’s why I’ve chosen now as my time to step aside and allow someone else to develop general gymnastics into their own vision. The committee gave me the most AMAZING leaving gifts…. Check out the flowers and bespoke necklace. It’s the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen or worn. I must have done something right eh?

I can’t wait to see what’s next. Affinity will still continue to enter these events and of course support the running of them. You won’t see my name on the certificates anymore but you might just see me as the biggest supporter in the crowd.
Why we love the gift of saying THANK YOU...

We’re into the second half of the term now, badge testing is finished and who can believe Christmas is looming in the not so distant future! 

Regarding Christmas, I know some of you will be starting to think about gift buying and giving (and some of you, like me, will be putting this off till as late as possible laugh).

We’ve been reflecting on this in the Affinity office and we’d like to make a bit of a change this year. You see, each year we receive many gifts from our members and we are so grateful and appreciative of the time and money you spend to do this.  We love celebrating the year with you.  However, 95% of the gifts we receive are large boxes of chocolate. Now don’t get us wrong, we appreciate the gifts and we do like chocolate, but it means our office is kept knee deep in chocolate until Easter. We’re all eating large quantities everyday and it’s really not great for us.

We’re an organisation based on sport and as such, we’d love to receive gifts that will help us be the healthy and vibrant people you need in your classes. Plus, collectively the amount spent on these chocolates runs into hundreds of pounds and we feel it could be better spent elsewhere. 

So this year we would very much rather a small gift of your time - make us a Christmas card with a message, take the time to say thank you at our end of term displays. Or donate the £5 you would have spent on the chocolate to a charity of your choice.  If you really would like to get us a physical gift, we’d actually love to get more fruit into our office on a weekly basis. We’d gladly accept that £5 instead of chocolate and we’ll put it towards getting a fruit subscription service in our office all year round.  Imagine what our coaches energy levels will be like when they are snacking on fruit between classes instead of chocolate - wow!

Thank you.  What do you think about this?  We hope you support us...and look forward to a healthier start to the year for everyone!

Jennifer Page
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
So it is now badge testing time
... what's that all about?

We operate our own badge scheme – the Affinity Awards.  We developed this ourselves after many many years experience in gymnastics with various badge schemes that we found lacking.

We’ve had our own scheme running for a year now and we have to say we love it!  It’s matched to our teaching syllabus and therefore represents all aspects of the things our gymnasts learn. We complete one badge per term, which are awarded at the end of term. The best bit? There are different schemes for all the different types of gymnastics we offer so EVERYONE can join in.
There’s a grading based on how many skills the gymnast is able to perform well, which is intended to give you a little more information on progress. This varies for each scheme as follows:
Pass = 8-10 skills for general scheme, 7-8 for tumble, 6-7 for freestyle.
Commended = 11-14 skills for general scheme, 9-11 for tumble, 8-11 for freestyle.
Highly Commended 15-16 skills for general scheme, 13-14 for tumble, 12-13 for freestyle.
The list of skills are now recorded on the certificate awarded to the gymnast.
Pre-school Gymnastics
Each badge contains 6 skills from floor and apparatus. We don’t do a formal ‘testing’ with this age group but instead cover all the skills within their usual class setting.
General Gymnastics
The gymnasts have 10 skills to complete on floor which have two each from the following areas: handstands (from preps through to handsprings), cartwheels (from preps through to aerials), backwards skills (from bridges through to back flips), shapes, strength and flexibility, and one skill each for jumping and rolling. Then there are two skills on each of the apparatus from bars, beam and vault.
Tumble Gymnastics
Our tumble gymnasts have 10 skills to complete on floor which have two each from the following areas: handstands (from preps through to handsprings), cartwheels (from preps through to aerials), backwards skills (from bridges through to back flips), shapes, strength and flexibility, and one skill each for jumping and rolling.  They also have skills performed in series – that’s connected together all in one go.
Freestyle Gymnastics:
Our freestyle gymnasts have 8 skills to complete on floor which have two each from the following areas: handstands (from preps through to handsprings), cartwheels (from preps through to aerials), shapes, strength and flexibility, and one skill each for jumping and rolling. Then there are five skills on the apparatus covering bars, wall and vault.
Competition Squad Gymnastics
Our competition squad gymnasts have their own scheme, which follows the skills they need to learn for the regional general gymnastics competitions.  There are four skills on each piece – bars, beam, floor, vault.  They need to pass two on each piece to pass, three on each piece for commended and only miss one skill in total to get highly commended.  This reflects the focus of this group to develop skills across all pieces.
Our other squad gymnasts – development and advanced + squads follow the general gymnastics badge scheme.

As coaches, we really look forward to celebrating the gymnasts achievements at the end of each term.