PBS Kids GO! It's My Life
Team Sports: Gymnastics

First, you're hanging in midair from a set of wooden rings. Next, you're flying above the ground, headed for a big padded obstacle. Then suddenly, you're sandwiched between two wooden poles, dangling with your feet off the floor.

Are you:

  • Visiting a re-creation of a medieval torture chamber?
  • Filming a stunt sequence for the latest Jackie Chan action movie?
  • Taking a class in full-contact woodworking?

NO! You're involved in the cool sport known as gymnastics!

Gymnastics is a unique sport that combines more than a dozen individual events and pieces of "apparatus." It's also one of the only sports that let athletes compete as individuals AND as part of a team.

When a gymnast is performing, it's a time to shine as an individual; to do his or her best to earn top marks on the vault, the rings, the high bar, and so on. But in the team event, each athlete's scores are added to those of his or her teammates, so doing well is the result of a group effort.

Gymnastic events are scored by judges who subtract points from a base score (usually 9 or 10). The ultimate scores will depend on how difficult the gymnast's routine is, how many errors she or he makes, and the artistry of the presentation.

Each apparatus requires slightly different abilities and strengths, but taken as a whole, successful gymnasts have tremendous body strength, strong discipline, great balance and grace, self-confidence, and a positive attitude.

Athletes can choose to specialize in one apparatus, or to train for all of them and compete in the all-around competition.

Gymnastics Basics:

  • Traditional men's events include:

    • The rings: two wooden rings hang from straps, 5.75 meters (almost 19 feet!) off the floor. Gymnasts grip both rings and hang in the air, performing flips and maneuvers such as the cross, where the athlete hangs with arms out to the sides.

    • The parallel bars: Two long wooden poles stand side-by-side, 1.95 meters (about 6.5 feet) off the ground. Gymnasts perform swings, holds, and flights, flipping through the air and returning to the bars.

  • Traditional women's events include:

    • The balance beam: The beam is a piece of wood 5 meters (about 16.5 feet) long and only 10 centimeters (about 4 inches!) wide. Gymnasts move up and down the beam, performing complex flips, jumps, and other maneuvers.

    • The uneven bars: The high bar is about 2.5 meters (about 8 feet) off the ground, and the low bar is about 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) off the ground. Gymnasts flip, jump, and swing between the two bars, gripping and releasing as they fly through the air.

  • Events for both men and women Include:

    • Floor exercises: Considered the purest form of gymnastics, this uses a large padded mat on the floor as the only apparatus. Gymnasts perform a choreographed routine of tumbles, jumps, and other maneuvers.

    • The vault: Gymnasts start at a run, vault off a springboard, and perform maneuvers while leaping over a large padded box (called the vault) that's 1.2 meters (about 4 feet) high. Men compete with the vault arranged the long way, while women vault over the shorter side.

Cool Gymnastics Facts:

  • The historical record suggests that the sport of gymnastics may be 4,000 years old!

  • Modern gymnastics has its roots in Germany in the 1800's.

  • Women's gymnastics was introduced to the Olympics at the Amsterdam games of 1928.

What Kids Are Saying About Gymnastics:

"Gymnastics is fun to learn. I like it because it teaches me to move my body and become flexible. You can learn flips and splits if you practice."
--Leah, 13

"I love it that you can do so many things in gymnastics. It's a unique sport because it's really fun and you can do cartwheels and lots of cool stuff on the balance beam."
--Charmaine, 13

"I like gymnastics because it teaches you to work with other kids. It teaches you how to be strong and not cry."
--Courtney, 12

"I do the vault, but I really want to start on the rings. They're one of the coolest things in gymnastics, because you have to be really strong!"
--Keifer, 12

Get Involved!

  • There are a lot of ways to get involved in gymnastics. Start by asking if your school has a gymnastics team or after-school program. If you're in elementary school, and there is no program, find out if there will be one when you get to middle school.

  • There are also many independent gymnastics schools out there, as well as programs run by local YMCA's. You can choose to train for competitions, for exercise, or just plain fun. Have an adult ask about insurance and instructor certification.

  • There are also gymnastic camps where you can spend the summer or take a year-round program. A great resource is the United States Gymnastics Camp Directory, on the Web at www.usa-gymnastics.org/publications/usa-gymnastics/2002/02summer-camps.html.

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