Success in any sport can be directly attributed to certain characteristics or talents. Ultimate performance is dependent on having mastered or having been born with a large percentage of these characteristics. In other words the more weaknesses that occur in any of the essential categories the more difficult it would be to experience a high level of success. Now of course success is relative to the goals and aspirations so I am referring to success at the top of the game.
In a recent discussion I was challenged with naming the most important characteristics or traits needed to be successful in gymnastics. Keeping in mind that gymnastics was recently named the number one most difficult sport in the world, these characteristics need to be honed, refined and near the top percentile of excellence if we are to expect ultimate success. Below I have listed what I consider to be the essential 8 characteristics.
Regardless of the amount of physical talent or quality instruction, desire has to be the number one most important trait. Without the proper attitude, the hunger to succeed, the willingness to persevere through the toughest training sessions, there can be no ultimate success. Sure there are naturally gifted athletes that sometimes skate by on minimal effort, but in order to be competitive with the best in your sport, the athletes with desire will eventually win out.
What most forget is that at the top of the game everyone has talent. So with the playing field being somewhat even, it is desire, the training attitude that creates the separation amongst the individual athletes.
As we climb the ladder of competition we will find that coaching plays of more significant role. Early on teams and individuals can experience success based on the talent level they or their teams possess. At the higher levels talent is separated by the use of strategies, pacing, planning, and motivation. In other words, good coaching. I think it is safe to say that most accomplished athletes did not achieve their level of success in a self-taught environment. They generally had quality guidance and assistance along the way.
The days of substandard training facilities and less than adequate training aides are long gone. The sport of gymnastics has proven to anyone who has been watching that it is brutally unforgiving and extremely taxing on the body. Lessening impact landings and providing safety-first training situations is essential if an athlete is to endure. Proper facilities play a vital role in keeping our athletes healthy while shortening the learning curve for skill development and maintenance.
This is a component required in virtually every sport. If all things are equal (number of training hours, quality of coaching, training attitudes and effort, mental aspects etc) the athlete with the greater physical strength is more than likely going to finish on top. Stronger athletes can not only create more amplitude and dynamics but also put themselves in a position to withstand the punishment that this sport can dish out. Additionally, stronger athletes are generally less fearful and more aggressive which are two great attributes of a successful gymnast.
Again we are considering success at the top of the world of gymnastics when I state the importance of flexibility. Certainly there have been some recent athletes competing on the world stage with less than exemplary flexibility but two things should be noted here: 1- They (Jordyn Wieber, Makayla Skinner and Simone Biles to name a few) have adequate flexibility and 2- Nobody can argue that there gymnastics would be better with more refined flexibility.
Flexibility creates fluidity of motion and assists with the overall impression of artistry (note I said assists) but perhaps more importantly in the long-range picture is that it helps prevent injuries. It has been said that if something doesn’t bend it could very well break. This is certainly the case in our sport.
Strength and Flexibility are important for sure but without speed (the ability to create active power and ballistic forces) they are not fully utilized. Strength combined with speed gives you power, amplitude, and air-time. Speed combined with flexibility gives your dynamic dance elements. In a sport that is judged not only on the amplitude of skills but also one that requires amplitude in order to accomplish high-level skills themselves, speed is essential.
Few athletes have ever obtained greatness without a solid support system of friends, teammates, parents and coaches. The trials and tribulations of training and competing are exhausting. At times the rigors of sport can be simply overwhelming. Training during the good times is easy but when the inevitable frustrations loom larger than life, an encouraging, understanding, and compassionate support system is the athletes life line.
The glue that holds these characteristics together is enjoyment. You can possess all the physical attributes (strength, flexibility, speed), you can have the best coach in the world and the most supportive friends and family, you can have a world class, state of the art training gym BUT if you do not enjoy what you are doing, success will be elusive.
Are you going to enjoy the intense conditioning, the extra routines, training during the holidays? Are you going to enjoy being pushed by your coaches, landing on your face or doing bars with bleeding hands? Probably not but you better find enjoyment in the challenges, the stimulation, the rewards and the relationships. There has to be enjoyment in achieving the goal, enjoyment in the process of getting there and the sense of accomplishment that comes with doing something that few others in the world can do. Enjoyment is essential.
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