Gymnastics for Emotional and Mental Well-Being

Child Development

All parents want the best for their children and want to ensure they receive the proper guidance and nuture it takes to prepare them well for the future.  In the past, much focus was on the physical wellbeing and academic achievements of children.  In recent years, more emphasis is being put on the emotional and social development of a child.  So how do parents raise their kids to be socially and emotionally adept? 

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, many studies have shown that regular sports participation not only encourages children to stay active (and thus improving overall physical health), but it also offers many benefits in terms of emotional and interpersonal skill development of a child.

Physical Well-Being

Sports help to keep children active and being physically active is known to contribute to overall health.   The earlier a child develops a habit of exercising, the higher chance the child will carry an active lifestyle into their later life.  In a recent global survey including 1.6 million students aged 11-17 from 146 countries, the data collected suggests that 81% of the surveyed students were found to have “Insufficient physical activity” in 2016, and this phenomenon was more prominent in girls than boys (Guthold, Stevens, Riley and Bull, 2019).  This finding is alarming as childhood obesity which confers major risks of excess and premature morbidity and mortality, is on the rise in recent decades (Horesh, Tsur, Bardugo et al., 2021).  It is important for parents to recognize the risk and educate their children at an early age the importance of adequate physical activities through sports participation.

Emotional Well-Being

In addition to promoting physical health, some researchers (Seefeldt, 1987) also proposed that through participation in sports, children also benefit from:

  • Learning social and emotional skills
  • Developing moral values
  • Acquiring a better sense of self through increased perceived competence, self-esteem, and self-confidence

While participation in any sports will bring benefits to the children, due to the different nature of different sports, some sports may stimulate the body and mind more than others. Gymnastics is an example of a sport that continuously challenges the many aspects of its participants, including but not limited to physical strength, mental capabilities and courage.  Whether it is at novice or expert level, gymnastics helps to strengthen a person’s mental toughness and to promote self-confidence and self-independence.

Benefits for Younger Children

Gymnastics is a sport that develops flexibility, strength, grace, discipline, control, co-ordination, goal orientation, confidence, creativity, leadership, a healthy body and positive self-esteem (Gymnastics Ontario).  It is a sport that combines power and precision.  Even at beginner level, some basic skills require great flexibility and body strength, and may not come as easy-to-master for many children.  With encouragement from instructors and coaches, through gymnastics young kids learn to preserve and not to give up easily. They are taught to set a goal and work step-by-step towards the result. There is no short-cut in gymnastics as skill-building is cumulative.  Often, the mastery of a new skill and the acknowledgement from instructors and peers brings tremendous sense of achievement, helping young kids to gain self-confidence and grow more self-esteem.

Recreational gymnastics classes also help young children to develop their social skills. These classes are usually offered in group format, providing a fun-filled and action-packed environment for kids to socialize and interact in-person to practice their interpersonal skills.  Classes are often offered in a mixed gender group format separated by age and led by qualified instructors.  Children feel safe to interact with kids of similar age, yet the cultural, gender and physical diversity within the group provides an opportunity for children to learn to communicate, cooperate and resolve issues with others from different background in a supervised environment.  Through the interaction with adults and peers, children should learn appropriate behaviour, and learn how to manage their emotions (Ewing, Gano-Overway, Branta & Seefeldt, 2002). Children who participate in sports tend to be more coordinated and feel a sense of physical competence.  Researchers found that there is a positive relationship between physical competence, interpersonal skills, and peer acceptance (Evan & Roberts, 1987; Weiss & Duncan, 1992).   It is found that children who believed that they were physically competent were also rated as competent by their teacher.  Those children who believed they were physically competent were also those perceived themselves to be accepted by their peers and were interpersonally competent as rated by their teachers (Weiss and Duncan, 1992).  It is evident that sports involvement influences the total child, including the physical, social and emotion competence (Ewing, Gano-Overway, Branta & Seefeldt, 2002). 

Gymnastics for Adolescents and Youths

Most beginners in gymnastics are young kids between 4 and 7.  When they get older, some may move onto other sports but still cross train in gymnastics to improve their body strength and stamina.  For those who continue with gymnastics into early teens and beyond, they are usually at competition and elite levels.    While these gymnasts would have benefited much from the sport in their early years as previously mentioned, at the higher levels their mental and physical strength will be challenged to a whole new degree with the much more advanced tumbles, twists and turns that many considered “impossible” for humans.

High level gymnasts learn to remain poised under stress and are trained to make quick and independent decisions in split seconds.  While gymnasts spend a long time to learn and perfect their programs, as human they may still make mistakes during a competition.  When mistakes happen during a performance, gymnasts need to make real-time adjustments to the program to compensate for the mistakes.  They need to decide what elements of the program needed to be altered in order to ensure safety and minimize point deduction, all within a few seconds while the body is in twisting and turning motion.  Unlike team sports, gymnasts cannot “pass the ball” to a teammate when in distress.  They are required to perform the program from start to completion, whether mistakes are made or not.  As such, the disciplines of gymnastics at a high level helps one to develop independence and decisiveness, sharpen mental strength, be able to deal with setbacks and to make a come-back. These are all important life skills and qualities often found in a leader.

Perhaps the least-mentioned benefits of gymnastics is the friendships often developed among long-term participants. Adolescent gymnasts usually grow up and train with the same group of fellow gymnasts from a young age.  They share many tears and laughter and see each other through ups and downs in the journey of gymnastics.  Many forms strong bonds with each other and develop a long-lasting friendship outside the gym.  Having access to supportive friends with positive influence is particularly important nowadays among adolescents and youths, as an increasing number of youngsters are reported to be suffering from anxiety and depressions, where trusted family members and friends are the best remedies for such situations.

Sportsmanship and Positive Guidance

It is important to note that children do not automatically acquire physical and social competences through sports by participation alone.  Sports provide a platform that offers plenty of chances to learn life lessons through overcoming hurdles in training, dealing with successes and failures in competitions etc.  It is important to note the positive guidance from parents and coaches are crucial for children to learn these positive aspects of sport (Ewing, Gano-Overway, Branta, and Seefeldt, 2002).


Evans, J. R., & Robers, G. C. (1987).  Physical competence and the development of children’s peer relations. Quest, 39, 23-35.

Ewing, M. E., Gano-Overway, L. A., Branta, C. F., & Seefeldt, V. D. (2002). The Role of Sports in Youth Development.  Paradoxes of Youth and Sport, 14-48

Guthold, R., Stevens, G. A., Riley, L. M., & Bull, F.C. (published on 2019-10-14) Global trends in insufficient physical activity among adolescents: a pooled analysis of 298 population-based surveys with 1·6 million participants.  Published In Journal: The Lancet child & Adolescent Health

Gymnastics Ontario website, Page “Gymnastics 101”.  URL:

Horesh, A., Tsur, A.M., Bardugo, A. et al. Adolescent and Childhood Obesity and Excess Morbidity and Mortality in Young Adulthood—a Systematic Review. Curr Obes Rep (2021).

Seefeldt, V. D. (1987).  Handbook for youth sports coaches.  Reston, VA: National Association for Sport and Physical Education.

Weiss, M. R., & Duncan, S. C. (1992).  The relation between physical competence and peer acceptance in the context of children’s sport participation.  Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 14, 177-191.