The Key to Building Strong Future Leaders is… Gymnastics

The Key to Building Strong Future Leaders is… Gymnastics

By Rosanna Trigg, Director and Co-Founder, The Yard

Gymnastics is a complex sport. In the course of his or her sporting career, a gymnast will be provided with an educational buffet beyond biology and artistic athleticism: physics, teamwork, patience, nutritional science, physical and psychological toughness, planning, social skills, and work-life balance, to name a few. All these learnings weave together to form smart children and strong leaders.

In fact, in 2015 the Harvard School of Education released a research project titled, “Why Your Kid Should Do Gymnastics if You Want Them to Develop the Kind of Character That Helps Them Succeed at School”. Despite its long title, the outcome was quite simple. The study of more than 4,000 young adults in the UK uncovered the most important characteristic to predict a child’s success: grit.

Grit – or determination, courage and a ‘growth mindset’ – had more bearing on a child’s future success than their general intelligence or exam results, the study claimed. However, it turns out gymnasts are pretty classroom-savvy, too. In the US, an NCAA study found more than 35% of gymnasts at the college level achieved a GPA of 3.5 or better. And more than 90% of college students involved in NCAA gymnastics graduated – a significantly higher rate than those who didn’t participate in gymnastics.

Although to many, gymnastics might just seem like a sport about swinging on bars and doing flips in the air, the best thing your children will receive from being exposed to it is education. The strong characteristics gained from doing gymnastics lend themselves well to leadership positions.

Here is an overview of some of the life skills gymnastics can impart on children to develop them into well-rounded adults with leadership tendencies.

Discipline and perseverance

For many of us, probably one of the biggest barriers to success is our inability to push ourselves beyond our limits. Too often when we fail, we become demotivated. When something is too difficult, we give up or pass the task onto someone else we feel can do it better. Resentment builds inside of us when we have to stay late at the office because we just couldn’t manage our time effectively.

Gymnasts are taught discipline very early on. This doesn’t mean they’re expected to work through pain or suffer – but they understand that in order to achieve their best, they must work hard. Children who focus on gymnastics as a competitive sport will have razor sharp focus. They might pass up school trips or sleepovers to train late nights and early mornings. They are aware that success requires setting goals, and they have the discipline to achieve them. Imagine if everyone in your office had the same level of discipline as the average gymnast…

No fear of failure

Failure is a scary word for many of us. We have been raised in a society that discourages mistakes and berates those who don’t succeed the first time around. Thankfully this is changing – especially with the influx of the ‘startup mentality’ that encourages agile thinking and learning from mistakes – and our children know that failure doesn’t equal the end of the road.

Gymnasts are familiar with failure. It can take weeks or months of failing to land a move or achieve a new skill before they succeed. Gymnasts are used to falling down and getting back up on their feet again. And even once they nail their routine, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be the one walking home with the gold medal. It can get frustrating at times, but they are hyper aware that failure is part of the process. No one gets everything right on the first try – and this is an exceptionally strong mindset to instill in young children as they grow.

Work ethic and time management

The average tech CEO works roughly 14 hours per day and 300 days per year. That comes to about 4,200 hours every year. But 30% of that time is spent on emailing, and another third is spent jumping from meeting to meeting. With the final third of their day, they’ve got to actually do their job.

Now look at a gymnast. A gymnast training for a competition might be in the gym for about 15-20 hours per week – sometimes more. That’s on top of a full day of school, homework, and social activities with friends. Some gymnasts are managing this delicate balance from a young age – but it’s what young athletes do. And it moulds incredibly capable and efficient adults who understand the benefits of planning, prioritising and working smart. I’d bet any CEO would have loved to learn those skills from the age of 10.

The importance of teamwork and individual accountability

Gymnastics is an individual sport, but teamwork is also necessary for the overall success of the school, club or country they are representing. During training, gymnasts work alongside a group of people who become their friends, mentors and benchmarks for success. They learn how to balance the need to lean on their teammates for support and advice with their drive to perform individually and show what they are capable of. Their tolerance levels are higher because of this, and it helps them to strive for perfection.

This level of self-awareness instills accountability, self-reflection and the ability to absorb critical feedback – all useful skills in the ‘real’ world, beyond sports.  

Resilience and determination

Success takes time. While some people are naturally talented in certain areas, even the best still need to practice and hone their craft. An expert chef will cook until the recipe is perfect. The top performing salesperson in your company likely took years to polish their technique. And gymnasts, well, they truly know that the road to gold is paved with practice – and delayed gratification. In today’s world of quick-fixes and instant results, gymnasts learn to work hard towards achievements that can take years to reach.

In sport and in business, there is always competition nipping at your heels just waiting to steal the limelight. Just because you’ve won before, doesn’t mean you’ll win again – and if you’re only as good as your last win, then you need to constantly work to be at the top of your game.

This resilience and determination to constantly succeed is part and parcel of gymnastics – and they know how to have a good time while doing it, too. Their competitive edge always comes with a side of fun!