Congratulations to Ashlyn!!

In our previous post, Why Sports?, we highlighted a few benefits of youth sports participation. But we also alluded to the fact that we believe gymnastics elevates these benefits to a whole new level.

Today’s topic: Compulsory Routine Scoring

Have you ever been to a meet where your child stayed on the beam (or the pommel horse), received a score, then watched as another gymnast FELL OFF and scored higher? Was that frustrating to you because you were unable to understand why and how it could happen?  Hopefully, I’ll be able to clear up some of this confusion, first by explaining 5 KEY VARIABLES that function together to make up a score, and then later by giving an example.

5 Key Scoring Variables


First, let’s remember: our sport is subjective and judged by imperfect people. So, yes, it is possible for the judge / judges to make a mistake. Honestly, in the 25+ years I’ve been coaching, I can count on one hand the number of times I honestly believed a judge was INTENTIONALLY giving an unfair advantage or disadvantage to a group of gymnasts. It is SO rare, and in the grand scheme of things so inconsequential, as to not be worth the time of our thoughts. This doesn’t mean they won’t make mistakes; it just means that WHEN they do, those mistakes aren’t deliberate or malicious.


In compulsory gymnastics, the routines are constructed so that each gymnast at a given level is doing the same (or basically the same) routine. That routine has a pre-determined start value for ALL gymnasts at that level, and deductions for mistakes are taken from that start value. Now, in men’s gymnastics, the boys are allowed some deviations and additions called “bonuses” which ADD points to the start value. But even these bonuses are pre-determined and limited.


Once the gymnast has completed all of the required elements in his or her compulsory routine, the judges begin deducting for mistakes. Some of the obvious mistakes are: bent arms, bent legs, flexed feet, feet apart, steps on a landing, and even falls. Many of us can SEE most of these mistakes; but we are not always aware of what the SIZE of the deductions for these mistakes will be. 


Every compulsory routine also comes with a specific set of expectations, usually revolving around:  AMPLITUDE (how high is a particular skill performed?)DYNAMICS (was it powerful?)RHYTHM (is the routine continuously moving and fluid?), and overall presentation (sometimes referred to as “ARTISTRY”).

NOTE: The terms “Basic” and “Advanced” deductions are not official gymnastics lingo; instead, they are simply a way I have sought to categorize different types of deductions in order to simplify how I might communicate them to you.


Beyond simply taking a deduction, there are varying degrees of bent arms and legs, small steps and wobbles vs large steps and wobbles, high amplitude vs low amplitude, and so on. Therefore, on a LOT of these deductions the judges have leeway, which we call an “up to deduction”.

For example, if a gymnast bends her arms during a cast on the bars, she may lose “up to 3 tenths” in deductions depending on the severity of the arm bend. Now, USA Gymnastics (USAG) puts forth criteria which suggests deductions like “one tenth for a bend between 10 to 30 degrees…” but these bends happen in a fraction of a second, and no judge has a protractor. So from one judge to the next, and one competition to the next, the same bend in a cast could cost a little more or a little less.

In addition to “up to deductions” there are also “flat deductions.” For example, in women’s gymnastics, a fall costs a flat 5 tenths.  HOWEVER, you should know that, more often than not, there was some mistake that LED TO THE FALL that was ALSO deducted. So it is rare that a fall is a mere 5 tenths. Instead, it will usually be 5 tenths PLUS greater deductions for the mistake(s) immediately preceding the fall.

Finally, there are the “odd circumstance” deductions. These are for things such as: omission of a skill, being given a spot, performing a skill or series in the wrong direction, and various other odd circumstances that I can’t think of  .

An Example of a Gymnast Scoring Higher WITH a Fall

In women’s gymnastics (compared to men’s), scoring can be a little more “cut and dry” because we know (an odd circumstance not withstanding) the start value of every routine is a 10.0. Our own Kyndall Gilbert is an EXCELLENT example of a “fall routine” outscoring “stay on routines”.

At level 6 she did her bar routine with beautiful form and exceeded all 5 amplitude requirements, but fell over in a cast to handstand. The fall cost her .5, there was a modest amount of bent arms contributing to the fall for .1 more, and she took a medium step on her dismount, for .15 more. This gave her total deductions of 0.75, subtracted from 10.0, leaving her with a final score of 9.25.

Another gymnast on our team, who DID NOT fall, scored an 8.7. Her routine had beautiful form, but she was .3 short in amplitude on her first cast, .3 short in amplitude on her free hip, and .3 short in amplitude on her high bar cast. She had a break in rhythm for .1 on her baby giant, a .2 deduction on amplitude in her first tap swing, and took a small step on her landing for a .1 deduction.

If you were unaware of amplitude requirements at this level, you would have looked at the two routines – one with a fall and a medium step on a dismount, and one with no fall and a small step – and thought:  “Clearly, the 2nd routine was better.” But in reality, that wasn’t the case. Even with the fall, Kyndall’s routine scored more than .5 higher!

In men’s gymnastics this can be even “trickier” to grasp. Your son might be doing a very clean routine, completing all of his skills according to the written amplitude requirements. However, if another boy satisfies the bonus requirements and your son does not, the full bonuses give him a 1.2 start value advantage over your son, which can make up for SLIGHT sloppiness or even a fall, and resulting in a higher score.  The trick as a coach is to know WHEN the added value of the bonus skill OUTWEIGHS the losses in execution of the added skill.

Helping Gymnasts Understand Scoring

We always attempt to explain these concepts, in easier to understand terms, to our gymnasts. Our explanations could be as simple as: “If you want to see your beam score go up, you need to get your splits bigger in your jumps & leaps.” But typically, as your gymnasts get older, they begin to understand these requirements better, and might even learn to communicate them better to you!

Personally, at the first practice after a meet, I always sit down with my group and ask: “Does anyone have any questions, comments, or concerns from the meet last weekend, regarding their score, their placement, or their performance?” And then we do a rundown of the meet so that IF a gymnast was confused, I can attempt to clear up her confusion. Once in a while, though, my explanation is: “I’m sorry sweetheart, I disagreed with the judge on that one; but I wasn’t in charge.”

Helping Gymnasts Set Goals

Finally, it’s important to admit that we as coaches, parents, and grandparents all look at our children through “rose colored glasses,” even when we say we don’t. As a coach I am CONSTANTLY remembering my girls’ routines as WAY better than they actually were, until I go back and watch a video about a week later.

It’s also very important to remember to place a higher value on the PERFORMANCE than the score. As I said, from one meet to the next, and one judge to the next, it is very hard to keep an exact linear score. So rather than get upset or excited about a score moving down or up, why not look at the performance itself and be excited or disappointed in the progress of the performance!

A good way to do this is for the gymnasts to set goals that are within their personal control.A gymnast cannot control his/her score, nor can he/she control their placement; therefore, goals like: “Improve .5 on bars,” or “Place top 3 on vault” are often unrealistic. Instead their goals should be things like: “Stick all my landings,” “Get my 2nd cast above requirements by the 3rd meet,” “Swing higher than my last meet,” etc.

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In our previous post, we learned that hard work pays off; and a child who learns this lesson will work hard in all that she does.

Today’s topic: Gymnastics Teaches Discipline.

Read other posts in this series:

Hard work and discipline go hand in hand. Without discipline, hard work is like a runner who zig-zags his way around a track. While other runners around him complete their laps much more efficiently by staying in their lanes, he must run a far greater distance just to reach the same finish line.

A gymnast learns to “stay in her lane” while in the process of her work. Whether executing a strength-building movement, perfecting a skill she’s developed for years, or drilling a new tumbling pass over and over, she understands the value of focusing intently on the task at hand and giving it maximal effort – not just once, but every single time.

So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that gymnasts tend to outperform their peers when it comes to time management and academics.

A study by the National Collegiate Athletic Association revealed that, of all college-level gymnasts :

  • 35% achieved a GPA of 3.5 or higher
  • Over 90% graduated college
  • More academic awards were given to gymnasts than athletes participating in any other sport, by as much as 2 or 3 times the amount
  • More gymnasts received post-grad scholarships during the previous 5 years than athletes in any other female sport

But why?

How can it be that gymnasts – many who spend 20-25 hours practicing per week – academically outperform peers who often have far more discretionary time at their disposal?

Character Trumps Ability

Interestingly enough, the Harvard School of Education released a study in which they found that “the most effective predictor of a student’s future academic success” is a character trait that they called “GRIT.”

“Grit” is defined as “having determination, courage, persistence, a ‘growth mindset’ and the ability to maintain a balanced lifestyle.”

This trait – “grit” – was shown to be greater than intelligence at predicting academic success. Further, students characterized as having grit were “better at setting and working effectively towards goals and reflecting on their own learning.”

I might be biased, but it sounds like our friends at Harvard concluded that “being a gymnast” might just be the very best thing a child can do in order to become a successful student!

After all, doesn’t their definition of “grit” pretty much sum up everything we’ve shared in this entire series?

If you missed any of our previous posts in this series, be sure and check them out by clicking the links above!


In our previous post in this series, we learned that hard work is its own reward. High level gymnasts spend less than .05% of their “gymnastics time” actually competing for a medal; therefore, they learn intuitively to value the daily process that puts them in position to have that chance.

Today’s topic: Gymnastics Teaches That Hard Work Pays Off.

Read other posts in this series:

If you spent 1000+ hours every year preparing for your one chance to shine, you would likely place a HUGE emphasis on that one moment, wouldn’t you?

Of course, gymnasts do this as well. Which is why it’s so rewarding when all that hard work culminates in a gold medal, a high placing, or a personal best.

Winning – and being at your best during a competition – is certainly a reward that all gymnasts strive for; but is this the only time when all that hard work and investment actually pays off?

The True Reward is Growth, and the Growth is Endless

There’s a lot pressure on a gymnast to be at her best “when it counts”: her parents, coaches, and teammates all have high hopes for her performance – and that doesn’t even begin to consider her own internal pressures!

But the great thing about this amazing sport is that there are SO MANY other ways in which her hard work pays off.

Certainly, winning medals and trophies, receiving high scores, and “delivering your best” at a competition are rewards that all gymnasts seek; but consider this list of incredible ways their hard work pays off without ever even stepping foot on a competition floor:’

  • With every repetition of conditioning, she is getting stronger, fitter, and more flexible
  • Her conditioning gains translate to greater ease and proficiency in executing her required drills and movements
  • Ease and proficiency of execution brings greater mastery, harder skills, and new training opportunities
  • Harder skills often coincide with an advancement in competition level
  • Advancements in competition level bring new qualification opportunities like Regional and National championships
  • All the while – with every step forward – she is finding herself in rarified air, enjoying growth and accomplishments that few humans beings ever will

And – oh yeah – she’ll probably beat all the boys in her class in arm wrestling 

A child who learns that her hard work pays off will naturally work hard in all that she does.She’ll give her school work her very best, she’ll give her future employer her very best, and she’ll view success in life as a process – one in which she continually gives nothing short of her best effort.

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Photo Credit: Arya Ziai


In our previous post in this series, we learned that gymnastics teaches enduring strength. More than six-pack abs or chiseled biceps, gymnasts learn a strength of CHARACTER that helps propel them to success in LIFE.

Today’s topic: Gymnastics Teaches that Hard Work is its Own Reward.

Read other posts in this series:

No doubt, we all strive for “gold medal moments” in life – little wrinkles in time when everything comes together and we feel we have reached our fullest potential:

  • Becoming the CEO of a company we started at decades before
  • Sending a child to college knowing we’ve done our best
  • Being recognized for contributions we’ve made to our communities, churches, or other organizations

But the reality is, not every moment feels this impactful; nor can we guarantee that the hard work we put in today will yield the exact results we want in the future.

In a similar way, gymnasts train to be at their best when it matters most: when competition season rolls around (and more specifically, at their most important meet of the year – State, Regional, or National Championship – depending on their level).

But while few things can compare to the feeling of standing at the top of the podium after months (and years) of long, hard, grinding work, it’s important to place these moments – win or lose – into perspective.

Let’s do a little math exercise, shall we?

When and Where Do Gymnasts Earn Their Rewards?

Our Level 10’s workout 5 days per week, year-round. Accounting for holidays, that’s roughly 250 practices per year.

These same Level 10’s attend 9 competitions per year, which means that less than 4% of their “gymnastics days” give them an opportunity to hop up on the medal stand and reap the “fruits of their labor.”

(For the mathematically challenged, that’s 9/250, which equals 3.6%…tracking with me?)

Let’s take it a bit further.

A week of practice equals 22.5 hours. Multiply that over 50 weeks per year, and the result is 1125 hours of practice time.

Competitions typically last 2.5-3 hours; but more importantly, each gymnast will only have about 3 minutes and 30 seconds in each competition during which she can “show her stuff” to the judges!

3.5 minutes X 9 competitions = 31.5 minutes throughout the course of a season.

Those 31.5 minutes are .04667% of her total time invested in gymnastics every year.

DID YOU CATCH THAT? During less than 5 hundredths of 1 percent of her training time does she even have the CHANCE of winning a medal!

This means that, while standing atop the medal stand to wrap up her competitive season might be the ideal CULMINATION to her work, 99.95% of the growth, change, and progress that a gymnast gains from the sport comes during the every day, mundane, “back-in-the-gym” training that takes place week in and week out.

So while results matter – and they certainly are worth striving for – gymnasts learn an incredibly valuable lesson indeed: HARD WORK IS ITS OWN REWARD!

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Photo Credit: Rick McCharles


In the first part of this series, we highlighted how great the sport of gymnastics is at teaching perseverance. Gymnasts learn, nearly by default, to always keep going and to never give up.

Todays Topic: Gymnastics Grows Little Girls into Strong Women.

Read other posts in this series:

Have you ever tried arm-wrestling a gymnast? If you haven’t yet, I’d like to discourage you against trying!

For example, there’s this story about Rusty – the biggest, baddest dude on my 9-year old baseball team – and how my sister dominated him in an arm-wrestling competition that left him in tears. But then he spent the next 3 years with a major crush on her, so no harm done!

There are countless stories just like this one: for instance, the gymnast who beat the marine in a push-up contest. We drool over gymnasts’ strength, and rightfully so: at the elite level, they’ve got some of the best power-to-weight ratios of any athletes on the planet; and even as 6-year olds, their six-pack abs will make you jealous.

But strength isn’t merely physical, now is it?

Female gymnasts tend to peak between the ages of 16-20, long before they can merely retire and “ride off into the sunset.” So if gymnastics leaves them with nothing more than  a set of nice-looking abs and ripped shoulders, I’d say the experience would be lacking.

But of course, there’s much more to it.

Gymnastics teaches a strength that overpowers any human muscle. It’s a strength that endures more than just physical difficulty, or the test of competition.

Gymnasts are mentally strong, emotionally strong, and relationally strong. Gymnasts are strong HUMANS.

The Magnificent Women of the “Magnificent 7”

This strength translates to life success, evident in many of their careers. Just look at a few of the “Magnificent 7” (the 1996 U.S. Olympic Gold Medal Winning Team) as examples:

  • Kerri Strug (who most remember as the one who sealed the gold medal by vaulting on one leg) has been a member of the White House Office of Presidential Student Correspondence, the Treasury Department, and now the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
  • Amy Chow is a Stanford graduate who now runs a private practice as a pediatrician
  • Shannon Miller survived ovarian cancer, and now balances being a mother alongside her non-profit work educating women about health and fitness
  • Amanda Borden is now a gym owner, helping other gymnasts pursue their olympic dreams

But it’s not just career excellence that follows many gymnasts after their competition years: these ladies become active role models, excellent mothers, and make incredible contributions to our world.

Develop Strength in YOUR Child

Your child doesn’t have to be an Olympian in order to become a strong woman. In fact, little girls in our gym are becoming strong women each and every day.

Enroll your child in a gymnastics class today and see the benefits for yourself!

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Photo Credit: Michael Havens


In our previous post, Why Sports?, we highlighted a few of the benefits of youth sports participation. But we also alluded to the fact that we believe gymnastics elevates these benefits to a whole new level.

Today’s topic: Gymnastics Teaches Perseverance.

Upcoming posts in this series:

Consider a very standard upper-level bars dismount: the double-back. For a gymnast to learn to execute this skill with the desired levels of safety and proficiency, she will be taught the foundations of the skill LONG before being asked to execute it for the first time.

For example, at ETC she will master:

  • From her first days in the developmental program – Putting her body into a hollow shape
  • During Training Team – Performing a 2nd-half hollow to mimic the movement and positions of a back tuck
  • During the early compulsory levels – a back tuck in perfect positions on the trampoline
  • In the later compulsory levels – lots and lots of double-backs on tramp while being spotted
  • At the early optional levels – executing double-backs without a spot on trampoline
  • Prior to her Level 8 season – countless double-backs off of a high bar into a pit both with a spot, then without a spot
  • Finally, for her Level 8 bar routine – she will safely and proficiently complete a double-back dismount

All together, this skill will take her somewhere between 5-7 years – spanning 8 competitive and developmental levels – to learn. And this for a BASIC upper-level dismount!

You’ve gotta stick WITH it before you can “Stick It”

Due to the sheer nature of the sport, perseverance is written into the DNA of every gymnast. She might attempt a skill HUNDREDS of times before completing it once. And what will she have to do to get there? Repeat specific movements and techniques over, and over, and over again.

Gymnastics rewards those who “stick with it.”

In the United States, approximately 70,000 gymnasts compete at some level within the USA Gymnastics organization. And how many of them are level 10’s? Maybe 1700.

Sometimes perseverance means working on a single exercise for weeks, months, or even years. Other times, it’s continuing to show up at the gym day after day as a 16-year-old when the rest of your friends are hanging out at the mall or doing other things that “normal teenage girls” do.

Regardless, gymnasts are continually reaching for a bar that is set just a bit higher; and that’s exactly why they are so likely to clear even the most difficult of hurdles they will face later in life.

They learn that their continued efforts will ultimately (even if far into the future) pay off.  They learn that ultimate failure only comes if they choose to quit. They learn that true success is to NEVER, EVER GIVE UP.

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Photo Credit: jubileelewis

Think of some of your highest goals for your child, perhaps including:

  • being academically successful
  • enjoying strong friendships
  • building solid, Christ-like character
  • developing healthy habits that will last a lifetime
  • growing in confidence and purpose

Now, consider some of the opportunities at your disposal for helping bring these goals to fruition:

  • school
  • church
  • social activities
  • art and music lessons
  • your own helping/shaping/teaching of them

Would “sports” make your list?

Few parents consider “become a professional athlete” to be an important goal for their child.

Yet studies have revealed countless psychological, social, cognitive, physical, and other developmental benefits of sports for children.

So if we value this type of development so highly in our children–even if we don’t particularly care whether or not they ever participate in athletics at a high level–we should give serious attention to the fact that kids who participate in youth sports simply outperform their non-sports-participant peers (on average) in each of these areas.

Why Gymnastics?

At ETC Gymnastics, we encourage youth athletic participation because of this myriad of developmental benefits. Growing children into happy, healthy, LIFE-READY adults is what we do; gymnastics is simply the main tool we use to help facilitate it.


Well, for one, it’s what we’re passionate about. We’ve been touting the endless benefits of gymnastics in Middle TN since opening in 2000 (read our story here).

Second, it’s what we’re best at. Our staff has more than 250 combined years of gymnastics experience; and prior to becoming coaches, many were high-level achievers in the sport themselves.

Finally, we believe that its ability to help deliver the most important outcomes we all have for our children is second to none. Sports of many kinds produce positive effects; and gymnastics participation simply takes those effects to another level.

What’s Next?

Over the next 5 weeks, we’re going to unpack 5 of our favorite benefits (one per week) of gymnastics participation, in a series called, “What Your Child Will Learn From Gymnastics.”

Some you may be familiar with, while others might surprise you (in a good way we’re sure!).

Be sure to look for each new post on our Facebook page (“like” if you haven’t already!), and go ahead and subscribe here to ensure you don’t miss a single thing we produce.

We are looking forward to sharing this series with you, and to seeing your child in the gym on his or her way toward becoming a happier, healthier, more LIFE-READY adult!

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Photo Credit: Seattle Parks

I have always believed that gymnastics is unique.  I grew up in an era where you didn’t “specialize” in a sport; you played many: baseball, soccer, bowling, volleyball, track & field, and gymnastics.  But gymnastics, more than any other, stays in your blood, long after your last “salute” to any judge.

To this day (a full 26 years after my final salute) I still dream about gymnastic comebacks in my sleep (or perhaps I should say I nightmare about them!).

Gymnastics taught me things that I failed to learn in other sports:

  • It gave me an identity at a critical time in my life
  • It shaped my attitude toward physical activity, work ethic, accountability, and long term thinking
  • It helped ensure I would have time management skills that were well beyond my years – translating into graduating college in 4 years at a time when almost everyone around me was beginning to need 5
  • It gave me an appreciation of the fact that the only circumstances I had control over were my own attitude and decisions.  After all, the high bar doesn’t care how much your shoulder legitimately hurts; nor do the judges.  Either, you put in the work and got better, or you didn’t (I learned that lesson the hard way, as I literally scored a 1.2 on high bar once – but that’s a story for a different blog post!)

I share this to make you aware that gymnastics GAVE to me in abundance.  And when the time came, it only felt right to give back.

9 Years Before the Doors Opened…

The story of ETC Gymnastics began in 1991.  I was a sophomore in college, working full-time as a gymnastics coach in Evansville, IN, and a political science / pre-law major at the University of Evansville.  At some point during that year, I was enjoying my time working with young people so much, that it occurred to me I might want to re-evaluate my career path.

After much “discussion” with my parents, they decided I should “stay the course” .

But the further I got in college, the more I realized:  “I was born to work with children.” I LOVED it.  Meeting Jennifer (now my wife) in 1993 just prior to losing my father, and having graduated college in 1994, I was at a crossroads of sorts.  I had to choose:  continue on the path I really wasn’t excited about (Law School); or, head in the direction my heart was leading me (gymnastics coach).  I was offered a job in Nashville, as a coach, and I took it.

How Did ETC Get Its Name?

Eventually, I left my original offer in Nashville to take a job in Franklin, working for a HUGELY successful gym owner.  This man, unbeknownst to him, stepped in and filled a “father-figure role” for me, as my father had been dead less than 2 years when I took the position.  I was upfront, and told him:  “One day, I’d like to own my own gym.”  And he was upfront with me, saying:  “If you’ll agree to open up 30 miles away from me, I’ll take you under my wing and teach you everything I know.”

That he did.  Most importantly, my new boss was a born-again Christian.  And of all the things I learned from him, the greatest thing I learned was that you could love Jesus, AND be a manly man.

Our Early Mission

Having learned much about gymnastics, life, and Jesus (I gave my life to the Lord in 1995), my pregnant wife and I decided it was time to “leave the nest” and open a gym of our own.  We opened the doors to ETC Gymnastics in June of 2000, in a dumpy little warehouse building where I literally had to shovel human feces off of the floor!

Our initial vision for ETC (Everything Through Christ) Gymnastics was: 

  • Have an effective ministry inside our walls
  • Teach actual gymnastics even in our recreational program (which is harder than you think!)
  • Have an excellent women’s team that is nationally competitive
  • Provide VALUE to every parent that spends a hard-earned dollar at our school.

Through the years, we have added some substance to our original vision, including: making sure that our ministry goes beyond our walls; making sure that ETC Gymnastics is a “blessing” to the communities we serve; and making sure that ETC Gymnastics is a blessing to those people who work inside our walls.

Who Are We Now?

In the last 16 years, our program has blossomed into a nationally recognized program for a number of reasons:

  • Our little dippers curriculum / program was an original invention (most gyms do “mommy-and-me” at that age, and they don’t teach gymnastics – they play)
  • We have a unique staff training, hiring, and education process, which allows us to attract some of the brightest coaches in the nation to come work with us
  • We have an enrollment that is in the top 3% of the gymnastics schools across the United States, in a city with a population that is nowhere NEAR the top 3% of the United States
  • And, of course, our women’s teams have won more awards and accolades across the country than we can even count.

Ultimately, we think the story of ETC Gymnastics runs parallel to the story of the “Talents” in scripture.  We have been given a sum, and we are doing our best to multiply the sum for the Lord.  As a result, He continues to pour out His favor on us; and hopefully, we continue to serve Him by serving His people.