Paper By Emily Chan (@flipflytumble)
After having to stay shut for nearly 8 months in 2020 due to two major Covid-19 lockdowns, gymnastics clubs around Victoria have had a surprising surge in new enrolments this year.
Despite being hit the hardest of all the states in Australia, clubs have quickly bounced back and are seeing record breaking enrolment numbers just 6 months after the end of Victoria’s last 111-day lockdown.
Gymnastics has consistently been one of the most popular sports for children in Australia and last year was no exception. It remains in the top 3 most participated sports among kids, according to Sport Australia’s 2020 AusPlay survey.
The survey also found that sports participation of children was far more affected by Covid-19 compared to adults, with participation dropping from 72% to 17%. There were fears that this trend would have lasting effects even post-lockdowns.
Jets Gymnastics in Diamond Creek started having a period of big growth around February this year. This was a pleasant surprise to centre manager, Narelle Edwards.
“During the lockdowns, we did what we could do to keep our members engaged with online classes, but we didn’t get a giant uptake from that. We expected a lot to drop and not return," she said. “It's probably been our biggest start to the year we've ever had at Diamond Creek, which has been great. We've probably had about 100 more members than last year pre-Covid.”
Recreational gymnastics coach, Gabriela Diaz Valdivia has noticed a positive change in the kids attitudes post-lockdown at Jets. “The kids come in with a new kind of appreciation for the opportunity to do gymnastics,” she said, “They are behaving really well and following instructions when doing their activities.” Gabriela anticipates this growth will be sustained in the long term and is excited for the future of the sport. “This year, interest has increased massively. Every week, we have new enrolments or new trials. I expect this will keep growing throughout the year,” she said.
Classes resume to full capacity at Essendon-Keilor Gymnastics Academy “It is my passion to teach gymnastics. I think it's so beneficial for the kids to have the opportunity to develop themselves, their self-esteem and the social aspects of their lives through gymnastics.”
Essendon-Keilor Gymnastics Academy (EKGA) went from having 1200 kids taking classes a week pre-Covid to only 250 a week doing online programs during lockdown.
"We thought if we got 75% of our old numbers this year, we'd be happy, but it's actually looking like being perhaps our record year," said club owner Christy Hemphill, who founded EKGA in 2005.
Victoria having zero locally transmitted Covid-19 cases in the past few months, as well as gymnastics clubs maintaining strict hygiene practices are likely huge factors in the success of clubs now, according to Christy.
“I think gymnastics clubs have done a really good job of proving to be a responsible, professional, clean, safe environment where parents can trust people,” said Christy.
"It makes me proud to be part of a sport that did so well during the lockdown and was able to keep kids engaged. Parents also saw this as something attractive."
With gymnastics being a very niche and technical sport, becoming an accredited coach takes a lot of time and training.
Gymnastics clubs face difficulties in hiring sufficient coaches to meet the increasing demand, with the sudden influx of new enrolments. “The lack of international staff in Australia has really impacted the gymnastics industry. We are two international full timers down, and we can't replace them any time soon as the borders are shut,” Christy said.
Lucy Fyfield, founder of 21-year-old Melbourne Gymnastics Centre (MGC), also says the shortage of coaching staff has been preventing her from opening more classes. “We have had a lot of new inquiries. We definitely have space to have more classes, but it’s been difficult for us to ensure that we have enough coaches.”
Lucy acknowledges this is a good problem to have, after being unsure how the gym would survive post-lockdowns. She is also glad that parents are putting their kids into gymnastics. “I think parents’ first thoughts are that they want their children to be active. They want to be in a position where they can provide opportunity for their child”, said Lucy. “For me, it's never just about gymnastics. Gymnastics is our tool. Gymnastics is our space with the equipment to makes things fun for the kids while ensuring that developmentally that they are doing movement patterns properly.”
In an interview with Gymnastics Australia, Sport Australia Acting Chief Executive Officer, Rob Dalton said that sports has a huge role in improving the wellbeing of Australians post-lockdowns.
This increase in gymnastics participation is a promising sign that families still value community sport, perhaps even more so after being unable to participate for most of 2020.
Narelle Edwards email@example.com
Centre manager at Jets Gymnastics (Diamond Creek)
Gabriela Díaz Valdivia firstname.lastname@example.org
Recreational gymnastics coach at Jets Gymnastics (Diamond Creek)
Christy Hemphill email@example.com
Founder and owner of Essendon-Keilor Gymnastics Academy (EKGA)
Lucy Fyfield firstname.lastname@example.org
Owner of Melbourne Gymnastics Centre