Becoming a gymnast is a decision to be made very early in life, as the competitive years may peak in the teens. A good age to start is about five years old, but too young can be a danger when the child is not coordinated enough to recover from a fall. Training on the local level is sufficient to get the basics complete, and there are state-of-the-art training camps that come later when the gymnast has made a commitment to his or her sport. Here's more information on how to get started:
For international competition, the margin for success is narrowed by physical development, as most top gymnasts are petite. And it seems the heights are getting smaller all the time, as the international coaches seek young ladies with that lower center of gravity to expedite rotation.
However, there are wonderful opportunities in the sport for collegiate gymnasts to compete for four years and beyond, well into their twenties. The height and weight requirements are not as stringent for the older, more developed athletes, and their popularity with the public is evident from the coverage at ESPN. The older female gymnast has greater muscular development and longer limbs, giving this sport an extra grace that the 4'9" teenagers cannot deliver. The older gymnasts are truly the beauties on the balance beam with their long extended legs and maturity with completed motion.
To compete on any level, the female gymnast will need proficiency on the beam, uneven bars, vault and floor exercise. In addition to competing as a team, the gymnast may pursue her own area of specialty in one or more of the events and secure herself an individual medal. However, to compete in the United States, a gymnast must be a member of the USA Gymnastic organization, which is the official governing body of the sport. There are over 90,000 athletes registered along with coaches and other gymnastic professionals.
The USA Gymnastics organization also offers the Talent Opportunity Program (TOP) to young gymnasts who want to display their skills in rhythmic gymnastics, entering as "Future Stars". The showcase platform is held nationally and annually for over 3000 young athletes. The other TOP event is JumpStart, created for the trampoline and tumbling events.
Regardless of the gymnast's future goals, whether it be competition on the college, regional, national or international level, all athlete's must be a member of USA Gymnastics to compete. This organization also regulates the coaches, and keeps the gymnastic professionals up to date on technique, equipment and training.