Beth Tweddle MBE is Britain’s most successful female gymnast, and she is on a mission this year to create opportunities for every child to get involved in gymnastics.
Since founding her gymnastics programme with fellow Olympian Steve Parry back in 2010 – which started with 20 children in a school hall in Speke, Liverpool – Beth has been relentless in her efforts to inspire a new generation of gymnasts.
Fast forward to 2019 and Beth Tweddle Gymnastics, which is partnered with British Gymnastics, consists of Beth Tweddle Gym Stars and Beth Tweddle Academy programmes, teaching classes to over 3,300 children (from two years upwards) weekly across Merseyside, Cheshire and Greater Manchester.
Beth and her team are also taking gymnastics into primary schools through Beth Tweddle Curriculum, working with teachers to support over 500 hours of school gymnastics and inspiring an additional 15,000 children per week.
Although the numbers of participants reached and the numbers in her team have grown, with Beth behind the wheel this is just the beginning. The mission is clear: to provide fun, structured experiences for children led by experienced, passionate coaches.
Having retired from elite sport in 2013 following an impressive career – achieving Olympic bronze, being a triple World Champion, a six-time European champion, Commonwealth champion and seven-time consecutive National champion – Beth decided to focus on sharing her passion for the sport at grass-roots level.
Beth said: “I didn't want to walk away from the sport that I loved so much and that I had so many different opportunities in, and wanted to find a career where I could combine that alongside working with children. Beth Tweddle Gymnastics has given me that opportunity – and more – allowing me to create chances for children to try the sport, learn fundamental skills and not only that, create friendships and have fun."
The sport of gymnastics has previously been under scrutiny, with reports suggesting gymnastics is too orientated towards performance and competition, with coaches pushing the sport with a purely high performance agenda. Beth Tweddle Gymnastics is bucking the trend and is proud to be different, rewarding its gymnasts not only for their physical capabilities, but celebrating values traditionally matched to the psycho-social benefits of the sport, such as helpfulness, teamwork, determination, bravery, respect and friendship. All of which Beth values, both for a gymnast’s development but more importantly their emotional and social wellbeing.
The physical benefits of gymnastics are perhaps the most obvious. Gymnastics at every level from grass-roots to elite level competition incorporates multiple different skills, such as strength, flexibility, speed, balance, coordination, power and discipline.
Gymnastics as a sport provides such diverse and well-rounded athletes that Beth herself has previously been approached by and supported leading Premier League football teams in increasing the overall fitness and agility of their players.
A 2013 report by Dowdell (Benefits of Gymnastics Participation for School Age Children), states gymnastics “enriches and physically educates the lives of its participants in ways that are unreachable by most other activities and sports”.
This was backed up in a 2016 report by Loughborough University (The Physical Benefits of Gymnastics) in which the authors discuss how gymnastics provides a unique experience for young participants.
However, Beth Tweddle Gymnastics acknowledges more than just the physical benefits the sport brings.
The company and programme consistently receives feedback from teachers and parents alike that participating in the sport is having greater benefits outside of the physical advantages described above for their children.
"Many sports help participants improve their cognitive functioning, such as reaction times. However, gymnastics provides opportunities for children to be creative, stimulate their imaginations and recognise their unique role within a team – all of which are rewarding in their own right," said Beth.
Coaches recognise that children and gymnasts develop at different rates and not all (actually very few) are destined to become high-performing athletes. That’s why awards are given to those showing resilience, collaboration and attendance amongst other things. All of which encourage vital life lessons and life skills, a comment often reflected in parental feedback.
Growing evidence gymnastics provides transferable life skills
Beth Tweddle Curriculum has also received anecdotal evidence from many of its partner schools that, after building their skills in the gym, their children’s overall cognitive function has transcended to help them in school work and other extracurricular activities. This reflects the works of Barrett, 2000 (Does Gymnastics Enhance Reading? Yes) that found that children who engaged in regular gymnastics-based activities scored higher on reading readiness and progressed to have higher SAT scores for reading and maths.
Gymnastics is a sport of highs, lows and tumbles (literally) and of personal dedication, self-control and determination which can lead to improved confidence and self-esteem.
Learning and successfully completing a gymnastics routine of any ability creates the sense of accomplishment, which in turn supports self-esteem. White and Bennie in the 2015 report ‘Resilience in Youth Sport: A Qualitative Investigation of Gymnastics Coach and Athlete Perceptions’ concluded from their qualitative research that participation in gymnastics could lead to the development of a child’s resilience, life skills, self-efficacy and self-esteem.
The children working across the Beth Tweddle Gymnastics programmes learn from an early age that hard work and practice pays off. You will experience stumbles along the way – just as Beth did throughout her accomplished career – but this will equip you with key transferable skills for all areas of life.
Beth Tweddle Gymnastics understands each child has their own journey – with their own successes and falls. They celebrate and support each child individually as they work through the programmes and achieve awards. It may be attempting a new skill, mastering something you have been working on for a while or picking yourself up after a fall but their coaches are there throughout the child’s journey, leading to improved confidence and self-esteem.
The final area Beth and the team are passionate to promote is the social benefits gymnastics can bring. At all ages, but especially in children, gymnastics provides an opportunity to develop social skills.
Beth is proud that some of her closest and most trusted friendships have been made through gymnastics. In each of the weekly classes across all the Beth Tweddle Gymnastics programmes, children are provided with the opportunity to communicate with others of a similar age, to work together with them in a team, and to engage with adults. Participants learn to listen, follow directions and respect others, which match closely to the programme’s values.
All well-being benefits aside, Beth wants children to have fun and experience a little bit of why she loves the sport so much. Plus, it provides great exercise at the same time. Finding activities that are fun, hold children’s attention and are healthy is a difficult task. A good gymnastics programme can provide all of this and more – and it looks like Beth has found a winning formula.