Somersault to Success: NCAA American College Gymnastics
Welcome to the first in a series of blogs where I’ll be highlighting some of the greatest opportunities British gymnasts should be looking out for! Gymnasts are not only some of the most flexible, tough, and fit athletic performers, but also tend to be the kind of hard working, passionate and dedicated individuals that are perfect for many other highly sought after roles.
Recently, more and more gymnasts around the age of 18 have been leaving the UK to study for their bachelor’s degrees at American colleges instead of British universities. Why? Well, besides the sense of adventure at crossing the pond, there is something in America that is unparalleled in the rest of the world: the NCAA. The NCAA stands for the National Collegiate Athletic Association and is an organization that regulates the competitive seasons of over 450,000 student-athletes across the United States of America. There is no program bigger or more competitive for those wishing to continue their education to the highest standard, while also remaining competitive. The NCAA covers over 1,200 different colleges, and states that helping individuals achieve success in their sport, education and life is at the heart of their mission.
I decided to take the NCAA path in 2013, as I was lucky enough to be offered a place at UCLA, in Los Angeles. I have found it to be one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve ever made. Having retired at age 18 I thought I would never compete again, but after hearing about the atmosphere in America I felt compelled to begin training again so I would not miss this chance. Although it was difficult at first to live so far away from home, I have loved every second since, and am now in my final year (Note: Though I am now coaching, not competing, due to long-standing injuries).
NCAA gymnastics competitions are quite different to club and elite competitions. Gymnasts are scored out of 10.00, just like on the old Olympic system. This means routines do not need to contain as many difficult skills, and levels the playing field between more and less experienced gymnasts. It also makes execution vital and gives a perfect score to aim for.
In addition, the competitions are always focused on team success, with individual achievement coming in secondary. This lends itself to strong school spirit chants and fun group bonding, to create tightly knit groups of lifelong friends. Moreover, all competitors must be fully enrolled students and are banned from training for longer than 20 hours per week, in order to ensure they have time for a healthy student life.
Furthermore, the largest college programs can have as many as 15,000+ fans watching their college gymnastics team compete each and every weekend of the 3-month-long gymnastics season! That’s around 4,000 more people than could fill the Liverpool Echo Arena, who arrive to watch and cheer in true loud and proud American style, every single week- big nation, big fun.
Here’s what some other British gymnasts have to say about American NCAA Gymnastics –
- Polina Poliakova– Pipers Vale Gymnastics Club/ Incoming Freshman for the 2017 Season, Rutgers University, New Jersey
“I can’t wait to start college gymnastics because I’m excited by the prospects of being able to continue my university studies along with competing the sport that I love, in a team of people who all share the same dream”
- Danusia Francis– Heathrow Gymnastics Club/ Current Senior at the University of California, Los Angeles
“It’s an incomparable experience! (One thing) I love about it is that it appreciates performance a lot more than elite gymnastics”
- Lucy Brett– The Academy/ Current Freshman at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
“In the UK there isn’t the same kind of opportunity to carry on competitive gymnastics while studying for a degree. Moving to the USA and studying at the University of Pittsburgh has allowed me to carry on in the sport I love and offers the perfect balance between academics and athletics.”
“I’m in my first Pre-season and have already made some great friendships with my teammates. I can’t wait until the season starts as travelling around and competing looks so much fun and the support from the fans looks amazing”
- Laura Mitchell– Heathrow Gymnastics Club/ Current Sophomore at Bowling Green State University, Ohio
“In college gymnastics… every decision you make is done as a team and you rely on each other for everything. College gymnastics makes you want to perform and put on a show for the crowd and judges… it’s not just about doing a routine it’s about making it stand out”
- Jade Stedford– City of Liverpool Gymnastics Club/ Prospective 2017 NCAA gymnast
“I love the idea of doing the sport I love at the same time as receiving a degree… going on an adventure while still progressing my skills”
If you are planning on heading to uni’ in the next few years and considering either stopping training, or trying to juggle it with your academic goals, I’d highly recommend looking into how you could potentially combine these aspects of your life instead, and compete in NCAA Gymnastics. The best way to begin is by contacting university’s athletics departments directly and asking to speak with coaches about the requirements for being on their team (#Google).
There are sometimes scholarships available for those at the elite level, but regardless, if you get the chance, competing in NCAA is a lifetime experience you’d never regret.
NCAA website – http://www.ncaa.com/sports/gymnastics-women
Gymnastics Training – https://www.sport-fitness-advisor.com/gymnastics-training.html
For a taste of an NCAA team, watch my team’s Introduction Video from last year- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9l5kklB-j3Y&ab_channel=UCLAAthletics
Or to see some action here’s my 2015 Season Floor Routine- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rT3Ip5orzcc&ab_channel=NCAAGymnastics