Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Trampolinists

My daughter is the star of our family. Of course, we love all our kids, but as the oldest, she shoulders a lot of responsibility and still manages to maintain the determination and focus to pursue her dreams.

Over the past few years, she’s competed in state and regional gymnastics competitions, and brought home several honors. Hence, I was surprised when my fourteen-year old athlete came to me with a new idea—becoming an elite trampoline gymnast.

When I thought about it, it made sense. The two areas of athleticism were similar, but this was the first I’d heard of the sport. So, I decided to do a little reading, to figure out what she might need in order to pursue this dream.

Balancing Training with School

Since Dana has already been practising gymnastics for quite a few years, we’re no stranger to balancing training and competition with school and social needs. However, she wants to be an elite trampoline gymnast, which means putting on steam with extra training. Even though she’s familiar with the rigours of gymnastics, working on a trampoline involves a few more variables. Much like competitive diving, aerial maneuvers of greater complexity can be performed than she might be accustomed to on the mat.

Most of the dedicated trampoline athletes tend to devote at least two or three hours to training on the trampoline, along with a thirty-minute strength training session. Dana is in the eighth grade, so this means a lot of weekend or afternoon session at the local gym. It’s important that she be able to maintain her grades and her social contacts, as well as get enough sleep.

Different Skills

Even though Dana is an accomplished gymnast, from my reading I discovered that she’d need to work hard to cultivate a slightly different skill set and new strengths. Because the surface is pliable, landings have to be extraordinarily precise, or they can result in serious injuries. Not only will she need to cultivate greater strength in order to jump as much as 30 feet in the air, core strength is a must in order to execute the complex aerial maneuvers.

Dana’s spatial orientation and balance is excellent, but, in order to maintain focus during a long routine, she’ll have to practice keeping her bearings while air born for longer periods. Even though she has great flexibility and balance, she’s going to need to be patient with herself while she trains. Even if it’s similar, trampoline gymnastics is different. It will take time to perfect a routine.

Diet and Recovery

I was surprised, at first, to learn that most gymnasts in this profession don’t really adhere to a specific training diet. However, as I read more, I understood that it was the quality of the food that mattered most—natural foods, high quality proteins, and an avoidance of sugars and processed food. The accounts of most professionals indicated that it was a constant battle to maintain bodyweight, simply because of the rigours of training. Frequent, nutrient-dense foods were favoured over bars, shakes, or strict diets.

While rest and fun are important, I’ve learned that recovery activities are also crucial. Days off from training should not be totally idle. During my reading I was glad to see that pursuits like biking, dance, hiking, and swimming were encouraged. Dana enjoys heading to the mountains with us for hiking trips, and swims avidly at the local YMCA. Recovery time is a part of our lives with Dana, who has been training and competing since the fourth grade. We know hot to make it fun, and make sure she doesn’t push herself too hard.

Focus and Distraction

While focus is an important skill to cultivate during a routine, the ability to distract herself from worry is also a key need. Pre-routine jitters can cause mistakes in judgement as well as build up tension in muscles that could cramp or tear under the strain of performance. So, much as with her pre-performance meditation routine when she competes in floor competitions, she’ll need to be able to shift her focus away from her nervousness. Then, she must bring it back with a will during a routine.

A part of this focus must be about spatial awareness—knowing exactly where she is in the course of a jump so she can accurately time her landing. Dana is pretty conscientious about body awareness during performance, but I read again and again how key it was to a safe and professional routine. Trampoline gymnastics is certainly a rigorous sport, but it is also an art and a deep understanding of an individual’s own body.

At first, when she came to me with the idea, I was skeptical. Of course, I worry about her getting hurt doing gymnastics, but I didn’t really know what to expect with this sport. Now that I’ve read about its popularity and the number of elite athletes who perform in the field, I feel more at ease. This is going to be a great opportunity for my competitive and driven daughter, and I look forward to supporting her efforts in every way I can.

Rick Mason