Posted by Erin on March 11, 2015
Conquering the Cartwheel
To the outside world, gymnastics can seem like a simple sport. They swing on bars, do flips on the floor, and balance on the beam. To those of us more involved in gymnastics, the sport is so much more - an incredible blend of power, agility and grace. We know "swinging on bars" to mean everything from a back hip circle to a giant; a skill on beam can be ten times more difficult than the same skill on the floor; and everyone always seems to forget about vault. Those "flips" that the kids are doing on floor are rarely actual flips - instead, we see forward and backward rolls, handstands and handsprings, and of course, the cartwheel.
The cartwheel - a seemingly simple maneuver, the cartwheel actually has many different variations, and there are very different expectations for each stage of gymnastics development.
You can see it in the Big Dippers class: those little two-year-old feet matching the pictures on the mat, the hands move down to match the hands, and the instructor or parent "jumps" the child over to the next set of footprints. This is the beginning of the developmental cartwheel! Even at two years old, these kids are learning the proper hand and foot placement, as well as the basic dynamics, for a correct cartwheel.
In the Starz classes, you'll see differing cartwheels depending on age. At three to four years, it may look a lot like the cartwheel you see the little ones doing, but with a bit more independence. The mat with the hand- and footprints is still used, and the student begins by matching their feet to the mat. Hands go down, a big "jump" sideways to the next pair of feet, and they've got it!
Those five- to six-year-olds are the ones that really start to get it. Foot placement leads to starting in a lunge position; the cadence of the cartwheel moves from a "jump" over to a "kick" over, with each foot taking off and landing independently. The students finish in a lunge, with proper foot placement, arms up by their ears, and a big smile on their faces!
Once they hit seven years old, a gymnastics student typically has the coordination and knowledge to start polishing that cartwheel. It sounds different when performed: a distinct "hand-hand-foot-foot" pattern can be distinguished, and the gymnast is capable of kicking his or her legs over head instead of out to the side. The finish is the same - a lunge position and a big smile.
No matter what the developmental stage of the cartwheel, or the age of the student, this skill is one that can always be improved upon and perfected. Keep up the hard work!