Olympic gymnasts are young, normally retiring around 18. Though there are some benefits to practicing at such a young age, they are far outweighed by the drawbacks. The obsession with unhealthily low weights has caused anorexia and bulimia in more than a few gymnasts, sometimes leading to death. Though many gymnasts are healthy, not all of them are. Here are some things you should look out for if you’re considering allowing your child to enter serious gymnastic competition.
Gymnastics stunts growth. Gymnasts that have a large strength:mass ratio are much better performers in the sport. What this means is that short, thin girls with incredible muscle mass do better in all elements of gymnastic competition. Whether this means that coaches work children extra hard to keep them from growing or that girls predisposed to smaller size succeed is up for debate, but the fact remains that regularly practicing gymnastics keeps girls from growing at the rate of non-elite athletes.
Injuries that occur in children last through adulthood. Whether a fractured ankle, torn muscle or joint or displaced kneecap, the injuries that you get in youth stay with you, often growing worse, in adulthood.
Excessive athletic activity leads to late-onset puberty and menstruation. Menstrual irregularities are incredibly common in gymnasts, with at least 75% of girls getting their periods years later than those who do not compete. This is not true of all elite athletes; gymnastics is the only sport in which all participants have stunted growth and late maturation.
Scientists are not sure what causes the growth issues associated with gymnastics. Still being studied, they have found that women and girls do “catch-up” on growth when they significantly cut down training hours and when they retire from the sport.