Girls only? Not so says gymnastics coach
Bermuda Gymnastics Association head coach Duke Nelligan is out to dispel the misconception that gymnastics is a sport primarily for girls.
Attracting boys to a minority sport on an Island already dominated by football and cricket is no easy task, admits Nelligan, especially when many still view gymnastics as a strictly female domain.
But, considering male gymnasts are pound for pound among the strongest of all Olympic athletes, Nelligan is confident of readdressing that falsehood.
At present, the BGA have around a dozen youngsters, mostly aged between 5-10, in their boys' programme, training once a week at the Southside national training centre.
With the help of his enthusiastic team of coaches, Nelligan is confident of increasing that number over the next few years: a commitment underscored by their aim to enter a male team in an international event for the first time at the 2013 Island Games in Bermuda.
“I wouldn't say we started the boys' programme,” said Nelligan, who arrived on the Island around two years ago. “There has been boys in the BGA programme for a long time although never with the intention of competing.
“Our intention is to have boys ready for the Island Games in 2013. Our little guys will all still be way too young but we have a couple of older guys who we believe we can have ready for the Island Games.”
While their female counterparts are more psychologically and physically ready for structured training, Nelligan likes to keep a more ‘rough and tumble' element to the boys' activities.
However, he admits he has to dig a little deeper into his box of coaching tricks to maintain the interest and motivation of the boys in their programme.
“Gymnastics has a connation of being girlie until you see what actually happens: that's a big a misconception,” said Nelligan. “Boys are wired different to girls; they are sensory children.
“When they come in, the first thing they want to do is see what causes the tingle; they are constantly pushing the envelope.
“What I do is make it more masculine for them, so we don't start off with rigid gymnastics, we start them off on the tumble track before getting them doing hand springs and backflips.”
The jungle gym-looking apparatus inside the BGA's revamped training centre may initially attract some thrill-seeking young boys to the sport. But as they mature, Nelligan foresees many of them becoming more competitive and developing aspirations to represent the Island at international competitions.
He also believes the skills they learn through gymnastics will enable them become better all-round athletes, especially in track and field where there's a natural skill-set crossover.
“In the past I've had track and field coaches come and raid me for pole vaulters,” said the former University of Maryland head coach.
“Now Bermuda been known in track and field corners for jumpers and I really think gymnastics can open up avenues into other sports for our youngsters.
“We need to become one community and help each other. The children in our programme are almost like a homogenic group and are all fairly short, compact, quick.
“They are also very strong through the gluts and hamstrings, so they're basically jumpers.”
The biggest feather in the BGA's cap in terms of developing their boys' programme could be the new $50,000 Loose Foam Pit, which they hope to unveil at their in-house meet on Saturday.
Nelligan describes their latest training device as crucial in terms of raising the sport locally to another level and will enable them to host meets for up to 1,000 competitors.
“I think the Loose Foam Pit is the key. We can put a trapeze over it, we can put rings over it and all the men's and women's events will funnel into it,” said Nelligan.
“The first time they do a world class skill they can do it without worrying about falling. Now we have this training tool our youngsters will be able to expand and do things they never thought possible.”
Nelligan said the BGA held numerous fundraising jumpathons to help cover the costs of the Loose Foam Pit as well as receiving funding from the Department of Youth and Sport and local companies
“This device is crucial for us. We've been talking about making growth for while I now feel it's starting to happen,” he added.