Reasons for Dropout in Gymnastics - British Gymnastics

Reasons for Dropout in Gymnastics

What is the typical pattern of participation in gymnastics? What age do people start the sport and when do they leave? What are the main reasons for drop-out in gymnastics?
British Gymnastics commissioned the Institute of Youth Sport to conduct a study to examine the reasons why young gymnasts leave the sport. 527 households completed either a survey for former gymnasts, one for their parents or both. Telephone interviews were conducted with 40 former gymnasts and their parents. Interviews and focus groups also took place with coaches and staff at four different clubs, which were thought to be undertaking effective practice in retaining gymnasts (effective practice case studies).
Key findings from this research included:
  • The former gymnasts started the sport at an average age of 6 years and stopped at an average age of 9 years
  • Nearly 50% of respondents described themselves as formerly ‘recreationally active’
Which sports do former gymnasts go on to take part in?
91% of former gymnasts were taking part in another sport at the time of returning the survey with the top three being swimming (17%), football (12%) and dance (11%). The key point here is that when most people leave gymnastics, they are taking part in another sport. Gymnastics is a foundation sport; it provides the necessary skills to take part in a range of sports. We’re aware that young children will sample a few sports including gymnastics before deciding on which one(s) to stick with.
Most important benefits gained from being a gymnast
1. ‘Improved strength and fitness’
“She kept herself fit, kept her body supple, strength in her arms”
(Mother of 9-year-old recreational level girl)
2. ‘Enjoyment/fun’
“I loved loads of aspects of it (gymnastics). It was so much fun I guess. Doing all those sort of things and being with my friends”
(Gymnast, 13-year-old regional level girl)

3. ‘Good Exercise’
“All my kids loved it. It was good exercise and the coaches were brilliant, they made lots of new friends”
(Mother of 12-year-old recreational level boy)
Most important reasons for leaving gymnastics
1. Found it ‘boring/repetitive’ – a lot of people said it became boring partly due to waiting around and partly due to repeating the same sort of activities (including warm-ups) in each session
“More time doing actual gymnastics, less warm-up and standing around”
(Gymnast, 7-year-old recreational level boy)
“They just did the same thing every week and the classes were very big so it was on a sort of a circuit. So I could see they were getting a bit bored when it was the same thing each week”
(Mother of 7-year-old recreational level girl)
2. Left to take up a new sport
3. ‘Didn’t like the coaches’
The most important reasons for leaving gymnastics according to parents were ‘didn’t like the coaches’, ‘boring/repetitive’ and ‘no longer enjoyed it’.
What we’ve done with the research
The research provided us with a wealth of information which has enabled us to understand the typical pattern of drop-out in gymnastics. British Gymnastics has developed actions including education for coaches and clubs following the evidence from this research. Here are few examples of actions we’ve carried out so far:
Continuous Professional Development (CPD)
Since the main reason for leaving the sport is ‘boring/repetitive’ we have worked on providing workshops/resources on how to keep sessions varied and fun. We use our club conferences to deliver sessions on this topic. We have re-written the common core of UKCC Levels 1, 2 and 3 to include some of the findings of this research, and to promote the need to have an athlete centred approach i.e. focus on the wants/needs of your participants in order to provide them with activities that will meet those needs. We continue to deliver workshops on the issue of retention and how to keep gymnasts in our sport for longer. Gymnastics for All add on modules are now available to help clubs and coaches deliver a diverse and broad Gymnastics offer. These modules give coaches new ideas and additional tools to implement straight into a club, school or leisure centre setting with an aim of encouraging more opportunities for more people to take part in gymnastics. Click here to find out more about the Gymnastics for All modules.
Retaining gymnasts
The effective practice case studies provide insight and best practice for how to retain gymnasts. These case studies are available here. The case study findings show the need to provide older gymnasts with the opportunities to develop additional skills other than gymnastics, such as leadership. We have developed the MY Leadership Academy Programme which is designed to create a structure which young people can follow to help them develop as leaders within gymnastics environments (schools, clubs and leisure centres).
Further research
As is normally the case, the findings of research always lead us to other unanswered questions and more research that needs to be carried out. Several former gymnasts highlighted ‘lack of progression’ as a reason for leaving the sport. We have recently carried out research to review the British Gymnastics awards schemes (e.g. Core Proficiency) to give us a better understanding of whether they still meet the needs of clubs, and of participants.