Training rhythmic gymnasts to reach peak performance

Rhythmic gymnastics training involves not just the body, but also the brain and mind. Photo: Sarina Rhythmic Gymnastics Club

It was challenging for the young rhythmic gymnastics students of the Sarina Rhythmic Gymnastics Club (SRGC) to adjust to online classes during the movement control order.

Some didn’t like online learning because they felt embarrassed or shy to have their friends looking at them since everyone learns together in the online class, shares coach Sarina Sundara Rajah.

“But when we changed our teaching method – using gamification, self- and peer-to-peer evaluation, and a different methodology every week, the students were more comfortable, became curious, and things improved,” says Sarina, a former gold medalist rhythmic gymnast.

Now that the MCO is lifted – the sessions can be online, offline (in person) or a combination of both,” she adds.

It was during these challenging months that Sarina realised how important it was to engage the brain and mind of her students in order to help the young gymnasts achieve peak performance.

“When people think of gymnastics, they usually think of sports, but it’s more than just physical. It also involves the brain and mind (thoughts, emotions, memory and imagination in the brain) and that’s the only way a gymnast can achieve peak performance,” says Sarina.

And that’s why she introduced the Peak Performance Academy (PPA) training programme to her students during the pandemic.

“There have been many negatives during the pandemic, but this is one positive that has come out of it. The PPA, which was launched in January 2021, is birthed as a direct result of the pandemic,” she says.

“Because of the pandemic, we had to shift everything online. And when the movement control order was lifted, we went into a hybrid system: half online, half offline in person,” she explains.

“During this time, we discovered that the students lacked emotional, social, and intellectual engagement because of the closure of schools and everything was conducted online. Parents were also more concerned with their children getting the necessary mind engagement than with them winning gold medals,” she says.

The PPA programme is developed by SynapseCloud, a design lab that produces smart solutions through research and development.

More than just physical

Two students from one family going through neurofeedback. Photo: Sarina Rhythmic Gymnastics ClubTwo students from one family going through neurofeedback. Photo: Sarina Rhythmic Gymnastics ClubThere are eight streams in the training, including good habits development, safety awareness, brain reprogramming, monetising opportunities, parental participation, lifestyle optimisation, Steam education (science, technology, engineering, entrepreneurship, arts and mathematics), and speaking.

While students are trained in rhythmic gymnastics based on the Malaysian Gymnastics Federation and the Federation of International Gymnastics programmes, the PPA training is based on the principles of neuro- and behavioral sciences.

“We engage not just with our students – who are mainly girls, ranging from the ages of three to 17 – but also their families during the rhythmic gymnastics training, parental engagement, and mind/brain training sessions,” she says.

The training aims to alter daily lifestyle habits, and shift their sleep and dietary habits by sleeping seven to 10 hours daily, removing simple carbohydrates/sugar from their diet, lessening exposure to blue light and devices when close to sleep time, and exercising at a sufficiently high intensity at least six days a week.

The PPA training is done during the weekends from Friday to Sunday. But with the Synapse Management weekly training summary report (Sym), parents are able to use the teaching and learning methods with their children during the weekdays.

“The Sym is like a ‘report card’ where everything is measured and quantified. Both parents and teacher will insert a score to create a line graph revealing a pattern or trend of the child’s progress,” she explains.

Sarina reveals that the training hopes to help the children become peak performers.

“While the body is engaged during the rhythmic gymnastics, and the mind during the mind-opening sessions and social experiments, the brain is engaged during the neurofeedback training.

“For a rhythmic gymnast to achieve her maximum potential and reach peak performance, she needs total development of the mind, brain, and body,” she concludes.

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