Students learn flips, cartwheels, handstands and splits in a rapidly growing acro program at Terrace Peaks Gymnastics Club. For some, it is the fun of these skills that draws them, for others, developing these skills is a launching pad to strengthen their competitive dancing or skating.
The program did not run last January (2015) but it was revived in June 2015 when program coordinator Karl McPherson was hired.
He says that acro is the first program at the club to fill up. They started it last spring once a week and it has expanded into three classes a week – two beginner and one advanced – plus an adult drop-in class every week.
Acro is about learning the foundational gymnastics skills, but McPherson also teaches his students many life skills through the sport.
His classes begin with a physical assessment and then he asks his students why they are taking the class and what they want to get out of it. He uses the goals of the students to frame the timetable, to help students develop physically and work towards their goals and achieve the best results.
A 10 or 15 week program, classes start with warm up, include a fitness component, and then go into the mechanics and technique of different gymnastics skills.
McPherson says he is up front and realistic with students, listening when they say “I can’t,” but encouraging them not to give up.
“If you’re here for a back handspring, but you’re really not flexible or strong enough to be able to do that, then it’s going to take us about eight to 10 weeks before we can do that,” he tells them.
“The more realistic you are with their expectations… the more they appreciate the results they are getting,” he said.
The classes include small, realistic and tangible goals to help students recognize their progress and stay motivated to keep pushing themselves to develop more – which are good life lessons.
McPherson says it is much better to take small steps rather than jump right to the skills students want to do but are usually not ready for, which will get them discouraged.
“I just don’t want them to believe that they are not able to do this,” he said. “It’s ‘no, you can’t do this right now, but physically you’re not there, so this is what we have to do to get you there… It’s not going to happen now, but if you work towards it, it could happen.’”
McPherson said students do not always accept his time frames right away, but as they do the exercises and moves in the class, they grow in self-awareness and come to understand and respect what he says.
Terrace’s Alexis Cooper said she took acro because she wanted to be more flexible and do back walkovers and splits. So far she has already learned to do proper cartwheels and handstands – moves she always saw as scary and hard.
“He breaks it down in steps,” Cooper said of McPherson and his coaching.
Nine-year-old Ava Allen, another student in the class, agreed, saying she likes how he leads them step by step and tells them things very clearly.
Payton Prevost said she wants to learn walkovers and the front handspring, and has already mastered the cartwheel and handstand.
“I think [McPherson] is pretty good, he’s helpful,” she said. “He is very specific and helps us look at things properly. It’s really fun.”
McPherson said that every student’s body type is different, and movements and stances have to be modified to fit the student, with taller students placing their hands differently on a handstand than the shorter students.
He tries to demonstrate that to students as well, pairing them up intentionally so they can see how moves differ for different body types. It is just one more life lesson that students learn through the class.
Each class also includes a warm up and fitness component, partly to get students fit to do acro, but also to show students that they can stay healthy through a variety of activities, not just the typical gym workouts.
“We want them to be active for life,” said McPherson.