In the mission statement posted on Flathead Gymnastics Academy’s Web site, the words “non-competitive,” “success” and “self-esteem” are written in all capital letters.
Below those words is a paragraph explaining the emphasis. The second sentence reads: “It is the nature of competition to produce more losers than winners.” The goal of Flathead Gymnastics, the statement goes on to say, is to create an atmosphere where kids hone their athletic abilities without ultimatums such as push-up contests.
“By removing the contest from the activity,” the Web site states, “the child is free to enjoy learning without the risk, or fear, of being judged.”
Such is the environment owners Steve and Jeanine Henneford seek to nurture at Flathead Gymnastics, located at 153 Seventh Avenue West North in Kalispell. Kim Zavalney said they have achieved their mission. Zavalney’s son, 10-year-old Caleb Hartry, has never felt at home on the basketball court, baseball diamond or soccer field.
But, with the coaches’ emphasis on encouragement, Hartry has found an activity that suits him, Zavalney said. He’s not faced with the prospect of intense competition each day.
“He was just one to lay back in the background,” Zavalney said. “Here he can work at his own pace. Every time he finishes gymnastics he just feels really good about himself.”
The Hennefords are celebrating their 20th year of ownership at the academy. While they long ago found a formula that works, they continue to look for new avenues of teaching. One such avenue is a recently implemented program that helps kids train for ski and snowboard season.
Kids strap on a specially made snowboard that, while mimicking a real snowboard’s weight, is flexible enough to be used on the gym’s $1,500 trampoline surface. A real board could damage the trampoline and would be less forgiving on the kids’ legs.
With the program, snowboarders and skiers can get in shape for the season and practice tricks on a softer surface than hard-packed snow. Steve Henneford points out that his most famous student is Tanner Hall, who trained in gymnastics at the academy for nearly a decade before becoming one of the best extreme skiers in the world.
While the snowboarding program is getting off its feet, the Hennefords maintain their regular gymnastics schedule, which features classes for beginners all the way up to the occasional level 10 gymnast. Class schedules range from a half hour per week to four hours, with tuitions adjusted accordingly.
Regular tuition starts at $48 and goes up to $165. Family discounts are available. Friday night open gyms, which run from 6 to 8 p.m., are also heavily attended. Private and semi-private lessons are offered as well. Roughly 150 kids train at the gym.
Even with a base philosophy promoting non-competition for beginners and novices, the academy does offer competitive opportunities for kids who train long enough. It is the only competitive gymnastics opportunity in the valley, Henneford said.
The competitive kids start off by traveling to meets around Montana and Idaho. If they stick with it until the higher levels, they are eligible for large regional meets throughout the West. Only a small percentage of the academy’s kids are competitive and only two compete at level 8 or above.
Henneford has a coaching career that extends beyond his 20 years at Flathead Gymnastics Academy. His wife is a former member of the U.S. national gymnastics team and once won a gold medal at the Pan American Games. With Maria Fish as a third coach, the academy boasts a knowledgeable and experienced coaching staff.
Christina Galbraith has two girls who go to the academy and she said she has been impressed with the coaching. In a short time, her girls have markedly improved and, more importantly, grown to really like the sport, she said. At 7 and 13, they are at different ability levels, but they have both found their respective comfort zones.
Galbraith said gymnastics help her kids with all of their other sports, as it promotes full-body strength and improved eye-hand coordination. Also, her girls can stay active in the winter. And, since their apartment offers little in the way of a backyard or freedom to roam outside, Galbraith said gymnastics will be valuable in the summer months too.
“This gym is really their big backyard,” Galbraith said.
For more information, call (406) 752-4000 or log on to www.flatheadgym.com.
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