It’s been a great start to the season for the North Peace Gymnastics Association.
The Fort St. John gymnasts already have two competitions under their belts and a haul of medals and ribbons to show for their efforts.
NPGA travelled to St. Albert, Alberta in January for their first competition of the year, which allowed them to get back into the groove of things and gave new gymnasts an opportunity to compete for the first time.
Even though things were a bit rusty in their first event, coach Leanne Couch was still impressed with her team’s turnaround and drive to improve upon their return.
“I find the quality of our gymnasts is going higher and higher each year,” Couch said on Tuesday. “I’m learning more as a coach, which then benefits them as athletes.”
“St. Albert was kind of a warm up for the season, and it was kind of rough, but they came back and we stepped it up a notch,” she added. “Of all my Level 1s, I only had one fall on beam out of the five girls. I was pretty impressed.”
In late January gymnast Jaston Stockall, 13, went to Edmonton to compete in the National Stream Cup 2013 for the first time as a P5.
“She placed really well,” Couch said. “It was her first time competing as P5 and she was in the middle of the pack at the end and that was really good for her.”
Next up for the squad was Quesnel’s Gold Pan Invitational, which was also trials for provincials in April, and all of the NPGA girls qualified to compete in the B.C. championships in Prince George.
Young gymnast Carley Wheat had a great showing in Quesnel.
“She placed first overall in Quesnel at the Gold Pan [Invitational] and it’s her first year competing,” Couch said. “It was her second meet, so that was huge, huge, huge.”
When asked how she trains her gymnasts for these big competitions, Couch said it’s a matter of both physical and mental preparation.
“For the big competitions, honestly they work all year long,” she said. “We don’t really have a down season so they work year round for the skills level.”
“It’s more of the mental training that becomes a bigger factor than anything. You have to have the guts to flip and go all out. If you’re not putting 100 per cent in, then you’re not getting anything out of it.”
NPGA recently brought in a professional from Kamloops to run a workshop on the mental aspect of gymnastics. He also did some one-on-one work with some of the girls.
“That seemed to help,” Couch said about bringing in a professional. “His biggest focus is their mental state whereas for me, I’m fully wanting them to be on their game in every aspect, but for the technical side of things I need to see certain things, so it’s good to have the whole picture.”
“When you hit the higher levels there’s that extra level of stress and pressure, and it wears on you.”
Gymnastics in Fort St. John has been exploding in popularity in the past couple of years, so much so that Couch is having a hard time keeping up.
Last year closed with a membership of 450 – this year it’s up to 600.
“There’s a lot of interest in the competitive program so I’m beyond full in my group, but I’m looking for ways to expand and bring in another coach to keep the quality up,” she said.
“We’ve grown already and it’s not even mid season. I feel like we have a great board of directors this year, great staff and everyone can work together as a team. We’re all here to benefit the kids and we want to see them succeed.”
Not only are the NPGA gymnasts learning the skills and mental toughness of the sport; they’re also learning responsibility, teamwork and respect.
“I pride myself on trying to build good teamwork within our group, so these girls are mentors to the little recreational kids and they will help out where they can,” Couch said.
“It all comes full circle.”
Up next for the troupe is the 2013 Christy Fraser Memorial Invitational March 8 – 10 in Langley. There 13-year-old Stockall will have the opportunity to qualify for the Western Canadian Gymnastic Championships, where teammate Brianna Owen will be competing as well as a P4.