by Brooke Kneebush, Oceania Development Manager Gymnastics Australia
The Cook Islands is one of three countries to recently establish a new Gymnastics Federation with support from the International governance body. To support this, Gymnastics Australia has assisted the new Cook Islands Gymnastics Federation to apply for Australian Government grants, including a Direct Aid Program (DAP) Grant through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, for equipment to conduct activities in local schools, villages and clubs.
Over AU $5,000 in new gymnastics equipment was purchased and shipped to the Cook Islands with the DAP Grant, including mats, soft shapes and hand apparatus.
This equipment has allowed Cook Islands children to experience and learn gymnastics, and for their teachers and parents to see them grow and develop as they learn to tumble and turn.
There is actually some history of Gymnastics participation in the Cook Islands – in fact, Hugh and Graham Roberts, Cook Islands Sports and National Olympic Committee (CISNOC) President and Secretary General, have both told me of their memories of participating in the sport as children.
Gymnastics was previously part of the school curriculum in the Cook Islands. Now, Gymnastics Australia are working with the Cook Islands Ministry of Education toward educating teachers and building their capacity to deliver Fundamental Movement Programs for children. The goal is to extend this education to teachers on the outer islands as well.
Research shows that gymnastics can play an important role in developing movement competence in children, and that children who have developed competency in fundamental movement skills are far more likely to participate in sport and recreation throughout their life and have reduced obesity risk.
In October 2016, 12 months of development and training culminated in the Cook Islands Gymnastics Federation’s first competition. Twenty-three children participated thanks to the collaborative effort from volunteers and coaches. Gymnastics Australia Judge Training was provided to parents and teachers, whilst club coaches were mentored to conduct this and future competitions.
On this occasion, the style of judging was designed to encourage continual improvement with stickers awarded on a certificate for each activity banded from “Needs Improvement” through to “Ideal Model.” As the gymnasts develop their skills, competitions will progress toward a traditional judging system of points deducted for errors and awarded for difficulty.
Each child was awarded a Gymnastics Australia T-Shirt, participation medal and certificate with stickers providing feedback for future improvement. The success of the event was highlighted when a young participant arrived at a gymnastics training clinic two days later, certificate in hand – the worn edges confirming her mother’s protests that she would not put it down.
Australian clubs have been closely following the development of Gymnastics in the Cook Islands through social media and are keen to get involved. Eastern Gymnastics Academy in Sydney NSW donated a supply of leotards, which are impossible to source on a small pacific island, and sent of video of well wishes. The local gymnasts proudly competed in their new attire and expressed their appreciation with photos demonstrating their recently acquired skills. In the future, opportunities for Australian clubs to support gymnastics in the Cook Islands will include short term volunteer placements and donations of second hand equipment.
Gymnastics Australia returned to Rarotonga in February 2017 to mentor Gymnastics Sport Development Officers and teachers to conduct in-school programs. The DAP equipment will be put to good use again with more than 400 students from two primary and two pre-schools taking part in a pilot of the four-week program.
All of this development could not be possible without the hard work and dedication of the passionate Cook Islanders who are dedicated to ensuring their children have the opportunity to participate in gymnastics. As with any Pacific nation, the Cook Islands face challenges, such as limited and expensive venues, lack of equipment, excessive import costs, and limited availability of volunteers. But with the support of Gymnastics Australia, the Direct Aid Program Grant, and collaboration with GymSports New Zealand, the Cook Islands Gymnastics Federation are working to overcome these challenges.
The outdoors may not be the traditional location for gymnastics classes, but we couldn’t think of a better place to tumble and turn, than in the shade of palm trees. Until more equipment can be sourced, improvisation and versatility are the name of the game – a plank of wood makes a suitable beam and playground equipment a good substitute for uneven bars.
And the volunteers? They keep doing it because they know that the world looks better when you’re upside down!
Brooke Kneebush is the Oceania Development Manager at Gymnastics Australia and has visited Rarotonga three times in the past 18 months. Activities conducted during these visits include “Come & Try Gymnastics” sessions, club training clinics, governance mentoring including strategic planning, coach and judge training, and school student activities with teacher mentoring and teacher education.