Ever since Valeri Liukin took over the program after the 2012 Olympics, Developmental Camp located at the National Team Training Center in Huntsville, TX, has become the best place for aspiring elite gymnasts and new elites to get a used to the National Team Camp format as well as learn drills and technique that will take them further in their elite career. Developmental Camp allows for future national team members to train with each other starting as young as age 8 and boosts them into the elite world. Once the gymnasts are ready for National Team Camp, they know the format, and the transition is smooth. Most of today’s US National Team Members have gone through the Developmental Camp program which has aided in their success on the National and International stage. And the best part? Developmental Camp attendees LOVE going to camp!

May 2013 Developmental camp including current/former National Team Members: Maile O’Keefe, Sydney Johnson-Scharpf, Adeline Kenlin & Emma Malabuyo
USA Gymnastics

Gymnasts are invited to developmental camp through competitions attended by Valeri Liukin (Easterns/Westerns), TOPs Testing, and video submissions. Once athletes receive the invite to developmental camp, it’s a whirlwind of excitement for both them and their coaches. Once gymnasts and their coaches have arrived, the camp is kicked off by physical abilities testing and some light training. Following the first workout is the exchange of hugs, smiles, and laughs between the gymnasts (and their coaches). After all, camp is like a monthly reunion of best friends! After everyone eats, it’s time for bed, and the gymnasts and coaches get ready for four days of training and learning. For the next four days, the gymnasts and coaches get up at 6:45 am, go for breakfast and begin their training at 8:30. When National Team Coordinator Valeri Liukin walks in the door, the gymnasts’ eyes light up as they line up tallest to shortest. “When Valeri walks in we stand up. He comes over and stands next to all of us and gives us inspirational speeches and tells us what we need to work on,” says Developmental Camp regular, Levi Jung Ruvivar of Paramount Elite. During a regular training, gymnasts do conditioning as well as train on all four events. “Most camps we will have “verifications” on every event. [Verifications] is where we will salute our events and the national judges will score us. This gives us a great opportunity to see the areas we are weak in as well as get advice on how to improve our routines,” said Mia Viola of Rochester Gymnastics when we asked about a typical day at camp.

Flexibility is the key to elite-level leaps and jumps. The coaches correct their gymnast’s form in order to increase her flexibility.

It’s not just skills that gymnasts learn at camp, it’s gymnastics experiences that prepare these young gymnasts for their future. Developmental camp attendees get to learn new drills as well as techniques that they wouldn’t usually learn in their home gyms to help them in elite competition as well as National Team Camp, where the girls aim to be in a couple of years. We asked Levi what she learns at camp that she wouldn’t learn at home,

“I get different perspectives from different coaches so things I may have been working on at home and am struggling with I suddenly get. The national coaches can really see things. I get to learn skills and new techniques and new drills that I never even knew existed. I work on different equipment, but it still feels comfortable like my own gym. I get to train with people that have the same goals as I do. I am surrounded by teammates and friends that I can compete against, they challenge and inspire me. It’s fun because I love competition and there are so many talented, amazing girls (the best in the whole country) that no one ever knows who is going to win the challenge. It’s like playing your absolute favorite board game against the champions of that game. I get to show what I’ve been working on at home. I get tips on what is working and what’s not. Sometimes it’s something physical, and sometimes it’s mental. It’s always a big challenge who is better? Who is going to be the best? Who has the higher skills? Who is going to beat who? It’s what makes it exciting. It’s what makes me see that I can do more. It’s what makes me keep loving gymnastics. It’s the fun of it.”

And it’s not just gymnast’s that learn new things and soak in the experiences; the coaches learn a lot too.

“Having my athletes attend developmental camp has allowed me to learn so much.  It’s almost impossible to list everything.  We learn about planning, skill acquisition, technique.  The staff helps us with interpreting the code of points, and the trends that are being rewarded in international competition.  Valeri often says that something along the lines of, the staff have all made mistakes in the past so that we don’t have to.  I think one other thing that’s important is that the coaches attending camp, learn from each other.  We learn that we all have similar struggles at home, whether your gym is in Texas, Delaware, Iowa or California, we are all climbing the same ladder and dealing with the same roadblocks.  We also learn from each other’s experience.” says Paramount Elite coach, Sarah Korngold.

​Coach Sarah Korngold works on basics with Levi Jung Ruvivar. Basics are essential for the gymnast’s execution score in all levels of gymnastics, especially elite.

The effects of Developmental Camp are already evident; the gymnasts that have come out of the camp in the past few years and the gymnasts that are attending camp now, have had the experience of a camp setting which has allowed the gymnasts to excel in the National Team Camp environment. Also, there has been an increase in more difficulty in the routines of younger gymnasts who have attended camp. Gymnasts’ attendance of Developmental Camp is a prominent contributor to the success of USA gymnasts.

It’s not just what happens during practice in the coveted National Team Training Center that makes the long trek to Developmental Camp worth it. It’s the everlasting friendships between the gymnasts and between the coaches that make Developmental Camp the #2 Happiest Place on Earth (right next to Disneyland, of course). The gymnasts and their coaches alike love going to camp. “Honestly, what don’t I enjoy about camp?” says coach Korngold. While camp attendees spend lots of time in the gym, they get free time in between practices and at night which calls for anything from making slime in the cabins to chasing the chickens outside. And whenever there is time for a celebration, the gymnasts don’t miss out, “my favorite month to attend is February because it’s my birthday month. When it’s someone’s birthday we always celebrate it by singing happy birthday and having cupcakes,” said Mia Viola when we asked her what her favorite part of camp is. During their free time, the young, high-level gymnasts get time to be your normal kids! One of Levi’s favorite things to do at camp is, “We put ice in a bag let it melt and then put it in a freezer and once the surface gets completely flat and solid we take it out and open up the plastic bag, and we turn it into a mini ice skating rink. It’s super mini, so we can’t actually skate, but it’s really fun.”

There is truly so much to love about Developmental Camp: state of the art coaching and facilities, friendships, preparation for the elite world, and memories to last forever. And don’t just take it from us; we asked developmental camp attendees what their lives would be like without Developmental Camp. Their answers will make everyone want to go to Developmental Camp!

Levi Jung Ruvivar, Hopes: [Without camp] I’d be missing out on extraordinary coaching and great friends, and a better attitude and so much of what I love about gymnastics. I can’t even imagine if camp wasn’t part of my life. It’s everything. It’s so much of me, and the experience is so real. I would never want to leave it.

Mia Viola, Hopes: Besides all the advice and encouragement from the national staff, I would really miss bonding with the other girls. Eventually, we are all hoping to be a part of Team USA, and it is great to be able to support and encourage each other along the way.

Joscelyn Roberson, Hopes: I would miss out on training with girls with a similar skill level and getting the advice of Valeri and the staff. Also, it’s awesome to say I’ve trained at the same place as some of the best gymnasts in history, like Simone, Nastia, Aly, and Jordyn.

Myli Lew, training Hopes: I would be missing out on meeting other talented girls from across the US.  I get to be up close and personal when getting to know girls at camp.  I think it’s important to support one another because we understand each other (hardships, tough days, etc.) and it’s nice to talk to people who “get” you.

Bronwyn Hoffman, training Elite: I wouldn’t be doing as many new skills as I am now with going to camp. I am more motivated to develop and be a better gymnast.

It is evident why gymnasts and their coaches look forward to going to Developmental Camp each month. Receiving the invite to Developmental Camp is a huge accomplishment and is a major stepping stone to a gymnast’s elite career. Gymnastics is no joke, and it is clear that gymnasts work their absolute hardest at these monthly camps. The gymnast’s (and coach’s) efforts combined with the friendships and memories made to last forever, and the success of Team USA’s young gymnasts, are what make Developmental Camp the fantastic program that it is.

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