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Assessment of Balance and Cognitive Function in Youth Gymnasts

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AUTHORS: Epps, Elizabeth J.; Staab, Carina A.

ABSTRACT: International recruitment of female gymnast identifies children from the age of 4 years old. This study focuses on measuring components of gymnastics, using validated equipment to assess balance, reaction time, and working memory of level 4-5 gymnasts. 16 competitive female gymnasts (6-13 year-olds) were recruited. Single leg and Tandem Balance Test measured sway and stability while holding an iPod. Reaction time and memory was measured through a sequence of screens asking the subject to touch a point on the iPod as fast as possible and memorize a list of words, then tested recall of the word list. Results suggested no significance between trials 1, 2, and 3 on balance, reaction time and working memory.

CONCLUSION: Gymnastics requires balance, focus, and quick response. Gymnasts of different ages and cognitive abilities perform at different skill levels. This study provides valuable data for the gymnast and the coach on the strengths and weaknesses of each gymnast. Balance is frequently performed on one leg in the gymnast’s floor routine as well as on the balance beam; transference of muscle memory patterns from both events could be a factor in the balance performance during testing. Single leg balance stance scored lower demonstrating less sway of the gymnasts than tandem stance. This is an example of transfer of training of single leg balance stance on the balance beam and floor. Age could present an assumption of better balance, quicker reaction time [3] and cognitive function. A study with gymnasts involving balance, reaction time, and working memory should involve a larger group of gymnasts with varying levels of skill. Our data was skewed by two high scores for balance in trial 2 by two different gymnasts. The standard deviation in the second trial was tripled from the first trial, possibly due to distraction from the testing environment. The gymnast’s demonstrated an increase in working memory over the three trials, shown through a decrease in standard deviation for each trial. A larger group of gymnasts would allow those two girls to be excluded from the study, allowing for more reliability in the statistical analysis. Future studies will include a larger group of gymnasts and will set parameters that control such factors as, the number of participants in the testing environment.