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The Uniqueness of Aesthetic Group Gymnastics - Perspectives from Gymnastics Club SC Vantaa

May 6, 2024

Competitive Sport at the Core, Recreational Sport at Heart

Sport Club Vantaa (SC Vantaa) was originally founded in 2008 with a focus on competitive sports, but as it has grown, recreational activities have become a significant part of its operations. The club's membership has risen to about 1600 individuals, of whom approximately 20% are competitive athletes. Competitive sports are available in aesthetic group gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, dance gymnastics groups, and dance groups. Additionally, SC Vantaa has special needs groups that participate in Special Olympics competitions. Aesthetic group gymnastics at the club can be pursued at all competitive levels.

The success of Sport Club Vantaa (SC Vantaa) is underpinned by strong collaboration and commitment. The club's head coach, Kiia Kuusela, and the person responsible for aesthetic group gymnastics, Sonja Pitkänen, emphasize the importance of key personnel recruitment in the club's growth. Kiia and Sonja have been involved in SC Vantaa’s operations since its inception, serving in various roles. The club's growth has been driven by a desire to continuously improve and do things better. Active cooperation with various stakeholders, including schools, the city, and other clubs, has enabled the club's growth and success.

The Uniqueness of Aesthetic Group Gymnastics

 The Uniqueness of Aesthetic Group Gymnastics

Aesthetic group gymnastics (AGG) is a true team sport where the success of every member is crucial. Unlike many other team sports, a single athlete's outstanding performance is not enough in aesthetic group gymnastics; the success of each individual is essential. This strengthens team cohesion and encourages everyone to develop and support each other.

Working together also guides coaching to help everyone develop and succeed, as head coach Kiia Kuusela emphasizes: "Aesthetic group gymnastics is uniquely dependent on individuals: each person plays a crucial role in the routine, and it’s not easy to replace anyone. In a way, this is a challenge, but it also presents an opportunity because it brings the athletes very close to each other. Working together is important: coaches and athletes truly engage in a common cause and goal. Working so intensively and closely with people means that these individuals become very close. And these are the kinds of relationships that really last a lifetime.”

Diversity of Skills in Coaching - Benefiting Athletes

 Aesthetic group gymnastics requires a diverse set of skills from athletes. The performances are truly spectacular.

Aesthetic group gymnastics is a highly diverse and demanding sport, setting high standards for coaching expertise as well. Kiia Kuusela and Sonja Pitkänen emphasize that, in addition to psychological skills, a coach must have the ability to lead the team holistically, possess physical training expertise, and have deep knowledge of the sport. AGG offers athletes a lot of opportunities for personal development.

Psychological Skills and Shared Ground Rules

Developing psychological skills is a natural part of aesthetic group gymnastics. "In AGG, coaches have a great opportunity to develop young athletes' psychological skills, as they spend a lot of time with them and get to know them well. It's a very fruitful sport for this," describes Kiia Kuusela, the head coach. 

The team consists of diverse individuals, so it is the coach's task to establish shared ground rules that enable everyone to perform at their best. Sonja Pitkänen, the person responsible for AGG in the club, also emphasizes understanding the club's perspective. "It is also the coach's job to understand the overall club structure and its fundamental values. It is important that the coach views their own team as part of a larger entity and supports the club's goals of providing athletic opportunities for all: people of different ages and skill levels," she explains.

Physical Requirements

AGG inherently requires physical fitness across various domains: strength, flexibility, endurance, and speed. Coaches must understand the demands of the sport and be able to effectively develop the gymnasts' physical attributes. "AGG is physically demanding for the athletes. For instance, flexibility skills are needed, but also strength and endurance qualities, so that the athlete can train 20 hours a week without getting injured while maintaining quality. Ultimately, in the routine, they need to be able to perform lifts, jumps, and transitions smoothly," explains head coach Kuusela. While the routines may appear effortless to the audience, which is naturally the goal, the gymnasts have practiced the movements extensively.

Everyday Management and Learning to Learn

As the discussion continues, the range of necessary skills increasingly unfolds. Sonja Pitkänen highlights an interesting perspective on the importance of everyday management skills. "Competing at a top level requires flexibility and skills in managing daily routines. Gymnasts need the ability to combine school and demanding training schedules. Naturally, a great love for the sport and passion are also necessary to make everything work."

Head coach Kiia Kuusela emphasizes the importance of learning skills in general. "Providing these lessons and skills is very meaningful for life as a whole. An important skill for the sport is also a sense of rhythm in music and movement, but also the ability to learn the competition routine. This requires a lot of repetition and capacity from children to learn their place, which direction to go, what count to move on, and all this while working together with teammates. And then, when you add a possible apparatus, it involves constantly learning new things."

The routine is crafted into a work of art through repetitions and modifications

 Young Gymnasts and Aesthetic Group Gymnastics: Developing Athletes and Using Coaching Applications

Kiia and Sonja describe the coach's role in crafting the routine as a multi-stage and demanding process that begins with an idea and progresses toward a finished competitive performance. Initially, music is selected and a movement language is created that fits both the music and the team's style. Following this, the construction of movement sequences and patterns begins, also taking into consideration the rules of the sport.

Through practice, each movement is learned and refined in detail until the whole routine is ready. This requires repetition and patience, as the competition performance is repeated numerous times over the season. Head coach Kiia Kuusela elaborates on the number of repetitions. "We start with smaller sections and work towards a larger whole. Once the complete competition performance is ready, it is repeated many times. I would say that at all levels, we reach around a hundred repetitions during the season. At higher levels, we're probably around 600. And if you think about how many times an individual movement is performed, it's thousands of times.”

As the season progresses, refinements are made to the appearance and emotional tone of the routine, as described by Sonja Pitkänen. "Once the routine has been learned, or after what you might call the initial polishing, we then build on it throughout the season by adding expression, immersion, and emotion. It's a kind of fine-tuning on top of the finished competition performance. It's constantly being developed and pushed forward."

Changes are part of the process, whether they are necessary due to illnesses or for the development of the performance. The routine can sometimes be radically modified during the season to better meet the team's needs and objectives. This teaches gymnasts how to manage change and adaptability, which is valuable both in sports and in life in general.

Every finished routine is unique and reflects the gymnasts' own style and interpretation, making it special and personal. "The routine is crafted specifically for those gymnasts and is unique to them. And of course, the same routine could be used by someone else, but what makes it wonderful is that if we were to perform the same routine and someone in Japan did the same, it would likely look very different because everyone has their own style of interpreting the work," summarizes head coach Kiia Kuusela.

Preparing for the Competition Performance

 Preparing for a Competition in Aesthetic Group Gymnastics: How a Coaching Application Aids in Discussions

The competition performance requires extensive practice and preparation to ensure it goes as planned. "The entire routine must be practiced a great deal so that it becomes routine and feels almost effortless. Usually, a gymnast's competition performance is not their best nor their worst, but something in between. An average practice performance is certainly good, and that's why it's necessary to have many performances to ensure there are enough good repetitions," explains head coach Kuusela.

Preparation on the day of the competition begins hours before the performance, aimed at physically preparing the body for the routine and reviewing the team's collective responsibilities. The goal is that on competition day, everyone is clear about the objectives of the performance and no actual practice is needed. Psychological preparation is also a crucial part of the process, and teams may employ various methods such as setting goals, positive thinking, and self-talk.

Diverse Utilization of Digital Coaching Application

Head Coach of Aesthetic Group Gymnastics, Kiia Kuusela

SC Vantaa's Kiia Kuusela and Sonja Pitkänen describe the coaching application Qridi Sport as a kind of cloud service for gymnasts, which is utilized in various ways in coaching and supporting athletes' development. "We constantly use it for season analyses, where we conduct surveys and then discuss them personally. This gives us the opportunity to reflect on our performances and development throughout the season. The coaching application helps us identify our strengths and areas for improvement. It not only aids us in enhancing our performances but also in maintaining well-being and commitment to the sport," explains head coach Kuusela.

Kiia Kuusela explains how competition analyses are used to improve performances and athletes' self-assessment skills. "We use competition analyses, which are conducted after every competition. We have specific questions that the gymnasts, even the children, answer. The younger children have slightly different questions: for example, we ask about their feelings on competition day, what successes they experienced, what they wish had gone differently, or they give feedback to the coach. Everyone fills out these surveys, and then we review them together. This also helps us in psychological coaching. Just the act of the athlete answering the questions constitutes psychological coaching and reflection on these matters.”

Qridi has also been utilized for recording test results, organizing summer training, and setting goals. Recording test results provides valuable coaching material and enables the monitoring of progress. This data has allowed for more precise decisions regarding training. The coaching application has also been used in organizing independent training. For example, the physical trainer has provided running instructions in the coaching application via audio recording. In setting athletes' goals and in injury situations, the coaching application has supported personalized coaching. It has enabled the coach to set individual goals, monitor their progress in real-time, and provide adequate support.

An important aspect of using Qridi Sport has been that the club had a clear idea of what it wanted to promote, and the coaching application has been a tool for achieving those objectives. It has enabled personalized coaching and increased interaction.

 Aesthetic group gymnastics creates unique relationships among gymnasts.

Sonja Pitkänen further describes the use of the coaching application in personal discussions. "In personal discussions, which we have at the end of each season, it can be difficult for an individual gymnast to remember what they responded, for example, at the end of the last season. But being able to refer back to those responses, as Kiia mentioned, facilitates interaction. It's also very meaningful for the athlete. When an athlete reports at the end of the season on where they have developed, we can revisit the areas they wanted to improve. They themselves can see their own development, as these were targeted areas and they have made progress. This gives them the experience that they can influence their own development."

According to the season's theme and phase, shorter surveys have also been utilized. "For instance, if we wanted to highlight the team atmosphere, we talk about it and use related surveys where we ask the athlete about their feelings and what they can contribute to the collective atmosphere. This is done before and after practices: what feeling did the practice leave, and what did I bring to this practice today," explains head coach Kiia Kuusela. The club's coaching approach reflects a genuine desire to support athletes' development, teach skills comprehensively, and continually strive to do things better.

Thank you, Kiia and Sonja, for your insightful guidance into the diverse world of aesthetic group gymnastics and for your perspectives on supporting athletes' development through the use of a coaching application. Continue your valuable work, inspiring and supporting the growth and development of athletes.

Read more about the activities of SC Vantaa (in Finnish):

For more information on aesthetic group gymnastics, visit the Finnish Gymnastics Federation's or International Federation of Aesthetic Group Gymnastics website:

Images: Olarin Voimistelijat / Sami Ilvonen

Interviewer: Toni Eskola