Raising the bar for stars of the future

Lauren Ayling inverted with the ceiling above her during a training movement.  Picture: Steve Reid (123935-680)
Lauren Ayling inverted with the ceiling above her during a training movement. Picture: Steve Reid (123935-680)

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The only sound they hear as they line up is their breathing and the pounding of their hearts. Wiping their chalked hands together, they imagine the routine they are about to perform.

Then, one after the other, they sprint and spring into the air, spinning and flipping, the air whistling past their face.

Portsmouth School of Gymnastics senior squad member Yumi Stow during a practice tumbling session. ''Picture: Steve Reid (123935-676)

Portsmouth School of Gymnastics senior squad member Yumi Stow during a practice tumbling session. ''Picture: Steve Reid (123935-676)

As their feet hit the floor, they try to stay as steady as possible, before leaving the mat ready for the next girl preparing to vault.

To members of the Portsmouth School of Gymnastics, based in Farlington, it’s a familiar scenario. The school has three squads of gymnasts – primary, junior and senior – with the senior squad currently holding the title of British TeamGym Champions 2012.

In the past the squad has held this title from 1998-2005 and 2007-2010, while the primary and juniors have also held a number of British championships.

Following the success of British gymnasts at the 
London Olympics, the sport is more popular than ever. Head coach Julian Such, 63, has been running the school in Portsmouth with his wife, Bev, since 1989 (although they didn’t start teaching TeamGym until 1997).

He says: ‘We used to do artistic gymnastics for quite a long time, but then we were made aware of TeamGym in 1997 and first performed it in 1998. What made us look to it was that the top team in artistic gymnastics was getting to the age where the girls were fed up of falling off the bar or hitting their head.

‘We wanted to look for an alternative and TeamGym had just come on to our radar and we thought it was excellent, it was just the sort of thing we could do. It started really simply.’

TeamGym is a team competition for men and women, which includes just three routines - floor, trampette and tumbling.

The Portsmouth School of Gymnastics didn’t even have its own base until 1996, with Julian and Bev, who live in Milton, renting out school halls before that.

Now the club is winning regional and national competitions with its squad, and even teaches basic artistic gymnastics classes throughout the week to other club members.

Julian says: ‘We do a little bit of artistic at the club and enter lower-level competitions at regional or county level.

‘We do a bit 
of trampolining but not competitively, although there is now a waiting list. We have probably got around 50 children in squads and around 400 on the books. We have recreational fun gymnastics programmes, which is what a lot of 
them do.’

He adds: ‘We don’t advertise our club as a TeamGym club because we do teach gymnastics. The vast majority come to learn the basics.’

Julian is also on the committee for TeamGym as the coach for education and development, but he still supports the other members 
of the club. It’s through learning basic gymnastics that they can have a chance of getting into one of the squads. The primary team is between nine and 12, Juniors are between 13 and 16 years old, while seniors are 16 or over.

As a natural extension of artistic gymnastics, TeamGym competitions provide an opportunity for those gymnasts not wishing to take part in all six gymnastic disciplines, but to work as part of a team.

Julian explains: ‘There are three different disciplines, with one being the floor which is just a normal routine for about two to three minutes, but there’s quite a lot of dance in it. The idea is to take domesticated choreography, but to put together a really clever routine of dance and shapes.

‘We show our skills in tumbling and trampette. You have between six and 12 people in your team, with a minimum of six and a maximum of 12. It can be all men, all women, or a mix of both, as long as there’s the same amount of men and women.’

He adds: ‘Some of the skills are very difficult, especially as we have just introduced a triple somersault. It’s developed very dramatically and not just in England. It’s big in the Nordic countries too.’

For a number of years the club has done exceptionally well with its squads at the British TeamGym Championships. Julian believes a lot of that is down to the girls working as a team.

He says: ‘When you’re working with a team then the psychological approach to it is quite important. We have to include family and we do a lot of mixed teams with boys.

‘I think it helps the fact that we are qualified at some of the highest levels and I’m hoping to become an international performance coach next year. Me and Bev are both at the top of the game and we have both got a Masters in sports performance.

He adds: ‘It’s something that has been the whole world for me and my wife.’

The Olympics may have led to a lot of interest in gymnastics, especially as the men’s team did so well, but the Portsmouth club still has a massive influx of girls compared to boys.

Julian says: ‘Boys are involved but it’s nothing like with the girls. I don’t think boys like it as much, although we do have a few involved with the club. In Denmark the boys’ teams are massive and amazing. It would be great to get boys that interested.’

Their aim for the future is to medal at the European Championships. Julian 
explains: ‘They are the world when it comes to our 
gymnastics and we have been for six years now. The girls want to 
win because that’s their passion.’


The Portsmouth School of Gymnastics runs a number of classes separate to squad training throughout the week. There are a variety of programmes for boys and girls of all abilities and any age, and children can choose from one to six. FunGym is a fun programme for those who wish to learn basic gymnastics, although there are competitive opportunities available.

Fees are paid monthly in advance and are calculated on a pay-per-hour rate, which is on a sliding scale. For example, it’s £3.75 for one hour, £3 each for two hours and runs all the way up to six hours, which works out at £1.85 each. Classes run from Monday to Friday from 4-5pm and 5-6pm, and 10-11am on Saturdays. For more information, go to portsmouth-gymnastics.com.