I am not athletic. In fact, I'm a pretty hardcore couch potato. When I was a kid, I did take gymnastics lessons for awhile. But I was the kid who never worked out except for once a week at practice. It never occurred to me that I should be doing pushups and situps at home. And when my mom said, “Hey we can get cable if you quit gymnastics,” I was like “Sure. Don't sign me up.” There were a lot more gymnastics competitions on cable TV and I was already 13 and still a level one. Yeah, I know.
Honestly, I have no idea how it feels to do a backflip (although I can do a front flip on a trampoline). I also don't know first hand what coaches say to their gymnasts during practice or meets, or even how a coach/gymnast relationship feels to each party. So how does a fairly clumsy couch potato get the info to write about elite gymnastics? This is where research comes in.
I do a lot of things to research Perfect but the main thing that I do is watch gymnastics. A lot of Gymnastics. I've found that YouTube is a great place to watch, since most competitions are streamed there either live or shortly after completion. Plus, it's free. But there are more videos on YouTube than just competitions. Here are a few of my favorites:
Region 5 Gymnastics Insider: This channel has a few series that are godsends to people researching gymnastics and coach/gymnast interactions. In their series called “Coaches Wired,” they put a microphone on a coach during a big meet (usually JO Regionals or Nationals). They show the coach working with all their gymnasts during the warm up of one event and then the performance of one gymnast. The audience can listen to the tips that the coach gives. Some of the coaches who have been featured include Anna Li and Jaycie Phelps. “Region 5 All Access Workouts” is another series that is helpful. In this series, they go to a large gym and show highlights from a typical level 9, 10, or elite training session. Each episode includes audio of the coaches on all four events and gives the audience a brief glance at what a typical workout looks like. In the series “Gymnast Eye,” a gymnast wears a Gopro while doing a skill, like a double layout dismount on bars. The audience watches the gymnast perform the skill from the sidelines, then from the gymnast’s point of view, and then side by side.
Whitney Bjerken: Whitney is a level 10 gymnast from Atlanta, GA. Her channel is super helpful because it includes a lot of different types of videos. She posts workout videos where her dad will film her workouts and post the footage online. Well you can't hear what her coaches are saying you can get an idea of the amount of repetition she does at how hard and that's gymnast works. She also post videos just about her life. This is helpful because if you don't have kids it's hard to write for teenagers.
Sydney the Coral Girl: Sydney Morris is another level 10 gymnast who posts regular competition videos. She used to post more workout videos, but has stopped doing that since she change gyms. She also has a vlogging channel that is pretty helpful for learning how teenagers Act.
Alize Lee: Alize is a level 8 gymnast who makes competition, workout, and live stream videos. What makes her so great is her positive attitude and the way she encourages others. I wouldn't say I've based any characters on her, but her positivity definitely brushed off on my characters.
For help with scoring and the Code of Points, I watched a lot of videos from the channel Sporteverywhere. They put out loads of videos that showcase one routine. As the gymnast performs each skill, the video caption displays the name of the skill, its value, and any connection bonus earned. At the end of the video, the difficulty score is broken down. They also have some fun fail videos for when I'm bored but still need feel like I'm researching.
USAGymnastics has a huge repository of competitions dating from about 1976 to present. I believe they have also started doing live streams of all the camps, which is nice.
Aside from watching YouTube, I also do a lot of reading. Here are a few of my favorite resources:
Fiction Books About Gymnastics: There are a few other gymnastics books out there, and I've read most of them. As any writer will tell you, writers read, and they read a lot. Especially in the genre they write, for a number of reasons that are beyond the scope of this blog. The ones that were the best gymnastically were Lauren Hopkins’ trilogy about the 2016 Olympics.
“Gymnastics News” App: I have this app on my phone and tablet. (I have an Android; I don't know if there is an iPhone equivalent, but it didn't come up when I Googled it.) Basically, this app collects gymnastics news stories from all over the internet. Every time someone uploads new articles, they put a link to it in the app. There are articles from The Gymternet, International Gymnast Magazine, various blogs, and other news sources. This app is very helpful in staying up to date with the gymnastics world.
So, yeah, that's pretty much it. My research style may differ from some other writers, but it works well for me. Let me know what you think in the comments.