It's all about confidence

Arpi Avetyan was five years old when she peered through the window of the Gymnastics Center at Glendale’s YMCA and found that she was inspired by the gymnasts inside. The same year, Avetyan began training as a rhythmic gymnast.

By age 14, she suggested building a competitive rhythmic gymnastics program, although she coached just a single athlete. That program now has 60 athletes and a reputation for success as Avetyan, 27, coaches athletes who have traveled the nation competing in the Junior Olympics. Half of the program’s gymnasts compete at the national level.

On a Wednesday afternoon in mid-June, her girls were stretching before practice. Their season had recently finished and the practice meant a new beginning.

Six of the girls had just returned from Orlando, where they performed individually before hundreds of spectators and a panel of 12 international judges.

Rhythmic gymnastics athletes must master five elements. They are the ball, the ribbon, a pair of clubs, a hoop and a jump rope.

When they start, Avetyan said, “There’s a little tears as they push the limits on their own flexibility.” But before long, the athletes “grow tall and they look like swans.”

On the YMCA’s blue floor, the girls, aged 10 to 17, give themselves enough space, take one apparatus at a time and run though their routine hundreds of times before venturing to the next apparatus.

“During competition, it can be really nerve-racking,” said 13-year-old Maya Ramamurthy, who practiced with the ball. “You try to get your nerves under control and just take it one element at a time.”

The girls average four hours of practice at least five days a week. But for Avetyan, rhythmic gymnastics is more than just sport.

“Confidence,” she said. “It’s my No. 1 thing.”

When the girls first meet Avetyan, she says their shoulders may be slumped, their chins down. On the very first day of practice, Avetyan will have the girls stand before a mirror, look at themselves and announce five good things about what they see.

“As a coach, you have to put very positive things inside their head, teach them how to love themselves. If they don’t — then not just this part in life — they’re not going to go anywhere if they want to be doctors, lawyers, whatever.”

After the girls express how beautiful they are, how they like their eyes or hair, only then is it time to focus, Avetyan said.

“And then we start training.”

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