Wesley College Melbourne Australia
Wesley College Melbourne

Self-starter: Sophia takes national gold

Posted 23 July 2018
Sophie Dew 5

Year 6 Wesley College student Sophia Dew claimed the rhythmic gymnastics gold medal in her age group at the 2018 Australian Gymnastics Championships at Hisense Arena in Melbourne. Rhythmic gymnastics combines expressive dance steps with technical skills in throwing, spinning, spiralling, rolling and catching various apparatuses, including balls, ropes and hoops.

Competing against rhythmic gymnasts from every Australian state and territory as well as New Zealand, Sophia took out the national championship all-around title in the pre-junior category with a score of 38,600 – 8,900 for her rope apparatus routine, 9,750 for hoop apparatus, 10,050 for ball apparatus and 9,900 for free apparatus.

As a high-performing rhythmic gymnast, Sophia also attends the Rhythmic Gymnastics Team Future Camp at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra each year. The camp brings together developing and senior gymnasts to undergo regular skills testing, including flexibility, strength, muscle endurance, power and throwing and catching accuracy, as well as receive coaching from visiting international master coaches to refine their athletic capabilities and learn about and consolidate psychological and mental strategies.  

Sophia, a student at Wesley’s Elsternwick Campus who trains for 16 to 20 hours a week with the Glen Iris Rhythmic Gymnastics Club, said she finds gym training, competition and camp rewarding for lots of reasons.

‘I love going to the gym and improving my skills, and I like being with my gym friends,’ Sophia said. ‘I’ve attended three national championships so far, receiving bronze in the all-around in 2016 and 2017, so 2018 has definitely been my best year.’ While she finds results motivating, it’s performing on the competition floor and the sport itself that Sophia really enjoys. ‘My favourite apparatus is actually ribbon, which wasn’t an apparatus in the pre-junior category this year. Ribbon routines always look so pretty and there are so many elements to perfect.’

It’s no surprise that Sophia’s success is driven by her love for her chosen sport. Research published in 2011 by Garifallia Daroglou on coping skills and self-efficacy as predictors of gymnastic performance, suggests that high-performing gymnasts not only have ability but also high self-efficacy – or self-belief – and confidence, characteristics that Sophia has in spades.

‘I’m not scared to learn and try new things,’ she said. ‘And I know that it’s okay not to be good at everything in the beginning because the more you practise, the better you get.’

Sophie Dew gymnastics

According to Sophia’s mother, Jennifer Dew, the benefits for Sophia extend far beyond the sport. ‘Rhythmic gymnastics has not only enabled Sophia to develop and consolidate things like physical strength, flexibility and coordination, but also life skills,’ Ms Dew said. ‘The pursuit of excellence in her craft requires, but also develops, strong motivation and self-belief, discipline and work ethic, focus and concentration.

‘Sophia’s coaches also teach her about self-regulation, taking personal responsibility for her decisions and actions, which transfers to the decisions she makes in all her endeavours, not just gym. What she’s learned through rhythmic gymnastics feeds back into her gymnastics training, but also things like violin practice, band practice and homework, even if she doesn’t feel like it. She really understands that what she puts in affects what she gets out of an experience.’

Sally Murdoch, Sophia’s Year 6 homeroom teacher at Wesley’s Elsternwick Campus, concurs. ‘I’ve been fortunate to have been Sophia’s teacher in Year 4 and Year 6. Her self-discipline and diligence have always been evident, and she’s always able to balance her cocurricular activities with her schooling, but what impresses me most is her considered approach to her learning,’ Ms Murdoch said. ‘She enjoys being challenged and collaborating with others, and always produces results that reflect her high academic capabilities, but she’s also inclusive and has a terrific sense of humour. She’s earned the respect of her peers and is a wonderful role model. 

‘If I had to choose one word to describe Sophia, I’d say humble: she takes her success in her stride.’
Once the club fees, grocery and physio bills, training and competition gear expenses, and competition, travel and accommodation costs are totalled, is it all worth it? For Ms Dew, the answer is a definite yes. ‘Sophia loves her sport and relishes the growth and development that comes with it, but also recognises that she has other interests and abilities, into which she puts her time and effort.  

‘She and her young team mates understand that even though they may train 16 to 20 hours a week there are no guarantees. During a championship, it only takes one drop of the apparatus to undermine a whole year’s hard work. They learn to take disappointments on the chin and keep going, but they also understand that they are not defined by outcomes alone, and they have the utmost empathy for each other – they celebrate each other’s achievements as much as their own. Rhythmic gymnastics really stretches them, no pun intended. The sport helps them to grow as good people; as athletes, they are extraordinarily mature.

‘As a family, we are very cognisant of not putting all our eggs into the one proverbial basket and actively ensure that Sophia invests time in friendships, the community, music and academic pursuits, as well as time in nature. To aim for the very top would mean sacrificing a significant part of her childhood, and at the expense of whole-life balance. There’s no doubt, however, that she’ll continue to set middle-term rhythmic gymnastics goals and work towards achieving these.

‘For Sophia, one of the benefits to come from her sport is that she understands how important it is to have a Plan B, and even a Plan C. Goal setting is a really useful skill she has developed, and she knows that she has the life skills and attitudes she needs if she is to achieve her goals.’

Not surprisingly, Sophia is well aware of the spin-offs as a result of her sport. ‘Because of the discipline of training and competition, I think I have good time-management skills. When I do anything at training or at school, I make it count. The discipline and independence you need to develop in rhythmic gymnastics helps me when I’m in class and doing my school work.’

Top, Sophia Dew competes in the pre-junior category at the 2018 Australian Gymnastics Championships at Hisense Arena in Melbourne on her way to the gold medal and national championship all-around title; below, Sophia, happy with her medal, but not defined by outcomes alone.

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