Defy Gravity:
Using Gymnastics for Youth Development

Ready to see a unique nonprofit philosophy? Programs involving exercise are key to youth development. Children gain self-esteem through positive learning environments. Executive directors can utilize the philosophy of a new nonprofit in their youth program planning.  

Defy Gravity is a new nonprofit dedicated to youth development in Castle Rock, Washington. This nonprofit opened two weeks ago with a focus on bolstering kid's self image. Besides offering exercises for extreme athleticism, Defy Gravity founder Kim Philia wants to use these exercises to help teach self image appreciation skills to children. The new skills are key to increasing their self-esteem. has numerous opportunities for grants in sports and recreation as well as youth development.

Kim Philia is originally from Grand Junction, Colorado where she grew up cheerleading and eventually coaching gymnastics from her gym. However, what started as a business eventually transitioned into a nonprofit in order to place a greater emphasis on youth development. She is currently in the process of applying for her community health license in order to offer more services at her center in Castle Rock such as youth and family counseling. The center emphasizes gymnastics and Parkour and utilizes the skills needed in these activities. Parkour is the activity or sport of moving rapidly through an area, typically in an urban environment, negotiating obstacles by running, jumping, and climbing.

According to,

Sports and physical education is fundamental to the early development of children and youth.  The skills learned during play, physical education and sports contribute to the holistic development of young people. Through participation in sports and physical education, young people learn about the importance of key values such as:

  • honesty, 
  • teamwork, 
  • fair play, 
  • respect for themselves and others, and 
  • adherence to rules.

Furthermore, sports and recreation also provides a forum for young people to learn how to deal with competition and how to cope with both winning and losing. These learning aspects, highlight the impact of physical education and sports on a child’s social and moral development in addition to physical skills and abilities. Kim Philia adds to the benefits of sports by providing a positive environment where youth can be mindful about the fun that they are having.  

Sometimes its just playing on a mat for gymnastics and tumbling, doing yoga, martial arts, or floor exercises

I had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Philia and I asked her about how her method works when it comes to transitioning exercise skills to youth development. She explained that her philosophy is largely based upon Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, the step defined as a "Belonging".

According to Kim Philia, founder of Defy Gravity, when kids are playing sports they are having fun and doing something that they love. Adults play an important part in this because they reinforce the positivity of the kid's world. In a sense, adults serve as a mirror effect of the positivity that the kids are feeling from engaging in gymnastics. The kids believe that they are having fun while playing and developing themselves and adults can mirror their enjoyment. In doing so, they are becoming a mirror of the children's' enthusiasm. This mirror effect helps children feel enjoyment by reinforcing their enthusiasm regarding the fun.

Activities that target the Belonging stage of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, makes it a priority for children to be proud of themselves and understand their progress. Kim aims to build a supportive environment through her gym where she can be that mirror and reinforce the positivity of her students. At her gym, there is an emphasis on making sure that the students are completing the exercises correctly.

Schools and sports organizations could post this Maslows Hierarchy of Needs – NEW Classroom Science Poster.

Friendship, intimacy, affection and love, – comes from work, group, family, friends, and romantic relationships.  After physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, the third level of human needs is interpersonal and involves feelings of belongingness. This need is especially strong in childhood and can override the need for safety as witnessed in children who cling to abusive parents. Deficiencies within this level of Maslow's hierarchy – due to hospitalism, neglect, shunning, ostracism, etc. – can impact the individual's ability to form and maintain emotionally significant relationships in general.

Other theories have also focused on the need to belong as a fundamental psychological motivation. According to Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary, all human beings need a certain minimum quantity of regular, satisfying social interactions

Outside the conscious mind, a type of conformity is behavioral mimicry, otherwise known as the chameleon effect. Behavioral mimicry is when individuals mimic behaviors such as facial expressions, postures, and mannerisms between other individuals. Researchers found that individuals subconsciously conformed to the mannerisms of their partners and friends and liked these partners more who mirrored them. This is important in regard to rapport building and forming new social relationships-we mirror the behaviors we are supposed to, to get to where we want to belong in the group. People are motivated to conform in order to gain social approval, as well as enhance and protect their own self-esteems. However, people who wish to combat conformity and fight that need to belong with the majority group can do so by focusing on their own self-worth or by straying from the attitudes and norms of others. This can establish a sense of uniqueness within an individual. Yet, most individuals keep positive assessments of themselves and still conform to valued groups.

According to Baumeister and Leary, group conformity can be seen as a way to improve one's chances of being accepted by a social group; thus it serves belongingness needs.

Friendship, Intimacy, and Family are examples of conforming to specific groups or behaviors in order to have better relationships with others as well as having self-satisfaction. Interactions within these groups can help reinforce those with good feelings about what they are doing and the satisfaction that they get from specific activities. It goes back to the mirror concept where adults truly have the opportunity to mirror the positivity of children while they are at play to reinforce healthy morals and behaviors.

According to Maslow, humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance among their social groups, regardless whether these groups are large or small. For example, some large social groups may include clubs, co-workers, religious groups, professional organizations, sports teams, and gangs. Some examples of small social connections include family members, intimate partners, mentors, colleagues, and confidants. Humans need to love and be loved – both sexually and non-sexually – by others. Many people become susceptible to loneliness, social anxiety, and clinical depression in the absence of this love or belonging element. This need for belonging may overcome the physiological and security needs, depending on the strength of the peer pressure relationships.

By complementing children on their progress of accomplishing the moves, they intuitively understand when they are performing the moves correctly. The confirmation from Kim at the gym utilizes the mirror effect to ensure that students can feel proud performing the moves correctly. 

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About the Author: Christopher Waldeck is a writer and social media strategist for and a LinkedIn Goodwill Global Ambassador.