Gymnastics/Guidance for my Level 7 daughter
Hi, Rik. My 13 year-old daughter is a level 7 gymnast for a second season. She spent the entire summer with the level 8 team, easily learning the suk and doing amazing giants on bars. The gym's owner (he has taken a couple of his males to the Olympics) had his eye on her, saying her bars and suk would be needed for the level 8 competition season. Her floor is beautiful, with incredible tumbling and leaps. She's always had a fear on beam, however--freezing before back walkovers and back handsprings. The beam was the one event which the coaches ultimately felt she could not get past mentally, and therefore kept her at level 7 for a second season. When this decision was made, my daughter was relieved in some ways (the pressure was off to perform on beam); however, she was disappointed, because her hard-work on vault to achieve her suk was gone and now she was performing the same vault as usual. Her teammates which had been with her for years were almost all level 8s, and she was with a new group of girls. A couple of the girls went to level 7 with her, but her "besties" were on the other team. Since the summer, her skills have been declining. Her giants are becoming a distant memory. She isn't going for them anymore--freezing and unable to do them. Sometimes she won't even vault, stopping short at the springboard. Beam is very basic for her. Back handsprings on low beam, and on high with a spot. Her floor seems to be the only event on which she has maintained her skills. She trains 5 days/week, and 4 out of 5 days I pick her up from practice and she is sobbing from grief and frustration that her body won't do what it's been doing since she was 4 years old. The coaches are incredibly kind and loving to her and see what an incredible talent and athlete she is, but are at a loss now regarding how to coach her out of the mental and physical freezing which is now standard at every practice for her. Her coach spoke with her father and me today saying that at most practices now, she is doing a lot of standing around. Getting on the beam then off. Standing at the chalk bowl. The coach also noticed that she hasn't been having any fun since last competition season. She seems stressed, sad, and unhappy most of the time during and after practice. The coach suggested that she may need to take some time off and give her body and mind a break. I am unsure what is the best choice for her: she is ridiculously strong and disciplined. She had an incredible summer. Talks about how much she loves gymnastics and how she feels empty without it (on days where she is sick and has to miss practice). I am an athlete myself, and I recognize her incredible abilities and strengths. She has gotten quite tall for a gymnast--she is 5 foot 4 1/2 inches tall. But is three times as strong as the other girls, which has helped her up until recently with the potential issue of moving so much mass through space and having a higher center of gravity. Does it sound like she has perhaps reached the end of gymnastics and it is, indeed, time to say goodbye? She does not want to let it go, but I also know that it has been her entire life for so many years that she may not know how to "live" without it. I've had a sports psychologist work with her, giving her mental conditioning exercises to help with her over-thinking brain. This has not worked at all. In fact, things have gotten worse since then. It's been sad to watch, because as the coach said, she is one of the strongest most talented girls amongst the level 7s and 8s, and we are all watching her come undone. It's like she is drowning. Thank you sincerely for reading this, and for any insights/advice/help you have to offer. It is truly appreciated!
I wish I could claim to have insights and or advice about this problem but that would place me in a class of arrogance far above mere mortals.
I can offer a few thoughts, ideas, and suggestions.
You made note of the fact that she is quite tall for a gymnast. Has she had a recent growth spurt over the past twelve months? As you noted her center of gravity will change, so will the angle of insertion for muscle tendons making her strength more of an issue. A biopsy could prove her muscle tissue as strong as or stronger than a shorter gymnast but the leverage is not the same. She may need to increase conditioning to an even higher level than before.
As she has grown mentally she may also have a higher appreciation for the consequences of a fall - hence the balking from time to time. I have always thought that when a gymnast balks she is demonstrating an unconscious awareness that she is not prepared for a skill physically, emotionally, or technically. She may need to re-train for her new physical size and a different level of mental preparation.
This next thought may be tough to swallow. In my hallucination, we repeat behaviors that are rewarded. What reward does she get by not going for the skill? What reward does she get by being upset at the end of workouts? I don't believe a gymnast of her level would do something consciously to sabotage a workout, but perhaps there is an underlying need that is being met through her current behavior.
Please note I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist. These are my thoughts and hallucinations from several years of coaching.
I would hate to see someone who has put so much time and effort into the sport leave it on a negative note. Personally as a gymnast, I chose to specialize on floor, high bar, and vault. The stress of pommel horse, rings, and parallel bars was more than I chose to handle. The great thing about college gymnastics teams is you can be a specialist. She may be able to enter AAU meets as a specialist or continue in the USA Gymnastics system as an all around gymnast but present only at beam during the meet and receive a zero score. She could still medal on the other events, just not the all around. It would also preclude her from championship meets because she would not likely be able to acquire the qualifying scores needed.
However, allowing her to succeed in this limited fashion may allow her to rebuild her confidence and competence on the beam in a time frame that is comfortable for her.
Sabrina, there is no "right" answer. There is only the answer that is right for your daughter. Experiment with different workout and competition scenarios. Create whatever levels of "incremental success" you can to bring back the enjoyment of the sport. When she looks forward to going into the gym each day and can start relating to you her accomplishments, you will know she is back in the sport in both head and heart.
I hope I gave you one or two suggestions that might help.