My young daughter’s timid personality seems to clash with the demands of gymnastics. She seems more afraid of skills than her teammates and struggles communicating with others. This is not just at gym, but school, church, and other activities as well.
She loves doing gymnastics overall, and has advanced quickly, but tears are sometimes part of the experience. How can I make sure gymnastics is not requiring too much of my daughter?
Addressing the emotional state of athletes is important! I commend you for wanting to do what is best for your daughter.
Let’s GAB about the benefits of athletics and when it can be too much . . .
Sometimes the best remedy is time! I have seen many talented young gymnasts struggle. Their bodies are capable of abnormal advancement, but their maturing brains are not ready for lighting speed skill acquisition! Their confidence is anything but established.
Slowing down, lowering an expectation, or changing groups is helpful. Think of gymnastics more as a marathon, and not as a sprint.
Gymnastics promotes growth.
It is always hard to see our children struggle, but it is extremely rewarding to see them gain confidence as they overcome a challenge. Gymnastics provides little opportunities for growth everyday.
Six years ago, I started coaching a sweet, painfully shy gymnast. Talking to people made her nervous. Performing at meets seemed unbearable. But she loved gymnastics, so she stuck with it. She took baby steps. Today she continues to compete in gymnastics and performs the most beautifully confident floor routine.
Gymnastics gave her a reason to get outside of her comfort zone. It gave her a reason to accept challenges. It gave her little everyday successes that allowed her to feel capable.
Tears can be confusing . . . they can be a sign of fear, anxiety, or fatigue. Unfortunately, most children can’t verbally communicate why they are struggling. This makes it hard to evaluate if your child is benefiting from gymnastics or if it is time to find a different activity.
If you notice tears or tummy aches always happen on the same event or right before a certain skill . . . fear is probably the perpetrator.
A private lesson is helpful when dealing with fear. This allows coaches to instruct at a pace comfortable for the gymnast. Private lessons also provide a safe environment for communication and relationship-building between the coach and gymnast.
If there are too many skills to address in a private lesson, the gymnast may have a more positive experience in a lower level.
An inappropriate fear is when the child is afraid of her coach. Address this concern with the coach & program director. Do not be afraid to make a change if this fear is not resolved.
If your child struggles with separation anxiety, tears at the beginning of class may be normal.
Note your child’s mood at the end of class. If she leaves happy and excited, gymnastics is still a positive experience.
Things that can help with transition from your arms to class include arriving early, keeping a routine, watching class or clearly explaining when you will return (when she is on bars or before it is time to get stamps). Talk to your child’s instructor and work together.
If your gymnast is excited to go to gymnastics, but comes home cranky, exhausted, or has tears towards the end of class . . . the length of gym may be an issue.
First, make sure your gymnast is getting adequate sleep. Check out Age-Appropriate Bedtimes by Sleep Sisters.
Second, make sure your child has a healthy snack BEFORE class to sustain her energy. If class is longer than two hours, many coaches allow for a snack break in the middle of class. Pack something healthy that will help with energy levels.
Third, talk to the child’s coach and see if you can slowly adapt your gymnast into the longer practice time. Cut back workout time. Encourage your gymnast to stay ten minutes longer every week, until they are happily managing all of class. Your coach may also recommend a less strenuous group that comes fewer hours.
If addressing the above symptoms do not renew your child’s love for the sport . . . it may not be the right sport.
I love the benefits gymnastics offers children of all ages and abilities. But if your child has had enough (i.e. begging to do another sport, no longer flipping around at home, or cries before, during, and after workout) it’s time to help them find a new program or activity.