Teenage gymnast w/mental block

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bryanfaz
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Teenage gymnast w/mental block

Post by bryanfaz » Tue Jul 24, 2007 4:51 pm

I am new to this forum...and website. But, my teenage daughter has developed a mental block in her gymnastics routines that she has been unable to overcome. Her mother and I are both athletes of some variety...but we at a loss with regards to the particular affliction. Here's a short summary of the problem and related history.

Our daughter is entering 9th grade, is 14 years old, and a level 7 competitive gymnast. She does not have olympic aspirations or anything of that nature. She does compete on a gymnastics team, and enjoys that aspect of it. She also swims. She was a cheerleader in the 4th and 5th grade. But when she was entering the 6th grade, she developed her first mental block...which identical to the one now, manifests itself when she attempts to do back handsprings. We think it first occurred due to a minor fall she had during the summer between her 5th and 6th grades..performing back handsprings. My wife's a physician, but not overly protective (at all). I believe an MRI was performed...but regardless, there were no fractures or any other injury. I honestly feel our daughter believed it was worse than it was. Anyway...

She recovered, then encountered the mental blocks which prevented her from executing the back handsprings ("BHs"). She decided to tryout for a very demanding 7th/8th grade cheerleading squad...which amazingly (considering what was going on in her head) she made the team. But, during the first week of practice, she had the blocks again and couldn't perform the BHs, and the overzealous/demanding coach punished her (made her run laps, separated her from her teammates) which drove her into a downward spiral. She was crying herself to sleep every night, it was unbearable. We don't condone quitting...but that is exactly what we did after 1 week of this.

Since then our daughter moved into gymnastics...and until recently, hasn't had any recurrences of the blocks. Now, inexplicably, they are back and she is rather devastated. Same exact problem...she can't do her BHs. By the way, she is a powerful tumbler...not of the Mary Lou Retton variety...but, these are not legitimate fears. She has no problem clearing her jumps.

Can anyone help!!! Thanks regardless.

Helpless Father!


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Post by Ironman » Wed Jul 25, 2007 6:06 am

This sounds like anxiety. She might have mild panic attacks possibly. When you go to do something like that you have to get yourself psyched up for it. Like when I lift a new personal best or anything real close to my maximum, I just see myself doing it, I get prepared and kind of tell myself it's light, or it's easy, nothing to it and then just see myself attacking it and pulling or pushing with great force and speed like I'm just going to destroy that barbell. Or if you ever see Ronnie Coleman working out in his videos. He'll be standing there looking at an 800 lbs barbell on the floor. Then he just goes "yea buddy!" Gets into position, " light weight! light weight!" Grips it "ain't nuttin but a peanut!" Then deadlifts it. Then when he's done he's like "whew dat wusa heavy bitch!"

So, you have to believe you can do it, and know you can do it before you can actually do it. Your mind can sabotage you and just make it not happen, even if your body could do it. You have to believe it, to do what you are capable of. A lot of that is just getting mentally prepared when you go to do it.

Anxiety can certainly cause a problem with that. Traumatic events can also make it worse. I'm not saying she needs a councilor or anything. But just someone understanding that she would feel comfortable talking to about those incidents and how she feels about that. There are lots of options medication wise as well, if she is having anxiety in other areas of her life. It might be a good idea to talk with her about that and find out how much of a problem anxiety is for her. She may be keeping all that to herself right now because she is embarrassed about it.

Also make sure she doesn't feel to much pressure. Too much pressure can be hard on kids. Plus at 14 with all the changing hormone levels and such, that can make it harder.

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Post by CJ Waid » Wed Jul 25, 2007 6:58 am

Hey,

I'm not a gymnist or anything, but I had a good friend that was on an elite gymnastic team, they did half time shows for the NBA and stuff...

Anyway, I went down to their gym and worked out with them, they taught me to tumble (which I haven't even thought of attempting to do in years), anyway...

They put me in those safety harnesses, the thing with pulleys attatched to the ceiling, and someone holds a rope that comes down to 'spot you' while you do a back handspring.

Anyway, you CAN'T FALL on your head even if you try, unless your spotter wants you to.

We use to do a couple warm up sets of back hand springs using the standard spotting technique, someone actually physically spotting you through the handspring.

BUT, if you could get her practicing on one of those pulley spotting things, even though I'm sure she has no issue executing the back handspring, it might help her think her way through her anxiety about it.

Their is a model of behavioral change that is often discussed when referring to making lifestyle changes, it's called the transtheoretical model, anyway, the whole idea of the model is that there are different stages of readiness, and action that people take mentally, and sometimes they slide backwards, you have to allow her the opportunity to fear back handsprings if you ever want her to conquer them.

She would benefit from great spotting, a spotter she can trust, and a ton of repetitions with a spotter, so she will feel SAFE while she is doing them, once the handspring becomes so mentally ingrained in her she should never fear it again.

But, then again, I'm not a gymnist, not even sure if I am spelling gymnist right.

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Teenage gymnast w/mental block

Post by bryanfaz » Wed Jul 25, 2007 7:49 am

Thanks for both of those suggestions...I feel like a sponge trying to soak all this in. I will continue to monitor the forum...and will provide updates if we have any breakthroughs, one way or the other. Thanks again for your time and thoughts!!!

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BH Block

Post by Onlyethic » Mon Aug 06, 2007 3:01 am

Have you considered that your daughter doesn't want to be a gymnast or a cheerleader? It may be a strange or difficult thing to hear, but it's something you should ask yourself before you keep pushing her.

You said you and your wife and athletes and "don't condone quitting." Why not? You have to quit at something in order to move on to something else. Or sometimes you get yourself into something you never wanted to be in (or someone gets you there for you) and you want out.

I say this as an extremely driven, overly-ambitious person. But my experience -- in sports, career, academics, etc-- is that knowing when to stop is just as important as knowing when to go on.

Consider the fact that your daughter is using the BH to get out of these things. It sounds very unlikely that she can tumble and all the rest but has a "mental block" on doing back handsprings (though it's certainly very possible).

She's in high school, meaning there's a lot of new pressure, thought of college, etc. Maybe she simply doesn't want to be an gymnast or cheerleader right now.

I'd suggest first accepting that she may not want to be in sports, and that it's her decision and her responsibility. Then talk to her about it. Suggest a different activity (like painting, not like horse vaulting) and see how she responds. And if she hesitates about wanting to continue in cheerleading then show her she's free to leave it. She's better off feeling happy and calm without cheerleading, or whatever sport, than anxious and distressed with it.


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Post by Matt Z » Mon Aug 06, 2007 10:16 am

I think Onlyethic makes a good point. Parents shouldn't force their kids into competetive sports or prevent them from trying new things. However, they should strongly encourage their kids to perticipate in SOME type of regular physical activity. I think this is important, not only for young people, but also for adults.

For example, I'll probably never compete in powerlifting or any other strength sport. I honestly don't have much desire to compete. But I still train very hard three days a week. Lifting heavy barbells and dumbbells makes me happy. It gives me a sense of accomplishment, and helps me deal with stress. Plus, I sleep better and I feel better all day long. Perhaps most importantly though, I feel it makes me a more complete and well-rounded person.

My point is, that it doesn't matter if you're a lifter or a runner, or whether or not you compete, or even whether or not you have much talent or ability. What does matter is that you use your body and your mind, not just one or the other (or worse neither).

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Teenage Gymnast w/mental block

Post by bryanfaz » Mon Aug 06, 2007 12:15 pm

Hello again...and thank you once again for your replies. I want to respond to a couple of your comments...and also provide an update to this situation.

First, in my initial depiction of our families problem, I stated that my wife and I don't condone quitting, and we don't. However, I was making that comment in a quasi-apologetic fashion...because, we were in full support of our daughter's decision to quit the cheerleading squad within a week or so of making the team. Furthermore, we've never pushed or pressured her to participate in gymnastics. On the contrary. We are certainly firm in our believe that we want both of our daughters to participate in some athletic endeavor...having made swimming, golf, tennis, basketball, softball nearly a requirement since they were very young (and no, not to excel, but to participate). And, I am thankful to report that the daughter who is the subject of this forum has elected to swim for the high school team this fall.

A more important update is due however. My wife was talking to our daughter last week and discovered that she had convinced herself that she had to get a scholarship in gymnastics for her to go to college. My wife quickly assured her that she was badly mistaken...about needing a scholarship...but not about college being a family requirement. We aren't sure how that thought crept in...especially considering she started late in the sport, and to be perfectly honest, she's not at the "scholarship" level. But, regardless, that's what she thought. Having that misunderstanding reversed, she had a great week at practice and her headaches are gone.

Hopefully, this was a case of self-imposed stress caused by a misunderstanding with her parents. Patience and improved communications are perhaps the lesson learned. And, we've found a very helpful website and group of members. Thanks for all your help!!!

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Post by Ironman » Mon Aug 06, 2007 12:45 pm

Glad it worked out. Just make sure she always has someone to talk to about that sort of thing. That way she isn't affected by excessive worrying.

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Post by Matt Z » Mon Aug 06, 2007 12:50 pm

Of course, I also knew kids growing up who's parents strongly discouraged them (or even forbid them) from playing any sports for fear that sports might prevent them from maintaining a 99% GPA and getting into in Ivy League University. These kids were some of the dumbest "smart kids" I've ever met, with no creativity, and no intests or knowledge outside of what they learned in school. If it wasn't in the curriculum, they didn't know it.

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Post by Matt Z » Mon Aug 06, 2007 12:56 pm

I remember one girl crying hysterically, because she only got a 98% on a test.


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