When Sam was young, she struggled with some fears in gymnastics. It first started when she was a Level 5 and 7 years old. All of the sudden, she stopped doing round off, two back handsprings. She had been doing this skill very successfully for a while, so it came out of the blue. When we asked her what was wrong, she didn’t know, she was just afraid to tumble backwards. In competitions she would do a round off, stop, back handspring, stop, back handspring. This went on for a while and seemed to be getting worse. Although at some meets, she would connect the series – it was very hit or miss. She didn’t know why she was afraid. She hadn’t fallen on the skill or hurt herself, but something was stopping her from connecting the tumbling pass. She was upset and didn’t know what to do or how to fix it!
As parents, we didn’t know how to deal with this either? We tried being loving, supportive, encouraging parents, but that didn’t work. We tried being stern, strict and reasoning with her, but that didn’t work. We even tried bribing Sam at one meet — but of course, that didn’t work either.
At one point I remember talking to my husband about pulling her out of the sport and trying something else. I thought it was too frustrating and stressful for her. I also worried she would never get past her fear issues. We decided to be patient, hang in there for a little while longer, and wait to see what happened. Sam also didn’t want to quit gymnastics. She loved the sport, but was just struggling with this one issue.
So, what did work? I think it was probably a combination of things. We had a coach work with her separately and take her through the beginning progressions of the skill. Basically, she slowly re-learned how to tumble. Also, all of her coaches were very understanding and compassionate and didn’t scream, yell or throw her out of the gym (even though I know they were frustrated with her at times). They knew she was going through a difficult time and helped her get through it.
We also contacted a sports psychologist for help, and she gave Sam some tips and tricks to use as tools when fear was creeping in. We talked a lot about thinking positive and feeding yourself positive language like “I can do this” “I’m strong” “I love beam” and keeping out negative thoughts. And, I believe Sam’s own determination and strong will to succeed enabled her to work through it.
It took a while, but eventually Sam was able to tumble again. And when I say a while, it was around a year or so of struggling! It was not an overnight fix. And her fears were never completely gone. In fact, Sam’s fears followed her to balance beam. She was learning series – back handspring, back handspring and that same awful, backwards tumbling fear came back to her. Fortunately, she now had tools she could use to get through the fears, again!
Sam struggled with doing series on balance beam throughout her gymnastics career. I’m still amazed that she went on to compete elite, do double twisting double backs on floor, flip flop layouts and standing fulls on balance beam and made an Olympic Team. Check out the video below of Sam in the 2008 American Cup — you would never guess she had all of these fear issues when you watch her compete.
During the Beam Queen Bootcamp question and answer session, the staff all share the struggles they endured on beam. I’m always amazed at the gymnasts who say they experienced fear on beam because you would never know it from watching them compete. They are fierce and strong competitors and I’m sure their fear set back made them even more mentally tough!
Your daughter probably thinks she is the ONLY one struggling with fear issues but reassure her that many gymnasts struggle with fear issues and it’s okay. Encourage her not to let fear overcome her, but learn tools to get through her fears.
The reason I share this story is to give you some encouragement that your gymnast CAN get through fears, too. If your daughter has the passion and motivation to succeed, anything is possible. As a parent, my advice is to give her unconditional love and support. Also, you can seek out experts who can help to provide tools that your gymnast can use to work through fears. Communicate with the coaching staff to let them know what is going on. And finally, find a coach or two who can spend a little extra time helping your daughter, and hopefully she will be able to deal with her fears, too!