Daughter Wants to Quit Gymnastics

Hello. I am happy that I found your homepage regarding gymnastics. I really need some advice without too much personal feelings attached to my gymnast daughter and me (like other parents of gymnasts, soccer moms and relatives…etc.).

My 9 year old daughter has been doing gymnastics for approx. 4 years. She was doing Team Gymn for 2 years and about 10 months ago, she switched to artistic gymnastics (level 4). She has not been in any competitions yet and misses gymnastics meets, however, we thought she has been adjusting to artistic gymnastic well. As far as I know, she loves to go to her practices (3 days a week, 11 hours total per week) and is getting along with her peers. Time to time, she had complained about her coaches being too strict and yelling at her but they have good relationship. We had discussed with my daughter that the coaches being strict and sometimes even yells because it is the nature of this sports, which requires disciplines and commitment to safety. Last night, we ran into one of her former gymnastic friends, who quit gymnastics about a year ago, at a soccer try out. I don’t think her friend and she talked anything about gymnastics, but all of a sudden on the way home, she told us that she wants to quit gymnastics. She said that she is always very tired in the morning after her practices (practices typically end at 9pm) and she does not like her coaches very much. I feel that she will regret if she quit now without even being to a competition, however, I would like to support her decision if she want to quit for right reasons. My daughter also plays soccer twice a week and occasionally we had conflicts with her gymnastics practices however she normally made up the practices. I would like her to continue both sports as long as she desires to or at least for another year or so since she loves both sports so much. Is this too much for her to participate in both sports time wise and workout load wise? If you could guide me how I can approach to her with this issue, I really appreciate it.

I have just finished with a coaches’ training session much of which was dedicated to the science behind positive coaching methods. There is this perception that in gymnastics and other sports that successful coaching (which I define as both winning at the highest levels of the sport and simultaneously developing the gymnast into the best person they can be) cannot succeed without harsh coaching methods. It is my firm belief and personal experience that positive coaching methods work better and work on a larger percentage of gymnasts than does negative coaching.

One of the problems is that some of the most visible successful coaches in the sport yell and scream at their gymnasts. And there have been some gymnasts who have succeeded in the sport in this environment. I contend they succeeded in spite of the type of coaching they received, primarily because they were predisposed to be able to shrug off that type of coaching behavior without being too negatively influenced by it, like most other gymnasts would be. Coaches who have never coached a high level Elite athlete (and likely may never do so) see this coaching method and equate the coaching success with the harshness instead of the systematic training approach that is the real reason for success. They adopt the harsh tactics without the systematic coaching and that is all that the gymnast receives.

My feeling is that your daughter is being fairly logical and that the real problem is maybe not hers. I find that 9 year olds can adapt to a schedule that finishes at 9:00 p.m. if they are motivated and have had time to adapt to the new schedule. So I think her real reason lies more with her second reason and perhaps hearing about or thinking about what her life would be like without gymnastics. If she doesn’t like her coaches, then I think that is the problem.

I am thinking that you need to talk to them and ask them why they think your daughter wants to quit and see what they have to say. I have no problem with them being “strict” but I do have trouble with the concept of adults yelling at nine-year-olds. If gymnastics is a sport of discipline, it seems to me that the coaches should be displaying self-discipline as role models. I am not advocating a weak approach to coaching of the sport. My workouts are just as intense or more intense than any I have seen. But the intensity is directed toward building up the gymnast to be successful. I am not really going to go into here all of the aspects of positive coaching. I just did a three hour clinic on that, but I am telling you that you and your daughter have a right to “good” coaching.

I would suggest a talk with your daughter’s coaches. I see no problem with her doing two sports since the schedules don’t conflict much. It is true that your daughter may be approaching an age where specialization may be an advantage, but the truth is that Level 4 is not really designed to produce a high level athletes, but to widen participation in the sport. “Real” optional gymnastics does not even begin until level 7 unless coaches are teaching more than the compulsory Level 4 – 6 skills. In this sense, her “real” gymnastics career has not even yet begun and she is unhappy with her treatment.

I cannot judge a program or coaches I have not seen and know even less about. I can tell you that when I do evaluate any gymnastics program, I look to see if they are currently producing high level (Level 10 and Elite) gymnasts right now. Currently only a very small minority of gyms are producing Elite gymnasts (not counting gyms that just currently say they are going to be producing Elite gymnasts).

I look to see if the gymnasts are progressing through the sport satisfactorily and are learning new skills. And I look to see if the gymnasts are happy with their experience and if it looks like this is contributing to making them better people and preparing them for a happy and successful gymnastics career and life. That process is one and the same. If not, I do not usually blame the gymnast but first question the program or the coaching.

Don’t get me wrong. I love this sport and I want to see more and more gymnasts enjoy and succeed in it, but it does not look to me like that at her low level, basically she just started in the sport, that she would likely regret quitting if nothing else changes. I actually have the opposite reaction most of the time when asked about this with gymnasts who have been in the sport for years and then quit. I usually say that all such gymnasts come back and tell me how much they regret not staying in the sport. And I usually see this as something gymnasts may regret for their entire lives having quit at something they were good at before finding out how high a level they could really have achieved. But your daughter does not yet have much invested, she doesn’t yet have any success in the sport except being placed on the team. And I doubt that later in her life this would feel like a major loss, when she is young enough to have many and anything to replace the sport with.

One of the problems with gymnastics coaches and I have no way of knowing if this is one of the problems or not, but is that while coaches may have goals they are working their team and gymnasts for, they have not bothered to tell the gymnasts about them. To the gymnasts it just looks like they are coming into the gym to do a sport they just like because it is fun and they like to learn. And here are these people who are telling them what to do, yelling at them, making them feel bad or bad about themselves and they don’t have the faintest reason why. Maybe someone should explain this to them?

If it were me, I would be looking to her coaches for assurance that they would be working harder and more successfully at keeping my daughter happy, learning new skills and what their thoughts were about her future in the sport and how that could be transmitted to your daughter.

Please understand that without seeing your daughter and her exact situation that this is just very general advice or actually just one expert opinion out of many. I hope that this helps you and your daughter. I hope it helps her to come to enjoy the sport and become successful in gymnastics and life.

I wish you both luck and if there is anything else I can do for you, please let me know.

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