Quitting Gymnastics

Subject: IT’S TOO HARD

Dear Coach,

I have been coaching a gymnast who up to now has been the most determined girl in her group and was the highest ranked of three in her level from our gym at Nationals.

We are working towards trials for a regional levels competition and of the girls in her level she would be the one most likely to make the team. Having been away for a few weeks she attended one practice and has suddenly refused to come back to gym. Her parents are distressed as her behavior is totally out of character. There has been no “issue” in the gym or with other girls. She is simply saying it is “too hard”. I would appreciate any advice on how to handle this.

Gymnastics IS too hard

First of all, don’t discount her point of view. From a certain perspective, working out 6 days a week, 12 months a year for years and years just to make Regionals or Nationals, especially if there does not seem to be much chance of winning at those levels is not worth it. Certainly, this problem will likely be impossible to deals with if you do not recognize the validity of her position (whatever that may be).

What Happened While She Was Tripping?

If you are convinced that nothing in the gym is the cause of the problem, investigate what happened on her trip (time away from the gym). To do this you may want to:

  • Sit down with the girl by herself
  • Sit down with girl and her parents

Reinvestigate “No Issue” in the Gym or With Other Girls

Let’s face it, it is not uncommon for girls in the gym and without to form cliques that exclude or belittle other girls. Girls are often fairly expert at disguising their actions in these kinds of situations. It would not be uncommon either for the girl herself to be reticent to talk about what really happened with other girls on the team and how that is bothering her. I would make carefully check again and make sure there is really nothing going on. To do that you may want to:

  • Sit down with girls in the gym
  • Sit down with the girl by herself
  • Sit down with girl and her parents

Fear May Be Rearing Its Ugly Head

At some point and at some age, gymnasts lose that feeling of invulnerability that they had at a younger age. They find out that they are mortal and may be injured making the sport now seem too hard. This can happen if they have or see an injury (small or large) or even if they just mature and come to the realization of their vulnerability. Sit down with her and go through each skill she is doing and working on and see if there is any indication of fear problems and then you will have some idea of what you are dealing with.

The Other Side of the Fence

Even a short break from the sport can give gymnasts a new view of “normal” life – what their life would be without long daily practices. Personal contacts that they may have made during the break can give them a different perspective on their own life and what the life of others their age is like. At some points in a gymnast’s life, the other life can seem very attractive.

Burn Out

It is a fact of gymnastics life that gymnasts can burn out or coaches can burn them out. Especially if you run a program wholly or primarily based on repetition, at some point gymnasts have had enough of the same old mind-numbing routine. Many coaches don’t learn their lesson (to vary workouts) until they have personally burned out some number of talented gymnasts.

Been There, Done That

The fact that she has been to Nationals could have been enough to meet her goals in the sport especially if she saw the handwriting on the wall that she likely will never be at the top (win Nationals). Without further realistic goals, her drive to continue the sport may have diminished to the point she is ready to quit and go on to something else. This can be difficult to counteract but one strategy would be to emphasize the general benefits of the sport as they apply to her – fitness, friendships, competition successes, college scholarships, etc..

How Old?

You didn’t mention how old she was, but don’t kid yourself. There is a tremendous turnover in teen gymnasts at every level of the sport. This varies from country to country and from time to time, but we have seen times where every member of the National Team quit the sport in the same year. The teenage years are radically different from being a young pre-puberty gymnast and it is more common than not for teenagers to quit the sport.

Boys

We have a saying here in the States that the first time a gymnast’s boyfriend gets a car, you have seen her in the gym for the last time. A boy she met during her time away from the gym or at school could be the real reason she is not willing to continue spending all her time in the gym. She may need advice on balancing friendships and relationships and her gymnastics and be made aware of the attraction many boys have to girls who are in great shape and are accomplished athletes.

Peer Pressure

Very few of a gymnast’s friends have any real concept of what a gymnast’s life is like and how much is demanded of them. Peer pressure from friends to participate in the day-to-day social life that non-gymnasts enjoy can be intense. We like to consistently allow gymnasts’ friends to come to open gym and special team parties, so they can see what their friends can really do and how great they are at the sport to counter this kind of problem.

Offer Reduced Practice

Consider an offer of reduced practice and time commitment while you are trying to reinvigorate and re-motivate her. You want her in the gym at least enough so she doesn’t lose her conditioning. Sure you want her to maintain her training for Regionals, but you may have to take what you can get and something may be better than nothing.

Professional Help

Many coaches may not have the time or psychology/counseling background and experience to be able deal with this kind of situation or your efforts may not get the effect you and her parents desire. You and her parents should consider using a professional to determine the cause of the problem and to help resolve the situation to her benefit.

Good Luck!

We wish your gymnast, you and her parents good luck in finding out what is really going on and what is best for this particular

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