Coaches Back walkover fear

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Nov 16, 2012
Wellllll, I think I have read everything about fears and vestibular issues and how to get over them. I think this is the hardest part in coaching gymnastics, trying to stay calm and act like it's not a big deal and it's going to get fixed and it's not the end of the world. It's just so hard to see a gymnast struggle.

When my gymnasts have injuries, health issues etc... I can take those. It's so much easier to accept things like that, things that you cannot change. You just follow the doctors orders and take a deep breath, try to make the gymnasts feel better and tell them that there are gonna be new competitions, camps and other events and time flies by fast. But when it comes to these fear issues... I don't know, it's so hard to see the gymnast struggle when you know they physically could do all the skills they are afraid of and the fear or vestibular issues are holding them back.

I have a soon-to-be 12 year old gymnast who started on team 1,5 years ago. She competed 2 levels in one year, won many first places and is now about to compete the last compulsory level this spring. She's a very serious and competitive gymnast

This is the first level to get serious with backwards tumbling. On the beam she needs to have a back walkover and a back tuck dismount, and on floor she needs to do a RO BHS. She has all her other skills for this level and is rock solid on bars and vault, but this back tumbling is not happening the way she imagined. She can do all of those backwards skills with good form, but is scared of all of them. She can do the RO BHS if she has someone to "stand there" and she was able to do good walkovers on medium beam for a long time (never went to the high beam) but now she has started to balk. At first she just balked once, on very low beam with mats up to the beam level so nothing happened, her hands landed on the beam but then she kind of turned her hips and landed on the mats. After that this has happened a few times again and now she don't put her hands on beam. She says she can't see the beam. She's working on a beam with mats on each sides and she just starts the skill and then just before putting the hands on the beam spreads the hands and puts them on the mats on each side and finishes with feet on the beam. This has been going on for a few weeks. She has cried out of frustration a few times. I have always given her a certain number of attempts and let her use as many mats she needs and if she has used all of her attempts or if she has started to cry I have quickly moved her over to something different and tried not to make it a big deal.

Yesterday I made her try to just stand feet each side of the beam on the mats and fall to the bridge without going over and she couldn't even do that. That made me realize that maybe we need to have a talk on eliminate all of these skills for a few weeks. If she can't even do the easiest progressions, why to make her cry or almost cry over it every time we do beam?

The first competition is coming in 6 weeks and I'm pretty sure that rushing to get this skill on the high beam on this schedule wouldn't be worth it. Should I just tell her that she's not competing the back walkover this spring and we will now focus on the other things? I know she's gonna be devastated to hear that fact because she's so competitive and if she can't compete this skill it super likely that she's gonna have a pretty low AA score.

Another question... There is an option of doing a front walkover instead of the back walkover on beam. This gymnast just happens to not have the FWO even on the floor. She could do it flexibility and strength wise, but cannot get up, just stops in the bridge. Should I try to use the time we usually spend on the BWOs to drill the FWO? She would not get that skill on the beam this spring, but maybe it should make her feel better to know that she's working on the alternative skill?

Sorry for the long post! I just hope to find some encouragement and peer support from other coaches. Coaching gymnastics can be so hard at times :confused:
Have you tried a kickover on beam? I've had a few who wouldn't go for the backwalkover (even with spot) but after doing the kickover for a few months were willing to try...
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We haven't tried that! Maybe I should give it a go. There's a tic toc bridge in her floor routine anyway and we are working on it on floor, I could totally make her work on that on the beam line and eventually on fat beam also, or just the bridge and a kick over.

We had a little chat yesterday and I explained to her that we are now giving her brain two weeks of rest from the back walkovers. She seemed relieved. I explained that she's not competing this skill in the first meets and I also explained that it's going to affect her score a lot. Surprisingly, she was OK with it.

Yesterday she did her back tucks from the beam by herself! That was a big victory and she was beaming! I'm hoping that now that she doesn't have to worry about the BWO anymore she can focus on getting the confidence back with her back tuck and the BHS on floor.

I try to stay calm and let her rest now. I'll let you know how it goes after that.
I think you made the right call to just take a break from the skill completely for a little while- just make sure she keeps going backwards on other events! It might get to the point where she asks to start working it again in time now that the pressure is off. Have her start on a line on the floor and let her be the guide as to when she is ready to move to the next step. If she gets "stuck" at the next step, have her move back to where she feels comfortable.
The alternative skills- bridge kickovers and tick tocks- could be a nice break and a confidence booster as you try to transition back into working the bwo. The other progress, like learning the back tuck dismount, should also be helpful! Once she gets that solidly and is down to needing only 1 skill on beam instead of 2, she might feel a little less overwhelmed.

I wonder if something like this would work for in the future as she starts to work them again? Just to gain confidence in going backwards and having her hands "find" the beam.

I have a girl with some major, very long lasting, fear issues and I can totally understand your frustration. It's so hard to see them fall apart when you know they are physically capable of the skill, if only there were some sort of magic word or something to just fix it!
A little update:

Things are getting worse. We've had two meets now and she has not worked on the beam back walkovers at all for a month. The meets didn't go well either. She was scared to do the RO BHSs and cried because of it during the warm up both times. Se managed to do the skill pretty nicely and safely in her routine when I stood on the floor but yesterday she totally refused to do the skill at practice. We got a new, real spring floor yesterday (YAY!) but she refused to even try with heavy spotting. We tried for a while and then dropped it. She did some spotted standing back handsprings though. She refused to do the RO BHS on the tumble track where she has done it by herself for a long time (with someone standing nearby).

She also had troubles with her BT dismount. She was very scared to try, needed a spot and fell on the landing.

She has also almost lost her squat on jump to high bar. Sigh. She does it with a spot but not without.

There is also this one thing I didn't talk about at first. Her both knees were operated when she was 7 (she hadn't started gymnastics yet). She's started to feel very insecure about her knees. She lands skills differently, kind of uses her own (bad) technique where she barely bends her knees but pikes her hips very much, softening the landing that way. We have tried to fix this for ages but I feel like she doesn't even want to change it because she's so insecure about her knees. I've tried explaining that this technique is much worse for her knees and may cause pain when the knees hyper extend. I've talked about this to her mother and she sees the problem too, but we don't really know what to do. I think that these two things are connected some way (the landing issues and the skill blocks).
The harsh reality is that this situation is not going to get spontaneously better, this is a deep seated fear issue and you are not going to be able to just coach it out of her. There is no magic drill that is going to make it better.

It is not caused by a lack of effort or a lack of willingness to do what is required, so she can't be motivated out of it.

I reccomend you ask the family to consider hypnotherapy. It is related to a negative fear pattern and thought system in her mind, and this needs to be retrained.
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