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How dangerous would it have to be for you to pull your child out of gymnastics?

This question was prompted by another (rare) catastrophic injury, which was mentioned in another part of this forum. Wang Yan was apparently paralyzed in a fall from the uneven bars last week. Here's an interesting snippet from a news account:

China warns new rules will lead to more injuries for gymnasts

China's top gymnastics official has warned that rules removing difficulty limits on routines could lead to more serious accidents, after a Chinese athlete broke her neck during a dismount.

Wang Yan, 15, fell on her head on Sunday during a botched dismount from the uneven parallel bars at the national championships where gymnasts were being urged to try tough new routines in preparation for the Beijing Olympics.

Gao Jian, director of the China Gymnastics Administrative Centre, said the the rules from the sport's world governing body would inevitably lead to similar accidents, the China Daily newspaper reported Friday. "The rule to allow non-limited difficulty will lead to an increasing number of injuries and also there will be fewer children taking part in the sport," Gao was quoted as saying.

I thought that last part was interesting: "...[T]here will be fewer children taking part in the sport." How bad would it have to be for you to consider pulling your child out of the sport?

It's hard to imagine the parents of the myriad six year-old, uniquely-talented future Olympians really appreciating just how dangerous the sport might be by the time difficulty has increased over yet another another decade--it all looks so beautiful on television....

I know from personal experience that it's easy to rationalize that a sport you enjoy isn't dangerous. When my wife and I were caught in Yosemite by an afternoon thunderstorm that could have killed us (the crack system we were climbing became a brutally-cold waterfall as the hail turned to a downpour), it was because I was climbing slowly that day; I'd had to remove the ankle brace that I'd been wearing while recovering from surgery to repair the joint that I'd broken in a climbing fall--for the second time. After twenty-five years of climbing and seven years of driving my kid to a gym, I've come to believe that gymnastics can be as dangerous as rock climbing--perhaps more dangerous than the gymnastic steep climbing ("sport climbing") that's kept me largely injury free for the past fifteen years. If we disagree, perhaps it's because at least one of us is unwilling to accept a few pertinent facts.

We've all seen some near misses. In the last few months, I've cringed at several: My nine year-old managed to turn a back giant into a one-arm giant a few months ago before she bailed awkwardly from high above the bar; she whacked the bar before she hit the floor, but she escaped injury that time--although it's true that she had just returned from a four-month hiatus due to breaking her hand in a beam fall. Her teammate was unscathed by a frightening fall from the bars that looked bad enough that the meet physician wouldn't wouldn't let her continue. I watched a girl land on her neck in a recent regional meet in a manner that could have left her like Wang Yan, but she climbed back on the beam and repeated the dismount. Sometimes, of course, it's not a near miss. A sizeable fraction of the women's NCAA gymnasts suffered season-ending injuries this year. Sometimes it's really bad--that's why the vault table was changed.

I believe that I understood and accepted the risk when I took up climbing as an adult. It's different with my daughter: I'm making the decisions, but she's the one who is accepting (but likely not really understanding) the risk. Today's tiny gymnasts might grow up to attempt something that now seems obviously and unreasonably dangerous (like Korbut's long-ago back tuck that seemed almost unimaginably dangerous; what will they be doing on the beam in ten years--double backs?).

So here are my questions: Do you ever worry that your daughter might be the one to get hurt? What will it take to make you draw the line? How dangerous must the skills become, or how many gymnasts must be hurt before "there will be fewer children taking part in the sport"?
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If we disagree, perhaps it's because at least one of us is unwilling to accept the facts.

It's awfully early in the discussion here to raise the stakes that high...


What do you recommend to the parents of an enthusiastic gymnast?

Which sports today pass muster?

Your daughter is in the sport...will she continue as is, have limits placed, or stop?
Suppose I'm competing in an olympic-level competition. Suppose my hotel room (or wherever I'm staying) is a half hour drive from the location of the competition. So I drive half an hour to the competition, compete, then drive half an hour back.

Statistically, I'm more likely to suffer a catastrophic injury in the one hour spent driving than at the competition.

Stuff happens. It happens in every sport. It happens in all aspects of life. Forgive me for going philosophical on this, but what is life if not a series of calculated risks?

Yes, your kids could die doing gymnastics. They could also die at school. They could die in the car on the way to either place. And everybody knows these things. Yet kids still go to school, people still drive cars, and people still do gymnastics.
My thoughts exactly GT- if we live in fear and shelter our children from things we love because we think it is too dangerous how guilty will we feel when there is an accident that takes them from us before they could enjoy life. As parents and coaches it is our job to give them the opportunity to experience life and take precautions to decrease the risk. In the case of gymnastics if you are comfortable with the gym and feel the coaches have your child's safety foremost in their minds then you have done your job. We have to remember accidents happen everyday and although we may never know why there is a reason!
Wow...I have two gymnasts my dd who is 7 and my ds who is 5. They also do karate. My dd also cheers. At any of these activities she could get hurt. They both could. But I agree with letting thwm do it if they love it and also if there are safety measures in place. My dh and I are volunteer firefighters. I would let either child join the department when they turn 16. You can't protect them from everything.
Mac, I tried to use my climbing story to indicate that I, at least, might have a bit of trouble acknowledging the true dangers of a sport; I do think that others may have a similar problem.

I think that the real difference between my climbing experience and my peripheral experience with gymnastics is this: I didn't start climbing until I was in grad school, when I presumably could understand risk and choose to accept it; on the other hand, I've often chosen to expose my child to risks that she was and is quite unable to evaluate, whether it was throwing her in the car or introducing her to gymnastics.

I didn't intend to suggest that we should protect kids from everything. My kid did her first multi-pitch climb at age three and a half. As I rappeled back down with her clipped to my harness, I thought she was safer than she would have been at home in bed--she has, after all, fallen out of bed--but I understood the risks.

But I was interested in that quote from the Chinese coach. So far, it seems that no one here would agree with him. I think that, too, is very interesting.

Mac asked what I've chosen to do: "Your daughter is in the sport...will she continue as is, have limits placed, or stop?"

I'm having some trouble with that--and she's not even a teenager yet. If she continues on her current path, it's possible that my daughter could max out at Level 9 and then find some other interest, or perhaps spend two or more years at Level 9 and (if she avoids a serious setback or severe boredom) reach Level 10 in eighth or ninth grade; she might choose to compete for several more years, but she'll likely leave the sport before she finishes high school. My ignorance would prevent me from designing any reasonable limits, although her coaches might help. So, how would I stop her?

Here's what I have done. When we relocated, I was able to choose among several well-respected gyms within reasonable driving distance. I moved my daughter to a gym where the coaches prioritize safety; her two coaches both have masters degrees in coaching (one of them studied gymnasts for his Ph.D. in exercise science) and their knowledge of anatomy and injury prevention is far superior to that of my daughter's previous coaches. My kid now trains fewer hours, but she's much better conditioned--I think that combination should reduce the probability of injury. And I've mentioned now and again how much I enjoyed diving in high school....

I think that Gao Jian is on to something.
Regarding the new scoring system, really like it. I like that it encourages people to push themselves and push the sport forward. Because there is no upper level of difficulty, there's always something more that you not only can do, but that it's worth pursuing.

SOme people say gymnastics is about the pursuit of perfection. I disagree. I think it's about the perpetual pursuit of the next challenge, and the next one, and the next one, and the next one. Nobody will ever conquer all the challenges that this sport has to offer, because the sport never runs out of challenges to offer. I think the new scoring system reflects that ideal far better than the old one.
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So far, it seems that no one here would agree with him.

That's a tough premise from which to start a discussion, if that's the intent.

Just because no one can match the passion or persistence with which you focus on injuries in this sport doesn't mean we aren't equally concerned about the topic and all the factors that affect the health and well-being of our children.
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Hard decisions!

These posts are always so interesting. This subject, however, terrifies me...number one, because my little brother (now 33 years old) is a quadriplegic, since March of 1997. He was out with friends shooting pool in tournaments and drinking all day....he did as he should and handed the keys to a friend who had not had a drink in several hours. Roger was sitting in the back seat of his OWN car and ended up, in a freak accident, with a C5/6 fracture that left him in a wheelchair probably for life (unless people will shut their mouths and let them get on with stemcell research, but that's another post).

Anyway, my 6 year old started dancing when she was 3. She has danced competitively in ballet/tap, acro, cheer and on the production team. Last year she decided she liked the acro part best and we set out to find a gym. I believe in my heart that Mackenzie would whither up and die if I made her quite gymnastics (that, of course, an exaggeration)! The child spent her first day at gymnastics camp yesterday which included 6 hours of instructional gymn by coaches that didn't even know her. At this point, level 3, she is only a 5 hour a week gymnast. So she got as much in one day as she usually does a week. I CARRIED her flopped over my shoulder asleep from the carpool to my car at 5:30 yesterday evening and she was awake and flippin' again by 6 PM. AND, she's good at it.

My point being that I totally agree with what was said earlier, doing everything you can to protect them, you can't protect them all the time. There are kids that have been killed by baseballs, falling down and hitting their head, taking a drink, for goodness sake.

I will never PUSH Mackenzie to "go to the olympics", but as long as she wants it, she has my support, just like she would if it were soccer, baseball, singing, dancing, or anything else!!

Keep the good conversations coming!! I LOVE this site!

You all have valid points and I've enjoyed reading the discussion. It's a scary thought that one day you might see your little one get seriously injured in gymnastics. I for one have that thought in the back of my head when I'm at my dd's gym and see the older girls flipping around all over the place and doing crazy skills on bars/beam/etc. However, I'll never pull my dd out of gymnastics because of it. I agree that injuries happen no matter where you are. It's a fact of life. I just pray that my dd will be safe.
I remember when I was a kid swinging and flipping off of clothes lines and off the school playground bars... we used to do those cherry drops where you sit on the bar slide down, no hands and flip backward... gee I wish I could have gone to a gym where I could have learned my tricks in a safer environment :D at 7, I definately knew I could hurt myself, but it was fun and telling me how dangerous it was did not stop me or my sis...

here is yet another story of disaster, except this time it is volleyball and it was just a friendly game... does this mean we should put limits on volleyball as well? maybe we should just stop enjoying sports all together:rolleyes:
maybe we should just stop enjoying sports all together

Of course neither extreme has to be the only answer, and recognizing the dangers inherent in this (or any particular) sport doesn't mean avoiding all sports either. The thing is, I don't know what rbw is recommending. He has a child at a high level in the sport. So is that much ok, but no more? Or is Level 10 ok, but no more? What would suffice?

Or is the obsession with the dangerous side of the sport and injuries just a way to deal with the nervousness of watching his daughter. I don't know. He talks of "cringing" at a bail off bars and "frightening" falls, language that may or may not betray a mindset. I'm still looking for a suggestion to come out of this, as in, "It's dangerous, therefore you should ______."

Anyone who sticks around the sport for several years will see falls. Beams will be split, bars will be whacked, kids will bail or peel off every apparatus. The higher the level, the more breath-taking (is that the right word?) the range of falls. What to do? Cringing is one reaction. Not cringing is another. Or we can wait to react till we see the outcome. Is the child hurt? Do they get up and try again? Do they cry or smile? To some extent the kid's reaction will reflect our own. When this happens with my own, I try to not have a reaction till she expresses hers, so that she doesn't feed off my fears, but discovers her own feelings.

An interesting result of her time in the sport is learning how to handle falls in the rest of life. I've seen where she'll slip on ice or getting out of the vehicle, and darn if she doesn't react exactly as taught at the gym, which means rolling out of it instead of sticking the hand out and breaking a wrist or separating a shoulder. And then she jumps up and raises her arms for a perfect finish. "I'm OK!" :)

Obsessing on the dangers and ignoring the dangers seem equally amiss. Deciding on what level of involvement in the sport is comfortable for the family, and making sure the environment is supportive of that--in safety, in coaching style, in level of competitiveness--is the best I can think to recommend. That, and recognizing that one size doesn't fit all, i.e., every family has to find their own level of comfort.
I admit, I am very fearful when it comes to my dd's gymnastics. I don't think it is the same as getting into the car (although statistically you are at more risk driving.) I believe it is because I am in control. I know when my daughter is out there, I am not in control. If she was a little older it would probably be different. My problem has always been, "okay I know physically she is capable, but in the 4th hour doing backlayouts on the beam is she able to be in control of herself? I don't know if you really feel this unless you are a parent. She says now, at 10 years old that she knows what she is doing and is fearless...I suppose I should trust that. Taking her out because of my fear is out of the question.
Heres a link to the news article that I mentioned in my original post:

I just noticed that it includes this statement from the Chinese coach regarding the increasing emphasis on difficulty: "Actually there are many countries including Russia and USA that are against the rule."

I wonder what that's about?
I just noticed that it includes this statement from the Chinese coach regarding the increasing emphasis on difficulty: "Actually there are many countries including Russia and USA that are against the rule."

I hate it when people make statements like this (I'm referring to the Chinese coach, not to rbw.)

The USA does not object to this. Some coaches in it do. I personally think the new rules are great.
Yeah, that seemed odd.

Australian coach Peggy Liddick had a measured response to Goa's statement. "...[G]ymnasts got injured on the old code of points, so I'm not saying the rules will cause more injuries," Liddick said. "All I'm saying is there will be more gymnasts who will be taking more risks because there will be some reward for it now." She indicated that the new code won't put her athletes at risk, because she won't allow them to attempt skills beyond their limits.
just an observation

I can't help but notice that the majority of injuries I hear about - not catastrophic injuries, only what appears to be dubbed as typical gym injuries - seem to happen more to girls that push faster through the USAG levels... we seem to have quite a few 10 yr old level 8's here on our site and every one of them has gone through PT for something or another or suffered from some overuse injuries. Also, it seems like the 12 - 15 yr old girls I have seen or heard about - when they start later - have had pain or overuse issues in a shorter time span then girls that began training younger. We have one girl in our gym that started when she was 14 and has been having back pain for 4 of her last 12 months of training. Now we also have an 11 yr old and 12 yr old training for level 10 (they both started when they were very little) and neither has had a single injury. My dd has not yet had any problems, with only 1 exception when her hours changed her leg muscles were a little sore, but not even enough to complain about. I wish I could find the magic method that would keep every one of our girls/boys safe from any pain whatsoever, but it just seems that every child is completely different and is effected by gymnastics in different ways.
The epidemiological studies of gymnastics injuries have involved different populations and different definitions of injury, so it’s been difficult for various authors to draw more than the broadest conclusions. Perhaps what you’re seeing in your small sample isn’t surprising.

It may be that susceptibility to injury comes down to factors such as luck, age, training intensity, and training duration. As you suggest, some kids may just be unusually robust and perfectly suited to the sport. However, it’s hard to tell if those little Level 10s are bullet proof, or if they just haven’t been at it long enough or trained through vulnerable periods. (For example, although perhaps all of the amazing University of Georgia Gym Dogs were once invulnerable little prodigies, a note from the team web site following their national championship season suggested that bullet-proof status lasts for only so long: “Unfortunately, our injury problems continue as many of our gymnasts are having surgery this month. On May 9th, Paige Burns will have surgery on her ankle. Tiffany Tolnay will have surgery on her knee and ankle and Nikki Childs will have surgery on her deviated septum. A week later, Megan will have surgery on her elbow, and on May 24, Kelsey will have her ACL repaired. Marcia is having trouble with the rod in her leg and may have to have that redone and Katie has a herniated disc in her back which is a huge concern.â€￾ I think another 4 or 5 of their teammates have also had surgery for serious gymnastics-related injuries like ACL or Achilles tendon tears.)

Perhaps your observation that typical gym injuries “seem to happen more to girls that push faster through the USAG levelsâ€￾ may be related to three factors: in addition to training difficult skills, such girls tend to train longer hours (which often increase with the training level), and many of them train those long and intense hours during their adolescent growth spurt, when kids are susceptible to overuse injuries like growth plate problems.
There seem to be two different types of injuries being discussed here. The sort of catastrophic injury that results from a fall and overuse injuries that occur as a result of the repetitive pounding of gymnastics - particularly at the higher level. To some extent, I think the point is valid that you could injure yourself while driving or playing volleyball or whatever and that isn't a good reason to quit gymnastics. Frankly, that sort of freak injury doesn't worry me as much as the injuries that result from repetitive stress over years of participating in competitive gymnastics. Those are the injuries that worry me enough to consider pulling my daughter out of the sport. Both my SIL and BIL were college gymnasts and both, to this day, suffer from back and wrist problems directly traceable to their gymnastics' careers.
My dd was injured last season after she tripped over a stump and was out for 6 weeks. Another girl on her team spent 8 weeks out after falling off the swingset, another broke her toe walking through her house, and yet another has been out with a back injury from playing tennis. I think you can get injured doing anything other than gymnastics. The coaches here are very safety oriented in fact one of my dds coaches is also a full time ICU nurse so she always thinks about safety first.
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