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Flipping Awesome

Proud Parent
Dec 9, 2016
15
41
I'm in need of some guidance. Despite having had a fairly successful season of Xcel Gold and recently scoring out of L4, my DD's confidence is at an all time low. She has had a lot of soreness, a lot of frustration with skills coming and going or not improving appreciably, and tonight she tearfully told me that she is just "too big for gymnastics." At 11 years old and 80 pounds, she is nowhere near too big for gymnastics. She is tall and thin, but she does have a little bit of a belly. I hadn't really thought too much about it before tonight, but I have noticed her waiting for turns with her arms crossed covering her stomach, so she obviously is feeling self-conscious about it. I tried to pin down why she is feeling this way. I, myself, am overweight, and I make it a point to not discuss weight in front of my kids. All she would say is that the coaches keep telling her to suck her belly in, and it makes her feel bad. I tried to get her to tell me a specific example or if any coach in particular was harping on it, but she couldn't tell me. I would like to give the coaches the benefit of the doubt, thinking maybe it is just their way of trying to get her to stay hollow throughout skills. I really abhor the thought of body shaming, though, and I don't want her staying in an unhealthy environment if that's what this is. I want to tread carefully. We have been at this gym for a while, and while I do think the owners and HC are fantastic people, these coaches for DD's group are pretty green. Any suggestions on how I should approach this?
 

JPC13

Proud Parent
Mar 25, 2022
304
My daughter is 4’1 and 47 pounds, and gets told (rightly) to suck her belly in constantly. She’s by far the thinnest girl in the gym with the lowest body fat. It could just be normal coaching hitting a tween’s sore spot.
 

Coach Kate

Coach
Fan
Oct 13, 2021
199
31
It might be worth mentioning to a coach. I usually say something more like "ribs in" or even "squeeze your bottom", as that can help with the desired shape. My coach used to say "belly button to spine" but she explained it more in terms of core engagement and less like suck in your belly. There are a lot of other verbal cues that can be given that are actually more specific and helpful.

I will also add, that as a coach, I have noticed patterns a lot of kids have: they start to fill out or look like they have more of a tummy, and then they have a big growth spurt. It is totally normal and it is very possible your daughter does actually feel out of sorts in her body right now. If she mentions it, you can see that you think she is so strong - maybe a specific example of a new achievement - and that she is always growing!
 

JPC13

Proud Parent
Mar 25, 2022
304
It might be worth mentioning to a coach. I usually say something more like "ribs in" or even "squeeze your bottom", as that can help with the desired shape. My coach used to say "belly button to spine" but she explained it more in terms of core engagement and less like suck in your belly. There are a lot of other verbal cues that can be given that are actually more specific and helpful.

I will also add, that as a coach, I have noticed patterns a lot of kids have: they start to fill out or look like they have more of a tummy, and then they have a big growth spurt. It is totally normal and it is very possible your daughter does actually feel out of sorts in her body right now. If she mentions it, you can see that you think she is so strong - maybe a specific example of a new achievement - and that she is always growing!
“Zip it up” is also another way to suggest proper posture — which is really what they’re after. The belly and ribs out posture is just excessive curvature in the lower back, which is dangerous in gymnastics. You don’t want to hit a spring board with your back in that position.
 

Flipping Awesome

Proud Parent
Dec 9, 2016
15
41
My daughter is 4’1 and 47 pounds, and gets told (rightly) to suck her belly in constantly. She’s by far the thinnest girl in the gym with the lowest body fat. It could just be normal coaching hitting a tween’s sore spot.
I'm hoping that's all it is. She can be extra sensitive these days!
 

Flipping Awesome

Proud Parent
Dec 9, 2016
15
41
“Zip it up” is also another way to suggest proper posture — which is really what they’re after. The belly and ribs out posture is just excessive curvature in the lower back, which is dangerous in gymnastics. You don’t want to hit a spring board with your back in that position.
Posture is an issue for her, for sure. She naturally stands with her hips very forward. When she is tumbling or vaulting, though, she seems to keep pretty good shapes. I'm thinking she's hearing this mostly on beam. I'm going to try to tease out more info when she is feeling calmer.
 

Aussie_coach

Staff member
Gold Membership
Coach
Proud Parent
Gymnast
Club Owner / Manager
Jan 4, 2008
3,935
I would never usually say something like this but if at the age of 11 she is feeling self conscious about her weight, and that it’s affecting her ability to do gymnastics. Maybe the healthiest option would be to consider doing other things.

In gymnastics they will be wearing leotards every day and comparing every aspect of their appearance to their peers. Gymnastics is an aesthetic sport, the idea is to always consider how everything looks to the most perfect detail.

She will soon go through the body changes of puberty, which will generally make her even more self conscious.

It might not be the best environment for her to be in.
 

BusyMomof2

Member
Feb 2, 2022
62
44
Do you think it might be a shaping issue more than anything? It doesn't sound like she could have much of a belly with those stats! My daughter is 3'10", 45 pounds but has a natural arch that can give the illusion of a belly. She's CONSTANTLY being reminded of her shaping. All.the.time. We've started working on posture things home to try to help... On another note, 11 is just a tough age! I wonder if shorts at practice would help, if allowed at your gym?
 
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tryagain

New Member
Feb 16, 2022
8
44
I am sorry you're daughter is going through this. As someone who felt self-conscious about my (healthy) weight from age 7 or 8, I would definitely recommend to take this very seriously. I am not sure removing her from the situation (from gymnastics as a whole) would be helpful though, to me it would have felt like the confirmation that I was 'too fat'. I am not normally someone who is on 'speak to the coach' bandwagon for every little thing, but in this case I would do that. I would not question their choice of wording, but would voice my concerns about her emerging body image issues and her interpretation of the instruction to suck her belly on as the confirmation that it is too big. If the coaches are at all sensible, they will be horrified and will explain to her that when they say that they mean that she needs to keep tight/maintain good posture/etc. That alone might help.
 

Flipping Awesome

Proud Parent
Dec 9, 2016
15
41
I am not sure removing her from the situation (from gymnastics as a whole) would be helpful though, to me it would have felt like the confirmation that I was 'too fat'.
Yes, that is also my sentiment. I don't think removing her from a sport she loves and has been doing for many years is the appropriate response. I just want to make sure that there is nothing overtly unhealthy happening at our current gym that is making her feel this way. I do suspect that it is more of a shaping/posture correction that is either being given or received the wrong way. She is in no way overweight, and she is performing well enough come meet season to consistently be one of the top AA scorers on her team. She did also mention to me later that they separated her team into groups for bars last night, and she was in the group working "baby skills." Her words, not mine. It is true that her bars skills are advancing a bit slower than the 8 or 9 year olds on her team who are shorter and lighter. That's just physics. Perhaps she is internalizing that a bit as well.
 

coach_M

New Member
Jun 14, 2022
2
23
Posture is an issue for her, for sure. She naturally stands with her hips very forward. When she is tumbling or vaulting, though, she seems to keep pretty good shapes. I'm thinking she's hearing this mostly on beam. I'm going to try to tease out more info when she is feeling calmer.
This could definitely be a beam/posture thing - I’m a coach and it’s usually beam where I have to remind my littles to pull up tall with their belly or “tummy in” because they’ll stand with their back arched and belly sticking out/relaxed which is just a bad posture/artistry thing. This is regardless of their body shape/size
 
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cmg

Proud Parent
Jul 2, 2018
148
63
My advice is to try to observe and try to see what is really being said. I do think girls at this age are very sensitive and can take things out of context and dwell on them. However, I discovered way too late that my daughter's coach (no longer at the gym) had joked around about eating too much or having a belly and my daughter thought she was "too fat" for gymnastics and went through years of disordered eating. Once I figured out what was going on it was too late and although we tried therapy, it took a major injury not healing for her to realize that she was harming herself. I would not wish this on anyone. Add in Covid and the last 3-4 years have been very difficult to say the least. I don't think coaches, especially young coaches, understand the impact they can have on their gymnasts. At the same time, you don't want to make a huge deal over something that is a non-issue. But just be careful and try to notice if she is not eating lunches, skipping snacks, saying she is not hungry after practice etc. I also had to watch her Instagram. There are a lot of bad "diet/anorexic" accounts out there. That is how I finally found out about my daughter. I hope that all goes well and that your daughter figures out how to be happy with herself.
 
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Geoffrey Taucer

Staff member
Gold Membership
Coach
Jan 21, 2007
4,500
Baltimore, MD
"Suck your belly in" is a common way of telling a kid to hollow and tighten up the abs, and I suspect the coach does not intend it in any sort of body-shaming way, but I can also totally see how that would hit a sore spot for a self-conscious 11-year-old.

I'd talk to the coach about it.
 

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