For Parents Ugh, the struggles continue. Need help/advice

CLgym

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After taking a break from CB, I posted at the start of this season that my DD (12 yo repeat L8) was having a very rough time in the gym. She was losing all of her skills. It probably started pre-quarantine with a lackluster first season of L8 (after a strong L7 season at age 10), but got considerably worse post-quarantine. The generally consensus at that time was that trouble at her age/level was common, and we should ride it out if she still liked going to the gym.

Unfortunately the situation has continued to get worse. My DD is quite literally unable to do anything in the gym right now (except floor). It has slowly become clear to me that it is mostly mental, not physical. This is not simply a growth spurt issue. But it's also not a classic fear/block issue. I'm not sure what it is, to be honest. Example: She has completely lost her cast to handstand even though bars was her best event through L7 (e.g., scored 9.9 at L7 and was regional bars champ). She literally cannot get herself up. She explained to me that she pushes away from the bar, rather than get her shoulders over the bar. Weeks go by in practice where she can't do anything because she can't get anywhere close to handstand (so no pirouettes, no giants, etc.). But she can do all the cast to handstand drills. She can press to handstand. She can do a full L8 routine in meets (scored mostly low 9's all season). And she is not afraid to cast to handstand.

Her anxiety is getting worse across all settings (sleep, school, gym). In the gym, she avoids everything. Skips stations. Only works on "new" skills where she is not expected to have mastery (e.g., bail stations on bars or floor work for beam), or just as often doesn't work at all.

To make matters worse, we have not had a full coaching staff for at least two months due to medical/health/quarantine issues. Some practices have been woefully understaffed, with the girls in large groups with fill-in coaches. The coach who has been filling in the most has become very negative with my DD ("You used to be good at bars, what happened?" or "Your [insert skill] is terrible"). He attributes her lack of effort to laziness or even insubordination. When I approached him about keeping his comments constructive, he said OK but then immediately said she was lazy. Most of my DD's main coaches are not like this, but (as I said) they've been out. And, although the main coaches are not unkind to her, there doesn't appear to be much of a plan for getting her over this hump. There was a glimmer of improvement mid-season (casting, flipping vault, etc.), but that has long past.

Sorry this was so long. But that's where we are at. DD continues to insist that she does not want to quit right now. She does not want to move to Xcel. She does not want to change gyms (and at this point, I don't think anyone would take her). She says she wants to try for "one more year" -- But honestly, after nearly two years of this, I'm not sure one more year will change things. Thoughts? Ideas? Has anyone seen this before?

On a positive note, my DD has finally started to talk with me a little more about her anxiety, and has agreed to start therapy again. She also said that she needs "strategies" for dealing with her anxiety (which sometimes tips into full blown panic) at the gym other than avoidance. Obviously that is something she can work on with a therapist, but I am looking for suggestions here while we try to get the ball rolling on
therapy.

If you made it this far -- thank you. Just venting has been helpful for me!!
 

PreciousJ

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I don't have much to offer as far as strategies, but big virtual hugs to you and your DD. Anxiety is rough; I've been dealing with some myself. I can't imagine that AND the stress of gymnastics + tween-hood. I hope therapy can be helpful for her!

Some thoughts and questions:
  • You didn't mention this, but does your DD speak negatively about her own skills or progress? Sounds like she wants to keep trying, but in addition to the anxiety/avoidance, it sounds like she's also lost confidence (due to the vicious cycle of not being able to perform certain skills).
  • Ugh, the current coaching situation is *not helpful* at all. :( That's definitely going to have to change to be beneficial to her.
  • What's the Xcel coaching situation like? Different coaches? How well do they know your daughter? Would they be at all willing to work with her, even though she may not want to do Xcel? Also, does she consider Xcel like "giving up" on gymnastics (or, at least optionals)?
  • Does she do any other activities that bring her joy, outside of gymnastics? Could she do some summer classes/camps/etc. in a different activity to physically and mentally get her out of the gym for a little while? (If you guys think that may work for her, that is - it could create more anxiety, though)
Sending positive thoughts your way.
 

CLgym

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@PreciousJ -- Thanks for the response -- It helps just to be heard.

- I think there is definitely a lack of confidence impacting her gym performance. DD refuses to talk about gymnastics generally, so I don't hear a lot of negative talk, but she has made some comments that suggest she's almost given up. For example, when I threw out Xcel as an idea, she responded "Would they put me in Gold since I'll never cast to handstand?" I also know she is embarrassed by the lost skills, especially because she is frequently put in the next lower group and those girls (most a year younger) are all killing it right now.

- Xcel at current gym has different coaches. It is an OK program, but not really equipped to train big skills. Truthfully, DD's old gym (walking distance from our house, her current school, and her future high school) has an amazing upper level Xcel program with multiple successful Diamonds. But we left that gym when DD was age 7 because they would not consider her for JO due to body type (this philosophy probably explains why their Xcel program is so good). When I suggested going back there for Xcel, she responded with a hard no. "It would be too embarrassing. Like I failed." Although I explained it was a choice -- nobody was sending her to Xcel at the moment. Practice schedule would be amazing too, and allow for after school activities / homework time.

- No other activities right now, and we are still mostly remote for school. I did sign DD up for a 2-week rowing camp this summer with school friends. Also, working on a weekly, semi-private tennis lesson this summer for her and her gym bestie. And she agreed to try a rock climbing class (unfortunately booked for spring). So I'm working on it!
 

CuriousCate

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I can imagine how difficult this is. My girl goes through waves of mental blocks that are really frustrating to deal with, so I can imagine how difficult it is to handle for so much time.

One of my ODD's teammates is "recovering" from a similar situation to what you describe. She is 12, 7th grade. Had a very successful level 7(2019) and 8 (last year, cut short) and was making great progress towards level 9 last summer when everything just came to a screeching halt. For the past 9+ months, she was unable to really do anything; did not do a single meet. Couldn't even do a back hip circle. But that said, she also has come to every single practice and done *something*. And she also started to experience some social anxiety and situational anxiety outside of gym (she has been fully online for school since March which I'm sure didn't help). There has definitely been some coaching inconsistency at our gym as well, so she has gotten some patience and kindness from some vs disappointment and rudeness from others. The ones who leave her alone seem to get better results. She has been seeing a therapist for several months and per my daughter, in the past 6-8 weeks, she has turned a corner. She'll now do some harder basics like giants on pit bar level stuff.

I think the craziness of this past year has affected kids in so many different ways that it is really hard for us as parents to know what to do to help them. I would certainly get her set up with a therapist and offer the therapist your insight and observations.

Good luck to your DD and to you!
 

PreciousJ

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- Xcel at current gym has different coaches. It is an OK program, but not really equipped to train big skills. Truthfully, DD's old gym (walking distance from our house, her current school, and her future high school) has an amazing upper level Xcel program with multiple successful Diamonds. But we left that gym when DD was age 7 because they would not consider her for JO due to body type (this philosophy probably explains why their Xcel program is so good). When I suggested going back there for Xcel, she responded with a hard no. "It would be too embarrassing. Like I failed." Although I explained it was a choice -- nobody was sending her to Xcel at the moment. Practice schedule would be amazing too, and allow for after school activities / homework time.
Wow, the "old gym" Xcel program sounds perfect, except it's not - if she's not open to it. At this point, I don't know if it's productive to make any big gymnastics decisions, honestly. I think it might be more effective to help her tackle her overall anxiety issues. I feel like offering her options (kudos to you for doing that!) may make her feel like she has to make some kind of choice, and it doesn't sound like she wants to do that right now. As was mentioned in another thread, maybe taking a gym "time out" for a little while would be best.
 
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CLgym

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@CuriousCate -- Thanks for sharing. It is so helpful to hear stories of gymnasts who have turned the corner under similar circumstances. I thought we might be headed there a few times mid-season, but in the last two months all progress has been lost (again). Sigh.
 
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Lucia

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I know we can’t give medical advice, so I hope it’s ok to say this, but do you have a trusted primary care provider (for your DD) and if so have you considered consulting with them in addition to therapy? Anxiety has all sorts of physical as well as mental manifestations in our body. I work in that field and will say it’s been a particularly tough year for many of the kids I see. My heart goes out to both of you.
 

CLgym

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@Lucia. Yes, thank you. My DD sees a good PCP as well as a child psychiatrist. She has a diagnosed anxiety disorder, and has been on medication for almost 2 years. We tried therapy in the past without success due to DD's refusal to engage, so I am pleased she wants to try again. We are definitely working through the medical side of her anxiety -- but the gymnastics side remains a mystery to me. I don't know how to help her. And I don't know what, if anything, her coaches could be doing to better support her.
 

mommyof1

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Is there a way for her to take a break from gymnastics until she's gotten established in therapy and her primary coaches are back?

This is not specific to gymnastics since my daughter has been out of the gym during the pandemic, but I have found it very helpful to give her opportunities to be successful at something, anything. The self-confidence boost from cooking dinner for the family or planning an outing or putting together a piece of furniture or doing the laundry will usually improve her attitude and engagement for the next few days. Getting her out of the house and into nature is also very helpful. Time out of the gym combined with rowing camp and rock climbing camp if you can find a spot would give your daughter a nice little "reset." She would probably be quite successful at rock climbing.

If she's looking for "strategies," you could try a CBT workbook. The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook for Teens is one.
 

Happyfeet

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A few things popped into my head while reading your situation:
A) "we should ride it out if she still liked going to the gym" I agree with this...if your daughter is happy, getting some physical activity and enjoying her time at gym, that's great. If her days are horribly frustrating and she is dreading attending then I think a change may be in order.

B) "This is not simply a growth spurt issue" I do wonder if this situation started with a growth spurt issue and then has now morphed into a loss of confidence, anxiety etc.

C) "I'm not sure what it is, to be honest." - I'm not sure it matters so much "why" this is happening but from a gymnastics point of view it appears she used to have skills and now she doesn't for whatever reason. I'd guess the best approach is one of two things: 1) accepting she no longer has the skill and going back to working on it the same way she got it in the first place. 2) taking a few week break from the skill and then trying again. One common mistake I see is gymnasts who have a skill and then have an off day and what gymnasts will do is continue to drill the skill and continue missing. This impacts gymnasts confidence as well as the fact that they are literally practicing doing the skill wrong (for whatever reason). Repeatedly doing a skill the wrong way when they have already learned it can actually be counterproductive as they are practicing "doing it wrong". Sometimes taking a short break can actually allow original memory to kick back in.

D) "anxiety is getting worse across all settings" - yes do get this treated with cognitive behavioral therapy or whatever her psychiatrist has recommended. Please know not all therapists are the same and supportive counselling is not the same as treatment for anxiety.

E) "In the gym, she avoids everything. Skips stations. Only works on "new" skills where she is not expected to have mastery (e.g., bail stations on bars or floor work for beam), or just as often doesn't work at all." This may sound harsh but I'm going to go ahead and say it anyway... I am not sure how your daughter expects to improve if she is refusing to practice any skills? Or maybe she isn't wanting to improve for some anxiety related reason? If she is working on new skills but doesn't have the basics solid then I'd assume she won't be finding much success anywhere in gymnastics and the problem will continue to get worse.

F) Not having full coaching staff isn't helpful but it is a pandemic - what can you do really? Also have coaches say harsh things is also not likely going to improve the situation but you clearly already know that.

G) "He attributes her lack of effort to laziness or even insubordination" I hate to ask but is this a situation where your daughter is just "not that into gymnastics anymore"? Secondly, telling someone they are lazy is really not that motivational.

H) "there doesn't appear to be much of a plan for getting her over this hump" I'm actually not sure this is the worst thing in the world. If the difficulty is indeed anxiety driven I'm glad her main coaches are treating her kindly and leaving anxiety treatment to professionals. Additionally, it seems your daughter has actually been more motivated to get proper treatment for anxiety now that it is impacting her gymnastics which is maybe a win if she didn't engage well in the past.

I) I'd take her lead as long as she isn't being caused any additional undue emotional difficulty. Working with a therapist on the anxiety may help the situation and if she is still enjoying gym where she is then that's a good thing.

J) Maybe semantics but be careful with what her expectations for "strategies" are. Sometimes mental health treatment is learning how to tolerate the anxiety instead of getting rid of it. Youth can become quickly frustrated with therapy as it doesn't get rid of the anxiety. Again, cognitive behavioral therapy should help with this.
 

Lucia

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@Lucia. Yes, thank you. My DD sees a good PCP as well as a child psychiatrist. She has a diagnosed anxiety disorder, and has been on medication for almost 2 years. We tried therapy in the past without success due to DD's refusal to engage, so I am pleased she wants to try again. We are definitely working through the medical side of her anxiety -- but the gymnastics side remains a mystery to me. I don't know how to help her. And I don't know what, if anything, her coaches could be doing to better support her.

Regardless of how her gymnastics story plays out, sounds like you are doing a great job taking care of what’s most important ❤️
 

CLgym

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@Happyfeet -- Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. You had some really good insights.

I have had many (many) discussions with my DD regarding her avoidance behaviors, and how that only exacerbates the problem. By not working, she is only falling further behind. (You are absolutely correct that a bail -- without a cast to handstand -- is not helpful.) DD understands this cognitively. Yet in the moment her anxiety seems to get the better of her, causing her to avoid the things that make her feel bad. It has gotten worse with the fill-in coach situation. But ultimately I understand it is incumbent upon my DD to do the hard work necessary to get her skills back.

On the other hand, you mentioned that repeatedly doing a skill incorrectly, over and over, is not helpful to a gymnast's confidence or technically. This definitely happens with DD at times (e.g., throwing her connection on beam with bad form so she can't land it all season).

So I guess this is where I raise the coaching question. Is there a way for a coach to address this conundrum? Or maybe it's genuinely asking too much of a coach to help in this situation? I really don't know the answer here. But letting my DD walk around in circles -- or repeatedly attempt and fail at skills -- doesn't seem to be working. And after more than a year, she has established some pretty bad patterns in the gym.

Finally, I have also wondered if maybe my DD is just looking for a way out and, as you put it, is "just not that into gymnastics" anymore. I have asked (probably way too many times) if she wants to quit -- almost begging her to quit, really. But she says not yet. (I suppose the fact that she mentioned quitting in a year if things aren't better does suggest she is eyeing the door?)

Anyway, thanks for taking the time to so carefully and thoughtfully reply. It means a lot to me! (And your final comment about coping strategies was super important for me to hear!!)
 
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rd7

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Probably way off base but what are the side effects of her medication, could there be a physical reason for loss of skills (balance, vestibular, strength etc)?
 
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GYM0M

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This might be way off base, but if it were my dd, I’d look for some kind of recreational class or camp at a completely different, probably strictly recreational gym. Not a gym that would ruffle feathers, but a gym that just has fun in gymnastics. Sounds like her gym’s atmosphere and environment has become almost a trigger for her anxiety, but that she remembers how much fun it once was and is not ready to give up on that. No pressure, no expectations, just gymnastics.
 

Munchkin16

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Is she a perfectionist? It sounds like only working on new skills there’s zero expectations internally or externally for her. So it’s less scary. You do well it’s a nice surprise, you struggle well it doesn’t matter because no one was expecting anything of you.

Sounds like the bigger picture is overwhelming right now but also makes it worse because she knows she can and should be able to do it. Which knocks your confidence further.

Can you break down practices into something more achievable? 1 goal and 1 tiny thing to work on, even if it’s just giving 100% energy during conditioning and having beautifully pointed feet in every skill. Just something she feels she can do. Once she achieves that, celebrate it, hold on to that extra confidence and add the next teeny tiny step.
 

MILgymFAM

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Is it at all possible that she’s kinda holding out and waiting for you to pull the plug so she doesn’t have to? My husband has those tendencies- he will make everyone miserable in a subconscious attempt to get someone else to cancel plans he doesn’t want to follow through with but doesn’t feel he can cancel on his own for whatever reason. I know that might sound weird, but maybe it’s something to consider. Also, maybe summer is the perfect time for a break. Just let her know she can pick anything else to try (or multiple anything elses) and that if she misses the gym she can go back in the fall. I think Covid has made it clear that breaks aren’t always make or break- and in her case she’s really got nothing to lose.
 

CLgym

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@rd7 — I don’t think it could be the meds, but worth asking the question!

@GYM0M — I absolutely agree that finding a way to take the pressure off is likely my best solution. That’s why I was thinking Xcel.

@Munchkin16 — Yes!! You have summed up my impressions perfectly! I can definitely work with DD to create small, achievable goals. Could make it fun!!

Latest story: DD texted me to come get her mid practice earlier this week. Said she felt hot all over and couldn’t breath (panic). When I got there, she was on floor (no skill loss here) and said never mind.... all good now. She even took a cute video of her landing her double (double full?) on mat in pit. After practice, she explained that she had texted to go home during beam. The fill-in coach refused to let her work anywhere but high beam, told her that her BHS on beam is terrible (it is - this is another “lost” skill) and that she had to do 15 on high beam (no progression or corrections given). She told him she couldn’t, but that she could work on upgraded turns and leaps on high beam. She went to look at the COP for beam dance elements, but he grabbed it out of her hand and yelled that she was misbehaving by not following his instructions. So while fill-in coach is not the problem, he’s certainly not part of any solution. FYI he is normally her vault coach.
 

mommyof1

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Latest story: DD texted me to come get her mid practice earlier this week. Said she felt hot all over and couldn’t breath (panic). When I got there, she was on floor (no skill loss here) and said never mind.... all good now. She even took a cute video of her landing her double (double full?) on mat in pit. After practice, she explained that she had texted to go home during beam. The fill-in coach refused to let her work anywhere but high beam, told her that her BHS on beam is terrible (it is - this is another “lost” skill) and that she had to do 15 on high beam (no progression or corrections given). She told him she couldn’t, but that she could work on upgraded turns and leaps on high beam. She went to look at the COP for beam dance elements, but he grabbed it out of her hand and yelled that she was misbehaving by not following his instructions. So while fill-in coach is not the problem, he’s certainly not part of any solution. FYI he is normally her vault coach.

I would argue that the fill-in coach is absolutely a huge part of the problem.
 

CLgym

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@MILgymFAM — One of my non-gym mom friends also thinks that my DD might be looking for me to make the decision to quit for her. That she might be angry at first, but ultimately will feel relieved. I’m not sure how to assess that, though. There are definitely still glimmers of joy with gymnastics for her (see my story above).

I wish I could get her to try Xcel !!
 

PreciousJ

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The beam coach was absolutely impatient and rude. But that's a whole other conversation about coaching styles...

Anyway, her Xcel perception would have to be completely reframed for her to consider it. Sounds like observing a few Diamonds at her old gym could give her some positive ideas, but, that would be a mountain to climb at this point. I think taking a gymnastics break first might be in order, allow her to reassess what she wants and needs. And that's the main thing, this has to be HER journey, not the gym's, or the coaches, or the team's. She shouldn't feel bad about not "performing" up to the gym's level if she loves the sport enough.