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Coaching Isn't Always Easy...

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This is mainly a brain dump for my future self, should I ever encounter this problem again that I'm having right now with one of my students. So read on if you're a teacher of some sort - otherwise you can probably skip this entry unless you like psychiatry. I don't, but looks like I'll have to apply myself to it anyways...

So okay, one of my older girls (~13 years old) has recently developed what I will classify as a "mental illness". This is the first time in my 4 year coaching career that I've had a student take a step backward for no apparent reason. She learned how to do a front flip on trampoline at least a year ago, and has done them on floor from a punch and off beam with a spot. This past summer she learned a barani, which is a front flip with a half twist. Three weeks earlier, she somehow decided that she can no longer do a regular front flip. Today she flat out refused to do a front flip by herself and went home crying after I refused to spot her or let her do anything else on trampoline until she did her front flip by herself again.

Now let's look at the symptoms. I was able to chat with her online before she went to bed and at least found out why she was scared to do a front flip - she thought she was going to land on her head. Now, this is a reasonable fear when doing front flips. However it is not reasonable when you have been doing a front flip perfectly for over a year. The only time this should be a problem is 1) you're learning the trick for the first time and are not yet confident in your ability to execute it properly or 2) you bail out of the trick (for whatever reason) and land badly and get injured or extremely shaken up. Neither of these things can be applied to her.

I simply cannot understand at this time what could cause such a massive break of self confidence. I allowed myself to spot her for one flip, and she executed the flip perfectly. I know without a doubt and as a coach that she can still do this trick. My opinion, however, seems not to matter in this case as she still refuses to beleive in herself.

I also won't accept the idea that she is scared to land on her head. At least 3/4 of the other tricks she does, be it on floor, bars or beam, all carry the possibility of her landing on her head if she somehow screws up. If that's so, why will she do all those other tricks she's been doing for months or years and yet not do a front flip that she's been doing for an equal amount of time? Unfortunately this was something only recently realized (I've spent some good time tonight pndering this), so it will have to be ammo for me to use next time we talk.

Another idea that also struck me was a relation. She's obviously not understanding how, from my point of view, this could seem so odd a behavior. So here's the similar scenario that would seem odd and non-understandable to anyone:

Bob: Hey Dave can you go down those stairs and grab some wine from the basement?
Dave: I don't go down stairs anymore
Bob: Why the hell not?
Dave: Because I'm afraid that I'll trip and land on my head at the bottom
Bob: What?!? How long ago did you decide this?
Dave: Just a few weeks ago.
Bob: And you've been walking down stairs you entire life up until then?
Dave: Yep.
Bob: And have you ever tripped and landed on your head?
Dave: Well... no, but I'm afraid now that I might. I can't go down those stairs. Sorry. You have an elevator?

When you look at it that way, it's very hard not to stare at Dave and wonder what the hell is going on inside his head.

I'm very concerned about this behavior and the fact that it can happen like this. As I said earlier, she's still doing the rest of her tricks, but what's to stop her from suddenly thinking "good lord, if I don't get my hands under me during my back handspring I could land on my head?" and then she won't do back handsprings anymore. Since I still have not deduced a reason for this behavior, I'm afraid that this could happen since I have no idea what's causing it and thus I don't know how to prevent it. It's obviously fear overriding self confidence, but how did the fear all the sudden become so real that it's hindered her in doing this trick?? I can't explain it without some past injury or event all the sudden surfacing in her head. I asked her to tell me honestly if something had happened to her, and she said no. I'll have to ask her again in person though to deduce whether she really is telling the truth or not.

I just need to get her to understand that she can't fear things that haven't happened. Can you imagine going through life fearing things that might happen? You wouldn't drive because you're afraid you might get in an accident. You wouldn't walk anywhere cause you're afraid you might get hit by a car, or mugged by someone. You wouldn't fly in an airplane cause you're afraid it might crash. Etc etc. And even if these things do happen, you just have to realize that they don't happed all the time. You're not going to get into an accident everytime you drive to the grocery store, you're not going to fall down stairs everytime you walk down them, and you're not going to land on your head everytime you do a front flip.

I'm tempted to distill all this and write her a letter, but I'd rather say all this to her in person rather than online or through an email. I just needed to get my thoughts organized.

I think my final major hurdle will be forcing all this into the fragile mind of a 13 year old girl. Goodness gracious. I've personally had experience in all these things: I've landed on my head countless times, I've fallen down stairs, I've been in an accident - so it's easy for me to see all this and realize that we can't be controlled by fear, or even rational thought at times (I certainly wouldn't jump off a 30 foot high ceiling beam into a foam pit if I thought rationally). We have to believe in what we know we can accomplish. We have to believe in ourselves.

It's amazing how much the mental state of a person dictates his or her actions. I've done some pretty crazy stuff that other people would balk at doing - like a 3/4 back flip off a vertical wall beam 5 feet above the floor onto a trampoline - because I have confidence in myself at being able to do it and I am prepared to suffer the consequences should my actions result in personal injury. Not many people are like that I would guess.

So okay, I guess I've dumped all I had to say on this matter for now. It's always comforting to be able to understand yourself and the actions that you take, and certainly frustrating not understanding others and why they have to think the way they do. I'll show her the path to enlightenment tho - even if I have to smash it into her with a steel mallet. She will do that front flip again. I swear it!!
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I wonder if she saw someone else screw up the flip and hurt themselves recently. Or someone convinced her that she would hurt herself doing a front flip...the only scenerio that I can come up with for her to internally decide against that move is so she can get out of doing gymnastics entirely (in other words, annoying you enough for you to throw her out).

But before you batter down all of her excuses with logic and experience, try to find out WHY she's thinking this way. Trying to force her to accept your point of view is going to make her resist that much more, if she has any kind of rebellious streak in her.

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I wish I could find out why. I really do. But the most frustrating part is that she still hasn't figured out why she's afraid either. [rolleyes] This of course is because, I beleive, she has no reason ro fear this trick. However she refuses to accept that and continues to think she's afraid for no reason. Wuuunderful

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