Sometimes the fear is greater than the ability

My youngest daughter is not just a gymnast, she is a good gymnast. She amazes me with her athletic ability, physical strength and attention to detail. Natural talent mixed with genetic disposition has given her the tools necessary for possible greatness, not to mention the fact that she is one of the lucky few that has a family lifestyle conducive to competitive sports. We are able to give her the time, attention, environment and respected coaches necessary to succeed, without much sacrifice. Her heart seems to desire future years of dedication, after all, she willingly misses birthday parties, play dates, school events and other extra curricular activities to come to practice and competition. She rarely complains. She hasn’t been one to make too many excuses, and she works hard. Gymnastics makes her smile.

But lately, the joy has waned. And yet, the desire has not.

The level of skills has increased dramatically over the last few months, moving faster than I think my daughter had anticipated. Her coaches have prepared her well, and she is physically capable. However, mentally she is weak and has hit a wall. The fear of trying new things has started to take over, battling her desire to succeed and progress. Many tears were shed last night. She is filled with frustration, anger and disappointment. She does not want to quit, and yet she is afraid to move forward. She is paralyzed, stuck in this in between.

It is heartbreaking to watch your child want something they have no ability to achieve, but it is even more defeating to know that what they want, and have the ability to achieve, is right within their grasp if only they could find more courage. Teaching our children perseverance, endurance or self-motivation is hard. But helping them overcome fear is something entirely different. Part of me wants to throw in the towel, quit, and feed the fear. But the other part of me worries that walking away too soon will only set a negative precedent that will follow my daughter her whole life. I don’t want to send the message that when things get hard or uncomfortable, just quit, even if you want it really bad. I worry the message might also be, you aren’t good enough anyway to be successful.

It would be one thing if she was just burned out, reached a point of disinterest or boredom. But she hasn’t. She adamantly rejected the option to quit.

The ability is there, I’m just worried the fear is greater.

Today’s post was inspired by Shell at Things I Can’t Say and her weekly                        Pour Your Heart Out Wednesday blog carnival.

18 thoughts on “Sometimes the fear is greater than the ability

  1. I reared up reading this. I’m a 31 yr old ex gymnast. I went to level 7. I found the same thing your daughter is dealing with. Her coaches may be great. But I only had one coach in my years that worked well w my personality. All I needed was a lot of happy encouragement from my coach. Every child is different but this was soooo important to me. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of gymnastics. Do they have rhythmic gymnastics in your area? Not as scary yet still doing what you love. I so wish I could talk to your daughter;) This sport is very diff from others. It’s a commitment no one will ever understand. I’ve done numerous sports so I know. If she says she’s finally done, let her be. Atleast take a break n see how she feels. Some of the other comments made me a little mad about following through with a commitment they know nothing about unless you’ve experienced this sport yourself.

  2. I have a very talented little boy who finally found his niche in gymnastics. I am also his coach:) We live in a very rural area where most of the kids have had no exposure to gymnastics. We have been building a program from scratch. We have a hand full of gymnasts now that are level 5’s including my son. We were working on fly aways on the bar. He did it by himself twice:) hurray. Third time he did it he didn’t let go of the bar soon enough and ended up catching his toes on the bar. He went head first to the mat. We made him get up and do it 2 more times with a spot to release some of the fear. He was not injured but it scared him. When this happens, we walk away from the skill or put the skill in timeout:) We then let the gymnast chose when they are ready for the skill again. They are then in charge of the skill. It gives them the power. When they are ready the skill comes much easier. Maybe your daughter is just looking to have a little more power and say in her progression. Is it a particular set of skills that scare her or just the pace in which she is progressing? Maybe she just needs to be told it is okay if she wants to slow down for a bit. Give her some of the decision making power. I am certain she will work through it. Best of luck to her and Mom!

  3. Give it time. I used to be a gymnast and I used to be afraid of the beam. I was the only visually impaired girl t the gym Trying new things can be very scary.

  4. Oh, the slump. It’s one of the hardest parts of being an athlete’s parent. I know it well. Just be there and talk and offer up all the support that you have. That’s worked for me but it is never easy.

  5. I can’t tell you how many times I left the ballet studio sniffling and holding back tears because I was *soclose* to it that I could touch it, but that final step was like the step over the chasm in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. All I could see was falling, but if I just put my foot out, I’d have been on the path. Alas, genetics did not work in my favor, so I am not a professional dancer. But, after 20 years of not dancing, I’m going to be teaching tap in the fall. Unbelievable…

  6. My heart swelled when I read that. Your daughter seems very strong. I mean she doesn’t want to quit b/c she doesn’t want to give into the fear either. Did she see something that made her pay more attention to the fear, like an injury? We all have those moments (or longer) and they happen in life as we get older too. I am sure that she is finding her sense of self in all this and that she will be even stronger for it.

  7. I hope she is able to work it out and get in the other side of it. She has before, so maybe she’ll do it again. Otherwise, she could be a powerhouse in swimming. She is amazing!

  8. It’s always a tough balancing act of when to push and when to sit back, when to insist and when to let go, when to finish something and knowing when to be finished. Good luck. Fear can be the greatest motivator to move forward or to stay where you are… I hope that your daughter can push forward and know the joy of achieving.

  9. Oh BOY can I relate to that. It’s like, you know you’re getting good, but it’s scary to leave beginner-hood behind and put yourself in the same arena with people who are REALLY good. And if you can just manage not to try, then there’s no risk of falling flat on your face and confirming that no, you really aren’t as good as those other folks.

    One thing I remember best about my mom, though, is that she always made me finish my commitments. I can remember adamantly insisting that I wasn’t going to go back to the after-school program because I hated the new teacher. She told me that that was fine, that I was allowed to not like her and not to want to go, but I’d signed up to finish the school year – and until that was up, I had to suck it up and do it anyway. –I dunno, in hindsight it was just nice that she made it okay to have giant epic don’t-wannas, and treated that as something separate from the doing-it-anyways. (It was good too that she left me *some* control – like, “well, I’m stuck with it for another three months, and if I still don’t like it by then, I can quit if I want to.”)

    Much love for you and your struggling superstar, regardless – if only we could mind-meld and magically share our own skills with other people, parenting would be just that little bit easier!

    1. I agree with your mom – we encourage finishing our commitments with our kids too. It is so important for them to learn that now, because you are right, they aren’t going to like everything they are faced with in life, but they are going to have to learn how to deal with it all.

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