Do you have a gymnast who was making the jump from low bar to high bar just fine and then one day stopped jumping?
This is a common fear and/or mental block that I deal with in my mental coaching practice.
Often the gymnasts I talk with who have this trouble tend to be in the younger age - around 7 or 8 years old. They are typically small (partly because of age and sometimes they are especially petite) and that jump from low bar to high bar is a big one for them!
Most of them have either witnessed a teammate fall on that same skill or have heard of it happening to someone else. This fear then gets in their head and they begin to question their own ability to catch the high bar and fear falling after grabbing.
Gymnasts who have a fear of this jump might jump and then touch the high bar but not hold on. Or they might sit in a squat on and not jump at all.
What starts as a fear of falling/slipping on high bar can then turn into a block. Her brain starts freezing her up to avoid the potential of harm. It's a vicious cycle and can leave your gymnast (and her coaches) utterly confused.
If this sounds like your gymnast, don't worry! There is a solution.
Here are the things I suggest to help your gymnast work through the fear of jumping from low bar to high bar:
1. Give her mind something productive to think about.
When fear rules, thoughts such as "What if I fall?" or "I can't do this" often creep in. Those thoughts cause her body to go into "danger" mode which makes that jump nearly impossible.
Instead, when your gymnast can get into a habit of saying helpful words during her jump, she can re-train her brain to focus on words that will help her go for her jump.
These words might sound like: "squat on, jump, grab, swing."
Your gymnast will practice saying these words every time she does this jump and/or attempts it. If going for this jump with a spot is also too scary for your gymnast, then she can practice by squatting down on the floor under the low bar and saying the words while she jumps up and catches the low bar. This way she is re-patterning her mind and body to say these words and go for the jump.
She can also practice this on her home bar or on the playground bars (obviously only if it's safe and with parental supervision).
2. Have her coach spot her as much as she needs.
While this is a skill your gymnast could once do, in these moments she needs to be spotted so her brain can feel safe and not go into fight-or-flight. Many coaches get stubborn in thinking that if they spot their gymnasts, they will never have the courage to do the skill alone again. In a case like this, that doesn't hold true.
While a gymnast is going through this fear/block of the jump from low bar to high bar, she needs her coach to spot her as much as possible. For some gymnasts, even just having coach stand there is enough.
Ultimately if your gymnast can get spotted over and over while saying her words ("squat on, jump, grab, swing") she will form new connections in her brain that will make that jump feel easier and easier. Again, the goal is for her to think helpful thoughts while getting into the repetition of doing her jump over and over. In time, this jump will come more naturally for her and won't elicit the same fear it once did.
Coaches might also try putting blocks under the high bar and seeing if their gymnasts will go for the jump like that. You can then take away a block as she gets more comfortable.
3. Don't put pressure on your gymnast to do this jump.
Often, as parents and coaches, we think gymnasts need some motivation when they're afraid. But fear can overrule all motivation, especially when it's happening from the activation of her fight-flight-or-freeze response.
When you put pressure on your gymnast to do her jump (such as: "You have to jump or you won't be able to compete bars" or "If you don't jump, you have to do extra conditioning"), it only adds to the fear response.
Yes, will your gymnast have to scratch bars if she can't do her jump? Probably (although you could have her compete with coach spotting her and have your gymnast take the deduction). But she already knows that! So she doesn't need it to be stated over and over.
If your gymnast didn't witness a fall or hear about that being a possibility, it could be the pressure that is causing her to block on this skill. Sometimes the thought of not making it to the next level or wanting to compete well can cause a gymnast to block on various skills. If this is the case, the same methods above still apply. But then your gymnast will have to work on making her pressures feel "lighter" so that her brain isn't putting on the brakes. If you think this is the case for your gymnast, reach out to me for support. This is a case where I'd have to work with your gymnast individually.
While this jump from low bar to high bar can feel like a really big deal, especially when it causes severe angst for your gymnast, remember that gymnastics is about more than just doing skills. It's about learning how to control your thoughts and fears. The mental skills and strategies your gymnast will learn as a result of going through this struggle will help her in her future as a gymnast, as well as in life. Isn't gymnastics just the best sport there is?!
Hang in there, parents. Hang in there, coaches. Hang in there, gymnasts! Take it one day at a time. Focus on what you can do in the present moment. And always remember - this too shall pass.
If you or your gymnast needs support, in addition to the resources below I also offer one-on-one coaching sessions via Zoom.
- Resources: Get gymnastics downloads to help your gymnast work on her mental skills in gymnastics
- Mental Health Training for Gymnasts: Help your gymnast learn about her brain and the fight-flight-or-freeze response.
- Free Facebook Group for Moms of Gymnasts: Join this group to chat with other gymnastics moms and get tips for how to help your gymnast navigate through the mental ups and downs of gymnastics