This time of year, I receive many calls from gymnasts and cheerleaders or their parents about one common problem. The gymnast or cheerleader just flat out can’t backward tumble. No matter how hard they try or how much they want to tumble, they just can’t. By the time they reach me, they have been through extended periods of frustration, anger, grief, and embarrassment.
Parents and coaches are frustrated, too. They have tried “everything,” and nothing has helped. Parents have spent all kinds of money on “privates,” and coaches have tried being nice, yelling, spotting, not spotting, giving the athlete time off, kicking them out of the gym, or threatening to demote them to a lower-level team. Nothing seems to work.
Sometimes, this tumbling block goes on for years. Many leave their sport because they can’t overcome the blocks and have grown weary of the mental and emotional toll that being unable to tumble has taken. Self-confidence is eroded, families are devastated, and coaches are at a loss.
In most of these cases, there are different issues at work that create the block and cause so much misery. I usually see one or more of the following problems:
- The athlete has suffered a serious injury related to their sport. This injury is usually caused by a fall. The injuries I usually see are knee injuries, back or neck injuries, broken arms or hands, or concussions.
- The athlete has seen a teammate or someone else experience a serious fall or injury.
- The athlete is overwhelmed by stressors related or not related to the gym, such as family problems, issues with a coach, bullying, school struggles, and others.
The first thing to understand in each of these cases is that the athlete wants to tumble. Their brain just won’t let them. A primitive part of their brain has taken over the functioning of their body, and it will not let them tumble. The brain interprets tumbling as a threat to the athlete’s safety and well-being and basically shuts down the body’s ability to tumble as a protective mechanism. The inability to tumble is a cry for help. The brain is saying that it is overloaded and needs help processing all of the information it is struggling to process. [Read more…]