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Gymnastics Coach Pushing Too Hard

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My daughter is an 11-year-old gymnast. If she and her coach had their way, she would be in the gym 30 hours a week. I say that 20 hours is more than enough considering school and other activities. Some of her teammates do train that much and she feels left out. I still say no -- I'm afraid of injuries and burn out. Some of these other kids are given no choice in the matter; but then again, I don't give mine a choice, either. Should I make these decisions for her or allow her to do what she wants?

A: Such decisions are always difficult for parents. Of course you want to encourage your daughter to pursue her dreams and support her in achieving success in gymnastics. But at what costs to her and to your family? I suspect that if you leave the decision to her, she will simply choose what her coach suggests -- as many hours as he can get her in the gym. Her coach's opinions and "rules" about serious training unduly influence her. I am sure that your daughter is convinced that she is falling behind her teammates because she trains "only" 20 hours per week as opposed to their 30 or more hours per week.

Unfortunately, the world of competitive kids' gymnastics is witnessing more injuries at younger ages. The bulk of these unnecessary injuries are due to over-training and making unnatural demands of young bodies. Additionally, coaches try to keep girls as small and thin as they can, often disregarding the healthy nutrition needed for physical growth and development. Haven't you ever seen the dramatic physical changes in female gymnasts and ice skaters when they stop competing? It's like they are experiencing the physical changes they should have experienced in early adolescence.

I believe that kids deserve more of a childhood than just going to school, doing homework, and training at the gym.

Your daughter needs to develop cognitively, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. Will her present schedule or an increased training schedule encourage growth at all these vital levels? Children can hear the word "no" and an accompanying explanation on occasion, without parents' fearing they will destroy their kids' chances of future happiness. Please let me know your decision.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


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