12 Signs Your Gymnast is Under Too Much Stress


There is a saying that a rock put under pressure forms a diamond.

To which I will quickly counter, a certain type of rock under very specific conditions. Most rocks put under pressure will turn to dust.

Yes, pressure is a normal part of life. It pushes us to work harder, to challenge ourselves to preserve and to do better, all things which are good for our self-esteem and our ultimate success.

But when pressure is too great or when it is hoisted upon us before we are capable of dealing with it physically, emotionally or developmentally, it can damage our health and personal relationships. And, when it comes to our children, it can actually damage their brains, resulting in difficulties in learning and even lower IQs.

Children today are under a great deal of pressure. As Hank Pelliser, director of the Brighter Brains Institute, notes “statistics suggest that American children are indeed experiencing stress at new levels: suicides among adolescents have quadrupled since the 1950s; only 36 percent of 7th graders agreed with the statement “I am happy with my life;” and in the past decade, using pharmaceuticals to treat emotional disorders has shot up 68 percent for girls, 30 percent for boys.”

High achieving kids (as are most all gymnasts) are especially prone to stress as the challenges of time management and the desire to meet and exceed their own expectations as well as those of their parents and coaches is the backdrop of their lives.

So how do we differentiate between healthy pressure and harmful pressure?

We need to rely on the cues our athletes give to us, as they often will not express that their stress level is too high or don’t use the correct language to indicate that what they are experiencing is stress. For instance, they might say that they are worried or angry. Or they might not say anything about how they are feeling, instead choosing to make self-deprecating comments such as “I’m an idiot.” or “Nobody likes me.”

But before stress reaches that point, how can we detect that our athlete or child is under too much stress?

  1. Constant exhaustion (even when they are getting sufficient sleep).
  2. Changes in sleep patterns. Either the inability to sleep or excessive sleeping.
  3. Nightmares or bedtime fears.
  4. More frequent illness. It has been shown that our immune system is suppressed by 30% when we are stressed, so if your child is getting sick more frequently than is typical stress might be a factor.
  5. Chronic headaches or stomachaches.
  6. Increase in crying or tantrums.
  7. Habits returning (like thumb sucking) or beginning (nail biting, hair chewing)
  8. Social isolation.
  9. Trouble concentrating or increased forgetfulness.
  10. Withdrawal from usual activities or hobbies that bring pleasure.
  11. Tics.
  12. Aggression or anxiety.

Some of these symptoms are subtle. Others less so. Therefore it is important we are aware of changes in behavior and patterns of behavior that our kids demonstrate and that we listen carefully to what they are telling us.

We need to talk to them about stress and how to handle it as well as how to ask for help when it feels like it is all too much. We need to be the adults in the equation and pull the reins back when we see that the need to achieve is harming our kids. And finally, we need to monitor our own expectations of these children, keeping them high but realistic and reminding them that it is normal to struggle, to need a break and to ask for help.