It is no question that mental toughness is a MUST for all gymnasts.
Gymnastics is not only an incredibly difficult sport to master (I'd argue it's the hardest sport out there), but it also requires gymnasts to bounce back from different kinds of setbacks on a regular basis.
Whether it's an injury, mental block, old-school coaching methods, growth spurt, or frustration over not getting a skill, there are plenty of reasons why a gymnast needs to strengthen her mental toughness.
While there is no actual definition of mental toughness, I like to define it as the ability to bounce back from setbacks and keep your cool in competition.
I also think there's more to it than that. Mental toughness is having control over your mindset. It's being able to dig deep and find confidence when it doesn't exist. And it's the ability to trust yourself and your training when things feel "off."
I firmly believe there are at least 5 mental toughness skills EVERY gymnast must have in her mental toolbox.
I'll tell you what those 5 things are in a moment, but first...why is mental toughness so important?
In 2020, during the global pandemic and its aftermath, I noticed that the gymnasts who made it through and even benefited from quarantine and gym shutdowns were those who were mentally tough.
They were the ones who were able to roll with the punches and push through both the tough times and the future unknowns. In addition, they were the ones who were able to pivot quickly and change direction when necessary.
In fact, I'd like to suggest that the gymnasts who thrived through the tough times all had similar mental toughness skills in common.
So what are those mental toughness skills?
Here are those mental toughness skills in no particular order:
Number 1: The ability to control and handle anxiety/nerves
All gymnasts get nervous. Even elite gymnasts experience nerves in gymnastics. But what separates superb gymnasts from those who aren't as successful under pressure is the ability to control and handle their nerves.
In 2020 there were many unknowns in gymnastics with gyms being shut down and the 2020 Olympics being postponed until the following summer. Every one of the elite gymnasts who made it onto the 2020 Summer Games USA Women's Gymnastics team overcame a big obstacle to earn their birth on the Olympic team. From getting covid to deaths in the family to injuries to self-doubt, they had been through setbacks that would have crushed any other gymnast's dreams. But they persisted in spite of those unknowns. This is an example of mental toughness and controlling anxiety at its finest!
Gymnasts who can control the anxiety they feel around these unknowns and focus on the things they can control are better off than those who can't.
Why? Because when you focus on what you can't control you will always feel more anxious than when you switch your focus to the things you can control. So a gymnast MUST have the ability to handle nerves and control anxiety.
Number 2: Resiliency/Grit
It's a fact that your journey in gymnastics will not always go the way you expect it to go.
Gymnasts who are able to thrive through the tough times know how to pivot when things don't go their way. When they've experienced a setback such as an injury, unexpected detour, or a cancelled Olympics(!) they can refocus and move on.
Instead of staying stuck in the setback, they push forward.
Being resilient means having the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. And having grit means having courage and showing strength of character during tough times.
Having these mental toughness skills means a gymnast can get past any obstacle in time. Again, this is an important mental toughness trait to possess.
Number 3: Flexible Mindset
Having a flexible mindset (otherwise known as a growth mindset) means a gymnast believes she can improve and grow if she puts in the effort.
Contrary to this, a fixed mindset is when a gymnast thinks her abilities are set in stone.
Gymnasts who are flexible in their mindset are able to adapt to changes and to put in more effort when they want to achieve a goal. They know that their effort is a direct reflection of the results they get in gymnastics. Their focus is on what they can do instead of what they cannot do.
Again, they learn how to control the things in their power and let the rest go.
When things don't go their way they simply learn from their failures and move on.
Having a flexible mindset is KEY to being a successful gymnast.
Number 4: Confidence
This mental skill set goes without saying and yet it's an important one to keep mentioning.
Confidence is crucial to having mental toughness. Gymnasts who work on developing their confidence feel better about themselves, their performances, and their abilities. They are happier and as a result, perform better.
Also, confidence and fear are inversely related. When confidence is high, fear is typically low. And when confidence is low, fear is generally high. Therefore, gymnasts must work to build up their confidence as often as possible.
Confidence is a skill, just like any other, that must be practiced over and over.
If you haven't taken my 31 Days of Confidence Challenge For Gymnasts, be sure to check that out.
Number 5: A Psychology of Excellence
Gymnasts who embrace a psychology of excellence strive to be their best. They put in the effort even when no one is looking!
They work hard for the satisfaction of working hard and because they know that working hard is necessary to achieving their goals.
They do their conditioning without cheating, they try to always do "one more," they show up with a good attitude and consistently do their mental training.
In other words, they do what champions do. They embrace a psychology of excellence sometimes even before they are successful.
"When a gymnast comes prepared with her mind, she is unstoppable."
Those are at least 5 mental toughness skills that every gymnast must have (or should be working towards).
First, a gymnast should learn how to calm her nerves and manage her anxiety.
Second, a gymnast must also develop her resilience and grit so that she can overcome setbacks in gymnastics.
A gymnast with strong mental toughness skills knows that having a flexible mindset is KEY to her success as a gymnast.
Confidence is also crucial for a gymnast looking to step up her game and compete.
Finally, a gymnast must embrace a psychology of excellence in order to train effectively when no one is looking.
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