While not every gymnast will have the negative experience of dealing with bullying in gymnastics, it's still important to know how to respond to and deal with mean teammates (and people) in life.
At some point in your journey you may either come across one or more situations where you feel bullied or singled out OR where you witness another teammate going through a similar situation.
One of the biggest gifts in gymnastics is having teammates who get you and understand your passion and motivation for gymnastics. But when you have a teammate who picks on you or chooses you to be the focus of her negative behavior, it can be frustrating. And it can also cause you to lose confidence and lower your self-esteem.
Always remember - the best thing you can do is tell an adult (your parents and/or coaches) as soon as the bullying begins. The earlier you can address this unwanted behavior, the sooner you can move past it.
However, here are some general tips for how to handle being bullied in gymnastics.
Number 1: Remind Yourself That It Has Nothing To Do With YOU
Any time one of your teammates is mean to you, remember that it has nothing to do with you. Sometimes teammates who are mean are going through something big in their lives and they use the first person they see as a scapegoat. This helps them feel better. But the truth its, it is never about what you did. It's always about how they are feeling.
They may pick on you because they think you're a really good gymnast and they are jealous of you. Or maybe they are struggling with a pain in their heart and you're the first person they see that day.
Whatever the reason, it has nothing to do with you. Always remember that.
Number 2: Project Confidence
Often times bullies pick on people they see as being weaker. It could be that your body language exudes a lack of confidence. Or they might know that you're struggling on skills and that your overall confidence is low.
Even if you don't feel so confident it's important that you project confident anyway. This sends a message to your bully that you are un-phased by her remarks and behavior.
It also helps you feel stronger. Body language is important in general as a gymnast, but especially when you are being picked on. The more confident body language you can project, the better you will feel. This will help you deal with this mean behavior in stride.
Number 3: Control What You Can Control
You might not have control over your mean teammate's behavior but you do have a choice as to how you respond to her. Don't let her behavior cause you to respond in a negative way. Instead decide that you will take the higher road and ignore her comments or behaviors or let them go.
Now in no way is her behavior ok. What this mean teammate is doing is not acceptable. But you can't always stop your mean teammate from what she is doing or saying because you don't have control over her behavior.
So instead of getting stuck on what she does to you, decide to focus on what you yourself can do in that situation. It might be telling your coach. It might be standing away from your mean teammate. It might be walking away if you have to. Do what you need to in order to be the better person instead of being mean back or stooping down to her level.
Number 4: Be Calm and Neutral When Interacting With This Mean Teammate
When your mean teammate is doing mean things, she wants to see you get mad or upset. If you remain calm and neutral in emotions, she will realize that she doesn't have any power over you. And then this might be enough for her to stop doing what she's doing.
If you react in a way that she wants, such as by crying or getting angry, she will continue to do those behavior to get the same response from you. So hold back the heated feelings and practice being calm and neutral in your response. In fact, it's ok to walk away if you have to.
There is always a lesson to be learned from any obstacle. Sometimes your lesson is to learn how to tame your own emotions. This is a skill that will help you when you compete as well.
Number 5: Make A Good Friend On Your Team
Having a good friend or two on your team is super important for helping give you the emotional support you need. It also helps to have someone there to have your back and witness what's happening.
So focus on someone you can befriend and stick with her. You might already have some great teammates on your team. Stick with them. Try to stand next to them in line. Sit next to them when you're stretching. It always helps to have support from someone you trust.
Number 6: Find Something Good About Your Bully
This is a tough suggestion but really works. If you can look at the person who is being mean to you and find something good about her, it can change your whole perspective.
Remind yourself that she is experiencing pain and that there must be going through something really awful to take that pain out on you. Have some compassion. And then try to find one great quality about her. Is she a great gymnast? Does she have a great smile?
You might even compliment her! I know that sounds far-fetched but sometimes mean teammates feel great when you give them a compliment and this can completely change their outlook towards you. If you'd rather not say anything to their face, you can always think about this person when you're home and find something good to think about her. Seeing your bully in a positive light can change the way you perceive her in the future. It's worth a shot!
Of course, it goes without saying that you must tell your coach or parent as soon as this behavior starts happening. Trying to ignore it or handle it on your own is never a good idea. You want to address this as soon as it starts.
What happens, though, if you tell your coaches and they do nothing?
I hear this a lot from many of the gymnasts I work with. Sometimes their coaches refuse to become part of the "drama." They might say to "handle it on your own."
While coaches should be on top of what is happening in their gym, they also tend to not get involved when it comes to situations like this.
This type of response can be really frustrating. Especially if the bullying behavior keeps going or gets worse.
I've found that gymnasts who have this type of experience with their coaches often find that the gym they're at isn't the best fit for them. It doesn't mean you have to switch gyms if you are being bullied. But you should be aware that the culture in the gym often stems from the coaches or owners who run it. If they aren't willing to address the situation then it's possible they will let a lot of other negative things slide in the future. Really examine whether this is the right place for you.
At the end of the day, I've heard many stories of bullies in gymnastics becoming best friends. Remember that the gymnast bullying you often admires something about you and doesn't know how to express it. She might feel jealous or left out. She might worry that you're going to take her place in the coach's eyes. She feels threatened in some way.
Approach her with kindness and control your own emotions. Exude confident body language. And above all, tell an adult. If the situation doesn't get better, it might be time for a change. Remember, you cannot change someone else's behavior. You can only control yours.
If you or your gymnast needs support, in addition to the resources below I also offer one-on-one coaching sessions via Zoom.
- Stick It Girl Academy: For competitive gymnasts who want to live into their potential and need that extra push in mental training
- 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